The forecast for the Easter weekend was for warm and sunny weather and so it proved. A cloudless sky and enough of a breeze rippling the Snetterton flags to take the edge off the heat without turning the air chilly.
A lengthier-than-usual driver briefing at 11.15 left me just enough time to get back to the car and set off for the Assembly area for qualifying. After a couple of slighter laps to bed his tyres in, Barry McMahon’s Modified 156 Turbo started turned up the wick and on lap 5 recorded a 2:08.132 to set the overall and Modified class pole. It was far from easy though with our Delta Integrale breathing down his neck. What would have been my quickest lap of 2:08.687 was unfortunately disallowed for exceeding track limits at the exit to Riches but the second fastest time of 2:08.892 was close enough to indicate that the race result was far from a foregone conclusion, and some observers were convinced that the Integrale was quicker than Barry’s 156 in a straight line. Mervyn Miller’s 156 was the third Modified class entrant and he circulated in the 2:20s for nearly the whole session before recording a 2:19.826 for what would be 4th quickest overall, Paul Webster’s Power Trophy 156 getting in ahead of him with an impressive lap of 2:16.627 to take 3rd place on the grid.
As at Brands in March, the Integrale rocketed ahead of the Modified and Power Trophy field as soon as 2nd gear was engaged. However, this time Barry McMahon was more prepared for this and made a much quicker start than he had at Brands and managed to get past us on lap 1 instead of several laps into the race. At the end of lap 2 I had held the gap to Barry McMahon ahead to around 3 seconds, but lap 3 was to prove sensational. The previous Snetterton 300 Alfa Romeo Championship was held by Adie Hawkins’ (achieved in his Modified 33 now racing successfully in Thundersaloons) had stood for many years but with the 157 Turbo on full boost Barry smashed it to smithereens with a time of 2:04.721, eclipsing Adie’s record by some 1.8 seconds. It was breath-taking and a great tribute to Barry’s driving skill as well as the awesome performance of his car. I had to conceded that, try as I might, I could not achieve a lap in the 2.04s.
Race 1 start, photo by Alfa Romeo Championship
After breaking the lap record early on Barry McMahon had a 10-second cushion to the Integrale. At this point with a slightly slipping clutch, I turned down the power but kept on it, just with less torque. However, by lap 6 the gap was down to 4 seconds, then 3; it went back up to 4 at the end of lap 8 as both of us were lapping cars. At this point I turned the power back up but at the finish Barry won by 1 second, the 156 not quite itself after its exertions earlier in the race – it was nail biting but he held on.
The excellent weather continued on Sunday with conditions virtually unchanged. The remaining cars and drivers were all ready to go at the allotted start time of 12.15 but there had been a delay due to a number of Formula Fords hurling themselves at the scenery and having to be retrieved, so we took the start 15 minutes later than scheduled.
As the lights went out to start the Modified and Power Trophy cars I got a characteristically rapid start to take the lead. The others all seemed to get away well initially but, unexpectedly, at the end of lap 1 Barry McMahon was still in 3rd place behind Mervyn Miller and had a lead of nearly 10 seconds. It appeared that all was not going to plan for Barry. He did pass Mervyn on lap 2 but did not come round at all at the end of lap 3, the marshals reporting that he had pulled off the circuit. The marshals had to wait for the whole field to pass before they could get across to him but when they did the car suddenly started and Barry set off again but never recovered any speed.
Half way through the race I suffered a similar problem experienced in race 1, namely losing clutch adhesion. When this happens, you can manage the situation by not adding power until the clutch is fully engaged as well as reducing the stress on down shifts. This worked for a few more laps (with the turbo turned right down) but then slipped just on throttle. Towards the end of the race I was only able to use about 25% throttle but kept totally committed to braking and cornering, lessening the damage to lap time. With a qualifying time of 2:08, lap times went to 2:10, then 2:12, finally ending up at around 2:17 for the last lap. The good news was the gap to 2nd was large enough to see us crossing the line first and taking the first win of the season.
Winning is a great feeling and makes all of the blood, sweat and tears (quite literally) worthwhile, fuelling your desire and commitment to develop, improve and close the performance gap to the 156 Turbo. It is also worth remembering the age-old adage about finishing. Significantly modifying a car will always bring an increased chance of reliability. This is especially true at club level where you cannot afford to life components by pre-maturely throw stuff away in case it may fail. Barry’s lap record had taken it’s toll on his car and nearly cost him two wins instead of just the second race. Likewise, we also nearly didn’t make it due to the weakest link in the chain giving up on us right at the end of race 2. All that matters are where you end up at the finish line, and this is the essence of all sport. Should have, could have, would have doesn’t cut it and nor should it.
A new clutch has been ordered and we will be racing once again at Croft during the first weekend of July. Also racing the same weekend is the TCR, Touring Car Trophy, Formula Ford and three other one marque championships in MX5s, Civics and Porsches. Highlights, extended and short videos all up on YouTube as well as facebook to see the action for yourself.