Alfa 12 Hour Relay 2017

27 November 2017 / Words by Bryan Shedden & Stewart Temesvary, Photos by Tammie Hotz, Gillian Fletcher & Bryan Shedden

The Alfa Relay is an annual regularity relay organised by the Alfa Romeo Owners Club at Winton Raceway in north-eastern Victoria. First held in 2006 as a 6 Hour relay, this year was the 12th running of the event, and it was extended to a 12 Hour format, split over the weekend of 14 & 15 October.

Our mates from the MX-5 Club of Victoria & Tasmania regard the Alfa Relay as the premier event in their motorsport calendar. They take it extremely seriously and have had five podiums in the last six years, including back-to-back wins in 2012 and 2013. Our club's first attempt at the Alfa Relay was in the 2015 10 Hour, finishing in 15th place, followed by 5th and 18th in the 2016 10 Hour. Riding hot on the heals of a famous 1-2 finish at the NSWRRC 6 Hour Relay at Eastern Creek earlier this year, we fielded two teams of five drivers each:

Panorama Mountain Men: Gus Elias, Warren Hotz, Bryan Shedden, Stewart Temesvary, Glenn Thomas, Tammie Hotz (Team Manager), Gillian Fletcher (Assistant Manager), Evan Hotz (Junior Manager)

Blue Mountains Mazda: Greg Bunn, Ian Combes, Ray Estreich, Graham Fletcher, Dan Szwaj, Lesa Bunn (Team Manager), Pam Estreich (Assistant Manager)

Peter Barnwell filled a vacancy in one of the three Victorian MX-5 Club teams, while Kim Jacobs was assistant manager.

There were 34 MX-5s in the 40 team field of 202 cars, equalling the total number of Alfa Romeos. The rest was an eclectic mix of Toyota Corollas, Nissan Pulsars, BMW E30s, Ford Lasers, Hyundai Excels, Fiats, Austin Healeys, Triumphs, Minis, and Hondas. Affordable motorsport at it's best!

The event was run with qualifying during Saturday morning for three hours. The 12 hour relay commenced at 1pm for five hours. It was then restarted on Sunday at 9am to complete the remaining seven hours. The results were calculated from the two combined days' competition and announced at 5pm.

Scoring of the Alfa Relay is completely different to the Regularity Relay events at Phillip Island and Eastern Creek. The calculation is complicated (as usual), and factors in nominated laptime, completed laps, bonus laps, and penalty laps. Breaking out from each driver's nominated laptime is penalised mildly compared to the other events, but is still to be avoided. We needed to maximise our time on track, aiming for stints of over one hour. The management of stopwatch laptiming and communication to the driver via pit boards is crucial to scoring well. Running updates for the scores are not provided, which means that everyone is held in suspense until the very end, and recovery from a slow start is possible.

A couple of our drivers had mechanical issues on the Saturday. Ian's car was overheating and we pitched in to help improve airflow to the radiator, before discovering that the real issue was a badly damaged thermostat. Warren returned to the pits after his stint with a very raspy exhaust due to a split weld. He was delighted to find a local workshop to patch it up in the late afternoon. Apart from that, our MX-5s ran smoothly over the very long stints, some even opting to leave the aircon running as it was a warm day.

Overnight, we met at one of our rented houses for dinner. Glenn & Bryan had whipped up a treat with slow-cooked beef burgundy and roast pork with baked vegetables. After a tiring day at the track, the feast was devoured in short order and washed down with a glass or two of vino. Social get-togethers like this are a major attraction with our regularity relays.

Come Sunday morning, the relay picked up again and we enacted our strategies that had been refined after hours of discussion the previous evening. Both teams were scoring well with bonuses and avoiding breakouts. How well? We had no idea!

After the completion of 12 hours of competition, we packed and then headed to the presentation. Tradition demanded that the results were announced in reverse order: in 40th place was Sprites Talk, in 39th place was Team Romeo, etc. The suspense built relentlessly as our teams were not called. The first of the Victorian MX-5 Club teams was announced in 16th place. Hurrah, we're in the top 15. Blue Mountains Mazda was announced in 13th place - an excellent result for a team that included two newbies. The next Victorian MX-5 Club was announced in 9th place, and the third was in 6th place. Fantastic, we're in the top 5. We're on the podium. And finally, the win goes to - Panorama Mountain Men!

2017 is the first time an interstate team has taken out the event. The winning score by Panorama Mountain Men was more than 7% higher than the second-place team. If you equate the results to the Bathurst 1000 race, then when we completed the 161 laps, second and third place were both 11 laps behind us. It was a dominant performance by the drivers and pit crew. It's notable that Warren, Bryan and Gillian were also on the winning team at the NSWRRC 6 Hour Relay at Eastern Creek earlier this year!

An analysis of individual driver scores revealed that not only was Gus Elias the best performer from our club, he was the best performer of all 202 competitors. Well done Gus. Bryan, Warren and Glenn were also amongst the top 10 drivers, while rookie Dan Szwaj was in the top 20.

While these driver performances were outstanding, the valuable contribution of the pit crew to facilitate it cannot be overstated. There were numerous occasions where all five drivers would have incurred a penalty without the pit crew indicating that a breakout was imminent, and the driver adjusted his speed in the last few hundred metres to not incur a penalty. All five drivers agreed that without the strategy used and the hard work by the pit crew, they would certainly not have achieved the result they did.

Congratulations to both teams and we will be back next year to defend the win.