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Gans serves up surprise for Ward

 

“That was much more difficult than I expected it to be; Michael [Gans] pressed me hard, made me work for it on the best circuit in the country,” smiled Chris Ward having alighted from the JD Classics Lister-Jaguar Costin following a hard-fought victory over the American’s Lotus 15 in the Stirling Moss Trophy race at Brands Hatch’s Masters Historic Festival on Sunday, May 28. Very different in concept, the two cars were well-matched in a tense duel, eventually decided by 13.433s after an hour on the Kentish Grand Prix track.

A brilliant third place for James ‘Billy’ Bellinger and Keith Ahlers in the latter’s gallant little Lola Mk1 Prototype became greatly more poignant that evening when marque founder Eric Broadley MBE – who built the car in a garage behind the family tailoring shop in nearby Bromley in 1958 – passed away, aged 88, following a short illness. It laid the foundations for a legendary company which would win an Formula 1 race within four years, the Indianapolis 500 and Daytona 24 Hours, F5000 titles, plus single-seater and sportscar races the world over.

At Brands, the pre-event withdrawal of the Leventis family’s NART Ferrari 246S (entered for Sam Hancock/Gregor Fisken), Guillermo Fierro’s equally fabulous Maserati Tipo 61 ‘Birdcage’ and Barry Wood’s Lister-Jaguar Knobbly for son Tony and Will Nuthall (who pushed Ward all the way at Donington’s season-opener) reduced the Pre-1961 Sportscar field to 16. With Ward on form in the only Lister, BHL133, it was no surprise that the combination wound up on pole position, Chris cutting a typically stylish 1m43.065s (84.99mph) lap within only five of the Kentish switchback.

Gans – debuting the ex-Roy Pierpoint Lotus 15 622/3 previously raced impressively by team chief Andy Wolfe in Frenchman Ivan Vercoutere’s ownership– was not going to leave Ward in a one-horse race, however. Belying Michael’s experience in it his 1:45.281s shot was indicative of confidence in the lighter two-litre Coventry-Climax FPF twin-cam-engined car. Ahlers/Bellinger snared third with a superb 1:45.919 in the 1216cc single-cam Climax FWE-motivated Lola, chased by experienced youngster Ben Mitchell who posted 1:49.611 within a few laps in Jason Yates’ flat-bodied Lotus 11 ‘Custard Climax’ with its 1460cc engine.

Row three comprised the two-litre Willment-Climax of Charles Gillett/Steve Smith (1:49.734) and Swiss veteran Jürg Tobler’s very pretty Lola Mk1 (1:50.090), with the Lotus XI Le Man streamliner of Philip Champion/Sam Stretton, its front corner straightened but not yet repainted following a scrape at Donington, next on 1:50.446s.

Less than seven tenths of a second separated the next five, the two-litre Cooper T49 Monacos of Tarek Mahmoud and Tony Ditheridge/Barry Cannell sandwiching the cosmopolitan set of Gregory de Prins (Rejo MkIV), Ian Dalglish (Lotus 17) and Serge Kriknoff (Lotus XI Series 1).

Marc Valvekens – whose midnight blue Lola Mk1 was barely distinguishable from Tobler’s at a distance – the Elva Mk5 of Ralf Emmerling/Phil Hooper, Robi Bernberg and Paul Ugo’s diminutive Cooper T39 ‘Bobtail’ and Marc Gordon’s Jaguar XK150 completed the pack, although mechanical problems sidelined Gordon for the weekend.

Ward, Gans and Bellinger set off hard as the pace car pulled in presaging Sunday morning’s race start, with Gillett going after them initially on what appeared to be a deceptively ‘green’ track, washed by heavy overnight rain. The black Willment lasted little more than three laps, alas, for Charles ran wide on the exit of Surtees and was unable to prevent it becoming beached in the gravel. The MSV circuit crew towed the car out under a full-course caution, but it remained dormant on the grass thereafter.

Once withdrawn, the pace car was stationary for little more than a lap before being recalled for the recovery of Emmerling’s Elva which had lost a wheel, also at Surtees. The moustachioed German thus joined Gillett in a spectating role as the train of survivors, minus the detached Yates, circulated in the order of Ward, Gans, Bellinger, Tobler, Mahmoud, Cannell, Dalglish, Champion, Kriknoff, de Prins, Bernberg and Valvekens.

As the green flag was waved signalling racing to resume after eight laps Cannell accelerated harder than Mahmoud and the two Cooper Monacos crossed the line abreast, the red one’s transponder triggering TSL’s timing system 0.050s sooner than the blue’s, indicating an illegal pass. Barry was obliged to serve a stop-and-go penalty, and was later summoned to the race director, seeking explanation. Initially mystified, he emerged smiling. “Fair cop,” he said, having been shown a souvenir photograph while team-mate Dithers continued to circulate.

Champion and de Prins entered the pits together, but the Belgian exited first as Stretton was strapped into the Lotus. Thus began a strong charge back up the charts as Mahmoud endeavoured to shrug off Dalglish’s impudent Lotus. They stopped together, fifth and sixth at that point, but the 17’s bonnet went up as his crew looked for oil seepage which spelled retirement. “It was coming from behind, not up front, we think it’s the diff,” said the disappointed Canadian.

On track, Gans was enjoying his tussle with Ward, matching the leader step for step, his Lotus countering Jaguar power by being nimbler in the turns. They stopped on successive laps, Ward first, which left Bellinger ahead for two glorious laps. So far ahead of the rest were they that Ahlers brought the Lola back out third, behind soloists Ward and Gans, immediately back into their previous rhythms. Stretton and Tobler, then de Prins and Kriknoff, were paired-off behind the leaders at this stage.

Ward eased away over the final third of the race, but looked relieved to see the chequered flag and receive the trophy from MRL’s Duncan Wiltshire. “It was great fun, good to have Michael to race with,” he said. Gans was “pushing pretty hard, digging deeper,” to stay with the Lister, but was cognisant of an oil leak, thought to be from the gearbox, so throttled back, secure in second. Ahlers praised his SMT 1 division-dinning Lola as ever – “it’s exceptional, so quick through the corners” – having finished third, less than a minute behind the winner at what he described as “a fantastic meeting.”

Tobler repassed class winner Stretton for fourth on the penultimate lap while Kriknoff landed sixth ahead of de Prins, Mahmoud’s slowing Cooper Monaco and Ditheridge’s sister car which finished just 2.324s adrift after its inadvertent two-stop ‘strategy.’ Valvekens and Mitchell –at times the third quickest man on the track in Yates’ Lotus – were the final finishers, Ugo having stopped his centre-seat Cooper near the end.