Festival Italia 16th Aug 2020.

It was a bit touch and go whether Festival Italia would go ahead at Brands Hatch this year and as it turned out was a much reduced affair in terms of attending numbers and stalls. This was to comply with the risk assessment that allowed the event to go ahead and was a very sensible move to allow for safe social distancing during this pandemic. The pits and paddock were also closed to the general public and this too was sensible. It did not take away from the atmosphere and the racing was exciting in the mixed weather that was to arrive in the afternoon. I had to arrive late and could not get round too many of the section but there was time to have a look at a few cars that as always take my fancy.

One that did was pointed out to me by Dan Kent in the form of a blue 156 GTA Sportwagon. There are only 111 GTAs left on the road in the U.K and in the Sportwagon would be even rarer. There was no sign of the owner so I couldn’t have a chat but the picture says in all.

There was also a red 75 owned by one of the Essex section – Phil Gotts. This car was in rather a nice condition and stood out to me.

David King was there in his, as always, beautifully presented Giulietta and Dave is one of the nicest chaps that you can get to talk to. The last time I got to have a good old chin wag with him was at the Sprint meet at the Crystal Palace circuit in 2019. He had just popped in on his way for a pint at the local social club and walked in as section members were there and one, Christian Brewer was competing.

Richard D’Cruz turned up a bit later as is his want in his Spider with the top down as always. As his is a two person job to get the hood up opted to keep it down throughout the day despite the forecast of a later downpour in the afternoon. He was destined to and did get very wet on the way home. He didn’t tell me if his shirt shrank to an un-wearable size but if it did it would be Karma for the last shirt he sold me. I like Richard he has a good sense of humour.

There was another section member that would have been in the display stand in the form of Andrew Craker. He is the official time keeper for a lot of the races at Brands Hatch so was well and truly locked away in the race tower in arguably the best seat in the house just under the commentator’s level.

What really stood out was the appearance of two almost identical Zoe yellow spiders. They are a bit of a rarity on their own let alone two together. One is owned by our Chairperson Dave Norman on a distinctive T plate and the other is owned by fellow section member Hart D P who brought along his daughter, who had a thoroughly good day out.

One would be forgiven for thinking that both these vehicles were identical and off the same production line and it is not till you speak to someone more knowledgeable that you realise that one was made in the Milan factory and the other was from the production line at the Pininfarina plant. The difference and only clue being the side badges on each vehicle.

Both are very nice cars and so deserve an extra picture.

I had during the week been provided with a competitors pass to the paddocks and pits that were closed to the public as I wanted to meet with and chat to one of the drivers in the Alfa Championship in order to find out about what goes on in these races. So well after qualifying I met up with Steve O’Brien who was driving in the Twin Spark Cup. He had by now got himself in to 5th place on the grid after qualifying. All three classes race together in the Modified, Power Trophy and Twin Spark Cup categories. This to the un-initiated like me is a bit confusing but once explained is pretty straight forward.

Steve O’Brian

The Alfa Championship is the least expensive way to get into racing and running costs if things do not go wrong are around ten to twelve thousand pounds a year. Steve O’Brian was driving a 147 and to keep the enterprise going is heavily sponsored by Woya Digital (who are also official marketing partners and championship sponsors for The Alfa Championship) they can be found at https://www.woya.co.uk/ and are all about digital internet marketing. Another sponsor is Wrap UK who are currently turning round a wing and bumper for the car. They can be found at  https://www.wrapuk.com/  – should you need a quote. Emblazed across the top of the windscreen of all the Alfas racing in the championship is our very own corporate logo of the Alfa Romeo Owners Club and they can be found here at Https://www.aroc-uk.com  and obviously are supporting the championship as well. Sponsorship is important to keep the racing going and would be difficult without it. It is important to try to raise the profile of this type of racing to attract new people and as I learnt from my time in the paddocks and the pits the whole setup is very friendly and accommodating and although competition is fierce on the track there is a lot of helping each other behind the scenes where even engines have been known to have been gifted between races. Bianco Auto Developments  https://bianco-alfa.com/ give race support to around nine vehicles in the championship and even rent out vehicles (to the suitably qualified) to race for as little as a day. I must admit they are quick and I personally witnessed, whilst I was in the pits, one of the quickest tyre changes on a salon vehicle I have ever seen.

Prepping Steve O’Brian’s car in the paddock.

Jamie Porter wheel change and fast work by the Bianco race support team.

Steve O’Brien got into racing in 2013 and the Alfa Championship through Barry McMahon. In 2014 after, “a bit of baptism,” (the English are so understating sometimes) upgraded to a 147 which allowed him to race in what is now The Twin Spark Cup. Here he managed to finish every race and got his best ever position of third at Snetterton. There was a bit of a gap and saw him return for the 2019 and 2020 season with a new race prepared 147. The aim being to finish the season’s racing competitively and in a good position. I had caught Steve just before the first race of the day and he understandably had other things on his mind so I agreed to meet him after the first race and took myself off to the pits to watch proceedings from there.

The first race in the Alfa Championship had eleven different models on track and twenty five vehicles were on the grid. Track conditions were slippery off the racing line caused by previous days racing and rain was threatened. Steve had already qualified 5th on the grid for his class. Two of the Twin Sparks spun into the sand at Paddock Hill bend and were stuck causing the safety car to be deployed for four laps. One of the bonnets flew off one vehicle and completely smashed the windscreen. Racing was close in the Twin Spark Cup class caused by the safety car allowing them to re-group. There was a truly excellent drive by Steve O’Brien in a move up the field to finish third in the class and Gaining him a podium position.

Steve O’Brian’s 147 in race one.

Things seemed to be going well and race two was in the afternoon before which the rain poured in and nineteen cars took to the grid and all made good starts but on top of the already slippery conditions one of the Alfas suffered a cracked sump and unknown to the driver completed five laps to make the circuit akin to an ice rink which caused Steve O’Brien’s car to leave the track at Druids and hit the tyre wall and could not continue. I am sure we will see the car back up and running for the next session of the Twin Spark Cup and I wish Steve all the best and thank him for giving up his time and to explain how the Alfa championship works as well as making me very welcome whilst he was busy preparing for his races. What a fantastic chap!

Between races I had a nose round the pits as you never know what you may find or what histories you will uncover. I must admit I felt a bit humbled and privileged to be allowed to wander about in this fashion as well as how friendly everyone was. What I did find was an amazing car and the first driver of a car whose history led to an Oscar nominated film. This came in the form of Lorenzo Bandini’s Formula Junior.

Formula Junior was an open wheel formula racing class first adopted in October 1958 by the CSI (International Sporting Commission, the part of the FIA that then regulated motorsports). The class was intended to provide an entry level class where drivers could use inexpensive mechanical components from ordinary cars. The idea to form the new class came from the need of a class for single seat racing cars where younger drivers could take their first steps. This was pretty much the same as what The Alfa Racing Championship is trying to do now under the support of AROC. History repeats itself and the same principles and conditions are now all around us as they were in 1958.


Lorenzo Bandini’s Volpini Formula Junior and its current drivers.

Volpini Formula Junior and Bandini’s racing overalls.

Lorenzo Bandini was born in Libya, then an Italian colony and returned to Italy and Florence in 1939. His father died when he was 15 and he started as an apprentice mechanic at the Freddi Workshop in Milan and started racing in 1957. He was in a relationship with Freddi’s daughter and he borrowed the money to buy the Volpini Formula Junior and was placed third in his first race in Sicily. In 1959 and in 1960 he drove a Formula Junior Stanguellini. In 1960 he placed fourth in the Formula Junior World Championship. In 1962 Bandini was hired by Ferrari for the 1962 and 1963 seasons, and moved to Maranello, near the team’s headquarters. His debut was in a works Ferrari at the Monaco Grand Prix and finished third. There was then a very successful racing career with Ferrari. He was retained for sports car racing and won the Le Mans 24 hour race in 1963 and based on the 24 hour Le mans race in 1966 was one of the main characters for the film “Ford Vs Ferrari” which received Oscar nominations. You can watch some of the best bits of the film here at:

Bandini died of his injuries in 1967 at the Monaco Grand Prix in the harbour chicane. The car exploded after a crash when the fuel tank was ruptured. He suffered horrific burns and fractures and died three days later. Over 100,000 people attended his funeral. His grave is still visited by thousands of people a year.

On a happier note whilst I was doing my thing. David Faithful, one of the AROC board was doing his thing and has produced a video of the day’s events and it says far more than my thousand words could in far shorter time. It’s very good so have a look at here and enjoy:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jE3IJ1OuCLQ

You must never forget the section characters as well. I am very envious of Willie Clapperton. He had the best seat in the house to eat at his mobile restaurant and at the same time watch the fantastic racing. I have to admit that its was far better than the executive terrace and better still free! Thats what AROC membership gives you – a better experience for free.