28 October 2023
Pearson flies to Masters Gentlemen Drivers victory at Portimão, Barton wins in touring cars

Driving his Jaguar E-type solo, Gary Pearson produced a perfectly controlled drive to win the 90-minute Masters Gentlemen Drivers bout at the Autódromo Internacional do Algarve. Following an exciting opening half led by the TVR Griffith of John Spiers who warred with Pearson, Richard Kent’s E-type and Robin Ward in the Ginetta G4R, Pearson took charge after the stops and had one less worry when Nigel Greensall in Spiers’ TVR came to a halt early into his stint. Chris Ward in Kent’s E-type tried to catch the similar car in front but to no avail, Pearson leading home Ward by 11 seconds.

“Yeah, I just started to get the hang of it towards the end”, Pearson quipped. “I suddenly got about hot about ten minutes after the driver change. I was suddenly sort of wishing my brother a speedy recovery, actually! I couldn’t afford to relax because I see Chris behind. As I was coming back over the loop for the hairpin at the top of the hill, I could see Chris sort of coming over the drop, so I could gauge where we were. Then every now and again he’d sort of disappear for a moment. So I thought, oh, he’s getting a bit closer, I’ll push a bit harder. So I could just see him. But it was great, great fun.”

Gary Pearson

“The gearbox kept getting tighter and tighter”, Ward said about failing to complete his chase of Pearson. “We’ve got the GT & Sports Car Cup now and tomorrow coming, so I thought I’ll try and save the car. Also, I was just sort of physically exerting myself because it was so stiff getting into gear. I was absolutely drained, I couldn’t have done another ten minutes. I was just so exhausted. But Gary drove really well. And Richard drove really well too because he was ill.”

Robin Ward

Ron Maydon brought home the CLP class win in third overall after taking over from Robin Ward, the Ginetta remaining well ahead of the rival pair of Elans piloted by Philipp Buhofer/Stephan Joebstl and Steve Jones/Chris Atkinson, Atkinson pipping Joebstl to fourth on the final lap. In sixth overall, James Hanson and Paul Pochciol won the B2 class in their pre-63 E-type while the Doug Muirhead/Jeremy Welch Austin Healey 3000 bounced back from an unscheduled stop to beat the Billy Bellinger/Simon Orebi Gann Morgan Plus 4 Super Sport to the C2 class win. In a strong ninth overall, Michael Boyle’s MGB took C1 class honours.

“Yeah, we like to mix it with the big cars now and again”, said Ward. “They pull three or four car lengths down the straight, but then we can catch up with them around the twisty bits. It was good fun. The bigger cars, obviously, their brakes struggle a little bit after half an hour or so. Whereas the brakes were going long, but we don’t struggle so much. It was good fun, though. I enjoyed it.”

Robin Ward

“That last lap was great fun”, said Atkinson. “I was pushing Stefan and before that I was trying to catch him and I had a spin. So I caught up with him again, and on the last lap, he just went a little bit wide and opened the door. I almost couldn’t let him back through!”

Chris Atkinson

“That was a hard race”, said Joebstl. “I was happy that the car was running again because we had engine problems in practice, so we had to change the engine. So I think a good result from the back. I was a bit unlucky that I spun on the last lap…”

Stephan Joebstl

“It was a good race, I think”, said Hanson. “A little bit lonely out there, but still a lot of fun.”

James Hanson

In the Masters Pre-66 Touring Car section running concurrently for 60 minutes, Harry Barton eased to a dominant win over the Pedro & Rui Macedo Silva Lotus Cortina and the Austin Mini Cooper S of Peter Crewes and Fernando Soares. Mark Drain led early on before his Cortina faltered just before the stops.

On a bright Saturday morning, the combined Masters Gent Drivers and Pre-66 Touring Car grids would race until lunchtime, as the track slowly dried from its early-morning wet patchiness. John Spiers got the jump at the start, his TVR Griffith leading the E-types of Richard Kent and Gary Pearson but Robin Ward was on an early charge in the CLP class-leading Ginetta G4R, getting Pearson’s Jag at the hairpin on lap 2. Soon, though, Pearson was back up into third, while Chris Fox was the first to report to the pits in one of the Elans.

On lap 3, Spiers continued to lead but was hard pressed by Kent, the pair having opened up a three-second gap to Pearson and seven seconds to Ward. 20 seconds further back, James Hanson was fifth in the first of the pre-63 E-types while Paul O’Reilly in the first of the Elans was sixth ahead of Doug Muirhead in the C2 class-leading Austin Healey 3000. Meanwhile, Mark Drain’s Lotus Cortina led the touring car section from Harry Barton’s BMW 1800 tiSA.

Five laps into the race, the lead fight had expanded to three cars, as Pearson joined up at the back of Kent’s similar E-type. Ward was on his own in fourth, a situation that remained the same for several laps, as Drain continued to lead Barton by 20 seconds in the touring car race, while in C1, Michael Boyle valiantly remained on the lead lap in his MGB. On lap 10, though, Drain suddenly disappeared from sight with a flat tyre, handing the touring car lead to Barton’s BMW. Earlier, Paul O’Reilly had already retired his Elan to the pits with a lost fourth gear, while the Tom Harris/Rob Newall had been out of action since lap 4.

11 laps gone, the top three had grown into a top four, with Ward now also joining the fun, as the touring car pit window was set to open. The Peter Crewes/Fernando Soares Mini Cooper S was the first to call, the Briton handing over to his Portuguese team mate. Barton followed in on lap 12, while the Macedo Silvas’ Cortina continued for one more lap before Pedro handed over to Rui.

After half an hour of racing, Spiers continued to hold on to his lead, but Ward had pushed through into second ahead of Pearson, as Kent began to drop away from a leading trio split by less than a second. The gap to fifth-placed Hanson had mushroomed to a massive one minute and 29 seconds, with Philipp Buhofer’s Elan six seconds adrift in sixth. The Austrian in turn held seven seconds over Steve Jones in another Elan while Billy Bellinger had managed to get Simon Orebi Gann’s Morgan Plus 4 Super Sport into the C2 class lead ahead of Muirhead. Richard Bateman’s Elan rounded out the top ten. In the touring car section, Barton led Macedo Silva by 17 seconds and Soares by 41 ticks.

As the GT pit window approached, Spiers, Ward and Pearson were still tied to a string, with Kent now trailing the lead fight by six seconds. Further back, though, Muirhead was the first to come in, handing the Big Healey to Jeremy Welch, and he was soon followed by Kent switching places with Chris Ward, the latter having to serve a 15-second elite-driver penalty during their stop. The same would apply to Nigel Greensall who was due to take over from Spiers.

On lap 20, the leader was in, handing a temporary lead to Robin Ward, while Pearson also stayed out for the moment. Buhofer did come in, though, handing the Elan to Stephan Joebstl, while Michael Boyle in the C1 class-leading MGB came in from 13th place overall. Hanson was the next to hand over driver duties, Paul Pochciol climbing into the older E-type that still led the B2 class from the similar Marc Gordon/Nick Finburgh example in 12th overall.

Pearson came in on lap 21 while Robin Ward squeezed out another lap before handing over to Ron Maydon in the Ginetta. Meanwhile, Steve Jones was relieved by Chris Atkinson, while Orebi Gann took over from Bellinger in the C2 class lead, in seventh overall. At the same time, ten minutes remained in the touring car section, and Barton now led comfortably from Macedo Silva and Soares.

With the pitstops all resolved, Pearson had assumed the lead, with Maydon trailing the Jag by a couple of ticks. Chris Ward was third, 19 seconds down on the leader, but Greensall suddenly disappeared from the radar, allowing Joebstl, Pochciol and Atkinson to each move up a spot – all three lapped by Pearson by now. The TVR Griffith that had shown to be bombproof in the past few races had ground to a halt at turn 5 and was out of the race. There would be no storming comeback drive from Greensall this time around.

At the front, Maydon gradually lost sight of Pearson, and on lap 25, Ward (C.) was past into second place to create a Jaguar 1-2. The two were setting similar lap times, though, so Pearson continued to nurse a 19-second lead over his rivals. Further back, Jeremy Welch was doing everything to negate the additional pitstop time, as the Austin Healey had now closed up to Orebi Gann’s Morgan, with 18 seconds still remaining between the two class rivals. Meanwhile, focus shifted to the touring cars that had gone into their final minutes of racing, and on lap 27, Barton was flagged off as the winner, with almost a lap in hand over the Macedo Silva Cortina, with the Crewes/Soares Mini in third, one lap down.

The GT cars would remain on track for another 30 minutes, and partly through traffic Pearson’s lead had been cut to 16 seconds, as Ward continued to knibble away at that lead tenth by tenth, especially starring in the back part of the circuit – but would it be enough? In seventh overall, however, Welch had done it and passed Orebi Gann to regain the C2 class lead for himself and Doug Muirhead.

On lap 30, with 22 minutes remaining, Pearson’s lead was down to 14 seconds but at the average rate of half a second per lap Ward would be unable to catch the other E-type in front. Maydon remained in third, 44 seconds down on the leading Jaguar, but continuing to move away from the pursuing Elans of Joebstl and Atkinson – both now lapped as well. Two laps down, Pochciol was sixth, trailing Atkinson by 43 seconds while C2 class rivals Welch and Orebi Gann ran seventh and eighth overall, ahead of Michael Boyle in the C1-class MGB, Nick Finburgh in the second pre-63 E-type and Roger Barton in the Elan started by Richard Bateman.

With 13 minutes left on the clock, Pearson led by as much seconds, so now Ward would have to lap a second faster each minute to still stand a chance of catching Pearson, who was controlling beautifully at the front. In fact, Pearson’s lead grew to 15 seconds next time around, making Ward’s challenge even harder. The final ten minutes would be all about preservation, as most of the positions were locked in by now.

And so the clock wound down to zero with Pearson claiming the win by 11 seconds from Chris Ward and the trio of CLP class cars led by Maydon. In an exiting final few laps, Atkinson managed to pip Joebstl to fourth – and second in class – while Hanson/Pochciol bagged the B2 class win in sixth. Muirhead/Welch took C2 class victory, with Boyle claiming C1 honours in eighth overall, passing the faltering Morgan of Orebi Gann right at the end.