30 September 2023
Ferrão/Stretton take confident Masters Sports Car Legends win at Spa

After hitting the front on lap 4, the Diogo Ferrão/Martin Stretton Lola T292 never looked back to win the Masters Sports Car Legends race at Spa, despite a challenge from Kyle Tilley’s Chevron B23 coming all the way from the back to be second towards the end. The complexion of the race looked to completely change when with less than ten minutes remaining the safety car came out but Tilley’s Chevron retired with brake problems shortly after the restart to deny the crowd a grandstand finish.

“He won it and I finished it”, said Stretton about Ferrão’s storming opening stint. “It was alright for me in the end. I was taking it as easy as possible because I was going to have a race later! I reckon I could have held Kyle, but with the safety car it was suddenly going to become a race. So I wanted to make sure I got as big a gap in it after the safety car at the beginning. The way that Chevron is at the moment with the DFV, I know it’s very slow out of chicane. So that was probably enough for a buffer already and then he disappeared. I think it was brakes.”

Martin Stretton

Jason Wright grabbed second place after a steady race in his Lola T70 Mk3B while the late safety car allowed Andy Willis to make up a few more places to steal third in the T70 Mk3B started by Stephan Joebstl. Alex Furiani in the Chevron B19 shared with François Fabri was another late mover to snatch fourth from Michael Gans’ grasp in the Lola T290. Both Wright and Willis agreed that it was a fun race;

“The car was magic, privileged to drive it on this great track”, said Willis.

Andy Willis

After an early demise for the John Spiers/Nigel Greensall McLaren M1B, Richard McAlpine’s similar McLaren held his advantage to the Keith Ahlers/Billy Bellinger Cooper Monaco ‘King Cobra’ all the way to the end to win the pre-65 Hulme class in eighth overall, while Charles Allison bagged the Bonnier class trophy in his Chevron B8.

In the first race after lunch, the Masters Sports Car Legends arrived on the scene for their one-hour race at the Spa Six Hours. Felix Haas led away in the Lola T294, just held on against the more powerful cars on the Kemmel Straight, before inching away from Stephan Joebstl’s Lola T70 Mk3B in the twisty bits at the back. In the final part of the opening lap, Diogo Ferrão’s Lola T292 also found a way past Joebstl to be second. Going into lap 2, Jason Wright in the second T70 Mk3B caught up with the Austrian to pass him for third. Sam Hancock was next in the non-B T70 Mk3, followed by Michael Gans in the Lola T290 while in seventh John Spiers’ McLaren M1B led the pre-65 class. Christophe Van Riet was eighth in another T70 Mk3B, leading François Fabri’s Chevron B19, while from the back Kyle Tilley was already up into tenth in his Chevron B23.

At the front, Ferrão was in a hurry, as the Portuguese driver demoted Haas to lead into lap 4. Wright was still third but hounded by Hancock and Gans, and halfway into the fourth lap Hancock found a way past Wright. Tilley, meanwhile, has risen to seventh and soon clinched sixth from Van Riet, as Joebstl was now eighth ahead of Fabri and Guillaume Peeters in the Lola T210 – which meant that Spiers had gone missing from the top ten, his McLaren M1B grounding to a halt at the top of the Raidillon. This handed the pre-65 class lead to Richard McAlpine’s McLaren, as McAlpine defended a five-second gap to Keith Ahlers in the Cooper Monaco ‘King Cobra’. In the Bonnier class, Charles Allison had hit the front after the similar Chevron B8 of Chris Lillingston-Price was forced to pit, seemingly looking to join Alberto Zoli’s Chevron B16 as an early retirement before going out again, but with son Freddie at the wheel…

Having completed five laps, Ferrão now led by 7 seconds over Haas, with Hancock down 22 seconds already, leading a gaggle of cars consisting of Wright, Gans and Tilley – the latter having caught up with the two Americans to pick them off one by one. On lap 6, Tilley then also passed Hancock to be third, 27 seconds down on Ferrão. On a power circuit, three open-top 2-litre cars now led the 5-litre cars in fourth, fifth and seventh, as Van Riet closed in on Gans in sixth to pass the Lola T290 on lap 8. Further back, McAlpine had increased his class lead over Ahlers to ten seconds, the pair still in 11th and 12th overall, leading John Sheldon’s Chevron B16, Allison’s B8 (now in a comfortable Bonnier class lead), Ingo Matzelberger’s Lola T210 and the Mark & James Bates Porsche 911 RSR that led the Pescarolo class.

Things settled down for a while as the pit window approached, but on lap 10, Tilley suddenly caught a slowing Haas, who subsequently reported his Lola T294 to the pits. 30 seconds later, the German was back out again, having dropped to sixth. Another 30 seconds later, the actual pit window opened, with Tilley taking the very first opportunity, but still 39 seconds down on Ferrão, who had built a commanding lead. Haas then pitted again, but not to hand over to Michael Lyons, as this was a retirement, while Joebstl stopped to hand Andy Willis the T70. Almost simultaneously, McAlpine came in from the pre-65 class lead.

11 laps gone, and now Wright, Hancock and Van Riet all pitted, the latter two handing over to Niko Ditting and Eric Mestdagh respectively. They were followed in by Fabri, who was replaced by Alex Furiani, and Guillaume Peeters switching places with Guy Peeters. Then, on lap 12, Ferrão came in for Martin Stretton to take over, while Keith Ahlers handed the wheel to Billy Bellinger who now had a 24-second deficit to make up to McAlpine. Gans, Allison and Sheldon were the last to pit, along with Freddie Lillingston-Price now making the regular stop for the team.

The order on lap 13 saw Stretton lead Tilley by 19 seconds, with Wright in third, 46 seconds away. Gans had repassed Ditting’s T70 Mk3 to be fourth, and the German saw the T70 Mk3Bs of Mestdagh and Willis approaching fast. Furiani and Peeters were eighth and ninth while McAlpine’s McLaren was the last on the lead lap in tenth and defending its lead over Bellinger’s Cooper Monaco.

20 minutes remained on the clock, and despite Stretton still leading by 17 seconds, Tilley was lapping two seconds quicker – this motor race was far from over. 48 seconds down, Wright looked like a safe bet for third, as the Italo-American had 23 seconds in hand over his friend Michael Gans while setting a faster pace. In fact, Gans was coming under threat from Willis, who had cleared both Hancock and Mestdagh and needed to wipe away a nine-second gap to Gans.

At the front, Stretton seemed to have gotten the message and going into lap 17 upped his pace to keep the gap at 17 seconds. But then the race suddenly changed face when on lap 18, Freddie Lillingston-Price’s Chevron B8 came to a halt on the edge of the track, right at the top of the Raidillon, to bring out the safety car.

The first eight cars now running nose-to-tail, the field was released after lap 19, with just over four minutes remaining. But the promise of a tense finish soon evaporated when Tilley was forced to report to the pits after one flying lap, his brakes having failed in the cooldown period. Behind Stretton, Willis profited most from the safety car to snatch third but could not do anything to pass Wright for second. Furiani similarly stole fourth from Gans, with Mestdagh and Ditting up next. Tilley was still classified eighth, ahead of pre-65 class winner McAlpine who held on against Bellinger. Allison bagged the Bonnier class in 12th overall while the Bates brothers won the Pescarolo class in 15th overall.