At the beginning of the season it is always important to assess what the main objectives and goals are for the year ahead. For the last two years I have taken part in effectively ‘one off’ races organised by clubs at different racing circuits. There are many perceived advantages to a “series” (as they are called) rather than championships including less damage, less testing and less expense. There is one big drawback, there is no overall goal to achieve over the course of a season and this is the reason why we have switched and entered the Alfa Romeo Championship. But wait, when was a Lancia a Alfa? Since 2017 the Alfas have allowed Fiat group cars to compete and a number of Puntos have joined the affray, sometimes winning overall. The Delta fits in to the Modified class, is allowed to run four wheel drive and other than some championship stickers, we are fully compliant to the regulations.
To get ready for the first meeting of the season over the 23rd and 24th of March at Brands Hatch, we headed over to Snetterton to shake down the car and get back to to racing speed. The first few runs went without a hitch and pretty soon we were lapping the three mile circuit in 2:09 which would have put us on pole position for last year’s race. After some minor off track action at Corum and a half spin at Wilson we were on our cool down lap when the throttle body failed. This Bosche motorsport electronic throttle takes messages from the ecu and controls the amount of air feed in to the engine. For safety reasons the unit has a dual set of sensors to sense what position the throttle is in and if they conflict (ie one has failed) it automatically closes the throttle. This is what happened to us and we limped back in to the pits to diagnose the issue. After downloading the data from the ECU, sending it off to have it analysed we effectively needed a new Throttle Body (£460). Once we had finished our deliberations the unit had cooled down and/or magically fixed itself, so we took a chance, threw on some new tyres on the back to scrub in and headed out for 5 gentle laps. On the third lap of this session the track rod end bolt sheered around Corum and the car shot off the track heading towards a barrier! Luckily there is plenty of run off, so the car was parked, the session red flagged, and we were picked up by a recovery truck and dumped back in to the pits.
Back at the workshop we found a company to make us up 8 new track rod end bolts, replaced all four and have another four spares. A new throttle body arrived and was swapped for the dodgy unit, the car cleaned and ready for the coming weekend at Brands Hatch.
Turning up to a championship with an unfamiliar car always gets tongues wagging and the usual “how much power?” and “how much does it weigh?” questions are asked. As always vague answers are given not answering the question and tentative pleasantries are exchanged. Please don’t think it is an unfriendly place or an unfriendly championship, this is perfectly normal in the cut and thrust of motor racing. You are all there for a reason and that is to beat everyone else who is there, and mind games are played all throughout the year, even at an amateur level.
Unfortunately, qualifying didn’t go quite to plan and after only three laps we had a gear selector failure which lost all drive and we parked up at the bottom of Paddock Hill bend. Given it was made of cast steal we couldn’t weld it reliably at the circuit and after a few phone calls we managed to persuade Rachel and Alan to drive to the workshop in Aylesbury, take off the linkage from a spare gearbox and bring it to us in time for the race. With an hour to spare we were back in business and ready to take the start. It is in times of need such as this when you realise what a kind and helpful community motorsport is. Both Rachel and Alan are competitive kart and car racers so didn’t think twice about dropping everything they were doing to help out a friend and competitor in need.
The unfortunate qualifying session set up an intriguing race one. Qualifying with a slow 58s lap in 6th had meant all my fellow competitors had effective written us off as no threat to the usual race pecking order. It came as some surprise when the lights went out and we went from sixth to the lead by the first corner and after the second lap we had over a five second lead! What followed was 20 minutes of hard and fast driving made incredibly difficult by a poor tyre choice from yours truly.
Balance is critical to a good lap time. What is meant by balance is having the front and rear of the car brake traction at the same time in a consistent manor. If one end of the car brakes traction first, you are effectively losing lap time as there was more overall grip in the car if more or less of the load could be transferred away from the axel which is causing slip first. I had chosen, in the interest of budget, to put some good tyres on the front and some worn tyres on the rear. We had the same setup in qualifying but never really tested the car in anger before the gear selector failure. After 4 laps or so I knew I was in trouble. The tyres were fully warned but I was still in a drifting competition, fighting the rear of the car on entry, apex and exit. Sadly sideways is the slowways and each slide saw me slipping further in to the clutches of a fiercely fast Alfa Romeo 159 driven by Barry McMahon and by lap 8 I had dropped to second where I stayed for the remainder of the race finishing about 11 seconds off the lead. Lap times were really strong with the Lancia achieving 54s lap, dropping in to the high 53s now and again but Barry was achieving low 53s and 52s consistently.
For race two the following day we were not going to make the same mistake with our tyre choice, nor were we going to be under estimated anymore! With a good set of tyres (thanks to another motorsport friend Kevin dropping his plans Sunday morning and changing over a set of tyres) starting on the front row we again made a great start but only gained 2 seconds on the competition. Barry was on the ball from the start this time and by lap 3 I had a green 159 on my back bumper and was back in second two laps later. This time our lap times were in the 53s and we managed a 53.0 towards the end of the race finishing only 4 seconds from the lead. The balance of the car was much better and I was able to push much more in to and our of the corners and was the main reason we were more competitive second time around.
The final surprise of the weekend was being awarded driver of the weekend by the championship. This is the first time I have been given such an award and I was very honoured to receive it. My thanks again to Rachel, Alan, John, Joe, Charlie and Kevin who all helped us have a great weekend and we look forward to Snetterton towards the end of April where we share the weekend with the TCR championship.