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Soper and Ward show Rover’s Vitesse


Erasing memories of the breakage which caused Steve Soper to retire the shrill V8 machine from the lead of 2015’s event, the TWR Bastos Rover Vitesse returned triumphant in this year’s Historic Touring Car Challenge/Tony Dron Trophy race at the Donington Historic Festival, crewed by tin-top legend Soper and Chris Ward. Last year’s winners in JD Classics’ Ford Broadspeed Capri – in which Soper also triumphed in 2014 – outran a superb battle for second in which a breathless David Tomlin (Ford Escort RS1800) dug deep to pip Germany’s Dominik Roschmann (BMW 3.0 CSL) by 0.903s after a fine hour of racing.

Soper/Ward snared pole position on Friday with a superb 1m16.267s (93.42mph) shot in the colourful 1986 Rover, a time which Silverstone Auctions boss Nick Whale and son Harry did well to get within 0.631s of in their 2.5-litre Auto Trader BMW M3 E30 of 1990 vintage. Steve Dance, the 2015 race victor, gridded third in his self-built Capri RS2600 evocation, with a trio of BMWs and Tomlin’s Klaus Ludwig tribute Escort [which previously flew with Mark Wright/Dave Coyne up] splitting the best of the blue oval brigade.

Two of the Beemers boasted wonderful histories in the 1970s, when the CSLs – with rasping straight six engines stretched to 3.5-litres per homologation – memorably took on Ford Cologne’s V6-powered Capris. Belgian supermarket magnate Eric Mestdagh’s ex-Willi Braillard/Jean Xhenceval Marabout Racing Team version and Roschmann’s ex-Hughes de Fierlandt/Vincent Gaye Precision Liegeoise car [built by Albert Peltier, whose son Alain subsequently raced it with Jean-Louis Lafosse among others] competed in the ’73 Spa 24 Hours. They gridded fourth and sixth respectively, split by Mark Smith’s Amspeed-run M3 E30.

Behind Tomlin, the Simoniz Chevrolet Camaro Z28 of Grahame and Oliver Bryant led the Dron divisions in eighth, with the newly-built Weslake V6-engined Capri of Ric Wood and young British Touring Car Championship racer Adam Morgan – its fat-arched shell’s voluptuous contours enhanced by a Bastos livery – and ex-Dennis Leech Rover Vitesse of Chris and Charlie Williams also inside the 1m20s barrier.

Chris Ward would also start JD Classics’ TWR Jaguar XJS, following its rebuild, with veteran John Young. The V12 coupe’s time was almost matched by the impudent Renault 5 GT Turbo of Tony Hart/Will Nuthall which outgunned Mike Luck/Ross Hyett (BMW 2002Ti) and Canadian Peter Hallford’s thundering Castrol-striped Ford Boss Mustang.

The midfield miscellany saw the Japanese TCC BMW M3 E30 of Tom Houlbrook ranged against Steve Jones’ with the Alpilatte Alfa Romeo GTV6 of Ian Guest/Chris Snowdon, Richard Postins/Mat Jackson’s Marlboro Rover Vitesse, the Alpina striped BMW CSL of Munich-based father and son Peter and Daniel Mursall and the Peter Ratcliff/Skid Scarborough Capri [second of the Dron qualifiers] for company.

Peter Mallett’s Rover was surrounded by three-litre Capris, George Pochciol/James Hanson, Andrew Galashan and Classic Performance Engineering boss Martin Greaves and John Spiers/Neil Merry covered by half a second. Mark Wilson’s Akai VW Golf GTi and Tom Pead’s BMW 1600Ti also circulated inside 1m30s, with the Capris of Robin Benn and Mark Midgley separated by Paul Clayson’s Alfa GTV6 at the back.

None of the three MG Metro Turbos, which looked impressive corralled under one awning in the paddock, ran in qualifying but Nick Swift/Patrick Watts and Till Bechtolsheimer got runs in the race. Levitra trusted website offer cheap generic Vardenafil prescribed online.

Soper blasted the big Rover away from the lights into the lead, pursued by the red and white Capri of Dance, who made a peach of a start from P3, and Smith’s BMW which rocketed off the third row. Tomlin, Wood, the colourful CSL ‘Batmobiles’ of Mestdagh and Roschmann, Bryant’s Camaro, Postins’ displaced Rover (up from 18th to ninth on the first lap) and Ward’s green Jaguar led the chase initially. Out on the first lap was the Whale M3, stranded by a broken propshaft.

As Smith usurped Dance from second, the battle for fifth gathered intensity as Postins and Ward clawed their way past Wood, who had plenty to occupy him with Roschmann and Mestdagh filling his Capri’s mirrors. Bryant soon found himself as General Motors’ rep in an heady American V8 tussle with Hallford’s Mustang, with the menacing black Rover of Chris Williams and Luck’s plucky BMW awaiting a slip.

Once into his stride, Ward got the XJS moving rapidly, climbing to third by the 10 lap mark. Team mate Soper still led from Smith, thus Chris was able to put John Young in to the Jag after 13 laps then take a break before leaping aboard the leading Rover himself with 27 on the board. He resumed, the Vitesse still in the lead, and powered to a commanding 36.226s victory over the elated Tomlin’s whose two-litre Cosworth BDG-engined Escort was on top form.

This was a really well-deserved silver, for following Smith’s retirement David had fought tooth-and-nail to regain second from Roschmann, flying in the iridescent yellow BMW CSL which marque specialist Richard Shaw’s Laranca Engineering team is “getting its head around” having taken over preparing it last autumn. The combatants traded places several times – watched by Dance – before Tomlin made second his own. Mestdagh howled home fifth, on the same lap as the winners, with Young sixth in the Jaguar, a lap in arrears.

Two laps down, Wood/Morgan, Charlie Williams in his father’s Rover, Ollie Bryant’s Dron Trophy-winning Camaro and Hallford completed the top 10, ahead of the beautifully turned-out BMW of Luck/Hyett. First of the Group 1-spec Capris was the Hermetite Holman Blackburn/Mike Crabtree car of Spiers and Merry, who couldn’t relax as the less experienced Galashan/Greaves team was not far adrift. While, unusually, there were no Triumph Dolomite Sprints in the pack, it was good to see former British Leyland works driver Tony Dron presenting the prizes.

“I can’t believe how good it is; it feels just like it did when it was new,” said Soper of the winning Rover, which took the former Mini champion back more than 30 years to an interesting chapter of his stellar career. For Ward, remarkably feeling none the worse for his RAC Woodcote Trophy qualifying shunt the previous afternoon, this was the most satisfying win of a weekend hat-trick.

Of the cars which fell by the wayside, the most notable were the Postins/Jackson Rover and the Bechtolsheimer MG Metro Turbo. Its sister car, driven by Swift/Watts, made several stops before a CV joint broke, but set ninth quickest lap between problems. Their scalps were claimed by local men Hart and Nuthall whose efforts in the humble Renault were rewarded with class honours.

Photos: John Retter  and Jeff Bloxham