Martin Stretton’s sensational charge to FIA Masters Historic Sports Car Glory with Mark Piercy was one of many highlights from an action packed Masters Historic Festival at Brands Hatch.
Spring bank holiday weekend in the UK saw Brands Hatch attract an impressive entry list for the now annual Masters Historic Festival; this year incorporating displays and demonstration runs to celebrate the 40th anniversary of James Hunt’s infamous F1 World Championship title.
Unsurprisingly we were not the only ones drawn to a warm but cloudy race-day in Kent as a more than reasonable crowd had gathered at Brands Hatch to witness the action; Amongst others, races for the FIA Masters Historic Sports Cars, Pre-66 Touring Cars and the CanAm/Interserie machines nicely complemented the fan pleasing DFV powered late 70s and early eighties F1 grid.
And on a weekend where Formula One took centre stage, Nick Padmore, having his first outing in Max Smith-Hilliard’s Williams FW07C, dominated the FIA Masters Historic Formula One proceedings. Padmore, the 2015 Pre-78 Champion, appeared right at home in the glorious 1981 machine, adding pole position and a pair of fastest laps to his double victory.
Meanwhile Pre-78 victories went the way of Michael Lyons and Philip Hall. The former taking second overall in race one after starting from the very back of the grid. A storming drive by the Essex man who had reverted to his formidable Hesketh 308E after the glorious ex James Hunt McLaren M26 encountered mechanical problems in qualifying.
The F1 cars may draw the crowds but the close racing in the FIA Historic Sports Car series is often the highlight. However a safety car induced collision between the 2 Cooper Monacos after a rip-roaring early lead battle between the Mark Piercy and Philip Hall piloted Lolas appeared to have ruined the spectacle; Havoc in pit-lane as the window opened under the caution period allowing the Hall Lola T212 to gain more than 20 seconds on the field as the track returned to green.
Piercy had been one of only a couple of cars to delay his stop, which appeared to be a mistake as Martin Stretton emerged in 14th after Piercy had brought the car in from the race lead. However, this was not just anyone taking over the little T210 as Stretton’s pole time around the famous Kent circuit was almost 1 second quicker than anybody else. It should not have been a surprise then that the Worcestershire man would soon find himself back up to second on the timing screens, impressive in itself given he had made his way past historic racing stars such Gary Pearson, Simon Hadfield, Stefano Rosina and Scott Mansell!
But with 13 minutes remaining the gap to Philip Hall remained at 20 seconds and was surely too much to close? Not for Stretton, as by the penultimate lap of the race, the little white Lola was back in front; Stretton setting his 3 quickest laps of the race, all in the 1.30.6 bracket, in the final stages of his charge to victory. A simply breathtaking drive to ensure he and Mark Piercy would take the most unlikely of victories.
The Lola T70s were no match for the nimble 2 litre machines around Brands Hatch, however Simon Hadfield put the finishing touches to a strong Chris Beighton recovery drive to claim 3rd position overall and top spot in the Rodriguez class, whilst Gary Pearson and Carlos Monteverde finished just 1 position further back in their similar machine.
Elsewhere, Martin O’Connell was up to his usual giant killing tricks to claim the Bonnier class victory with 8th overall in the Sandy Watson Chevron B8 whilst Keith Ahlers and Billy Bellinger recovered from the clearways gravel trap to claim the Hulme class honours. Meanwhile Mark Bates in his Porsche 911 and Jamie Boot in the Chevron B16 would claim the respective top spots in the Pescarolo and Siffert classes.
Earlier in the day, the Pre-66 touring car event was equally entertaining. Andy Wolfe and Mark Sumpter had positioned their Lotus Cortina’s on the front row of the grid in a rain interrupted qualifying session but were not able to hold the Craig Davies piloted Mustang at bay for long, with the similar machine of Warren Briggs and the Mercury Comet Cyclone of Masters 3 hour victor, Roger Wills, also keen to get by.
With 20 minutes remaining however the lead battle was down to three after the Cortina of Sumpter was retired with a broken half shaft and the Warren Briggs Mustang had dropped back. This left an ever more sideways Andy Wolfe to take the battle to the two V8 machines of Davies and Wills.
By this time the tires were starting to fade on the huge Ford engined beasts of Wills and Davies, allowing Wolfe to close on the leading Mustang whilst pull away from the New Zealander’s Comet. In fact, after consistently lapping in the 1.48 and 1.49 bracket, Wolfe was able to reduce an 8 second margin on lap 17 to just 0.7 seconds by lap 25.
A sensational defensive display by Craig Davies over the remaining 5 laps however ensured that his Mustang was first to the flag; V8 power more than enough to keep the more nimble Cortina at bay on this occasion. Wolfe’s efforts were however rewarded with victory in the under 2 litre class with the similar machines of Andrea Strortoni and Mark Martin/Andrew Haddon completing the under 2 litre top three. Roger Wills would claim third overall in the Comet Cyclone whilst Warren Briggs, after a spirited comeback from a slow pit-stop, rounded out the over 2 litre podium.
Raw power was the name of the game as the CanAm 50 Interserie challenge made it’s debut at Brands Hatch. Sunday’s event saw a close battle between the glorious McLaren M8F of Andrew Newall and quite possibly the widest car ever, the March 717 of Frank Bradley. An excursion at Stirlings put pay to Bradley’s charge however leaving Newall to claim his second victory of the weekend. Mark Devis meanwhile in his fabulous TOJ SC003 claimed the Interserie victory in second whilst Richard Piper in the March 75s snatched third on the very last lap from the Lola T296 of Michele Liguori.
The combined Masters 70s Celebration and Allcomers event proved to be an absolute corker. Early on Mike Wilds, from the second on the grid, claimed the lead of the race in his BMW CSL, only to retire on lap 3. This left the Ferrari 308 in the hands of Dave Coyne to build a healthy lead over the Mustang of Craig Davies and the Ford Capri of Steve Dance.
However, with pit stops completed, the Ferrari now in the hands of Chris Compton-Goddard, had lost all of it’s advantage and was quickly swallowed up by the pole sitting Datsun 240Z of Roberto Giordanelli, the Steve Dance Capri and the Chris Beighton piloted Sunbeam Tiger. With the 308 unable to keep pace, the remaining crowd were treated to an almighty three way tussle for victory; Beighton finding a way passed Giordanelli with ten minutes remaining and Dance taking advantage of the situation to grab second.
By this time, the brakes on the very powerful Tiger had started to fade and Beighton had a battle on his hands just to keep the Sunbeam on track. And sure enough with only 5 minutes remaining, a trip across the Sheen gravel would allow both Dance and Giordanelli back through; Giordanelli having to settle for second after an attempt for the lead on the very next lap resulting in a spin for the Datsun pilot. Fantastic racing!
All three podium finishers would claim their respective class awards however. Giordanelli and Simon Watts taking TCA victory in the Datsun with Chris Beighton and Jon Finnemore first home in the SPA class. Whilst further back John Spiers claimed Allcomers glory in his TVR Griffith with 5th position overall.
Sunday’s schedule also included 2 25 minute HGPCA races for front engined Pre-61 Grand Prix cars where Philip Walker would claim the spoils on both occasions in his Lotus 16. The fabulous Ferrari Dino of Tony Smith was twice runner up whilst Eddie Maguire and Paul Grant shared the 2 litre class 5 honours.
And rounding off the Grand Prix Circuit proceedings was an excellent Classic Formula Ford race which saw Ben Mitchell twice hit the front only for eventual victor, Richard Tarling, to snatch the lead back straight away on both occasions; Mitchell’s hard fought second place rewarded with class B victory however.
Yet another fantastic day of Masters Historic racing. Not even queuing at the now toll-less Dartford crossing could wipe the smile from my face. I personally cannot wait for more of this kind of action on the Donington GP circuit in Early July …
All images © Paul Commons (Paul Commons Motorsport Photography)