British Touring Car Championship leader Adam Morgan and Stockport engine guru Ric Wood claimed a race victory apiece, gunning the latter’s sensational-sounding Ford Capri round Thruxton’s super-fast 2.356 miles as the Historic Touring Car Challenge and Tony Dron Trophy Group 1 contenders made their venue debuts at the Hampshire airfield circuit’s 50th Anniversary Celebration event on June 2-3.
Neither Morgan nor Wood had things entirely his own way, however, for watched by a sizeable and appreciative audience, basking in warm summer sunshine on the banking and in the grandstands at the chicane, BTCC Volvo racer James Hanson demonstrated the potential of invitee Paul Pochciol’s newly rebuilt Jaguar XJ12C – a replica of the spectacular but unsuccessful Broadspeed cars of the 1970s – by leading the mighty Capri in half-hour races on both days.
Making it three engine configurations in the podium places, the rumbling V8 Chevrolet Camaros of Dron set pacesetter Oliver Bryant and Alex Thistlethwayte chased Morgan home in Saturday’s opener. Bryant, flinging the Simoniz-liveried late-model Group 1 car round superbly, also split Wood and Hanson/Pochciol in Sunday’s half-hour, in which TDT Capri dicers Patrick Watts and John Spiers enjoyed a cracking battle.
A bunch of late withdrawals post-Donington regrettably included the fire-breathing Ford Sierra Cosworth RS500 of Mark Wright and local ace Dave Coyne, Thruxton’s outright lap record-holder in 1991 at a staggering 1m03.66s (133.23mph), at the wheel of a high-downforce Formula 3000 Reynard 90D single-seater. The enthusiastic takers nonetheless numbered 16, including George Pochciol, son of Paul, who joined the party late with his Capri in Esso warpaint.
Just a fortnight after the BTCC’s annual visit – in which he bolstered his points tally with a race three victory in the Mac Tools with Cicely Motorsport Mercedes-Benz A-Class – Morgan and former Modsaloon man Wood were quickly into their stride in the sonorous crossover-injected three-litre Weslake powered Capri, sidelined at Donington by what transpired to be a minor crank pulley failure to Ric’s relief. He left most of the Q-session to Morgan who duly topped the qualifying timesheets with a 1m26.993s (an average speed of 97.49mph), 1.853s quicker than Hanson’s best in the Jag, which proved a real handful.
Bryant, no stranger to Thruxton’s sweeps – he won the 2005 British GT Championship round with Keith Ahlers in a Morgan Aero 8, and set fastest lap in a V10 Dodge Viper in ’08 – gridded an outstanding third in the Richard Lloyd 350ci (5.7-litre) Camaro Z28, his 1:29.101 (95.19mph) shod on old Dunlop Post-Historic treaded rubber heading the Dron field. His closest rival was BTCC veteran Watts (Frank & Jeans LEVIS Capri 3.0S) on a very solid 1:30.730, albeit two rows back in seventh overall.
Between them on Saturday’s grid sat American Fred Wakeman in the gruff Rover SD1 originally supplied by Dave Price Racing to Eloff Leyland in South Africa. Like Wakeman, team-mate Patrick Blakeney-Edwards was a Thruxton rookie who warmed to its challenges. Having achieved a stout 1:29.418, they planned a solo race apiece, since Fred was heading back to the US on business after his sortie. Also inside the psychological 1:30 mark was invitee Thistlethwayte in his very handsome ’67-shaped Ovaltine Camaro, also with a 350ci V8 under its hood.
Hotfoot from Charade in France’s mountainous Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes region, where he’d raced a 1960 F1 Cooper T53 brilliantly the previous weekend, Will Nuthall sped Tony Hart’s Renault 5 GT Turbo round in 1:30.698 to pip Watts’s class-leading Capri. Alongside Patrick on row four would line-up Martin ‘Fireball’ Overington’s meaty-looking Rover, in which Guy Stevens was soloing. Spiers’ Hermetite Capri 3.0S was only a fraction of a second adrift of the burly SD1, despite only putting in four laps of practice.
Invitee Mark Burnett’s Mini 1275GT – Essex rolling road specialist Jon Mowatt’s 1980 British Saloon Car Championship racer – cut an impressive 1:34.158, chased by Ben Short in Nick Riley’s Historic Cooper S. Split by Paul Chase Gardener’s Motorcraft/Autocar Capri 3.0S, a trio of Alfa Romeos propped up the qualifiers. Quickest of these was Wolverhampton marque dealer Ian Guest’s rorty 2.5-litre Boule d’Or GTV6 shared with son Frank, chased by the eyecatching Group 1 spec Alpilatte version of Paul Clayson and preparer Darren Roberts in Glynn Allen’s earlier Bertone 105-shaped two-litre. Pochciol Jr was allowed to join the fun despite missing the morning session.
Steeling himself for the challenge, Hanson mustered the bravado to jump Morgan at Saturday’s start, leading for a couple of laps before the five-time BTCC race winner had the tail-happy Capri’s slick tyres up to temperature and howled past. James boldly outbraked Adam into the Club chicane on lap four, but two circuits later the status quo was effectively settled with the Liqui Moly oil treatment/Nigrin polish tribute-liveried Ford ahead.
Bryant and Thistlethwayte led the chase in their big Chevvies, Olly on treaded tyres gradually shaking off the hotter example. After a feisty start by Hart, who had the Renault up to fifth initially, Wakeman bustled his raucous Rover past, leaving the sizzling turbocar exposed to the Capris of Watts – first of the quicker cars to make its mandatory pitstop – and Spiers, battling with Burnett’s plucky Mini.
Yorkshireman Hanson had lost half a minute to Lancastrian Morgan when he stopped at half-distance, the end of lap 10, as did Nuthall, Burnett and Spiers. “I’m knackered, my arms are ready to fall off,” puffed James, clearly by the effort. If the wayward Jaguar had spooked the former ‘pro,’ how was its owner going to get on? Pochciol was sixth at the end of his out lap, with leader Morgan now in the pit phase and little prospect of great improvement.
Bryant stopped from the lead after 12 laps, with Thistlethwayte just 1.75s behind at the timing line, therefore Wakeman – last of the pit visitors – enjoyed a lap in the lead. While the green and white Rover sat dormant outside the Blakeney Motorsport garage on the pit apron Morgan went back ahead with Bryant and Thistlethwayte, having rejoined nose-to-tail, still together almost 20 seconds adrift. Pochciol ran fourth at this point but, lapping six to eight seconds off hotshoe Hanson’s early pace, fell prey to Wakeman, going increasingly quickly, five laps from home.
A lap down at the chequered flag, Watts snared a class-winning sixth – second in the overall Tony Dron Trophy classification – chased by Burnett and Spiers who was ambushed by the Mini two laps from home. Nuthall, who briefly nipped the Renault ahead of the Capri, was ninth ahead of Stevens’ ailing Rover (the diff on which failed) and the Guest family’s Alfa. Chase-Gardener, Clayson, George Pochciol and Roberts all completed 18 laps. Only the Short/Riley Cooper S fell by the wayside.
Sunday morning’s race saw Ric Wood soloing in his Capri while different tyres had “transformed” the Jaguar according to Hanson, who stormed into the lead from the rolling start. Having set the weekend’s fastest HTTC lap at 1:24.921s (99.87mph, tantalisingly close to the ‘magic ton’), James extended a 20 second advantage over Ric by the time he peeled the XJ12 into the pits 11 laps in. “We threw it away at the pitstop. The guys couldn’t get the steering wheel off, so we lost a lot of time [more than 20 seconds to Wood],” rued James.
Ric didn’t slacken his pace, lapping quickly and consistently in the 1:26s after his stop, en route to the chequered flag. Ever the showman, he entertained appreciative onlookers with full-blooded tyre-frying powerslides out of the chicane on the last couple of laps, which elicited huge applause from the stands. “I’m rather warm now,” he said afterwards, “but kept my cool in the early laps. Going into the first corner was my fourth lap of Thruxton in this car! I decided not to chase the Jag as I knew its tyres would go off. The tactic worked.”
Pochciol was unable to stave off Bryant in the closing stages, thus Olly claimed a splendid runner-up spot, almost 10 seconds clear at the chequer, throwing his Camaro sideways at the chicane last time round in celebration. “That was fantastic. Trying to stay with the cars on slicks put me in tyre survival mode early on. Three of my tyres were like slicks at the end, but second was unexpected,” he enthused. Thistlethwayte finished an excellent fourth, pursued by Blakeney-Edwards who worked down to within a second of Wakeman’s Saturday times on a hotter day.
Sixth overall, Spiers finished second of the Dron Trophy set and top of his class, his heady scrap with Watts’ similar Capri defused when Patrick’s V6 coughed, dry of fuel, on the penultimate lap. The rapid Burnett, Pochciol and the Guests also finished a lap down on the leaders, the last pair’s Alfa having shaken off Chase-Gardener and Clayson after a protracted tussle. The Renault 5, slowing (“it had about 75 horsepower after it lost its turbo,” said Nuthall) struggled home 10th, just ahead of PC-G’s Capri. Riley’s Mini was retired when it lapsed onto three cylinders.
Words: Marcus Pye, Photos: Dave Brassington & John Retter