Dutton prevails in thrilling four-way fight for Masters Pre-66 Touring Car win at Spa
Richard Dutton came out on top in a thrilling four-way battle for the lead that lasted the entire 60 minutes of the Masters Pre-66 Touring Car race at the Spa Six Hours meeting. Fighting two other Lotus Cortinas occupied by Marcus Jewell/Ben Clucas and David Dickenson as well as the Alfa Romeo Giulia GTA of long-time leader Alex Furiani, Dutton held off Clucas by the tiniest of margins, with Furiani ending up in third.
?It was fantastic?, Dutton beamed. ?That was one of the best races ever! A really great battle with the two Cortinas and the Alfa, just brilliant!?
?Yeah, it was a really fun race!? said an equally buoyant Clucas. ?It was a great fight with the four of us. I led for half a lap but then Richard got back past??
The German had led until three-quarters distance but in the end had to succumb to the two Cortinas, as Clucas hit the front on the penultimate lap only to see Dutton come back flying past to take the win. Roy Alderslade was involved in the early lead fight but his Cortina steadily dropped back in the second part of the race until it was passed by the Graham Wilson/David Pittard Cortina.
?It?s a new car, with a fresh set-up!? Furiani explained. ?I had never driven it in the wet before, and I was not too comfortable with the grip at the end.?
The Rory & Roderick Jack GTA took seventh after Tim Meinrenken was penalised for missing the pit window with his Cortina. Delayed in his GTA, Niko Ditting was ninth ahead of the Ford Falcon of Richard McAlpine and Chris Keen, that in the treacherous conditions proved quite a handful.
A safety-car start saw the field being released with 52 minutes remaining on the clock. As Alex Furiani in the Alfa Romeo Giulia GTA took command, a legion of Cortinas chased the German down, Dutton passing Jewell for second, with David Dickenson in fourth ahead of Roy Alderslade and Graham Wilson, the latter taking a careful approach from his starting position on pole. In fact, Dutton nipped into the lead at the end of lap 2 but Furiani was having none of that and retook first position on the straight.
Behind Wilson, Germans Niko Ditting in another GTA and Timm Meinrenken in another Cortina followed suit while in ninth and eleventh respectively, the big American V8s of James Thorpe and Richard McAlpine were struggling to cope with the treacherous conditions while battling with Roderick Jack?s GTA and the sole THB-class BMW 1800 ti of Eric Douart.
After four laps, Furiani had eased away from Dutton, leading the quickest of the Cortina by three seconds. Meanwhile, Dickenson and Alderslade had progressed past Jewell, who was now at the back of the Cortina train, with a healthy gap of 20 seconds to Ditting in the second German GTA.
As Furiani, Dutton and Dickenson swapped purple sector times, they began separating themselves from Alderslade and Jewell, the former having dropped ten seconds on Dickenson. Further back, Jack?s GTA had moved in front of Thorpe?s Mustang while both had cleared Wilson?s Cortina. Douart was closing on Wilson while leaving McAlpine?s Falcon behind, the big car proving quite a handful on this surface. But it was still going, something that couldn?t be said of the James Thorpe/Phil Quaife Mustang ? the Falcon?s class rival had stopped after five laps.
As the pit window opened, Furiani, Dutton and Dickenson were covered by just two seconds, with Alderslade and Jewell 16 and 21 seconds away from the leader respectively. Would some of the quicker relief drivers turn the static leaderboard around? Jewell was the first to play his ace card, as he came in to hand over to Ben Clucas, and soon enough, Wilson did the same for his young hotshoe David Pittard, who was given a Cortina that trailed the leader by one minute and 15 seconds. McAlpine was in too, handing over to Chris Keen.
On the next tour, Furiani and Dickenson came in for their mandatory stop, leaving Dutton out in front for the moment. They were joined in the pits by Ditting, Rory Jack (handing over to Roderick) and Douart. Dutton then proceeded to stop on the cusp of the pit window closing, while Meinrenken appeared to miss it as the German pitted from what now third place.
With all stops done and dusted, Furiani was still in the lead, 1.7 seconds ahead of Dutton, but Clucas was homing in on them rapidly, Dickenson and Alderslade having succumbed to him already. Meanwhile, Pittard had cleared Ditting, Meinrenken and Jack, but was now facing the challenge of closing a 30-second gap to Alderslade. Further down the road, Douart was back into the pits, the Frenchman retiring his BMW from tenth due to a broken alternator.
With 15 minutes to go, the four-way battle up front became even more intensely poised, Furiani now having to stave off a three-pronged Cortina attack. In fifth, Alderslade had been left behind by 20 seconds but still had 23 ticks in hand over Pittard. Behind them, Meinrenken was under investigation for his pitstop infringement (and subsequently handed a 23.2-second time penalty), while Ditting?s GTA was in and out of the pits for a second time, in the process giving up a place to Roderick Jack. In tenth, Keen was valiantly plugging on in the Falcon.
On lap 12, Furiani still looked in charge, but on the next lap Dutton pushed into the lead ? though again it was only momentarily, as the German regained top spot on the Kemmel straight. Clucas and Dickenson weren?t far away either, the two now in striking distance of the two warring leaders, as the top four cars were now effectively nose-to-tail. In fact, on lap 14, it was Dutton who led but now with Clucas chasing, as Furiani was demoted to third!
With less than five minutes to go, Pittard had now usurped Alderslade but a 37-second deficit to the four leaders was too much for him to ask. The battle at the front still raged, though, as now Clucas hit the front, the top-four now covered by less than 1.5 seconds.
It was all to play for on the final lap, now with Dutton back up into the lead. In the end, he hung on to claim victory just three tenths from Clucas, with long-time leader Furiani a further four seconds adrift. Dickenson was hit by a five-second time penalty for exceeding track limits but was still fourth, 21 seconds ahead of the Wilson/Pittard Cortina. Alderslade, Meinrenken, and the GTAs of Rory & Roderick Jack and Nikolaus Ditting were up next, but when Meinrenken?s time penalty was applied, his and the Jacks? finishing positions were switched around. The McAlpine/Keen Falcon completed the top-ten.
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