The BMW 3.0 CSL of Belgians Eric Mestdagh and Pierre-Alain Thibaut took the honours in the inaugural 2-hour Historic Touring Car Challenge at this year’s Algarve Classic Festival.
The race saw a number of great battles and different leaders including the JD Classics Bastos Rover of Chris Ward and Steve Soper.
In Friday’s qualifying session it was the BMW 3.0 CSL of Mestdagh and Thibaut who topped the tables having posted a time of 2:04.4, a full second ahead of the Ward/Soper Bastos Rover (2:05.4) The Ford Capri of Steve Dance was third fastest (2:07.0) with Greg Caton fourth in the tangerine orange Ford Escort on its maiden outing (2:08.3).
The third row was an all Capri affair with Paul Pochciol and James Hanson 5th fastest (2:08.5) and Ric Wood sharing his Liquimoly liveried Capri with hot-shoe Adam Morgan in 6th (2:08.9).
The BMW 320 of Mike Luck and Callum Lockie were 7th (2:09.2) alongside the Rover SD1 of Chris and Charlie Williams with 3rd driver Ken Clarke joining them for a stint (2:11.2). 8th was the MG Metro Turbo of Till Bechtolscheimer driving with Damien Faulkner (2:12.3) just ahead of the Ford Zakspeed Escort of Malcolm Harding and Tony Paxman (2:12.6).
On the next row, qualifying 11th was the first of the Tony Dron Trophy competitors the Golf GTi of Jim Morris and Tom Shephard, (2:13.9) sitting alongside the Geoff Steel Racing-run BMW 635 piloted by Paul Beddow and Richard Hope (2:14).
Behind them was the Renault 5 GT Turbo of Tony Hart and Will Nuthall, the Belgium crewed BMW 3.0 CSL of Christian Dumolin and Christophe Van Riet. Just ahead of the BMW M3 of Steve Jones and the Hepolite livered Tony Dron Trophy Ford Capri of John Spiers and Graham Pattle.
Completing the line-up were the Ford Capris of Chris Keen and Richard McAlpine, George Pochciol and Jason Minshaw, and the Rover SD1 of Peter Mallet and Iain Rowley. Paul Chase-Gardener driving with Simon Jones in their Tony Dron Trophy Capri followed and bringing up the rear was the Triumph Dolomite Sprint of Brian White and Dougal Cawley.
As the lights went to green at the start of the two-hour race, it was the JD Classics Bastos Rover started by Chris Ward alongside the Belgium crewed BMW 3.0 CSL going into the first corner side by side, with Steve Dance in hot pursuit. At the end of the first lap – the Bastos Rover was ahead by 4 seconds and so the battle commenced!
On lap two the Liqui-Moly Ford Capri of Ric Wood found his stride and came rocketing down the pit straight from fourth to move up into 2nd position. The BMW 3.0 CSL of Eric Mestdagh had also been biding been his time, and after a couple of laps of being locked in a door handle to door handle battle with Ric Wood he also found a way through to move up into 2nd.
After 30 mins of gripping race action, the first pit stops were made – on lap 19 the leading Bastos Rover pitted, Dance stopped on the same lap, as did the Ford Escort of Greg Caton. Eric Mestdagh briefly took the lead with Ric Wood in 2nd. The Bastos Rover rejoined with Soper on board in 3rd place. Caton and Dance both exited the pit lane together rejoining in 5th and 6th place.
As the race unfolded some early casualties appeared, amongst them the Renault 5 of Nuthall-Hart who broke a driveshaft. The spanners were out, the spare was fitted and the car rejoined losing just 2 laps. The Zakspeed Escort also pitted and was boxed to fit new brakes but didn’t return to the track.
On lap 24 the new race leader Eric Mestdagh stopped, handing the race lead back to Chris Ward. The BMW rejoined in 2nd with Steve Dance in 3rd place .
Ric Wood having made his first stop was back to the pits within a lap. “We have a sticking throttle” said Wood who put Morgan in the driving seat, having dived under the bonnet to sort the problem himself. “The problem only started after my 50 min stop, and I did a scary lap trying to control the car on the ignition switch to get back to the pits.”
In the latter part of the race there were yet more casualties including the Renault 5 – this time with over-heating issues. “We fixed the drive-shaft and got back out then the temperature just shot up, so I had to bring it in” commented Hart. The MG Metro of Bechtolscheimer-Faulkner arrived in the pits for a new rear shock absorber, which was duly fitted in the pits and rejoined with 28 mins to go.
The Wood–Morgan Capri was back in the pits at least twice before they finally gave up trying to wrestle the Capri which was intent on driving itself flat out or not at all. “We are really disappointed” commented Wood “We knew we would be slow at the start as we have a heavy fuel load, but we could have done well.” John Spiers and Graham Pattle also had to retire their Hepolite liveried Capri after losing all gears when the clutch failed in the last quarter of the race.
Meanwhile the BMW of Mestdagh-Thibaut retook the lead, with the Bastos Rover in 2nd and Steve Dance in 3rd. A late and very rare, drive through penalty for the JD Classics Bastos Rover for exceeding track limits cost them valuable time and extended the lead of the unstoppable BMW – and this was the order in which they finished.
Mestagh-Thibaut were a clear minute ahead of the JD Classics Bastos Rover by the time the flag dropped. Steve Dance solo-drove a great race to finish 3rd with the Caton-Swadkin Ford Escort in fourth and Hanson-Pochciol completing the top five.
First home for the Tony Dron Trophy competitors was the Golf GTi of Morris-Shepherd. Neither car nor drivers missed a beat, finishing 8th overall. A pair of Ford Capris were chasing them down finishing next on the road but a lap behind were Pochciol-Minshaw in 2nd and a lap behind the Capri of Chase Gardener-Jones in 3rd. The Rover SD1 of Mallet-Rowley finished 4th with Spiers-Pattle retired but still with enough laps banked to be classified 5th.