Tag Archives: Masters

Stretton Stars at Brands Masters Festival

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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)

 

 

 

The Old and The New

Having decided against the long trip up north for the Pirelli International rally, a visit to both the Donington Historic Festival and Rockingham’s round of the British GT championship was in order for the May Day bank holiday weekend.

The Donington Historic Festival runs over three days, however it was the Sunday schedule that caught my eye, in part due to the last race of the day being the FIA Masters Historic Sportscar race.  A grid full of classic 60’s and 70’s Le Mans racers made it worth the trip alone.

Arriving at the circuit early gave us plenty of time to look around the multi million pound paddock before heading out around the track.  With the sun starting to appear from behind the clouds It looked like being a great day to show off these stunning machines.

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There were some very well turned out cars on display in the HTCC Touring car race …..

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….. however the first event that particularly caught my attention was the RAC Woodcote Trophy for the pre-56 Sportscars.  The iconic fin of the D type Jaguar makes it one of my favourite Le Mans winners from the past and this 60 minute event contained a couple of well driven examples.

Regular historic pilot Gary Pearson was actually entered in 2 of them which paid dividends when the #7 went out early on.  Fortunately he was able to get back to the pits, take over from Carlos Monteverde in the white #5 and claim second spot on the podium!

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However this formidable pairing could not keep up with the very fast Cooper T38 of Fred Wakeman and Patrick Blakeney-Edwards who claimed the victory by more than 12 seconds.

Some of the best sounding cars of the day were the 2 litre Sportscars in the HSCC Martini Trophy where ex BTCC racer Ian Flux put in a stonking drive from the back of the grid to take a magnificent victory.  Driving the Osella PA3 he didn’t have it all his own way as once getting to the front he was re-passed by the similarly rapid Lola T210 of David Gathercole.  It was looking difficult to pick the eventual winner but unfortunately Gathercole pushed slightly too hard through McLean’s on lap 19, losing the back end and becoming beached in the unforgiving Donington gravel.

The Pre-66 Under 2 litre Touring Car race was yet another highlight with a field full of MK1 Cortina’s, BMW T1800’s, Minis and even the odd Alfa.

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It was in fact the Alfa Sprint GTA of Andrew and Max Banks who would eventually get the better of Jackie Oliver and Richard Shaw’s T1800.  The ex Le Mans winner did take an early lead but could not keep the rapid Alfa crew behind for long.  It was a pleasure to watch these machines being man handled around the track; the way they are thrown into the corners with masses of opposite lock is a sight not often seen in modern-day racing.

With the light starting to fade, it was time for the FIA Masters Historic Sportscar race.  I absolutely love the fact that the main event was held at this time of day as there is just something about watching racing in the late evening sunshine.

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The throaty roar as the green flag was dropped was phenomenal, bettered only by the sound of a full field of endurance legends, headed up by no less than 7 Lola T70’s, disappearing down the infamous Craner Curves;  Oh to have witnessed these at Le Mans in period.

In actual fact the race didn’t turn out to be that close as ex British GT racer Oliver Bryant showed his class by taking victory by more than a lap in the #14 T70.

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But who cares!  The sight of these 5 Litre Chevy engined powerhouses lapping traffic around the undulating tarmac of Leicestershire’s famous circuit was just fantastic.  My ears were still ringing by the time I was back at base with a beer in hand.  This had been one of the best days racing in a long time.

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A day of modern racing was in order on Bank Holiday Monday with my first ever trip to Rockingham Motor Speedway.  And with the circuit little over an hour away I can’t believe I had never visited before.

The sheer size of the 52,000 seater American Style oval becomes apparent as you arrive; more like a football stadium than a race track.  But what I like most about the place is that it was obviously put together with the fan in mind as the access is second to none.  Silverstone could definitely do with a Rockingham style underground tunnel and being able to watch a race from the top of the pit garages is just great; an experience I had only previously witnessed at Spa.

In fact the only negative of the day was the lack of interest in the support races with the once formidable British F3 championship attracting just 7 entries and disappointingly only 6 cars making the start of the 1 hour Aston Martin GT4 event!

However, the British GT race was the main reason for being there and with 29 cars on the grid it promised to be 2 hours to remember.  The spacious pit walk prior to the race allowed a closer look at both the cars and drivers as the pre-race excitement started to build.

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Marco Attard and Works BMW driver Alexander Sims had carried on their Oulton form by taking a comfortable pole position in the Ecurie Ecosse Z4.  They would start the race as clear favourites for victory and Marco Attard was able to get away in the lead from the off.  Derek Johnston in a similar Z4 would soon get by Mark Patterson’s United Autosports Audi R8 to take second with 2013 champion Andrew Howard following suit in the Aston.

Sir Chris Hoy had made a wild start to the race by ‘out-braking’ himself heading into Deene on the first lap and being lucky to get away with a brush with the wall.  His pace is there for all to see however, and I am pretty sure it won’t be long before he is running much closer to the front.

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Inevitably it wasn’t long before a safety car was required to recover Tania Mann’s Ginetta.  Much of Attard’s early effort to build a lead had therefore been negated as the race returned to green flag conditions.  Soon after the pit window opened and the majority of the contenders for victory pitted with the Ecurie Ecosse BMW’s lead not being of the necessary margin to cope with the Oulton Park success penalty.  Sims would therefore rejoin in fifth behind, the yet to pit, Gary Eastwood’s Ferrari, the similar machine of Richard Lyons and the two Triple 8 Z4’s of Luke Hines and Joe Osborne.

Eastwood staying out in the FF Corse Ferrari turned out to be either a master stroke or, more likely, a lucky break as a second safety car was required to remove John Gaw’s Aston and Morten Don’s Ginetta.  This allowed the Ferrari crew to get Rob Barff strapped in and leave pit road with a 40 second lead over the rest of the field.  Even a drive through for exiting the pit lane while the red light was showing could not stop them taking an 18 second victory.

Behind, Alexander Sims was showing everyone why he was not only the 2008 McLaren Autosport BRDC award winner but also why he is now a factory BMW driver.  He was soon up to second with the pass to take this position being absolutely breathtaking; taking advantage of a backmarker and coming from way back to slip down the inside of Lyons on the entry to Deene.  A pleasure to watch from my now grandstand vantage point.

Other than a close battle between the triple 888 Z4’s, which saw Joe Osborne take a trip across the gravel, not a lot else happened throughout the remaining 40 minutes of the race.  This left Richard Lyons to take third place on the road only to be later handed a ten second penalty for driving standards when Pasin Lathouras was at the wheel.  This would drop them to 7th but promote Luke Hines and Derek Johnston to the final step of the podium.  Behind them Tom Onslow-Cole put in a stellar performance to take 4th in the Strata 21 Aston ahead of the similar machine of Andrew Howard and Jonny Adam.  Adam doing a great job in a damaged car.

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Having started on the back row, and being given an early drive through for overtaking under yellow flags, John Dhillon and Aaron Scott put in a great a drive to claim 8th overall in the second AF Corse Ferrari 458.

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The all new Generation Racing Bentley of  Steve Tandy and James Appleby struggled at Rockingham and ended up a lap down in 14th place.  It is however great to see this huge car in British GT and hopefully it will be nearer the sharper end of the grid as the season progresses.

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All this leaves Alexander Sims and Marco Attard sitting pretty at the top of the championship points table.  And with Marco Attard being one of the quicker “Am” drivers this surely now makes them the clear favourites for the 2014 crown …

Full British GT results: Here

Next up it is back to Silverstone for the Blancpain Endurance Series.  I will be cheering on the very British Works Bentleys who will be looking to build on a strong performance at the Monza season opener.