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Alfa Romeo Championsip – SIlverstone 2021 Report

By Andy Robinson

After a 7-month time lapse much of which was spent in a Covid 19 lockdown the relief and anticipation to go racing again was tangible for all of us involved in the HITEK Electronic Materials Alfa Romeo Championship. Bright sunshine and a light breeze to take the edge off the heat made perfect weather for racing at the Silverstone National circuit.

THE ENTRY LIST

Twenty drivers had entered for these first 2 rounds of the Championship and if we can maintain 20+ grids all season we will be absolutely delighted. Defending 4-times Champion Tom Hill was back to defend his crown, his Revs Italia prepared Alfa GT looking superb as always. However, things didn’t quite go to plan as his engine had blown in testing the day before race day. Remarkably, Roger Evans loaded the car onto the trailer, drove back to his workshop in the Peak District, installed a replacement 3.2 litre V6 engine, and returned to the circuit. In the meantime Tom borrowed Graham Seager’s 147 GTA and lapped in the 1m 06s – ominously quick for his rivals. However, the replacement engine was an unknown quantity, having not been set up for racing, so it remained to be seen how things would go come race day. As the engine had not been rolling road tested Tom elected to have the engine sealed and tested after the event rather than going into the Modified class.

Elsewhere in the Power Trophy class, Dave Messenger was back in his Darnells-sponsored 156 GTA with its well known Italian tricolours hoping to be more competitive with Tom this season after finishing runner-up in the class last year. The same could be said of George Osborne with his immaculately prepared and presented Alfa 75, the only rear wheel drive car in the field, and the Revs Italia 156 GTA of Andy Inman, Andy as enthusiastic as ever and chafing at the bit after the long autumn and winter break.

There was a healthy 10-car entry in the Twin Spark Cup, promising some close competitive racing. 2020 Championship runner up Andrew Bourke was back in his silver and turquoise Bianco-prepared 156 determined to go one better this season. He dominated the class last year but was sure to have any number of drivers trying to get the better of him this year. Simon Cresswell was closest to him last season and was returning in his orange 156, as was Richard Ford in the ex-Tom Hill championship winning 156 with its black and gold colour scheme – contrasting characters but equally competitive.

It was good to see Gethin Llewellyn returning with his white Horley Motor Company 156; Geth is always a determined competitor and regular racing had resulted in a fine 4th in class last season and this year he was looking to progress further. Over the winter it had been rumoured that James Ford was considering moving into the Power Trophy in his 156 V6, but had elected instead to concentrate his attention on his TS Cup car. The car was looking extremely smart and it was clear that he had given it some close attention over the winter.

After a season away Andrew Fulcher returned to the Championship in his iconic and immaculate Filippo Berio-liveried 147. It was great to have him back and even better news that he is planning to do a number of race meetings this season. The same can be said for Jon Billingsley; Jon is a quick driver and racing regularly should see him back among the leading runners in his 156. Steve O’Brien has bought a Motus One 156 and is now being run by them, the car now in dark green and back livery. Steve has done a terrific job for the Championship on the marketing and publicity front and it would be great to see him clocking up some strong results on the track as well. Last but by no means least we were delighted to see Martin Jones back in a Twin Spark 147. A series of mechanical issues not of his own making had demoralised him somewhat last season so it was a great pleasure to see him back determined to enjoy his racing, and of course hoping to get a reliable run without car problems. Jon Tortolani was back in his ex-Luther Blissett 156 which had a new engine installed. Not everyone is enthusiastic about matt (or semi-matt) black paintwork but the car looked absolutely superb and Jon was hoping to put his engine problems last season behind him.

In the Modified class, Barry McMahon appeared with us for the first time since the first Snetterton meeting in 2020 electing to drive his ultra-quick 1750 TBi-engined 156 as he did on that occasion when only Richard Thurbin’s Delta Integrale was able to live with his pace. So its reappearance was a mouth watering prospect. Could anyone get close to him? We would see… Gareth Haywood had purchased Graham Seager’s supercharged GTV over the winter to return to the Championship for the first time since a one-off appearance in a Twin Spark in 2012. He had been spending a good deal of time getting to know the car and reviewing what he might want to change and had also been testing it. Somehow the car looked different but it was hard to tell why. The white wheels and the new white HITEK sun screen certainly made a difference but that didn’t seem to account for the difference somehow; whatever, Gareth was as pleased to be back as we were pleased to have him and the car back with us!

Also returning, having solved the engine issues that sidelined him after Snetterton last season, was Scott Austin with a new 20-valve Fiat Turbo engine installed in his 155. It had all come together shortly before the meeting with no time to get it set up on a rolling road, so he acknowledged that it was work in progress. Scott is a top class driver so here’s hoping that the car stays reliable to give him time to develop its performance to its full potential.

Making a welcome return after a season’s absence was Paul Webster, temporarily in the ex-Clive Hodgkin 156 as his 147 GTA was still requiring some remedial work which had been delayed as a result of the lockdown. Like most others Paul couldn’t wait to be competing in a race car again. He hadn’t had time to get the car to a rolling road, so he elected to race in the Modified class for this meeting while hoping to be back in his 147 GTA for the next meeting at Donington. Another driver we were welcoming back after a year’s absence was the irrepressible Keith Waite in his red and yellow 75. Now a seasoned campaigner Keith is always out to enjoy his racing and we are looking forward to seeing son Tom joining him in his 33 during the season.

QUALIFYING

Our qualifying session started promptly at 10.10 AM in bright sunshine and a moderate cool breeze. Tom Hill’s car had lost some fluid in the paddock so the team had everything crossed that the car would be OK. Sadly – and almost unbelievably – Jon Tortolani was out of the session after only a couple of laps with head gasket failure. He was speechless with chagrin and, as no one had a spare cylinder head, his weekend was over. Let’s hope he gets it sorted out and has a much overdue reliable day’s running next time out.

First out and first into his stride was – as usual – Tom Hill. His first lap in the 1m 09s was 3 seconds quicker than anyone else’s and he was into the 1m 07s on his second lap. However, although his lap times were very consistent there he stayed, unable to break into the 1:06s, suggesting that his replacement engine was down on power (as might have been expected in the circumstances) but at least the car completed the session with no dramas to the relief of all concerned. His best time of 1:07.05 put him 6th overall and 3rd in the Power Trophy class, unaccustomed territory for Tom. Barry McMahon was quickest of all. After a couple of sighter laps to check everything was working correctly he went for it; by lap 4 he was inside Roger Evans’s race lap record and he worked down to 1:02.02 on his 11th lap to take overall pole. Was he well clear of the rest of the field though? The answer was no – Gareth Haywood was breathing down his neck in the GTV, recording a time of 1:02.91 on his 7th lap, also inside the race lap record. This was exciting; a real battle for the overall race win looked a distinct possibility.

The rest of the field was nearly 4 seconds adrift of the leading pair, with George Osborne leading the charge with a best time of 1:06.82, a fine effort and quickest of the Power Trophy runners. He was just ahead of Modified class runner Scott Austin who was in effect testing the car whose rebuild had only recently been completed; in the circumstances a time of 1:06.94 was an excellent effort. Next came a closely grouped quartet of Power Trophy runners: Dave Messenger 1:07.03, just ahead of Tom Hill 1:07.05, Graham Seager 1:07.63, and Andy Inman 1:08.35. They were followed by Keith Waite and Paul Webster to round out all the cars that would start in the front section of the split grid. Keith set down a consistent sequence of laps in his 75 just breaking into the 1:09s on his penultimate lap. Paul on the other hand hadn’t worked on or driven this his second car for 2 years, but after a series of slow laps he worked down to 1:10.90 and was just happy to be out on a circuit again.

Andrew Bourke had been on the Twin Spark Cup pole for every race last season and won the class in every race but one, so that trend might have been expected to continue… Not so, but it was incredibly close. Apart from the luckless Jon Tortolani the rest of the 9-car field were covered by only 1.88 seconds! James Ford took pole in 1:11.86, 3/100ths of a second ahead of his brother Richard who was only 7/100ths ahead of Andrew Bourke. Gethin Llewellyn, Andrew Fulcher, Simon Cresswell and Jon Billingsley were all in the 1:12s with only 0.8 seconds covering the 4 of them in that order, with Steve O’Brien and Martin Jones just behind in the 1:13s. This promised some very close racing!

After the session everyone was complaining about a lack of grip, but the conditions, as they say, were the same for everyone. There were the usual minor niggles: Barry McMahon had a brake issue, Gareth Haywood was still finding his car something of a handful, Paul Webster’s car was down on power and he was struggling for gears, Steve O’Brien had been quicker in testing and thought he had been overdriving the car on new tyres… However, there had been no major problems for those completing the session, and a thrilling race beckoned.

RACE 1

Our first race started right on time at 1.45. When the lights went out Barry McMahon was first away and lead the field through Copse, with Gareth Haywood passing the fast-starting Tom Hill on the outside entering Copse and setting off in pursuit of Barry. Dave Messenger then also passed Tom on the outside approaching Becketts and held the Power Trophy lead through the corner. Scott Austin was next but entering Becketts he had a huge sideways moment; the car went sideways just missing George Osborne on the outside of him, but miraculously he saved it with fistfuls of opposite lock and carried on down the Club Straight having lost relatively little ground, with Graham Seager being the only other car to pass him. Then came Andy Inman, Keith Waite and Paul Webster rounding out the front group, Paul having made a good start but then dropped back. That was the order at the end of lap 1.

Meanwhile after the requisite time gap the flag was dropped for the Twin Spark Cup start. James Ford made an excellent start to take the lead through Copse and by the exit of Becketts had opened up gap of 2 car lengths to the battling Richard Ford and Andrew Bourke behind him. Richard was on the inside trying to make Andrew go round the outside of him, but Andrew got the better exit to go second. Gethin Llwellyn was 4th, right behind Richard, followed closely by Simon Cresswell and Jon Billingsley. Andrew Fulcher ran very wide at Becketts kicking up dust as he got on the grass but kept the car pointing in the right direction to stay ahead of Martin Jones and Steve O’Brien. By the end of the lap Gethin had squeezed by Richard Ford to take 3rd but the rest of the order was unchanged.

In the front group Gareth Haywood was right on Barry McMahon’s tail looking to get through and the Twin Sparks were nose to tail but the order remained the same on lap 2. Then on lap 3 the dramas began. First Dave Messenger ground to a halt at Maggots – he’d lost gears and a front hub had broken rendering the car immobile. Up ahead Gareth Haywood slowed dramatically and then pitted with steam pouring out of the car; after a check a coolant leak had caused the problem and he retired to the paddock to investigate. Dave’s car was deemed to be in a dangerous position so the safety car was deployed on lap 5.

Unfortunately, however, Barry McMahon having already gone past, the safety car picked up Tom Hill instead who was now running second. The safety car slowed the rest of the field but Barry McMahon up ahead was still pulling away though he too had slowed his pace having seen the safety car signs from the marshals. Barry couldn’t catch the field from behind as then he would have been a lap ahead. Martin Jones had also pitted with a problem momentarily blocking the pit lane entrance but then got it fired up again and drove down to the Bianco technicians. It was taking some time to recover Dave Messenger’s car as it couldn’t be moved, the only solution being a hoist, and from lap 6 through to lap 9 the safety car circulated still unable to pick up the leader. Finally, as Dave Messenger’s car was hoisted onto the recovery truck, it could let the rest of the field through to catch up with Barry; it then picked up Barry’s car and slowed still further so the rest could catch up. Martin Jones rejoined behind the Twin Spark group a few laps down, the problem with his car having been sorted at least temporarily. Finally racing resumed on lap 12.

On the restart Barry McMahon pulled away from the rest of the field again as expected. The order in the front group remained unchanged for half a lap but as Tom Hill took a wide line into Brooklands George Osborne – who had got a very good exit from Becketts and got alongside Tom – went through a yawning gap on the inside to take the class lead. Further back Andy Inman – who had been struggling for gears – was slow on the exit to Becketts and Paul Webster got past him onto Club Straight. The order stayed the same to the finish: Barry McMahon, George Osborne, Graham Seager, Tom Hill, Scott Austin, Paul Webster, Andy Inman and Keith Waite.

Back in the Twin Sparks the order remained unchanged: James Ford, Andrew Bourke, Gethin Llewellyn Richard Ford, Simon Cresswell, Jon Billingsley, Andrew Fulcher, Steve O’Brien and then Martin Jones a few laps down due to his time in the pits. The 3-way dice for 2nd had enabled James Ford to pull a few metres clear of the rest. On lap 14 Graham Seager got past Tom Hill to go second in class but otherwise the order in both groups was unchanged as they started the final lap. The Twin Spark battle was unrelenting. Gethin had made a number of attempts to get past Andrew but each time Andrew had slammed the door shut. However, on the last lap Gethin got a better exit from Copse than Andrew, drew ahead at Maggots and held second place through to the chequered flag ahead of Andrew, Richard Ford, Andrew Fulcher, Simon Cresswell. Steve O’Brien and Martin Jones, although Martin was not classified as a finisher. Following Gareth Haywood’s exit from the race it had been a straightforward win for Barry McMahon, but the Power Trophy and Twin Spark Cup battles had been thrilling to watch with excellent class wins for George Osborne and James Ford.

RACE 1 RESULTS

CLASS WINNERS
Modified Barry McMahon
Power Trophy George Osborne
Twin Spark Cup James Ford

RACE 2

A broken hub and no available replacement unfortunately meant that Dave Messenger’s race day was over, but there was better news from Gareth Haywood’s team. The source of the water leak had been found and fixed and the car seemed to be running fine so he would make the start of Race 2, albeit starting from the back of the front group on the grid. With that disadvantage though, he was pessimistic about his chances of catching Barry. Simon Cresswell had had to have an airflow meter replaced which explained why he had been struggling for straight line speed, and Jon Billingsley had been disqualified for passing 2 cars under waved yellows even though he had quickly realised his mistake and given the places back.

Our second race was the last one of the day at 5.25 and what a fantastic race it proved to be! There was no safety car dilution of the excitement this time! At the start on the lights George Osborne got away quickest to take the lead with Tom Hill following him through on the inside. However, by the time they reached Becketts Barry McMahon had passed Tom and after following George through the corner Barry made the most of his additional power to take the lead down Club Straight. Scott Austin in 4th had a wobble entering Becketts but held the errant 155 more easily this time, emerging from the corner side by side with Graham Seager’s 147 GTA. They were followed through by Paul Webster and Andy Inman side by side with Gareth Haywood close behind followed by Keith Waite.

When the Twin Sparks got away Andrew Bourke got a fast start from row 2, going in between James Ford and Gethin Llewellyn in a bid to take the lead. James managed to stay ahead of him but Richard Ford also got past Gethin to take 3rd with Gethin dropping to 4th. He was followed through by Andrew Fulcher who had also made a fast start, ahead of Jon Billingsley and Simon Cresswell, with Martin Jones next ahead of Steve O’Brien. As they approached Brooklands Andrew was on the outside of James and carried extra momentum into the corner to take the lead, and behind them Richard Ford just managed to hold off Gethin Llewellyn – who tried a similar move unsuccessfully – to stay in 3rd place.

On lap 2 Gareth Haywood was picking his way through the field and by the end of the lap he had cleared everyone and set off after Barry McMahon up ahead. This wasn’t going to be easy as Barry broke the lap record on lap 3 with a time of 1:02.95. George Osborne was still 3rd overall ahead of Tom Hill, Scott Austin, Graham Seager, Andy Inman, Paul Webster and Keith Waite. In the Twin Sparks Andrew Fulcher had also got past Gethin Llewellyn to take 4th place and moved up to challenge Richard Ford hard for 3rd only to lose out to Gethin at Maggots on the next lap and fall back into the clutches of Jon Billingsley and Simon Cresswell.

At the front of the field Barry had been leading Gareth by some  5 seconds once Gareth had cleared the rest of the pack at the end of lap 2. It had just started to come down a little on lap 5 when they came upon in back markers in the Twin Spark field. They then lapped the whole group by the end of which – on lap 8 – the gap was about the same, but then Gareth began to reduce it. He broke the lap record Barry had just set with a 1:02.43 on lap 9. A series of laps in the 1:02s then put him right on Barry’s tail on lap 12, breaking the record again with a 1:02.38 on that lap. A spectacular dice then ensued for the rest of the race!

Meanwhile a battle royal was taking place in the Twin Spark Cup. Andrew Bourke was defending his lead successfully from James Ford in second, but James wasn’t giving him a moment’s peace. There was then a gap to Richard Ford in 3rd and he was now couple of car lengths clear of the 4-car scrap behind him between Gethin Llewellyn, Jon Billingsley, Andrew Fulcher and Simon Cresswell, who in turn were a few lengths clear of Steve O’Brien and Martin Jones. Despite the closeness of the battle the order remained unchanged apart from Andrew Fulcher slipping back behind Simon Cresswell to the tail of the 4-car battle for 4th. However, as James Ford kept Andrew Bourke busy defending his lead, Richard Ford closed the gap and by lap 10 it was a 3-way battle. On lap 11 Andrew made a slight mistake at Becketts; he held onto the lead but now there was hardly a coat of paint between the 3 of them, and on lap 12 the order changed with Richard Ford getting past brother James into second.

At the front of the field at the end of the same lap Gareth Haywood got a better exit from Woodcote and passed Barry on the Club Straight to get through into the lead. He held the lead through to lap 17 with Barry only a second or so behind but then slid wide at Copse, lost momentum and Barry re-took the lead. Gareth then caught him up again but on the penultimate lap they were side by side when they came upon a back marker; Barry got past but there was a slight collision between Gareth and the back marker who it seemed hadn’t seen him; Gareth was delayed and Barry got several seconds clear to take a hard-earned win with Gareth second. In the Power Trophy Graham Seager had passed Tom Hill on lap 7 to go second in class behind George Osborne with Modified runner Scott Austin between Tom and Andy Inman, with Paul Webster and Keith Waite further back. The decisive moment came on lap 11 as George and Graham came up to lap a pair of dicing Twin Sparks. Graham ‘spotted a gap’ as they say and went for it, taking George by surprise; they went through the corner four abreast and Graham emerged ahead. George kept him under pressure for the rest of the race but wasn’t given an opportunity to pass and Graham took the class win from George who had the consolation of fastest lap and a new lap record of 1:06.32, breaking the previous best by Paul Webster by 1.5 seconds. Tom Hill finished third several seconds adrift, doing the best he could with a down-on-power replacement engine. Scott Austin was next, needing some work on the car to get it up to the pace his driving skill deserves, followed home by Andy Inman, Paul Webster and Keith Waite.

In the Twin Sparks on lap 13 Richard Ford went down the outside of Andrew Bourke in a late braking move into Brooklands. Andrew just managed to slam the door but Richard then got a better exit from Luffield to pull alongside Andrew through Woodcote and then draw ahead down Club Straight to take the lead. In an opportunistic move, James Ford then switched to the inside and managed to get a tow from Richard and took second place from Andrew as they entered Copse. Breathtaking stuff! The battle continued to the end of the race but that’s how it finished. Behind them the competition for 4th in class had been reduced to 3 cars when sadly Jon Billingsley pulled into the pits to retire. Gethin Llewellyn managed to keep ahead of Simon Cresswell by 2-3 seconds for the rest of the race to take 4th in class, with Andrew Fulcher – after his earlier heroics – several seconds further back. Steve O’Brien and Martin Jones rounded out the finishers in what had been an absolutely superb race throughout the field.

The Driver of the Day Award went to James Ford for two outstanding Twin Spark Cup drives.

RACE 2 RESULTS

CLASS WINNERS
Modified Barry McMahon
Power Trophy Graham Seager
Twin Spark Cup Richard Ford

All images @ARCA

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