Some weeks ago we were invited to race our 2.0 Sprint GT in the French Championship for Modified 60’s & 70’s Saloon Cars at Dijon. The great news was that the race formed part of the famous Grand Prix de L’Age D’Or meeting. The biggest in the historic racing calendar for the French, it is the equivalent of the Spa 6 Hour meeting that we regularly race at in Belgium. An exciting prospect indeed!
This Championship allows cars to be modified to virtually any degree, with regard to suspension linkages, brakes and drive train. The engine rule was tailor made for our new full race Twin Spark engine now developing over 220BHP. As long as the engine used is from the same manufacturer as original, has the same number of cylinders and valves, one of any age may be fitted whilst going over capacity is also allowed. Superb news for us, but also a little daunting when I found out that the fastest Sixties car was a Ford Falcon sporting a modern Nascar Ford V8 motor with over 600BHP! Eek!
Dijon is a very fast circuit and any racer who has been there says how awesome the circuit is. With its sequences of long fast 4th gear switch back corners and a reputedly hairy 5th gear last corner leading on to a long straight, it had all the makings for a power circuit where the big American and German cars were going to be hard to beat!
We arrived in the paddock on Thursday morning for the free practice sessions, having spent Wednesday driving through England and France to reach Dijon which is located just south of the Champagne region of France. As we arrived the rain started to fall! The weather forecasts predicting distinctly average weather looked to be correct, despite our confidence that we were travelling far enough south to avoid the ‘British weather’! A quick decision was made that, given the length of the meeting (4 days) we had better see if we could get a pit garage. A few minutes later and with some decidedly dodgy school boy French, we were the proud owners of the last double pit garage for the princely sum of 150 Euros! By the time we had unloaded the rig into the garage, the skies were blue once again and with the circuit just needing time to dry, it looked like being one of those weekends of completely variable conditions.
The Alfaholics & Scuderia del Biscione shared Pit Garage
The Bavarian opposition looked fast standing still!
Thursday was spent in the mixed category free practices bedding brake pads, scrubbing new slicks freshly fitted to our pre-production 7×15” GTA wheels, as well as allowing Andrew and I time to learn the circuit. With up to 70 cars on track in some of these sessions, there was rarely a free lap, so circuit learning had to be broken down into corner sequences. By the time we left the circuit, the next weather front of thick black clouds was rapidly descending, and within minutes everything was awash with water!
The following day was qualifying. I awoke to the sound of rain pattering on the window – nice! Those virtual banzai laps I had perfected in bed the previous night: each braking point, turn in speed and apex, were threatened with becoming obsolete and being replaced by a wet session. On arriving at the circuit, the rain had reduced to a light drizzle and a better looking weather front was on the way, phew! Qualifying was not until 2:30 and by 1pm the circuit was looking in fabulous condition. I made sure that I reached the collecting area early, in order to ensure I would be at the front of the pack for qualifying and thus maximise my chance of an early clear lap. As we all waited for the light to go green it was time to zone in on the job in hand, although the 25minute races were long enough for it all to shake out, a banzai lap in qualifying where you are able to focus quicker than everyone else always helps. Laps 2, 3 and 4 were fast, times down in the mid 1m37’s as the tyres got up to full temperature. Alas on lap 5 the red flag came out. Frustration filled the cockpit! Instantly I wondered where I would line up in the queue in the pits to go back out again. If I was near the back, for sure the traffic would be too bad for a good lap, but fortunately I was near the front so all was still on for that hot lap! We were only held for a couple of minutes, so the residual temperature and pressures in the tyres were still good when we headed back out again. With a few slower cars picked off on the opening lap, the circuit was soon traffic free with only a BMW 3.0 CSL Batmobile in front. Surely I wouldn’t be able to catch him! Lap 7 nailed the time, the car was stunning, so balanced and predictable that I was able to push like a veteran of Dijon. Over the line 1m 37.0 – a cracker! When the timing sheets came through we had achieved an unbelievable 6th overall, first in the Sixties class by 2.3 seconds and only 2.2 behind the pole position 3.0 CSL. Fantastic! The arrival of the grid sheets generated great interest in our car, fellow competitors and many Alfisti wanting to crawl round the car to see what we were using to make the car so fast!
Qualifying photos: 1. Awaiting the restart of the session in the pit lane after the red flag. 2. Passing Alfaholics customer Francis Hermand on the pit straight
It was nice to be able to put so many faces to names that I had either spoken to on the phone or had e-mail dialogue with! It turned out that the Eric Martin who had qualified his 3.0 Porsche 911 3rd on the grid was the same long time Alfaholics customer who owns a beautifully original 1600 GTA and 101 Giulietta Spider! Phillippe Drouilleau who had qualified his 1750 GTV mid field was keen to see the 3-D mapped ignition system we use on our twin spark engines and it turned out that the lovely 2.0 Sprint GT in the next door pit garage was another long term customer, Francis Hermand who qualified an excellent 5th in the 60’s class!
Alexis Walter of Scuderia Del Biscione fame who had qualified his 3.0 GTV6 nineth Overall on the grid and had kindly helped us organise our trip to Dijon, invited us to dinner at his home that evening, conveniently just the other side of Dijon, lucky man! With Francis Hermand also invited, it was an excellent opportunity for Andrew and I to brush up on our rusty French as well as see Alexis’ superb Mk2 1750 GTV project car! After many hours of Alfa chat and more than a few glasses of local French wine, it was time to head back to the hotel in preparation for the next day’s race. Alexis, the local weather expert warned of wet weather in the morning clearing “in the middle of the day”. With our race at 1:30pm that put a real question mark over tyre choice and suspension settings.
The circuit was wet and the drizzle was constant on the Saturday morning. It didn’t look great, but that was OK as a wet weather race is a lot of fun and can be very advantageous for a light well balanced car up against the big beasts! An hour before the race the drizzle stopped and the circuit started drying, but not quickly. At the start of the lunch break it looked 100% like slicks, then it drizzled for 10 minutes again. Oh dear, decisions, decisions! Alexis was adamant about slicks, for in the distance, on the horizon, a brighter weather front was coming, but how quickly?! For sure if it didn’t rain again you would be lost on wets – they would melt within a few laps, so we went for it on slicks. As a security measure, I backed off our adjustable blade rear antiroll bar to half soft, just in case. This is were this lovely design feature really comes into its own. In the collecting area there was a complete mixed bag, half the grid on wets and half on slicks. Interesting! Of the 60’s cars, the Camaro was on intermediates and the Falcon was on wets; it really was set to be a win or lose situation for all of us!
Whilst in the collecting area it looked a bit dodgy for slicks, once on the grid the drying line was all too clear to see!
The officials granted us 2 warm up laps due to the conditions; for sure we had made the right decision. We would just about hang with the guys on wets for the first few laps, then the already apparent slight dry line would develop and see us disappear! In the way only a movie script could set a story, it rained on the last corner of the second warm up lap. I had a chuckle to myself in my helmet, what misfortune! Still there was a chance to get right amongst it in the first corner and how long would the rain last anyway?
As the lights went green, the rain fell!
One of the Porsches in front of me and the pole sitting BMW were obviously spooked by the change of conditions. This allowed me to slip round the outside of the first bend into 3rd, but a big slide into the second corner affirmed how treacherous it was becoming. Time for a steady head, no need the throw it all away on the first lap! The guys on wets were starting to make headway from behind; it was only a matter of time before they descended on me!
The rain got heavy on lap 4, wipers going furiously to keep vision! It was now even a battle to keep the car on the straight and narrow down the straight, pulling 7,300rpm in 5th past the pits with the rear wheels spinning up and actively making steering inputs to keep the car straight was an interesting exercise, not for the feint hearted! Half way through the race the white Falcon of Gerard Camel who had been 5.5 secs slower in qualifying, blasted past down the pit straight on his wet tyres and I waved good bye to a class win. As the race developed, the circuit started to dry slightly and a couple of people on wets were picked off before the chequered flag but the circuit never had a chance to dry out; phew… got her home! As I got out of the car, I was ushered to the podium, second in the 60’s category, a fantastic result considering the conditions!
The weather on Sunday was excellent, it had not even rained overnight, so Andrew’s Sunday morning race was set to be dry! With the car fuelled we headed to the collecting area for the inhumanly early 8am start! Andrew was also lucky to benefit from my efforts in qualifying and started 6th overall.
Discussing first corner tactics in the collecting area!
Warm up lap for Race 2
The lead BMW got the drop off the start and only the first 6 cars were on the button with him as they all dragged up to the first corner, I saw Andrew dive to the outside just as I had in the first race as they disappeared from view. The commentators ramblings in French were hard to hear, but “troisieme Banks” was enough to know the good work he had done!
As I had in the previous race, Andrew dives into 3rd Overall through the first complex!
At then end of the first lap Andrew came through in 4th, desperately trying to cling on to the Porsches. Their power though, was all too clear to see! When the exit kerb of the last corner is 6,500 rpm in 5th before the main straight it was going to be difficult for him to keep with the big 70’s cars throughout the entire race! As the race developed the most exciting battle in the field was that between Andrew and a 2.5 litre Porsche engined Beetle. Andrew would exit the last corner a good few lengths in front, but then the Beetle would reel him in down the straight, leaving Andrew defending ferociously into the first corner.
Andrew battles the rapid Beetle/Porsche!
After several laps the Beetle improved his slipstreaming technique and got past early enough on the straight for Andrew not to be able to out brake him any more into turn 1. Another car we had been out muscled by down the straight was the Chevrolet Camaro running in the 60’s category, so as the race ended we were once again 2nd in the 60’s class and Andrew got his turn on the podium and more silverware!
To top the weekend off, as we were about to load up and go home, a French TV crew from Direct 8 TV, were so impressed with the efforts of the little Alfa in the 2 races, that they shot some extensive footage for their TV coverage and interviewed us about the spec we were running on the car!
As we started our 10 hour drive home we reflected on a thoroughly enjoyable and successful weekend. First of all the circuit. Wow, what a place! Any of you who haven’t raced there and get the opportunity to do so, grab it; its one hell of a circuit! Second the French Championship we raced in is a really great series! It allows people to express their engineering flair to the max. making these wonderfully beautiful historic cars into seriously rapid machinery. It’s tailor made for our car and hopefully we will return later in the year to sample it again. At a tighter circuit, less dictated by raw CCs the Alfa would be a much better bet to run right at the front! With the European race scene being swamped with ‘FIA’ based championships; it was a breath of fresh air to race in this open minded championship. Long live the Hot-Rods!
Alfaholics’ customer 1600 GTAs racing in U2TC at Dijon; race winner Dieter Anton (top), Gelscoe Motorsport (Middle), Garage Ivo Salvadori (bottom)
Beautiful 8C Monzas