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Alfa Romeo Championship – Oulton Park 2020 Report

OULTON PARK 2020 BY MATT DALY

EARLY IN THE WEEK BEFORE THE OULTON RACE MEETING THE BBC WEATHER FORECAST SAID FAIR WEATHER WITH ‘LIGHT SHOWERS’.

Well if what we experienced were light showers I certainly wouldn’t ever want to be in a deluge! Wave after wave of heavy rain clouds blowing in from the west emptied their contents on the circuit, punctuated by a few seconds of sunshine now and then before the next belt of rain arrived. Fortunately the track drains well and the race meeting was able to proceed to plan albeit in very wet conditions. Just to add to the level of challenge it was our first appearance on the Island circuit configuration for many years and only two of our drivers – Graham Seager and Andy Inman – had ever raced on it before.

Due to a number of separate issues we ‘lost’ 3 drivers in the days before the meeting: Jamie Thwaites (Ferrari Challenge racing at Snetterton), Simon Cresswell (awaiting the results of a Covid 19 test – thankfully negative but arrived too late for him to race), and Luke Powell (extreme pressure at work so couldn’t get the car ready in time) so we were left with 12 cars on the grid. Despite the modest numbers, however, there was great racing in extremely challenging conditions.

In addition to the drivers and cars that have competed regularly through the season it was a great pleasure to welcome the Davie Peddie/David Faithful MiTO back to the entry list, the car being piloted by no other than Matt Daly for the first time.

QUALIFYING

Our qualifying session started at 10 AM and was probably the wettest of our 3 track sessions. Visibility through the spray was really poor and the track was awash, making life very difficult for the drivers and in the circumstances they drove extremely well, all emerging unscathed at the end of the session. We had the added complication of several 116 Trophy BMWs qualifying with us, by comparison very slow, so it would have been easy to have come upon one unseen in all the spray but there were no collisions thankfully.

Unquestionably the stand out qualifying performance came from Tom Hill in the Revs Italia GT, who was over 6 seconds a lap quicker than the best of the rest. He was straight into the 1:58s on his first flying lap, which itself would have been good enough for the overall pole, and worked steadily down to an incredible 1:53.53 on his final lap. It was a stunning performance, error free and exhibiting great car control throughout, revelling in the conditions and in the grip and pace of the GT to claim pole for both races.

As a perfect illustration of how the conditions provided a levelling factor, second quickest overall was Andrew Bourke in his 156 Twin Spark, in its way as outstanding as Tom’s drive given the more modest specification of his car. Had it been a unified grid instead of a split grid he would have been on the front row for both races; as it was he was of course on the Twin Spark pole for both. An exceptional performance.

Graham Seager was third fastest qualifier, taking great care not to overdo things in his powerful Modified GTV. He would line up alongside Tom on the front row and though we were sure there would be much more to come in the races he was certainly facing a strong challenge from Tom for overall honours. Fourth fastest overall was the 156 Twin Spark of Richard Ford with a best lap of 2:01.50 with his second best lap time also good enough for the front row of the Twin Spark grid. Richard has been getting used to his ‘new’ 156 to good effect and this was an  excellent performance. Fifth quickest was seasoned competitor Dave Messenger in his 156 GTA with a best time of 2:02.71. Dave took it steady in the early stages getting used to the conditions before posting his best laps towards the end, as indeed did all the runners, and he would line up 3rd on the Modified/Power Trophy grid for both races.

Jon Billingsley was third quickest Twin Spark, a few tenths off Dave’s best time, to line up 3rd on both Twin Spark grids in the 156 he acquired from Martin Jones after the Snetterton meeting. Jon’s form is showing progressive improvement as he benefits from more regular racing this season and finding the new car more to his liking than the 147 he was racing earlier in the season. George Osborne was next in his Power Trophy 75. Not having ever raced at the circuit before, the conditions made it difficult to see it at all through the spray now, thereby lengthening the learning curve! He worked his way down to a best time of 2:04.20 to line up 4th on the front grid, enjoying himself immensely despite the conditions. Andy Inman was close behind him on the timesheets; after 4 ‘sighter’ laps (or ‘non-sighter laps’) he pitted to have his windscreen demisted and then posted a best time of 2:04.48 on his final lap.

James Ford was next in his 156 Twin Spark with a time of 2:04.62, his final 3 laps being very consistent leaving the impression that there was more to come, particularly given his fine race performances at Oulton in the past. He would line up on the outside of the second row on the Twin Spark grid. Next up was Matt Daly in the MiTO. It was Matt’s first drive in the car and the conditions made it extremely difficult to assess its set-up with any degree of confidence so he concentrated on trying to keep it pointing straight and staying out of trouble, getting the feel of the brakes being the most difficult issue at this stage. He would line up 6th on the front grid for both races.

Rounding out the field were the Twin Sparks of Gethin Llewellyn and Steve O’Brien. Gethin had never raced at the circuit before and faced the same difficulties as others in the same position – difficult to learn a circuit when you can hardly see anything through rain and spray! Steve was getting the feel of a new clutch and gearbox and was circulating in the 2:07s on the last couple of laps and Gethin had been slower but pipped Steve for the penultimate grid slot with a 2:06.45 on his final lap.

RACE 1

The rain had eased a little for Race 1 but the track was still extremely slippery, with oil laid on the track by one of the Locost Championship cars before the lunch break offsetting the advantage of shallower puddles. When the lights went out Tom Hill led the front group away from pole; at the first corner it was close but he held the lead through the racing line with Dave Messenger slotting in behind him followed closely by Graham Seager and George Osborne, the latter having made an attempt to go around the outside before giving way in the interests of self preservation. Graham then passed Dave as they started downhill into Cascades. Behind the front four Matt Daly and Andy Inman were slower away, with Matt getting through Old Hall just ahead before Andy grabbed the place on the approach to Cascades. By the end of lap 1 Tom had established a 2.5 second lead over Graham in second, with the rest evenly spaced out 3 or 4 seconds apart behind them.

The Twin Spark start was also eventful. From the outside of the second row James Ford was aiming his car down the outside of the front row cars and kept his foot in as long as possible approaching Old Hall. Andrew Bourke got through the corner first ahead of him via the racing line but on the exit James got sideways, corrected the slide but brother Richard had to take avoiding action and was unable to take advantage. At the end of lap 1 these 3 were closely grouped, there was then a 3-second gap back to Gethin Llewellyn ahead of Jon Billingsley and Steve O’Brien.

In the front group Tom Hill extended his lead to 4 seconds by the end of lap 2 but after that the gap to Graham Seager started to come gradually down as Graham got to grips with the conditions in the supercharged GTV. By the end of lap 5 the gap was down to less than a second and on lap 6 Graham was through into the lead via an overtaking manoeuvre down the inside as they approached the chicane, Tom not resisting too hard as points were not at stake. Behind them the rest were dropping away; Dave Messenger was lapping some 3-4 seconds off Tom’s pace but doing enough to keep George Osborne at bay early on then gradually pulling away to build the gap to 10 seconds by the end of lap 10 before backing off on the final lap allowing George to halve the gap by the flag with Andy Inman some 11 seconds further back. By the end Andy was lapping a couple of seconds quicker than Dave and George ahead of him but the time he had taken to adjust to the conditions earlier on had cost him a closer finish.

Behind them Matt Daly was having an eventful time in the MiTO. The brakes on the MiTO were proving to be very powerful but also locking up with minimal pedal pressure. On lap 2 they did just that approaching the Island hairpin and he went straight on; unable to rejoin the circuit at that point he had to follow the Clerk of the Course’s instructions and thread his way through all the parked vehicles on the unused part of the circuit around the Shell hairpin, back through the chicane at Foulstons before rejoining at the exit to the Island bend, all of which cost him a delay of some 50 seconds. The set up was also too stiff and unforgiving at the rear compounded by a lack of grip from the road tyres, causing a spin at Lodge Corner and a very exciting sideways slide all the way down Clearways on opposite lock among other ‘moments’. He brought the car safely home though, a lap down and the Peddie team then set about making some changes to the car for race 2.

In the Twin Spark Cup, Andrew Bourke was leading as has been the case all this season but was unable to draw away from James Ford who was holding the gap to the leader to around one second, the closest anyone has been to Andrew all season. However, James’s chances of winning faded on lap 9 when he spun at the Island hairpin. He quickly recovered but on the straight run over Hilltop down to Hislops chicane there was a loud bang from the front of the car resulting in his offside front bumper hanging off. He was mystified as to whether he had run over something or there being some other cause as he hadn’t hit anything when he went off. However, he made it to the end without further mishap to take second in class behind Andrew, with 5 seconds in hand over Richard Ford who had dropped steadily back from the class leaders in third place, delayed by some sideways moments and unable to capitalise on James’s spin.

Behind Richard, Jon Billingsley had passed Gethin Llewellyn on lap 2; he was initially losing 2 seconds a lap to Richard but halved the gap to 4 seconds when Richard made a mistake on lap 6. However the gap then widened by 2 seconds a lap to the flag, Jon finishing 4th in class. The final two runners, Gethin Llewellyn and Steve O’Brien, were engaged in a very close dice throughout, Gethin ahead by less than a second on every lap till it sadly ended in tears on the last lap. Gethin left the door open slightly as they approached the chicane and Steve put his nose down the inside. However, he wasn’t able to get alongside and as Gethin took the racing line for the right hander Steve locked up and there was significant contact, spinning Gethin around. Gethin was able to continue slowly to the finish but Steve was out on the spot with a broken suspension arm. It was unintentional and Steve apologised but nonetheless received a penalty from the Clerk of the Course as a result. So Graham Seager took a fine overall win with Tom Hill and Andrew Bourke taking respective class wins, all recording fastest laps in class and further extending their class leads in the Championship.

 

RACE 1 RESULTS

CLASS WINNERS
Modified Graham Seager
Power Trophy Tom Hill
Twin Spark Cup Andrew Bourke

 

RACE 2

There was then a 2-hour break to Race 2. The rain continued on and off (mostly on) while Bianco undertook running repairs to the cars of Gethin Llewellyn, Steve O’Brien and James Ford, all of which were refettled in good time, while the Peddies set about softening the rear suspension on the MiTO in an effort to make the handling more forgiving. At 3.45 all cars made their way to the assembly area, the timetable still running efficiently to schedule. The only last minute problem was George Osborne finding a leak on the plenum of his 75; he drove back to the paddock to try and sort it out which he did successfully, returning to the assembly area in time to take to the track with the rest. The track had been drying somewhat in the latter stages of Race 1 but alas had received more soakings from the elements since then.

When the lights went out for the front group to start the first four went through Old Hall in grid order and Matt Daly got ahead of Andy Inman to go 5th, the MiTO already feeling much more stable and handling better. At the front the situation developed into a carbon copy of Race 1: Tom Hill with a 3-second lead over Graham Seager at the end of lap 1, extending it to 5 seconds on lap 2, then Graham steagily closing it and getting through into the lead at the Island hairpin on lap 6. Dave Messenger and George Osborne were 3rd and 4th but this time George was much closer and a race-long battle ensued, Dave defending with great skill and George never quite getting close enough to make an overtaking move that he thought might succeed. Matt Daly stayed ahead of Andy Inman for the first few laps though both were passed by the leading Twin Sparks. On lap 3 Matt ran wide onto the grass at Old Hall but managed to regain the track and stay ahead of Andy but Andy’s lap times were coming down and down and he passed Matt on the run down to the chicane from Hilltop on lap 6, pulling steadily away after that.

When the flag dropped for Race 2 Andrew Bourke again surged into the lead but this time Richard Ford got the better of brother James to go second and steadily pulled away. Andrew maintained the lead but only by a second until lap 6 when Richard had a major ‘moment’ and dropped 10 seconds back while just managing to stay ahead of James who had dropped off the leading pace. Behind, Gethin Llewellyn held 4th place in class ahead of Steve O’Brien and Jon Billingsley, but Jon was struggling to see anything out of a fogged windsreen and pitted briefy at the end of lap 2 to have it wiped clear, losing 30 seconds in the process.

In the end Andrew Bourke won the Twin Spark class by 13 seconds from Richard Ford and James Ford, who shared the family honours with a 2nd and a 3rd place each on the day. Steve O’Brien passed Gethin Llewellyn on lap 2 to go 4th in class and they continued in that order circulating around 3 seconds apart to the flag with the delayed Jon Billingsley finishing some 24 seconds further back.

At the front Graham Seager took a second overall win ahead of Tom Hill, with the rest of the Power Trophy runners finishing in the same order as in race 1. Graham and Tom once more recorded fastest laps in class with James Ford recording the fastest Twin Spark lap on the penultimate tour as he finished only 2/10ths behind Richard.

RACE 2 RESULTS

CLASS WINNERS
Modified Graham Seager
Power Trophy Tom Hill
Twin Spark Cup Andrew Bourke

 

Overall despite the adverse weather conditions and the relatively small field the racing was excellent and entertaining and a credit to the drivers and preparers with only one retirement in the two races combined. We now look forward to the Silverstone National circuit on 14th November where there is every prospect of a big grid to round off the season. We hope all our drivers will make a special effort to be there!

Andy Robinson
Championship Coordinator   

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