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A is for Alfa.........

  With Mr Elwin and Mr Addison on board the good ship SCP is well stocked with
Alfa Nuts or Alfisti(?) it is appropriate for JE to put down his thoughts on
the change of direction that the Milanese manufacturer has taken............the pix are
from 2005 as my archive has nothing from ITC or DTM..........nor BTCC in its

John Brooks
January 2006

A is for Alfa…….. A is for ‘Appy

Look back in Alfa…………..
  It’s that time of the year when you start reminiscing, looking back at the previous
year – or if you are as old as I am, a lot further back than that!

  What set this train of thought in motion was the news that Alfa Romeo would not
be contesting the 2006 World Touring Car Championship. As a committed
follower of the Italian marque – it’ll be 25 years in February since I bought my first
Alfa & I haven’t been without one since – I met this news with mixed emotions for
we Alfista will travel to the ends of the earth to see Milano machinery vanquish
lesser manufacturers. However the crash-bang-wallop nature of the current
WTCC, perhaps exacerbated by the ridiculously short nature of the races is a
complete turn-off as far as I am concerned. And indeed I do turn off – the TV that is,
for I simply don’t want to watch it. I’m amazed that manufacturers are willing to
support it, but with Alfa gone will BMW really want TV viewers watching their cars
being beaten-up by Daewoos and Ladas?

Football Crazy

  Whilst recently going through the process of cataloguing 50 years’-worth of race
programmes I came across one for the Silverstone round of the 1987 WTCC, the
last time the series had world status. It was worthy of that status then too, for the
race was of 500km duration & had a packed entry of Sierra Cosworths, BMW M3’s,
Rovers and of course Alfas. Indeed, current star Gabriele Tarquini was there,
driving a Brixia Alfa 75 sponsored by arms manufacturer Beretta. He probably
could have done with their products this year to deal with those pesky Mullers!

  Gabriele is of course far too much of a gentleman to have such thoughts; indeed,
it was he who was the inspiration for the title of this piece. That thought process I
referred to earlier took me back to 1994 & 1995 – two of the most enjoyable
seasons of motor sport I have ever had, following the BTCC and DTM, and of
course Gabriele was involved in both of them. Although I have had little direct
contact with the WTCC this year I came to know him very well when he and Alfa
Corse took the British Touring Car Championship by storm in 1994. As he won
race after race “I am very ‘appy! became a familiar quote at post-race press

BTCC that’s the one for me………….

  The BTCC was at that stage only a couple of years or so into the Super Touring
era and was undergoing rapid growth. The championship had been around in
various guises since the late ‘fifties, Jack Sears winning the first title in 1958 at the
wheel of an Austin Westminster. In later years he was to drive Ford Galaxies and
Lotus Cortinas. However, the arrival of Charly Lamm’s slick Schnitzer BMW team
in 1993 really saw things move up a gear; driver Jo Winkelhock clinched the
championship & became a firm favourite with the crowds. And there really were
crowds too. Meetings that might only have attracted 5,000 spectators a year or two
before were now regularly pulling in upwards of 20,000. The racing was close, the
cars were recognizable, and the drivers were characters. The likes of John
Cleland, Will Hoy, Tim Harvey etc could all be relied upon to entertain off the track
as well as on. By 1994, it was virtually a world series with no less than ten
manufacturers involved. (Audi came along a couple of years later).

  Alfa Corse, led by the irrepressible Giorgio Pianta swept all before them in 1994.
Tarquini won the first five races outright – well, the rules might have been written in
English but the Italians had read them rather better than anyone else! The Alfa 155
employed an extremely effective aero package, which niggled some of the old
hands somewhat, particularly perennial champion Andy Rouse, as he was having
trouble making his Mondeos work. The acrimony came to a head at Oulton Park in
May when the Alfa team very publicly walked out. They were back though, having
agreed to some aerodynamic restrictions. Gabriele went on to take a deserved
crown, with his team-mate Giampiero Simoni also picking up a win or two along
the way. Simoni also got punted off at Brands Hatch by a leading opponent who
was fed up with the boyish Italian making eyes at his girlfriend!!

Tintop Wars
  The BTCC was to enjoy more good years of course, although Alfa Romeo did not
repeat the success after handing the operation over to Prodrive for ’95, when
Derek Warwick made his racing comeback. Despite their own success the BTCC
bods could not resist taking pot-shots at Germany’s DTM for some reason,
constantly sniping about being the best touring car championship etc. The
Germans sensibly didn’t rise to the bait. They didn’t need to really, for they had an
extremely effective series of their own pulling in even bigger crowds. Okay, so they
only had three manufacturers, but the cars were far more advanced technically
than the Super Tourers and indeed were closer to Formula 1 so were not playing
in the same backyard as the BTCC.

  Those of us who took the trouble to go and see for ourselves liked what we saw.
Only three or four UK journalists regularly covered the DTM at the time, but we
were made very welcome, and aside from having the privilege of reporting on
some spectacular racing we also enjoyed a great social life! Indeed it was also
known as the German Travelling Catering Championship, with Mercedes, Alfa and
Opel all entertaining lavishly. Mercedes used to entertain the press to dinner on
Saturday nights; normally this would take place in the paddock but the DTM
decamped to Mugello, Italy for the first round of the ill-fated ITC (that’s another
story!) we trooped off to a remote restaurant. Inevitably there was a guitarist
strumming away, and when he started on Beatles’ numbers he very quickly found
himself being accompanied by Norbert Haug and Eurosport’s Mark Cole on
vocals. It may just have been coincidence that Mark found himself being man-
handled out of the pitlane by security men the next day when he and his film crew
attempted to record the podium scene!

  There were other memories of that weekend too. Following the Mercedes dinner,
fellow journalist Gwyn Dolphin offered to take Autosport’s Laurence Foster and I
on a midnight tour of Florence, he having enjoyed a holiday there the previous
year. As we raced up and down back streets, which Gwyn curiously seemed to
know rather well, the Fiesta’s engine note was being drowned-out by repeated
renditions of the Italian football’s TV theme tune from an only slightly inebriated

Full Grids, Full Plates, Full Glasses………
  The aforementioned ITC (International Touring Car Championship) was an
attempt to turn the essentially German domestic series into an international one,
even trekking as far as Brazil, but it didn’t really work. The politics for one thing; the
FIA wanted to take over instead of leaving it to the established organization to run
things led to some wrangling. Also, the DTM had built-up a tremendous fan-base
at home, with loyal supporters waving flags for their favourite manufacturer. With
its open-paddock atmosphere and 100,000 crowd I’ve still yet to experience
anything quite like the build-up to a Hockenheim DTM race. Well, Le Mans
perhaps. Sadly though, the ITC saga caused too many divisions and was short-

  After a few races in ’95 alongside DTM it became a single championship in ’96.
When Opel announced their departure (primarily for financial reasons, just as has
happened again this year) at the end of ’96, DTM/ITC – or Class1 Touring Cars –
was destined to take a sabbatical for a few years. It didn’t go quietly though. Alfa
Romeo’s Saturday night paddock party at Hockenheim’s final European race in
October was still going strong when people started arriving for the days’ racing on
Sunday morning!

  Indeed Alfa Romeo was always a very colourful part of the scene with the
charismatic Giorgio Pianta ruling the roost. Nicola Larini and Alessandro Nannini
were the star drivers but amongst others Tarquini played his part, although he had
primarily concentrated on the Italian Super Touring series after his successes in
England. It nevertheless means that he is in a fairly exclusive position of having
raced in the full spectrum of touring cars over the years. Not always in Alfas – he
had a spell with Honda a year or two back – but it will nevertheless be strange to
see him in yellow and silver. Hopefully he has only signed a short contract so that
we shall see him back in his spiritual home when Alfa return in 2007. Hopefully
too, the WTCC will have grown-up by then and we shall have longer races and
less contact.

  Probably time I stopped rambling. Should never have delved into those old
programmes, but there’s a lot more stories in there.

Happy 2006!

John Elwin
January 2006

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