2017 SEASON REVIEW: ALFA ROMEO CHAMPIONSHIP
2017 was a year of contrasts for the BRSCC Alfa Romeo Championship. On the one hand we had the close fought racing provided by the strongly supported Twin Spark Cup while on the other the Modified and Power Trophy classes struggled with numbers although they were helped by the Invitation class Fiat Puntos. However, an essential feature of the Championship is variety both in the Alfa models being raced and the level of performance they provide. It has become increasingly difficult to run a modified Alfa at every championship round which doesn’t help a title challenge, whereas the Twin Sparks are relatively straightforward to prepare although attention to detail is still vital. However, nothing should detract from the Twin Spark battles we witnessed throughout the season and the successes that left Twin Spark drivers holding the top five places in the end of the year points table, led by Andrew Bourke in his Bianco prepared 156.
2016 champion Tom Hill started the year hoping that he could win back-to back titles but from the opening meeting at Oulton in March things didn’t quite go his way. A win in race 1, followed by a retirement in race 2 left the Championship lead in the hands of Andrew Bourke and that was where it stayed, despite a hiccup in the penultimate round at Mallory where his car was destroyed after a race 1 collision, necessitating the loan of Paul Plant’s 156 for the final encounter at Donington in October. Andrew took five class wins during the year, thoroughly deserving his championship victory, while Tom suffered from a brush or two with authority resulting in grid penalties that handicapped his efforts to get on terms. Nonetheless he took three wins before eliminating himself and the other championship contender Simon Cresswell in race 2 at Donington. 2017, though, was one of our best seasons for the number of different drivers who took Twin Spark victories. Very competitive whenever he appeared was James Browning who raced his 147 to a win on the Silverstone International circuit and a double at Brands in Festival Italia in August. With four second places to his name at Cadwell and Donington, we were left to wonder what he might have achieved had he managed a full season. James was also leading in the second Silverstone race before his engine failed and this gave James Ford the chance to take his only win of the year. Mallory maestro Dave Messenger battled against attacks from Simon Cresswell, Tom Hill and the hard trying Mike Tydeman to take a double on the “Friendly Circuit”, Mike failing by just 0.353”! And then at Donington we saw the return of a determined Andy Hancock who did exactly what he told us he was going to do, leading both races from start to finish, much to the delight of the Bianco Auto Developments team whose cars had already taken the top four places in the Championship. In a consistent run to third in the overall points, Simon Cresswell was disappointed not to take a class win but four second places and seven thirds was still a fine tally. Other drivers to add their own “colour” to proceedings, included Richard Ford, Jeremy Chilton, Andy Inman, Matt Daly, Stacey Dennis, Gethin Llewellyn and Roger Evans.
The Modified, Power Trophy and Invitation classes provided the entertainment at the front of every race but we never quite knew which cars were going to appear as reliability, difficulty in finding parts or financial considerations limited many drivers’ programmes. Graham Seager eventually emerged as Modified class winner with his supercharged GTV with five wins to his credit but we also saw Roger McMahon’s 156 3.2 in the winner’s circle with both Roger and 2016 Fiesta champion Alistair Kellett at the wheel. Anthony George won twice at Silverstone in his 33, Vincent Dubois (156 Turbo) twice at Festival Italia and then Barry McMahon arrived at Donington with his 156 Turbo, not only to take two wins but also a new Alfa lap record, beating the old time set by Neil Smith in 2012 with his WTCC 156. And then there were the Fiat Puntos of the McFie brothers, Chris and Simon who enlivened proceedings. Chris took the first ever Punto win in the Championship at Oulton and then repeated it twice at Cadwell, several other good results following. They will become part of the Power Trophy class in 2018. Bryan Shrubb should have taken a win at Cadwell but his 33 was not its usual reliable self and sadly we didn’t see it again. We had been waiting all year for the appearance of Andy Robinson’s re-engined 156 but reported brake failure at Donington’s Red Gate left the car very badly damaged on its debut and Andy briefly in hospital. This led to his decision to retire from racing although he has pleased everyone by taking on the role of Championship Co-ordinator. Modified class winner was Graham Seager with Roger and Barry McMahon in the other podium positions.
Like the Modified class, the Power Trophy lacked entries in 2017 but was spiced up by the arrival of the ex Clive Hodgkin 156 3.2 in the hands of Paul Webster and the occasional appearance of Paul Plant in a 3 litre 156, both drivers finishing on the overall podium during the year. Ian Brookfield had been developing his 155 3 litre into a strong contender but a frightening accident (not of his making) at Brands wrote the car off. Ray Foley (147 GTA) took a win at Silverstone but his year was blighted by a persistent engine problem while Ron Davidson was a class winner at Snetterton. By Donington he had the 164 going very quickly indeed. Keith Waite’s 75 3 litre also took two class wins at Rockingham. Power Trophy class winner was Paul Webster from Ron Davidson and Ian Brookfield.
2018 already looks as though it will be another exciting year, with the Championship’s opening round part of the TCR UK support programme at Silverstone over Easter – not be missed!