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Alfa Romeo Championship Donington Park 2021 Report

By Andy Robinson

As teams and drivers arrived at Donington Park on Friday 21st May for rounds 3 and 4 of the HITEK Alfa Romeo Championship, some of whom were testing that day as well, there was torrential rain, the paddock resembled a lake and the weather omens were inauspicious for a fine’ weekend’s racing.

However, as I approached the circuit early on Saturday morning the rain had stopped and the road surfaces were dry. On the road from Melbourne to the circuit I glanced out of the driver’s window to see another good sign: tractors were retrieving the Ark that had come to rest on the top of Breedon-on-the-Hill away to the south during the night…

QUALIFYING

So the morning was dry after all. However, it was perishingly cold, there were ominous clouds everywhere and the Met Office was predicting rain at 11.00 AM. Luckily the few drops of rain that did fall when qualifying started at 11.05 faded away and the track remained superficially dry, although the driver consensus was that it was slippery and a degree of caution was the order of the day.

We welcomed two new drivers to the Championship: Geoff Turral in the ex-Dave Messenger 156 Twin Spark and Gabs Iaccarino in a black 3.2 litre GT that he had been building over the past year. Geoff has previously raced in a historic Alfa but was having his first outing in a front wheel drive car and this was Gabs’s first ever race meeting and his family had come to cheer him on. We also had 2 drivers returning to the Championship after an absence: Tom Herbert in the beautifully presented yellow and blue 156 Twin Spark he has been building over the past couple of years and Andy Page in the modified Giulietta 116 Turbo he had previously raced very successfully in the Championship over a period of years in the 1990s and 2000s. We would love to have more past drivers coming back to race with us!

First onto the circuit in qualifying was – as always – Tom Hill and he went for a quick time straight away, recording a 1:21.64 on his second flying lap, around 8/10ths inside Dave Messenger’s lap record. Although he dipped into the 1:21s twice later in the session he was unable to improve but that time nevertheless looked good enough for the Power Trophy pole as the session progressed. Fastest of all was Barry McMahon in his modified 156 Turbo. He was down to 1:18.49 on his second flying lap but then followed a series of slower laps till he turned up the wick towards the end of the session and recorded 3 laps in the 1:16s with a best time of 1:16.41 to take pole by a significant margin. After his heroics at Silverstone being right on the pace with Barry, much was expected of Gareth Haywood in the supercharged GTV but his clutch was slipping and he was only 3rd quickest with a time of 1:21.63. Investigation after the session revealed oil dripping slowly onto the clutch from a breather pipe and he set about trying to rectify it.

Meanwhile two drivers were in difficulties. After completing only one lap Tom Herbert pitted with hot coolant spilling everywhere in the cockpit, burning his left ankle in the process. A hose had burst, ending his participation in the session. Worse still, Gabs Iaccarino in his brand new GT experienced a stuck throttle and brake failure and went off at Redgate into the gravel, fortunately hauling on the handbrake to turn the car sideways enough to stop a couple of metres short of the wall thus avoiding crash damage – new car gremlins which hopefully Gabs will be able to get sorted out before the next meeting – gravel absolutely everywhere in the car of course as it was deeply buried. Later in the session there were problems for two other drivers. Richard Ford’s 156 was starting to smoke and he pulled off after it worsened, leaving a trail of oil on the approach to Coppice. A threaded sump bolt proved the culprit and a new sump was fitted by Bianco for the race. Meanwhile, also at Coppice, Scott Austin experienced brake failure and, possibly compounded by the oil, his 155 pitched him hard into the gravel on the outside of the corner. Surprisingly, after a long and successful racing career in the 1990s this was Scott’s first time in a gravel trap and not one he enjoyed. The unpredictable braking issue worried him as he had had a similar problem at Silverstone, so he elected not to race in the interests of his own safety and that of other drivers.

So Barry McMahon was on overall pole. If Gareth Haywood was 3rd quickest, 1/100th of a second quicker than Tom Hill, who was second? The slightly surprising answer was George Osborne. After a series of conservative lap times George suddenly ran amok in the time sheets late in the session, recording a 1:21.62 lap on his final tour, so 2nd, 3rd and 4th were separated by only 3/100ths of a second. Incredible. And Dave Messenger was only 2/10ths further back with a time of 1:21.88, also inside his own race lap record. In the front section of the grid, Andy Page was 6th in 1:24.20, with the non-starting Scott Austin 7th, ahead of Graham Seager and Andy Inman (bothdriving relatively conservatively) and finally Keith Waite.

In the Twin Spark class, Andrew Bourke secured pole with a time of 1:27.02 on his fourth lap, with James Ford close behind in 1:27.28. Andrew Fulcher put in an strong performance to be 3rd in 1:28.30, followed by Richard Ford in 1:28.53 (clearly hampered by his oil leak). Geoff Turral was 5th quickest – a fine performance in his first race in the Championship – ahead of Jon Billingsley, Steve O’Brien and Tom Herbert.

Gareth Haywood thought he had found a solution to where the oil was leaking onto the clutch, fingers crossed, and Tom Herbert’s and Richard Ford’s mechanical problems were sorted out leaving Scott and Gabs as the only non-starters. Some exciting racing was in prospect!

RACE 1

Despite menacing looking clouds scudding overhead it was still dry for our first race at 5.05 PM. On the green flag lap Andy Inman was unnerved by losing the back end of his 156 GTA going slowly down the Craner Curves, an experience that would affect his race. As the lights went out the front grid made a good clean start, George Osborne and Tom Hill were vying for position as Barry McMahon led them through Redgate; Tom appeared to grab the advantage down the inside of George through Redgate but George got a quicker exit and stayed ahead of Tom as they went down the Craner Curves.

The Twin Sparks also got away cleanly, Andrew Bourke getting an excellent start from pole and just getting through Redgate ahead with James Ford on the outside of him with everyone else in close formation two abreast behind them. As the lead cars exited Coppice James was right with Andrew when his car suddenly cut out momentarily before coming back on to the power and heralding a problem that would recur as the race progressed. At the end of lap 1 Andrew led James by half a second, with Andrew Fulcher half a second further back in third, followed by Richard Ford, Jon Billingsley, Geoff Turral, Steve O’Brien and Tom Herbert. Surprisingly this order remained unchanged for the first 5 laps. However, by lap 3 James Ford had been in difficulties again – his car again cut out intermittently and Andrew Fulcher, unaware that James had a problem,  hit him from behind at one point when James suddenly slowed unexpectedly. James was doing his best to defend his position and was succeeding temporarily while Richard Ford, Jon Billingsley and Geoff Turral were in a close battle for 4th behind Andrew Fulcher. These two factors gave Andrew Bourke the opportunity to pull away at the front which he seized with both hands and by lap 5 he had established a 4-second cushion to the rest. At the tail of the field Steve O’Brien was keeping in touch with the cars in front of him while Tom Herbert was looking a little out of sorts at this point in 8th place as he tried to get back in the groove after a couple of years away from racing.

In the Modified/Power Trophy group Barry McMahon led by a couple of seconds from George Osborne at the end of lap 1, while Gareth Haywood was showing signs of picking up his pace, passing Tom Hill at the end of the lap. They were followed by Dave Messenger, Graham Seager, Andy Page, Keith Waite and Andy Inman in that order. On lap 2 Gareth Haywood duly passed George Osborne on the Exhibition Straight but George noticed that Gareth locked one wheel as he braked for the chicane in a way that suggested Gareth had a brake problem. As it happened, that was a sign of things to come as on lap 3 Gareth’s rear wing flew off as he exited Coppice, leaving just one of the two mounting brackets in place. Gareth was unaware that this had happened – indeed he didn’t find out till he got back to the paddock after the race – and when he braked for the chicane the car slewed sideways and he went straight on into the gravel. Thus we were robbed of the prospect of Gareth chasing down Barry McMahon and dicing spectacularly for the overall lead as had happened at Silverstone. Gareth did rejoin 5 laps later, lapping slowly to the finish but too far behind to be classified. At the end of the day’s racing he managed to retrieve the rear wing but deemed it unrepairable at the circuit and withdrew from Sunday’s race.

In the Twin Spark field Andrew Bourke had a 5-second lead at the end of lap 5 as the group behind him were holding each other up in the battle for second and on lap 6 the running order changed. James Ford’s problem was worsening in terms of the frequency with which his engine was cutting out and Andrew Fulcher and Richard Ford got past him, Richard snatching 2nd place in the process. James held off Jon Billingsley for a couple more laps but as the problem continued to get worse he steadily dropped to the back of the field. He did struggle on to the finish 3 laps down and was classified, and back in the paddock it was found that an ignition wire had worked loose causing the engine to cut out when the connection was lost. Meanwhile, Richard Ford was 2nd from Andrew Fulcher, with Jon Billingsley moving into 4th place on lap 9 as James dropped back. Those 3 battled right through to the end of the race with only a second or less between them but with no change in the order, and as they fought for position Andrew Bourke pulled further ahead into the lead – by 6 seconds on lap 7, 9 seconds on lap 10 and 17 seconds at the chequered flag; it was a masterclass in consistent lapping from Andrew with every single lap in the 1:27s from lap 6 through to the finish on lap 16.

Behind Jon Billingsley, Geoff Turral was acquitting himself extremely well, lapping consistently in the 1:28s on his Championship debut. Early on he was a second or so ahead of Steve O’Brien and he increased this to 4 seconds by lap 8. Tom Herbert had been 5 seconds behind Steve on lap 3 with his engine feeling down on power initially but then it semed to clear and he started reeling in the cars ahead of him. By lap 8 he was right behind Steve and passed him on lap 9 setting fastest lap in the process, and then started reeling in Geoff Turral. He beat his own fastest lap on lap 12 with a 1:26.81 – the only Twin Spark Cup driver to beak the 1:27 barrier – passed Geoff on lap 13 and only failed by 0.25 seconds to catch Jon Billingsley at the chequered flag, a fine performance once he had settled into the race.

In the Modified/Power Trophy group, Barry McMahon pulled steadily away from the rest of the field and was 45 seconds clear on lap 12; however on lap 13 he slowed dramatically causing a commotion among the commentators – has he got a problem, has he got a problem? The answer was less dramatic: he had seen that the clock on the starting gantry had run down to zero, so he thought he had finished and had somehow missed the chequered flag. After another ‘slow’ (for him) lap he realised his mistake and sped up again to win by 25 seconds. As most of the races on the programme were 15 minutes as opposed to our 20 minutes the clock had run down 5 minutes early!

Behind Barry there was a race-long battle for second between George Osborne and Tom Hill that had everyone enthralled. George had got ahead exiting Redgate on lap 1 but Tom was right behind him and for the next 12 laps they were less than a second apart, Tom looking for a way through and George defending superbly. On lap 13 George managed to eke out a 1.2 second advantage but then Tom came back at him and they were separated by only 0.26 seconds at the chequered flag – a marvellous duel by two fine drivers. In the process they both broke the Power Trophy lap record on lap 3, Tom just edging it, George broke it again on lap 5, Tom broke it again on lap 6 and again on lap 7. They were then slowed somewhat lapping cars, but then George broke it again lap 12 and again on laps 13 and 14, and finally Tom broke it twice in the last 2 laps finishing up with a new fastest lap of 1:19.75 on the final tour. Amazing.

Behind them Dave Messenger’s 156 GTA dropped steadily back in 4th maintaining a gap of a few seconds over Graham Seager’s 147 GTA in 5th and Graham in turn had a few seconds in hand over Andy Page in the Giulietta 116 Turbo (how great it was to see that car and driver out racing again!). Keith Waite finished 13th overall, having dropped back among the Twin Sparks after a couple of slower laps early on but picked up the pace again, lapping in the 1:27s. Andy Inman finished 2 laps down in his 156 GTA; having nearly spun on the green flag lap he had another major moment on lap 3 and lost confidence in the car after that and dropped down the order but, like Keith, he was back in the 1:27s for the latter part of the race.

RACE 1 RESULTS

CLASS WINNERS
Modified Barry McMahon
Power Trophy George Osborne
Twin Spark Cup Andrew Bourke

RACE 2

Sunday morning’s weather conditions were similar to Saturday’s albeit marginally warmer and we were scheduled to race at 11.45. The anxiety level was raised when it started raining at 11.10 but fortunately it stopped after 5 minutes and the track was dry when our time came around.

Once again both grids made good clean starts. In the front group Barry McMahon again led the field through Redgate with the rest of the field running in the same order as had finished the first race. Could George Osborne repeat his feat and keep Tom Hill behind him? Well, he managed it for a lap and a half but lost a couple of seconds to Tom on lap 2 and once he was through Tom began to pull away, increasing the gap to 5 seconds by lap 5 and to 8 seconds by lap 10. Dave Messenger was right behind George challenging him for 3rd early on but then George gathered it all up and began to pull away slowly but surely while Dave maintained a 4-5 second gap over Graham Seager. Andy Page was next; he lost 5 seconds to  Graham on the first lap and then dropped steadily further back by around a second a lap. Andy Inman was next, running closer to the pace this time until a spin on lap 5 cost him 30 seconds and he dropped back to the tail of the whole field. Keith Waite again took around 3 laps to get into his stride but then picked up his pace, really enjoying the race.

In the Twin Sparks Andrew Bourke once again made an excellent start from pole to lead the field through Redgate and at the end of lap 1 had a 2-second lead over Andrew Fulcher who was followed by Richard Ford, Tom Herbert, Jon Billingsley, James Ford, Steve O’Brien and Geoff Turral. On lap 2 Tom Herbert lost the brakes at the Old Hairpin, went off and bounced through the gravel trap before rejoining at the tail of the field. The gap between Andrew and the rest stayed at 2 seconds on lap 2 but on lap 3 it doubled to 4 seconds as the battle for second between Andrew Fulcher, Richard Ford and Jon Billingsley intensified behind him, with James Ford joining the group having caught up after starting at the back of the grid. Some 5 seconds back there was a close dice between Geoff Turral, Steve O’Brien and the recovering Tom Herbert. By lap 7 Tom had passed the other two and set about reducing the 6-second gap between him and the group ahead.

In the Modified/Power Trophy group Barry McMahon sailed serenely on at the head of the field lapping 3 – 4 seconds quicker than any of the rest, and picking his way carefully through the field when lapping them. It was another fine drive from Barry and he finished a minute ahead of Tom at the chequered flag while the only incident that affected Tom’s progress was hitting and sadly killing a hare on the Exhibition Straight. There was no further lowering of the lap record from either Tom or George; George was hampered by the loss of 4th gear and finished some 13 seconds adrift of Tom this time but also had 10 seconds in hand over Dave Messenger in 4th  Dave being the last runner not to be lapped by Barry. Graham Seager had a lonely run to 5th some 30 seconds clear of Andy Page in 6th . Keith Waite improved to 11th overall at the finish ahead of the delayed Andy Inman in 14th.

In the Twin Spark field the battle royal was continuing and, it must be said, was getting a little too robust at times as the tyre marks on the side of a number of the cars demonstrated. By lap 7 the gap from Andrew Bourke to the chasing pack was still 4 seconds. James Ford squeezed past Jon Billingsley on lap 5 to take 4th place, with Andrew Fulcher and Richard Ford running nose to tail in the battle for 2nd.  On lap 9 Richard got through into 2nd and on the following lap Andrew Fulcher dropped to 5th as James Ford and Jon Billingsley passed him, Jon getting through on the inside at MacLeans.

Behind them the recovering Tom Herbert had narrowed the gap to 3 seconds by lap 10, setting fastest lap in the class on lap 8 in the process, and by lap 11 was right on Jon Billingsley’s heels, Jon having been re-passed by Andrew Fulcher, as James Ford passed brother Richard at Macleans to take 2nd place in class. By this time, the leading Power Trophy cars were lapping the battling Twinspark group with  Tom Hill and George Osborne through on laps 11 and 12. As Dave Messenger caught and passed the group on the next lap, Jon Billingsley and Tom Herbert were able to take advantage leaving Richard and Andrew in 5th and 6th by the end of lap 13. At the chequered flag Andrew Bourke took the class win by 7 seconds from James Ford, with Jon Billingsley 3rd followed by Tom Herbert only 1/10th of a second behind him. Richard Ford was 5th by less than a second over Andrew Fulcher in 6th, with a gap then to Geoff Turral who just won the battle with Steve O’Brien in the final places. Phew!

RACE 2 RESULTS

CLASS WINNERS
Modified Barry McMahon
Power Trophy Tom Hill
Twin Spark Cup Andrew Bourke

As we head to Croft for the Ferrari Owners’ Club meeting on 26th/27th June Barry McMahon holds a narrow championship points lead over George Osborne, Andrew Bourke, Tom Hill and Graham Seager. Here’s hoping for a big grid and yet more exciting racing!

POINTS

Andy Robinson
Championship Coordinator

Photos by Michael Lindsay and David Harbey

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