Alfa Romeo 147 track attack

By: Phil Radoslovich, Photography by: Lloyd Clonan

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20 years between drinks - a 21st Century return to motorsport

 

Racing Revival

After campaigning an Alfa Romeo 1750 GTV in Group N and Series Production (previously Club Cars) racing for about 15 years I eventually succumbed to the time and budget pressures of middle age and reluctantly said good bye to racing at the end of 1999. The kids were 9 and 8 years old respectively and it became increasingly difficult to justify the cost and time to go racing.

Like all retired racers I occasionally had pangs for a return but managed to deal with these largely by avoiding attendance at race tracks, apart from continuing as a volunteer flag marshal until 2005. Any thoughts of a comeback were knocked on the head once I became a Scout leader, an activity which took up most of my free time.

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Thrashing the GTV at the Adelaide GP

Several years ago we bought a 2014 Mini Cooper S. Naturally this piqued my curiosity about what lap-times it could do around Mallala! Equally the main driver, motorsport sponsor and wife (Helen) was very reluctant to part with her beloved Mini and whenever I threatened to follow through with my promise to "wring its little neck at Mallala" the conversation was promptly redirected!

A passion for photography, especially now that I have more time to put into it, brought on a trip to Mallala to take photos of a Marque Sports Car Association of SA (MSCASA) supersprint in Oct 2018. A subsequent weekend taking photos at the Adelaide Motorsport Festival about six weeks later resulted in me reacquiring the motorsport bug quite severely.

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I had some conversations with a couple of mates in the Alfa Romeo Owners Club in SA regarding the costs and concepts of a local competition for Alfas called Formula 98 as an entry level back into motorsport. My proposal to buy an Alfa 147 to Supersprint instead of thrashing the aforementioned Mini was agreed to by Helen very quickly and I was in the market for a car.

Things started to move quite quickly from this point. Alfa Club mate Andrew who provides great assistance to club members on various motorsport matters put me onto a manual 147 2.0 TS which he knew was for sale. It was owned by a former member who had run it at one or two supersprints and with only 144000kms on a 16 year old car that was in good condition, it was an ideal choice. Cost to purchase was very reasonable at $2000. It had a documented service history and drove well. Importantly it had survived its previous super-sprints and had done an ok time although there may have been some braking issues as it only completed about six laps in total at its second outing Having acquired the car after the end of the competition season I had several months to get used to driving a front-wheel drive Alfa – something I have very rarely done before. I had long insisted that ‘proper’ Alfas have a north-south engine and drive from the rear wheels. Despite my prejudices against front wheel drives I have quickly fallen in love with my first red Alfa – after owning green, silver, blue, and cream ones. They are an addiction rather than just transport!

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After talking to knowledgeable people in the Alfa club it became apparent that on the Twinspark Alfa motors the timing belts and associated tensioners are items which MUST be regularly changed, at the risk of severe engine damage if they fail. The red car was due, from its service history and I managed to persuade my good friend Lloyd into changing the timing belts, water pump and various hoses on the red car in preparation for my first competition event in 20 years. It helped that he had recently acquired two 147s (one for his grand-daughter), was keen to learn more about them and had a spare engine with which to tinker. I really needed the help as I am near enough to mechanically helpless.

Despite its extensive and documented service history, the engine internals needed some TLC. The engine was badly in need of several treatments of oil flush to clean it out and the cooling system water was a curious rust red shade. Having done the basic mechanical servicing we then considered the sorts of modifications available under various categories of rules – MSCASA classes, Formula 98 rules in South Australia and Twin Spark Cup rules from interstate which sounds a bit ambitious but I enjoy the travel and there are several race tracks I still have a desire to compete at – notably Phillip Island, Eastern Creek and Wakefield Park. It is a shame that the Alfa Twin Spark Cup rules don’t line up more closely with Formula 98 in SA. Key differences are in freedoms in tyres and suspension modifications. By thinking first about the rules we will hopefully void spending time and money having to make additional changes later.

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Driver and mechanic

We decided to do the first supersprint with the car exactly as it was. In this way we would gain some baseline data and importantly would better understand whether any future modifications work or not, with lap-times as the primary determinant.
I drove out to Mallala feeling strangely nervous. A 20-year break from competing in any sport is a very long time between events and I had a few butterflies swirling around inside me as I drove into Mallala from Gawler – not the way I normally head there but we have moved house several times in the interim. It was quite strange but nevertheless understandable to be treated as a first-time sprinter despite having been a regular competitor in the distant past, and even more so as I am also a past President of MSCA. But with being a first timer came a valuable closed practice session with the other newbies. This allowed me to both get a feel for the track again and in the spirit of doing exploratory laps I promptly took the opportunity to pass the 308 Ferrari in front of me! After that the "red mist" may have descended just a bit however the place came back to me very quickly!

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My times in practice seeded me in the last group which included several other Alfa Romeos for company and I enjoyed some close competition with a fellow club member in his 156. Having said that, given it was a supersprint competition, we’d both have been better off to let the other go for the sake of lap-times and consistency as supersprint results are determined by the best laptime and not relative track position as determines results in a motor race.

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The risk of driving a completely standard car to Mallala, a track which is notoriously tough on brakes, is that you are very likely to cook the brakes. The 147 ended up with a soggy brake pedal after having boiled the brake fluid – somewhat of a rookie error on my part not to flush some racing fluid thorugh the system before the event. Post event analysis also showed that the brake pads that were in the car (EBC Red) , even ones designed for enthusiastic road driving were clearly not up to being belted at one of the country’s hardest braking circuits as they were very badly glazed. Despite their limitations they did an ok job in allowing me to get down to a 1:36.90 on the first time out in the car but there is plenty of room for improvement with practice and further development, and BETTER Brakes! A quick stop at the Mallala Hotel on the way home for a refreshing drink and a chat with an old mate who was running a Volvo completed a fun return to motorsport. Having enjoyed and survived my return to motorsport I am now spending way too much time web searching performance bits and dreaming about how quick one can make a 147 go within the limited budget that I have and the bounds of common sense. With any motorsport scenario there is always a trade-off between desired performance and cost to attain it. My experience with the 1750 GTV strongly points to priorities for safety, brakes, handling and grip. Only when these areas are sorted and if there is money left will the dreaming turn to improving horsepower.

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Exiting Mallala’s Turn 2 with the right foot squashing the carpet

The MSCA run 5 or 6 supersprints per year at Mallala and at The Bend Motorsport park at Tailem Bend. As the 147’s brakes needed attention I was advised to purchase CL RC6 compound carbon metallic pads. I also bought a set of RDA slotted and dimpled rotors from Powerbrakes for both better performance and the best surface to grip. It took a full supersprint to dial in the revised braking points with the new pads before a lap time improvement. The pads have provided a significant laptime improvement from 1:36.9 to 1:35.0 and this should improve further when the suspension and tyres are upgraded and the car is better able to make use of the stopping power of the brakes and becomes easier to drive. I’ve really enjoyed my first year back competing in motorsport and am looking forward with great enthusiasm to 2020 and further improvements to the car, my driving and those laptimes.

Thanks to Helen, Lloyd, Andrew and North Terrace Tyres for their help and support.

SPEND SO FAR

Car cost including spare wheels and RE003 tyres $2400
Cambelts, water-pump, oils, brake fluid $600 (plus fitting)
Competition front brake pads and new slotted rotors $550
CAMS Licence: $100

FUTURE DEVELOPMENT:
(in order of priority)
Helmet (as current helmet is quite old) $450
Dorian timer Unit $400
Shocks/springs (approx.) $2200
Stickier Tyres (currently running Bridgestone RE003s) $800
Bolt in Half roll cage (under consideration) $1500
TOTAL (at this stage) $9000

 

From Unique Cars #451, April 2021

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