National reports: Le Mans Classic; Chateau Impney; Silverstone Masters F1; Thruxton; Snetterton; Lydden; Mondello Park
LE MANS CLASSIC PETER AUTO JULY 7-8
GT racers Stuart Hall and Patrick Simon provided some of the many highlights at the ninth Le Mans Classic, which attracted 135,000 spectators last weekend, but neither came away with the success they deserved at the biennial event.
As usual, the six main groups – featuring around 70 cars each – were decided over three contests, with Group C, Porsche and Jaguar races providing support.
Having narrowly missed victory at the Monaco Historique in May, Hall was again unfortunate. He led each race for the 1967-71 machines of Plateau 5 in Roald Goethe’s Lola T70 MK3B, but safety cars kept eroding his advantage. Goethe was overcome by faster runners each time, but still the duo finished on the aggregate podium.
“Every race I led there was a safety car,” said Hall. “The plan was to build up a cushion, but it’s still nice to get third.
Roald had a horrible crash at the 24 Hours in 2015, so it’s great to be on the podium here with him.”
Unusually, it wasn’t a T70 that topped the group. Having finished fifth in race one, Jacques Nicolet took his Gordon Murray-designed Formula 1 Brabham-cornered Duckhams Special sports-racer to a close second behind another Cosworth Dfv-engined car – the Ligier JS3 of ‘Mister John of B’ and Soheil Ayari – next time out. The Ligier had narrowly won the first two races and, in Hall’s wake, looked good for overall victory battling with Nicolet in the finale.
But yet another full-course caution brought trouble. As with the 24 Hours, three safety cars are used, and much of the field was held at the end of the pitlane after the stops waiting for the next one. The heat was too much for the Ligier, which wilted and was pushed away. Although he lost a few places during the stops, Nicolet quickly moved through the field, but seemed to struggle for gears in the closing stages.
That set up a dramatic three-way battle with Pierre-alain France’s T70 and the Chevron B19 of Maurizio Bianco.
The big coupe led going into the Ford chicane for the final time, but Nicolet dived down the inside into the first left-right and Bianco did likewise at the second. So it was Duckhams Special-chevron-lola across the line, the trio covered by less than a second, with Nicolet securing aggregate victory from the Seiler family’s T70 Mk3.
Hall drove solo in the first Plateau 6 race
for 1972-81 cars and won in the Gulf GR7 in which Derek Bell and Mike Hailwood finished fourth in the 1974 24 Hours, but already he knew he was in trouble.
“I backed off to save the car, but it had a gearbox problem,” said Hall, who led the second encounter before the Mirage failed completely. “I’m frustrated because the car had a lot of pace and we had a goal of doing a sub-four-minute lap.”
Polesitter Yves Scemama’s TOJ-DFV SC304 had followed Hall home in race one and the Swiss took a comfortable win in the second encounter. He led early on in race three, but was overhauled by several cars, led by Chris Macallister’s Mirage M6. A penalty for too early a pitstop in race two had hampered the 2012 and ’14 Plateau 6 victor and more confusion – “I am not very good at timing pitstops! – resulted in Macallister coming in twice during race three. He still won easily from a cruising Scemama, who benefited from problems for Martin O’connell (Chevron B26) and both Lafargue family Lola T298s to take second. That was sufficient to give the Toj aggregate victory by 6m24s, although Steve Dance’s superbly presented and well driven Ford Capri RS2600 claimed Index spoils.
Jaguar D-types were the dominant cars in the Plateau 2 1949-56 split, and put on some sensational battling. From fifth, Patrick Simon surged forward in Clive Joy’s XKD545 to challenge Steve Boultbee Brooks’s XKD558 for the lead. The duo swapped places several times before Simon, dancing the blue
D-type beautifully, established an advantage.
Second fell to Gary Pearson, who took over Carlos Monteverde’s ex-jim Clark XKD517 at the mandatory pitstop and got the better of Andrew Robertson
Smith, in for Brooks.
Simon also triumphed in the night race, which featured a fine battle between soloist Pearson and Martin Stretton, starting Richard Wilson’s Maserati 250S. “We were really close, it was brilliant,” said Pearson after finishing second. “There were times I couldn’t see Martin, but I could hear him.”
Simon looked set to complete a hat-trick, only to slow on the final lap of the finale. Monteverde swept by and pulled out enough of a gap to snatch overall victory for himself and Pearson by just 2.9s after more than two hours of competition. With the Brooks/ Smith D-type having succumbed to a holed piston, third overall fell to Wilson/stretton.
The quality of the Talbot 105 was underlined once again in the Plateau 1 field for pre-second World War machines, but past master Gareth Burnett had to work hard for his aggregate success. The polesitter stormed into the lead in the first race, only to suffer problems with the throttle linkage. Once sorted, Burnett charged back to 15th, but was left with a three-minute deficit to stablemate Michael Birch, who defeated the impressive BMW 328 hordes to take his first win.
Burnett spent the next two races making up the deficit and won both stanzas to take overall honours from fellow soloist Birch by just 8.8s to secure a one-two for John Ruston’s Talbot team. “It seems Gareth likes melodrama at the Classic,” said
Ruston, pointing to Burnett’s similar recovery to Plateau 1 laurels in 2014.
Rob Spencer’s enthusiastically driven Bugatti Type 35B beat all the BMWS to complete the podium and was the
Index of Performance winner.
Ford GT40 Mk1s dominated the Plateau 4 race for 1962-65 cars. They locked out the top seven in qualifying, then, with polesitter Shaun Lynn slow away, Richard Meaden attempted a pass on David Hart for second. He made it stick around the outside through the Porsche Curves but suffered a scary wheel failure when the front-left jettisoned. Hart avoided the trouble and cut into
James Cottingham’s advantage.
The pair traded positions for much of the first leg, despite Hart’s passenger door swinging open and it remaining immune to lashings of gaffer tape at the pitstop.
But both cars were dealt a three-minute penalty for speeding in a slow zone and that allowed Diogo Ferrao to win race one.
Under darkness, Hart was only able to take an eight-second win, meaning Ferrao had overall victory in sight. Rather than simply bring the car home though, he engaged in a thrilling fight with the GT40 Roadster of Pedro Macedo Silva for much of the third leg. Unfortunately, father Rui
didn’t have quite the same pace, thus the battle fizzled out. That left Ferrao to consolidate second behind Cottingham, easily enough to give the Portuguese driver victory overall.
Had the Plateau 3 race followed the same circuit configuration as that used from 1957-61, Lukas Halusa would probably have walked to victory in the one-off Ferrari 250 GT Breadvan. But with chicanes breaking up the Mulsanne Straight, the Italian V12 took time to stretch its legs, so Roger Wills was able to fling his agile Lotus 15 through the tighter sections and stay in touch.
Halusa won race one, but Wills responded during the night, climbing to first and overturning the deficit. With everything riding on the final 43-minute race, Halusa led initially but Wills began to close in. He left it late, passing into the Porsche Curves for both leg and aggregate victories with just seven minutes remaining.
Martin O’connell commanded the event’s curtain-raising Jaguar Classic Challenge support race. At times he was seven seconds a lap faster than anyone else and soon established a half-minute margin over the E-type-dominated field.
Germany’s Marcus Graf von Oeynhausen was a distant but impressive second, leaving Le Mans 24 Hours podium finisher Anthony Reid and Pearson to battle for third. They came to blows at the Dunlop Curve – a slight nudge sent both careering over the gravel, with stones smashing the windscreen on the ex-nasa-owned car of Reid. About to start the final lap, Pearson missed a gear to give
Reid crucial breathing space.
The idea of historic racing winding the clock back was taken a little too seriously by the Group C grid. Just as in 2016, Katsu Kubota headed the pack in his Nissan R90CK but again mechanical maladies denied the Japanese a win – left-rear suspension failure after an earlier puncture. Abiding by the script, the Leyton House Porsche 962 of Tommy Dreelan/aaron Scott picked up the mantle to take the chequered flag. Only it received another two-minute post-race penalty, just as in ’16 – this time for ignoring a red light and exiting the pits – that snatched the triumph away. The adjusted results boosted the 3.5-litre
Momo Gebhardt-cosworth C91 of
Michael Lyons to the top of the order.
Evens Stievenart should have won for a third consecutive year at the Circuit de la Sarthe, albeit a Porsche Classic race victory would be his first not on a push-bike. The 908 Langheck driver annihilated polesitter Raymond Narac’s three-litre 911 RS from the off. When Narac was slapped with a two-minute penalty for slow-zone speeding, the result looked a foregone conclusion. But Stievenart committed the same offence and so eight minutes were added to his time, leaving the third-on-the-road 910 of Uwe Bruschnik to take the honours.
Hall starred in Goethe’s Lola (left) in Plateau 5…
…but Nicolet’s Duckhams Special defeated the T70 pack
Brooks (25) battles Monteverde (21) as Simon (blue D-type on right) begins his charge in Plateau 2
Burnett recovered well to lead Talbot charge in pre-war split
Scemama’s Toj only won one Plateau 6 race, but took aggregate victory
Battle for GT40 supremacy was intense and three cars scored Plateau 4 victories
Jaguar and Nissan lead, but the Group C race fell to Lyons’s red Gebhardt