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Capris to the fore in Hampshire

In the Ford Capri’s 50th anniversary year it was appropriate that the Blue Oval’s popular coupes – of which more than 1.9 million examples were made over 18 years – should dominate the Historic Touring Car Challenge and Tony Dron Trophy races at the Thruxton Motorsport Celebration on June 1-2. Two cars built to the ultimate RS3100 specification, with wailing 3.4-litre Ford GAA V6 engines under their bonnets, shared overall victory in the skilled hands of Steve Dance and Ric Wood respectively. It was a similar story in the TDT Group 1 category in which the three-litre machines of John Spiers/Tiff Needell (Hermetite) and James Hanson/George Pochciol (Esso) were first past the chequered flag on successive days.

Dance stormed his Weisberg tools/GRAB liveried Capri to pole position in Saturday morning’s qualifying session, his 1m22.308s best on the 2.356-mile Hampshire track an average speed of 103.04mph. Also over “the ton” was the sizzling 560bhp Ford Sierra RS500 of Paul Mensley, sharing with Talbot Sunbeam Lotus racer Matthew Ellis. Mensley whirled the car – in Australian Murray Carter’s tribute livery – round in 1:23.851.

Returnee Wood was third with 1:27.343 in his Liqui Moly-schemed Capri, sharing row two with the imposing Rover SDI of Californian Fred Wakeman and his British team mates Patrick Blakeney-Edwards/Mike Grant Peterkin in its original South African warpaint. They did well to cut 1:28.410 in 13 laps before its differential failed. Also inside 90 seconds were the Computervision MG Metro of Patrick Watts which sizzled before its turbo failed on 1:29.338 and the Hepolite Rover of Ken Clarke and his son Tim.

A Tom Walkinshaw Racing crewman when Steve Soper put the ochre-hued Vitesse on pole for the first of two 1983 British Saloon Car Championship races here [with a time of 1:27.10 incidentally] Clarke Sr had interesting memories of how Soper’s team mate, local man Peter Lovett, took his turn to win the big race 36 years ago… Soper salvaged seventh after a pit stop to tighten loose wheel nuts.

Australian Bill Cutler’s ‘Green Hell’ BMW M5335i and the top TDT Group 1 contender, the Capri of John Spiers and Thruxton Motorsport School hot-lapper Tiff Needell shared row four in the 31s, 0.192s apart. The latter pair’s class target of 1:31.561 reflected a tenuous advantage though, for Pochciol and former BTCC racer Hanson and Ludovic Lindsay (running-in a freshly-built V6 in his Faberge Capri) were breathing down their necks.

The pack was rounded-out by the class-leading ex-BL Belgium Julien Vernaeve Triumph Dolomite Sprint of Simon Drabble/Nick Maton on 1:34.459, historic rally ace James Slaughter in Patrick Watts’ Frank & Jeans Capri and the contrasting era Alfa Romeos of Paul Clayson (ex-Lella Lombardi Alpilatte GTV6) and spannerman Darren Roberts piloting Glynn Allen’s pretty 105-shaped 2000GTV.

The demise of Watts’ Metro left 13 runners for the afternoon’s race and Dance growled magnificently into the distance, lapping the field inside 40 minutes despite his early best tour of 1:25.625s being three seconds off his practice pace. Wood’s heady pursuit was curtailed when a steering component worked loose and he coasted back into the pits after 15 laps. Rather than risk a fix in the red-hot engine bay, Ric preferred to regroup for Sunday’s second stanza.

That left finishing-stinter Grant Peterkin [PBE having stood down in favour of his Blakeney Motorsports’ chief mechanic] second in the green-fronted Rover, but as its grip faded – making the V8 monster a real handful round the back of the circuit – Tim Clarke hunted Mike down and seized a superb second place with a lap to spare. Father Ken was overjoyed to record the narrow-bodied Rover’s best finish at Thruxton.

Barely a second blanketed the SD1s at the chequer.

Fourth overall, Spiers and Needell aced earned top Dron honours, a lap clear of Pochciol/Hanson and Lindsay, shadowed by Slaughter, adapting well to the wide open expanses of the demanding circuit. Drabble/Maton, Roberts and Allen completed the finishers. A fractured oil return fitting stopped Ellis in the Sierra while Cutler’s straight-six ‘Beemer’ was blighted by stops to investigate overheating issues.

The Dolomite and the Sierra had fallen before Sunday’s sequel in which Dance made his escape from 11 rivals, anticipating the spectre of Wood – starting at the back – in his mirrors if he didn’t get his right foot down. Fifth at the end of the opening lap, Wood was second within five, after which the race was well and truly on. Even when leader Dance’s car started to smoke ominously he didn’t slacken his pace. By the time a grey cloud was billowing from beneath Steve’s car, its rump was blackened in the low pressure area behind its tail spoiler, Ric was within striking distance.

When officials gave Dance the black and orange warning flag he didn’t see it initially for a brisk crosswind was blowing it back over the pit wall as he growled towards the quick right-handed Allard corner after the timing line. But he did heed it and Wood’s shriller-sounding [shorter-geared?] Capri raced through to victory. The Rovers finished 2.7s apart, in the opposite order this time, Wakeman/Grant Peterkin ahead of the Clarkes.

Spiers’ Capri conked-out within half a lap of the start, guaranteeing a different winner in the Group 1 category too. Slaughter joined John on the sidelines when his Ford’s engine went pop spectacularly on the kink before the Complex on lap five. Team chief Watts was already in the pits where he’d parked the Metro after a lap. Hanson started Pochciol’s Capri this time, relaying George to a strong fourth overall and a one-lap Dron Trophy victory over Lindsay.

At the back an absorbing Alfa Romeo dice between Clayson and Roberts raged for most of the race, entertaining onlookers in the grandstands at the chicane and watching from spectator banks. They traded places, lapping ever quicker, until the older car slowed with a transmission problem, thus the white and vivid green GTV prevailed. Cutler’s attractive BMW again failed to finish, despite his crew’s best efforts.       

Words: Marcus Pye, Pics: Jeff Bloxham