Circuit Paul Ricard, France

LE CASTELLET MOTORS CUP
29 – 31 March 2019

Thomas, Lockie and Ferrer-aza are the stars of Le Castellet Motors Cup!

Julian Thomas and Calum Lockie grabbed most of the headlines of a thrilling start to the 2019 Masters Historic Racing season by winning both the Pre-66 Touring Car and Gentlemen Drivers races at Paul Ricard, but Matteo Ferrer equalled the pair’s win tally by dominating both FIA Masters Historic Formula One races.

RACE REPORTS

Aston Martin Masters Endurance Legends – Race 1
Lendoudis clinches Aston Martin Masters Endurance Legends season-opener at Paul Ricard

Having run third initially, Kriton Lendoudis turned the tables on his rivals in the second part of the Paul Ricard weekend’s first Aston Martin Masters Endurance Legends race. In the end, the Greek Peugeot 908 HDi FAP driver romped away to a win by 20 seconds over Christophe d’Ansembourg’s Lola-Aston Martin DBR1-2, Steve Tandy finishing a close third in his Lola-Mazda B12/60.

“It was a good race, very good for us”, Lendoudis said. “We had a problem with the turbos in qualifying, so starting in P3 we thought it would be more difficult, but it went very well, and traffic behaved well too.”

D’Ansembourg had done the early running, opening out a six-second lead on Tandy and Lendoudis before his pursuers swapped places and began close in again towards the pitstops. The Peugeot ended up in the lead after the stops, with Tandy in second and d’Ansembourg in third. Tandy initially cut Lendoudis’ lead but then spun while braking for the Mistral chicane, dropping him drop down to third. In first place, the Greek easily remained in control of an ever-increasing lead on d’Ansembourg who was nearly re-passed by Tandy near the end.

“I had a slightly longer pitstop”, d’Ansembourg explained, “and then I got caught up in traffic and simply lost out. Yes, Steve came close at the end but I was managing it…”

“I locked up the brakes and did half a spin”, Tandy said. “I took a while to restart. It was a good race up until then! I quickly caught up with Christophe, so maybe with one more lap… Let’s see tomorrow!”

In P2, Darius Ahrabian was never headed in the Lola-Lotus LMP2 Coupé, claiming a dominant win over the ORECA-Nissan 03s of Keith Frieser and Philippe Papin/Karl Pedraza. The GT class was led initially by the Jake Hill/Paul Whight Aston Martin Vantage GT2 but after the stops Nikolaus Ditting took control in his Aston Martin DBR9. When the GT2 Vantage faltered, Grant Tromans in the Vantage GT4 moved up to claim second in class.

“It was good fun”, said the German GT winner. “It’s a great track, even though it takes a bit of getting used to, as it looks the same everywhere! But in all, a Saturday well spent.”

“We were on rain tyres!” Tromans said with a smile. “We never planned to actually race the car but it was really good fun when I did.”

From pole, Christophe d’Ansembourg initially built a strong six-second lead of Tandy and Lendoudis but on lap 4 the Greek passed the Lola-Mazda to begin closing the gap to the leader. As the pit window opened, the Peugeot was less than a second behind, with Tandy a further seven tenths adrift.

In fourth, Darius Ahrabian held an imperious P2 lead over the warring ORECA 03 duo of Philippe Papin and Keith Frieser, the Canadian passing the Frenchman just ahead of the pitstops. Mike Newton’s MG-Lola EX257 was further back in seventh, ahead of GT class leader Jake Hill in the Aston Martin Vantage GT2 who was chased by Nikolaus Ditting’s Aston Martin DBR9.

After the stops, it was all change at the front, Lendoudis now leading Tandy by four seconds, with d’Ansembourg a further four seconds adrift. Soon though, Tandy cut the Peugeot by two seconds, as d’Ansembourg began to drop back. Tandy’s challenge proved to be shortlived, however, as the Lola-Mazda spun while braking for the Mistral chicane. It took a while before Tandy got going again, and when he did it was with a 23-second deficit to the Peugeot diesel machine in the lead.

In P2, Ahrabian continued his dominant run, now well ahead of Keith Frieser who in turn dropped the rival ORECA 03 now piloted by Karl Pedraza. Having clashed earlier, both cars were handed 30-second time penalties right towards the end. It didn’t affect the result of the race, though, as the Chris Atkinson/James Hagan ORECA 03 and Newton’s EX257 were trailing the pair by 42 and 59 seconds respectively. Meanwhile Nikolaus Ditting had taken the GT lead from Paul Whight in the Vantage started by Jake Hill, the Aston Martin losing pace in the closing laps.

As the chequered flag dropped, Lendoudis crossed the line over 20 seconds clear of d’Ansembourg, with Tandy having closed back up again to within two seconds of the Belgian, setting fastest lap of the race in the process.

Aston Martin Masters Endurance Legends – Race 2
D’Ansembourg takes charge in second Aston Martin Masters Endurance Legends race at Paul Ricard.

In a top-three separated by less than a second, Christophe d’Ansembourg (Lola-Aston Martin DBR1-2) returned to the top spot of the Aston Martin Masters Endurance Legends podium by narrowly keeping his rivals Kriton Lendoudis (Peugeot 908 HDi FAP) and Steve Tandy (Lola-Mazda B12/60) at bay in a thrilling finish to the second race of the weekend at Paul Ricard.

“One of the best races ever!” said a Belgian thrilled with victory. “I was flat out all the time – I wasn’t managing the gap at all! This is the crown of my weekend, I’m so happy.”

Lendoudis had led away from the start but d’Ansembourg took over on lap 3 and never looked back – even though the Peugeot and the Lola-Mazda grew bigger and bigger in his mirrors as his initial six-second lead evaporated towards the end of the race.

“Christophe drove much better today”, Lendoudis admitted. “I tried but it wasn’t enough. I was closing in the end but perhaps I should have tried better in the beginning.”

Darius Ahrabian (Lola-Lotus LMP2 Coupé) took his second P2 win of the weekend, with Keith Frieser coming second in the first of the ORECA 03s. Meanwhile, Nikolaus Ditting (Aston Martin DBR9) repeated yesterday’s GT-class win.

Lendoudis’ early lead vanished when d’Ansembourg began to close on the Peugeot, setting fastest lap on lap 3. One lap later, the Belgian was into the lead, with Tandy keeping a watchful eye in third position, five seconds down on the fighting pair in front.

Some 30 seconds back after six laps, Darius Ahrabian continued the form he showed in the first race by leading the P2 battle but Keith Frieser was closer this time, the ORECA 03 chasing the Lola-Lotus LMP2 Coupé by five seconds. Frieser himself held a similar gap to James Hagan in another ORECA 03. Some of the other P2 cars were in early trouble, though, Karl Pedraza lapping his ORECA 03 considerably slower than he could, even dropping back behind Nikolaus Ditting’s Aston Martin DBR9 GT1 car, while Mike Newton was out after two laps, his MG-Lola EX257 leaking oil between the engine and the gearbox.

As the pit window opened, Lendoudis grabbed the first opportunity to come in, leaving Tandy to chase the leading Lola-Aston Martin DBR1-2. The Greek’s rivals waited for two more laps, the result of which was that the order remained essentially unchanged – on lap 12, d’Ansembourg led Lendoudis and Tandy by six seconds, his two pursuers running nose-to-tail. In P2, Ahrabian still led Frieser, now by ten seconds, but Chris Atkinson in the car started by Hagan had dropped away from the fight, pitting on lap 10 and not returning. This allowed Philippe Papin – having taken over from Karl Pedraza – up into sixth place, the Frenchman having re-passed Nikolaus Ditting’s GT-class-leading DBR9.

With ten minutes to go, d’Ansembourg looked to have things in hand but no sooner than that thought came up Lendoudis put in the fastest lap of the race, taking Tandy along in his wake. In two laps’ time, the Peugeot cut the Lola-Aston’s lead from six to two seconds, setting up a tense final five minutes. As d’Ansembourg got the message and speeded up, Lendoudis went even quicker, and with another fastest lap closed the gap to less than 1.5 seconds, with two laps still to go.

Going into the final lap, the lead trio were in the same second. Lendoudis and Tandy both threatened to make moves but the order remained the same across the line.

“Not where I wanted to be”, said Tandy. “But we were always going to struggle here with our little 2-litre turbo engine. It still was close!”

Masters Historic Formula One – Race 1
Ferrer storms to victory in opening FIA Masters Historic Formula One race of the season.

Matteo Ferrer was never headed as the Italian powered his Ligier JS11/15 to a commanding win in the first FIA Masters Historic Formula One race of the season. Mastering the Paul Ricard track from pole, Ferrer racked off a string of fastest race laps to edge away from Jamie Constable who finished in a strong second place in his Tyrrell 011, 8 seconds in arrears of the Ligier.

“It was very enjoyable”, said Ferrer. “It is never easy, but it’s always nice to be in control.”

Constable initially fought Mike Cantillon’s Williams FW07C but was handed a breather when the Williams headed into the pits on lap 10. This gave third overall to dominant pre-78 class winner Henry Fletcher in the Jägermeister-liveried March 761.

“I could see Mike behind me but then he disappeared. After that, it wasn’t really a nice for anyone”, said Constable who was surprised to be able to keep Cantillon at bay and to be as well ahead of rivals like Christophe d’Ansembourg and Joaquin Folch as he did. “We were hoping to make the car as fast as the Williams, but I guess the boys did even better. I’m really proud of them.”

In the pre-78 class, Fletcher ended up well ahead of Patrick d’Aubréby’s F&S Properties-liveried 761 and Jason Wright’s Shadow DN8 who battled over second place in class all race, as they finished eighth and ninth overall.

“It was quite uneventful”, said Fletcher, “but I’m pleased with the pace. The only problem was the car losing performance on used tyres but that was consistent with what we expected.”

Fletcher was followed home by the Brabham BT49s of Christophe d’Ansembourg and Joaquin Folch, the Williams FW07 of Charles Nearburg, and Fabrice Lhéritier in the Tyrrell 010. Mark Hazell won the post-1983 class in the Williams FW08, finishing tenth overall. Bruno Ferrari’s pre-71 March 701 was 12th.

“I had nobody in front, but I knew that Joaquin was closing so I had to push to the end”, said d’Ansembourg, who admitted that before the start of the season he hadn’t expected Ferrer and Constable to be that far in front. “No, completely not, that was a real surprise!”

At the start, Ferrer immediately opened up a four-second lead by lap 4, leading Constable and Cantillon warring over second place. Dropping away in fourth was pre-78 class leader Henry Fletcher, with a further gap to Christophe d’Ansembourg in fifth, having taken over from Steve Hartley whose carbon-monocoque McLaren MP4/1 was in the pits after a single lap, the same applying to James Hagan’s Hesketh 308 and Philippe Bonny’s Trojan T103.

As the Italian in the lead continued a string of fastest race laps, Constable’s Tyrrell began to ease away from Cantillon’s Williams. At the start of lap 7 it became obvious as to why – the Williams was into the pits, handing third overall to Fletcher’s class-leading March. Further back, in eighth and ninth overall respectively, Patrick d’Aubréby (March 761) and Jason Wright (Shadow DN8) fought hard over second place in the pre-78 class, as they headed post-83 class leader Mark Hazell in his newly acquired Williams FW08.

“I had a very good race”, said d’Aubréby, “it was a great fight with Jason!”

Wright meanwhile rued changing the gearing ahead of the race. “I was in the rev limiter at the end of the straights. In the corners I would close up, and then it would start all over again. I thought that I have him on the final lap but then we caught up with [Richard Hope in] the Osella-Alfa Romeo, and that was it.”

In fifth and sixth, and Charles Nearburg (Williams FW07C) and Joaquin Folch (Brabham BT49C) had their Reutemann-vs-Piquet-inspired battle while closing up on d’Ansembourg’s ex-Patrese BT49 in fourth. On lap 10, Folch passed Nearburg for fifth to set after the Belgian’s similar car, with Fabrice Lhéritier’s Tyrrell 010 in a lonely seventh place. Folch was unable to pass d’Ansembourg, so ended up in fifth overall while the Belgian claimed the final post-78 podium spot.

Masters Historic Formula One – Race 2
Ferrer doubles up with second FIA Masters Historic Formula One win at Paul Ricard.

Matteo Ferrer made it two from two by storming to an emphatic win in the second FIA Masters Historic Formula One race at Paul Ricard. Leading after one lap having started from the fourth row of the reversed grid for yesterday’s top eight, the Italian romped home unchallenged in his Ligier JS11/15.

**That was very enjoyable, no issues at all”, said a phlegmatic Ferrer. “It was a fun first lap, with some very opportunistic moves, profiting from others making mistakes. The perfect weekend, yes, I’m very happy with that. I won’t always be having these so I’ll take them when they come!**

On lap 10, Mike Cantillon moved his Williams FW07C past Jamie Constable’s Tyrrell 011 to claim second place. Charles Nearburg ran second early on but finished fourth in his Williams FW07C, heading Steve Hartley’s McLaren MP4/1 in fifth.

“It took a bit of time”, said Cantillon about finally making the move on Constable stick. “But it was good clean racing with Jamie, I really needed that after yesterday’s mishap.”

“He passed me on the straight”, said Constable. “He just had a little bit more power.”

Patrick d’Aubréry took his March 761 to a pre-78 class win, leading Jason Wright in the Shadow DN8 and Philippe Bonny in the Trojan T103. Yesterday’s class winner Henry Fletcher ended up bringing up the rear after a pitstop during the safety-car period from lap 3 to lap 6.

**It was good”, said d’Aubréby, having started from the reversed-grid pole. “I had to be careful letting the post-78 past, though. After that it was quite easy.**

Ferrer’s demon opening lap from seventh on the grid was good enough to lead after one lap, from Nearburg and Constable, with Cantillon moving up to fourth on lap 2, having passed pole man Patrick D’Aubréby and Jason Wright. Christophe d’Ansembourg and Henry Fletcher had dropped back behind Mark Hazell’s Williams FW08 but when Hazell spun on lap 3 and was left stranded facing in the opposite direction, the safety car was called.

On lap 6, the field was released again. As Ferrer instantly broke away, Constable stormed past Nearburg to take second on lap 7. Further back, d’Ansembourg and Hartley removed d’Aubréby from fifth. On lap 8, Cantillon grabbed third, pushing Nearburg down to fourth and immediately setting after Constable who was now trailing Ferrer by 8 seconds. One lap later, Cantillon was past. Meanwhile, d’Ansembourg spun away fifth place, the Belgian dropping down to seventh.

In front, Ferrer doubled up to cap a perfect weekend, with Cantillon and Constable in second and third. Nearburg was four seconds down on the pair in fourth, ahead of Hartley’s McLaren. In sixth, Patrick d’Aubréry won the pre-78 class, ahead of Jason Wright and Philippe Bonny.

**It was jumping out of third gear”, said Wright about being unable to put a challenge to d’Aubréby. “And I had changed fifth gear to a longer ratio, after I had been hitting the rev limiter yesterday, but I lost that after two laps… So it was quite a struggle.**

Four cars failed to make the start, having run into trouble in yesterday’s race: Joaquin Folch (Brabham BT49) was joined by James Hagan (Hesketh 308), Georg Hallau (Theodore N183) and ‘Mr John of B’ (Ligier JS11/15). The field then also lost Fabrice Lhéritier’s Tyrrell 010 after it came to a halt on the warm-up lap when it was due to start from the first row.

After Hazell’s demise and Hallau’s non-start, Richard Hope was the only man left standing in the post-83 Lauda class, proving the reliability of his Alfa Romeo-powered Osella FA1E by bringing it home for the second time running. Bruno Ferrari’s March 701 again claimed pre-71 Stewart Classc honours.

Masters Gentlemen Drivers
Thomas & Lockie take lights-to-flag victory in Masters Gentlemen Drivers race at Paul Ricard.

Julian Thomas and Calum Lockie gave their new Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupé a triumphant Masters Gentlemen Drivers debut by claiming a dominant lights-to-flag win at Paul Ricard. They were followed home by the CLP-class-winning Lotus Elan of Rob Fenn and Jake Hill, the pair inheriting CLP class victory when Aaron Head’s Elan agonisingly retired from second place with just eight minutes to go.

**It was faultless”, said Thomas about his new car. “It was just as fast at the end as it was at the beginning. No brake issues at all!**

In third, Ron Maydon’s Ginetta G4R took second place in the CLP class ahead of the Steve Soper/Mark Martin Elan. Didier Gruau’s AC Cobra and Nikolaus Ditting’s Jaguar E-type completed the top-three C3 runners while Nils-Fredrik Nyblaeus and Jeremy Welch (Austin Healey 3000) beat Keith Ahlers and Billy Bellinger (Morgan Plus 4 Super Sports) to the C2 class win.

**We were struggling with the car in qualifying”, Welch explained. “This is a challenging track for the Healey. Nils started on full tanks so he had his work cut out, but we had made some changes that made the car work in the second part. For me, the oil on track helped – Keith was having much more trouble with that, so it allowed me to close the gap.**

**The changes were in the right direction but we were ready 15 minutes before the start!” said Nyblaeus. “France seems to be a lucky place for us, though. We won at Magny-Cours two years ago, and here we are again – and without the help of rain!**

Overcoming a drivethrough penalty for a jump start, Michiel Campagne (Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport) won the GT race for the guesting Dutch Historic Touring Car & GT Championship, running concurrently for 60 minutes of the 90-minute Gentlemen Drivers race. Campagne beat Oliver Douglas in the Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupé and Roger Grouwels in the Iso-Rivolta 300 GT.

A storming start by Julian Thomas in the Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupé saw him march away into a 20-second lead over Aaron Head’s Elan after ten minutes of racing, with José Beltramelli’s Corvette a further 14 seconds behind. Behind the top-three, Ron Maydon (Ginetta G4R) and Steve Soper (Lotus Elan) had charged up the order, to the detriment of Didier Gruau’s Cobra and Pierre-Alain Thibaut’s Shelby Mustang GT350.

An even more storming start was made by Michiel Campagne in the Corvette Grand Sport, jumping from ninth to second to take the lead in the 60-minute Dutch Historic Touring Car & GT Championship race running concurrently with the 90-minute Masters race. The Dutchman was soon given a stop-and-go penalty for in fact jumping the start, handing the Dutch lead to Oliver Douglas in the Cobra Daytona Coupé.

“My only challenge was clearing Georg Nolte’s Ford GT40 at the start”, said Thomas about the Dutch Championship car that was put on pole by Nolte’s fast team mate Michael Funke but was much slower in its owner’s hands. “Calum said before the start: just floor it when you can! And I did! The others must have got stuck behind him in the first few turns because I was amazed at my lead after the opening lap…”

In front, 20 minutes into the race, Thomas now had 33 seconds in hand over Head, as Maydon made his way past Beltramelli in third. In C2, Billy Bellinger in the Morgan Plus 4 Super Sports held a 20-second lead over perennial class rival Nils-Fredrik Nyblaeus in the Austin Healey 3000.

As the Dutch cars came up to their pit window, Thomas had increased his lead to 48 seconds, with Maydon 30 more seconds adrift of Head in second place. Beltramelli Sr trailed Maydon’s Ginetta by five seconds and had a cushion of six seconds to Steve Soper. Gruau and Fenn were next up in sixth and seventh. After the Dutch stops, Campagne was back in the lead of his race, passing Douglas on lap 12.

Soon after, the Gentlemen Drivers pit window opened, Aaron Head taking the first opportunity to pit, his Elan now trailing the leading Cobra Daytona Coupé by 67 seconds. Maydon, Soper, Gruau and Fenn followed suit, Soper handing over to Mark Martin, and Fenn being relieved by Jake Hill. On lap 18, the leader was into the pits, Thomas handing the wheel to Calum Lockie. They were joined by the Beltramelli Corvette, son Brady taking over from father José – however, Beltramelli Jr wasn’t going any places as the oil pump failed, turning the Corvette into an instant retirement from fourth place.

This gave Didier Gruau a distant second among the over-2-litre cars, with Nikolaus Ditting now third in the C3 class in his E-type. Aaron Head’s Lotus Elan continued to lead the CLP class in second overall, ahead of Maydon, Martin and Hill. Keith Ahlers, having taken over from Bellinger, was now leading Jeremy Welch in the C2 class.

After an hour the Dutch cars were flagged off, Michiel Campagne beating Oliver Douglas despite being given that drivethrough penalty. Campagne’s Corvette Grand Sport was third on the road when it was shown the Dutch national flag, with Douglas in fifth. Roger Grouwels in the very rare Iso-Rivolta 300 GT took third ahead of Armand Adriaans’ Corvette and Jos Stevens’ Elan.

Going into their final half hour, Lockie still led imperiously by about a minute, with Head’s Elan the only other car on the lead lap. In third, Ron Maydon was now facing Jake Hill’s challenge from fourth, the BTCC driver setting personal best times lap after lap. By lap 25, Hill was on the tail of the Ginetta, and then past on lap 26. In fifth, Mark Martin had slowly dropped away, now some 50 seconds down on Hill and Maydon. Sixth was Gruau, while Ahlers had to give his all to keep the rapidly closing Welch at bay in the C2 class. Next up were Nicolas Minassian, flying in Rick Carlino’s Elan, and Nikolaus Ditting in the third of the C3 cars.

“It was awesome”, Hill said about getting past Maydon. “It was an amazing fight, he stayed very clean.”

“They’re too quick – and too light!” Maydon quipped while referring his opponents’ youth.

With ten minutes to go, Jeremy Welch finally passed Keith Ahlers for the C2 class lead, and then a couple of minutes later Head’s Elan dramatically retired from the race, handing second place and the CLP class win to the Fenn/Hill Elan. Nothing, however, prevented Julian Thomas and Calum Lockie from taking a crushing win by no less than a full lap.

“Taking second was the silver lining to our day when our engine blew earlier”, said Fenn, pointing to his mishap in the earlier Masters Pre-66 Touring Car race. “Then Jake had a good battle with Ron – although I’m very sorry for Aaron.”

Masters Pre-66 Touring Cars
Thomas & Lockie conquer first Masters Pre-66 Touring Car race at Paul Ricard.

Emerging from a thrilling three-way battle in the first part of the race, Julian Thomas and Calum Lockie claimed a resounding Masters Pre-66 Touring Cars win at Paul Ricard in their yellow Ford Falcon. Thomas fought hard with Jake Hill’s Mustang and Jason Minshaw in another Falcon but Lockie had a much quieter stint as Rob Fenn in the Mustang started by Hill was out quickly after taking over while Martin Melling in the Falcon was unable to keep with Lockie.

“This was one of my favourite races ever!” said a jubilant Thomas. “It was so close… It’s a shame Jake didn’t quite have the power – Jason and I just drafted past after he took the lead from us. Through the corners it was proper side-by-side at 100mph… wow!”

Dutchman Roel Korsten drove a very strong race to take second place as well as being the leading driver from the guesting Dutch Historic Touring Car & GT Championship, with the Mark Martin/Steve Soper Lotus Cortina in third, and the first of the under-2-litre cars. Carlo Hamilton’s Falcon finished fourth and was second of the Dutch cars, both getting ahead of Melling halfway into their stints.

“Really super!” Korsten beamed. “I had a terrible start and lost many places but then I found a rhythm. Towards the end I saw my laptimes dropping each lap, it felt like I was flying on air!”

Tom Bell and Joe Ferguson starred in the Mini class, taking an emphatic win ahead of Ron Maydon and Carl & Billy Nairn. Carl Nairn was Bell’s nearest challenger in the opening half of the race but Maydon moved past Billy Nairn into his second stint.

“I just got my head down”, a modest Bell said about his strong opening stint.

“Tom made it easy for me”, said Ferguson. “He was up and gone after a couple of laps, for me it was just a matter of bringing it home.”

From the rolling start, Julian Thomas managed to outdrag poleman Jake Hill into turn 1 to take the lead in the Falcon. Up in third was fast-starting Dutch Martin Bijleveld in the lead car from the guesting Dutch Historic Touring Car & GT Championship, getting in front of Jason Minshaw’s Falcon and Dutch Championship pole-sitter Bart-Jan Deenik in another Falcon. Steve Soper in the leading THC class car had more American V8 muscle breathing down his neck while Tom Bell was at the head of the Mini battle in tenth overall.

For three laps, Hill’s Mustang kept hounding Thomas around the French circuit before the BTCC start found a way past, the pair closely followed by Minshaw and Bijleveld. A further ten seconds down the road, Soper and Deenik kept swapping places, the Cortina nipping in front in the twisty bits only to see the Falcon thunder back past on the straights again. Bell, meanwhile, had opened up an ten-second lead on Carl Nairn in the Mini class.

Two laps later, though, it was all change at the front, as first both Thomas and Minshaw stormed past Hill, followed by Minshaw stealing the lead from Thomas while setting fastest lap of the race. Behind, Bijleveld was dropping back (and indeed headed into the pits at the start of lap 9) while Soper had shaken off Deenik in the second Dutch Falcon. Deenik in turn was chased by two more Dutch cars – Carlo Hamilton in another Falcon and Roel Korsten in a Mustang. Bell was now well clear of his Mini pursuers, leading José Beltramelli’s Cortina which ran second to Soper in the THC class. Beltramelli Sr pulled off on lap 9, though, handing the place in class to Andrew Lawley’s Alfa GTA.

“I had to try and make a getaway”, said Soper about dealing with the V8 cars. “First they would get back at me, but finally I managed to open up a gap.”

The top trio continued to run nose-to-tail towards the pitstops, Hill reclaiming second place from Thomas on lap 8 – but Thomas would have nothing of that, reasserting himself in second place on the next lap. On lap 12, both Minshaw and Hill came in to pit and hand over to Melling and Fenn respectively, as Thomas stayed out for one lap longer, edging towards the end of the pit window.

After the stops, Calum Lockie in the Thomas/Lockie Falcon led Rob Fenn by ten seconds on lap 14, with Martin Melling dropping back from the lead pair in third. Mark Martin was a safe fourth and closing on Melling, having taken over from Soper in the class-leading Cortina, his position further strengthened by his nearest class rival Andrew Lawley missing the pit window.

“I’m getting there!” Martin quipped. “Steve drove brilliantly, but I’m getting closer…”

Bart-Jan Deenik having dropped out, Roel Korsten’s Mustang and Carlo Hamilton’s Falcon were next up, the two leading Dutch cars split by a mere two seconds. Joe Ferguson in the Mini started by Tom Bell was seventh, still well ahead of nearest class rival Billy Nairn, who had taken over from brother Carl. The Minis were sandwiching the Christian Dumolin/Pierre-Alain Thibaut Mustang and Andrew Lawley’s Alfa GTA.

On lap 15, however, the excitement at the front was all over, Fenn’s Mustang coming to a halt on the pit straight. Attention now diverted to Mark Martin having caught Melling, the Cortina passing Falcon on lap 16. Further back, Ron Maydon removed Billy Nairn from second place in the Mini class. Two laps later, Korsten and Hamilton passed Melling to take third and fourth on the road in the two leading Dutch cars, with Korsten also getting ahead of Martin on lap 20, the Dutchman having come up like a storm in the second part of the race.

“I had a super race”, said Hamilton. “Yesterday, I was getting sick from driving on this circuit, despite having taken a pill against the motion sickness. So my wife advised me to take two pills this morning – and it worked!”

Lockie completed 23 laps to win by 1 minute and 15 seconds from Korsten. Martin trailed the Dutchman by four seconds but kept ahead of Hamilton in fourth. Melling was fifth ahead of Tom Bell/Joe Ferguson in the best of the Minis.

Masters Sports Car Legends
Fletcher flies to commanding FIA Masters Historic Sports Car win at Paul Ricard.

Henry Fletcher made up for his Formula One setback earlier on the day by taking a commanding FIA Masters Historic Sports Car win at Paul Ricard. On the opening lap, the Chevron B26 driver grabbed the lead from poleman ‘Mr John of B’ in the Ligier JS2 and never looked back.

The race was denied a fight between Fletcher and rapid ex-F3000 driver Soheil Ayari in the Ligier, as the French car remained stuck in gear after ‘Mr John of B’ came in for his mandatory pitstop.

**The beginning was a bit busy”, Fletcher said, “but finally, after this morning’s setback when a plug lead failed in the Formula One race. I wanted to race properly, and this was a good race. I needed to make a break to account for a safety car – no, not for Ayari, I’m sure I could have handled him!**

The Gonçalo Gomes/James Claridge Lola T212 had risen to second in the hands of Gomes, but Claridge had to give way to Andy Wolfe in the Lola T70 Mk3 started by Jason Wright, with Charles Nearburg in the Osella-Abarth PA1 also finding a way past to take over third place. But when the American pulled off on the final lap, the Lola was back to claim the final podium spot.

**I only had second and fourth gear from about two laps into my stint”, said Wolfe about being unable to make any inroads into Fletcher’s lead. “And third is a gear that you need pretty much everywhere here! So that made life a bit more difficult…**

Chris Jolly and Steve Farthing (Cooper Monaco T61M) came out victorious in a tense pre-65 Hulme class battle, as Farthing passed the Cooper Monaco King Cobra shared by Billy Bellinger and Keith Ahlers with six minutes still on the clock. The Graham Wilson/David Pittard Lola T70 Mk1 never quite posed a threat, Wilson spinning on lap 2 and Pittard retiring halfway into his stint while closing on Ahlers and Farthing.

**Chris had built a good lead on Billy”, Farthing said, “but then we had a seat-belt issue during our stop, which lost us a good 20 seconds. So I just had to claw back the difference!**

An eventful few opening laps saw Henry Fletcher storm to the front in his Chevron B26, grabbing the lead from ‘Mr John of B’ in the pole-sitting Ligier JS2 on the first lap. Behind them, Gonçalo Gomes rose to third in the Lola T212 at the expense of Jason Wright in the Lola T70 Mk3B. Further back, Charles Nearburg dropped a few places at the start but the tall Texan’s Osella-Abarth was back up into fifth by lap 4.

Meanwhile, Graham Wilson spun his Lola T70 Mk1 Spyder on lap 2, and found himself last and a lap down as soon as he got the Lola going again. Wilson’s mishap handed the Hulme-class lead to Billy Bellinger in the Cooper Monaco King Cobra who in turn was harried by Chris Jolly in the Monaco T61M. Julian Thomas was even worse off than Wilson, though, as his Chevron B8 grounded to a halt on the Mistral Straight on lap 3, prematurely ending a potentially great battle with Mark Owen in the other B8.

15 minutes into the race, Fletcher had stretched his lead to 16 seconds over the Ligier whose owner was now working to keep Gomes in the Lola T212 behind. The Portuguese driver got by on lap 9. In fourth, Wright was dropping back into the clutches of Nearburg – the Americans indeed swapping places on lap 8 – while Marc Devis in the Lola T70 Mk3 Spyder was fighting Martin O’Connell in the Chevron B8 to remain in sixth, a battle the Belgian lost on that same eighth lap.

The pre-65 battle was equally raging, as Jolly passed Bellinger for the class lead on lap 10, 21 minutes into the race. Mark Owen was leading the Bonnier class while John Sheldon was in front in the Siffert class in his Chevron B16.

As the pit window opened, Jason Wright was the first of the stoppers, the Italian American handing over to his preparer Andy Wolfe. The leader was up next. Fletcher held a 20-second lead over Gomes and ‘Mr John of B’, the latter coming in on the same lap to hand over to Soheil Ayari. However, drama ensued in the Frenchmen’s pit, as the Ligier-Cosworth appeared stuck in gear. This sadly disallowed us to see what the very rapid Ayari was capable of in the ex-Patrick Depailler car. ‘Mr John of B’ and Ayari were not alone, as Marc Devis’ Lola T70 Mk3 Spyder also failed to reappear after the stops.

With less than a minute left in the pit window, Gomes came into the pits from the lead to have team mate James Claridge strapped into the T212’s seat. As the order shook out after the stops, Fletcher was back into the lead, 33 seconds in hand over Claridge, with Wolfe a further nine seconds back. In fourth, 52 seconds away from the lead, Nearburg was the last man on the lead lap, well ahead of Sandy Watson in the invitational Chevron B8 started by O’Connell.

After a slow stop for the Jolly/Farthing pairing in the pre-65 Hulme class, Keith Ahlers was back into the lead in the Cooper Monaco King Cobra taken over from his young co-driver Billy Bellinger. In sixth overall, Ahlers had Andrew Owen’s Chevron B8 and John Sheldon’s Chevron B16 in between himself and class rival Steve Farthing in the T61M. David Pittard in the T70 Mk1 started by Graham Wilson was gaining quickly on the pair of them, though, lapping ten seconds than the top-two Hulme-class runners. It was all over for Pittard on lap 18, though, the car coming to a halt on the second part of the Mistral Straight. This handed third place in class to Nikolaus Ditting’s Ford GT40.

In second place, Claridge was falling back into Wolfe’s clutches at a rate of knots. On lap 17, Wolfe was past but not making an impression on Fletcher in front. Three laps later, as Claridge continued to drop back, Nearburg took third away from him. Fletcher ran out an easy win, ahead of Wolfe and Nearburg – or so it seemed, because Nearburg’s Osella ground to a premature stop on the very last lap, handing back third place to the Gomes/Claridge Lola T212.

“I felt very sorry for Charlie”, said Claridge about passing the hapless Nearburg on the final lap. “He really deserved third place. Then again, it has happened to us before, so we were happy to take it. Also, Gonçalo absolutely flew during his stint, so if he had done a solo drive he would have deserved third place too!”

In the pre-65 class the sting was in the tail as well, as Farthing nipped past Ahlers with six minutes to go. John Sheldon won the Siffert class in sixth overall while Mark & Andrew Owen took Bonnier class honours in ninth overall.

“I just didn’t get on with the track”, Ahlers concluded. “I have a weakness with slow corners, and there are a lot of those here. It never really clicked for me.”