The FIA Masters Historic Formula One season opened over the weekend (April 8th and 9th) with two races at Barcelona. Michael Lyons led in Saturday’s race before retiring, Greg Thornton going on to win, while Lyons was back in charge on Sunday taking his first FIA win of 2017.
Lotus 91 driver Thornton won the opening of the weekend beating Loïc Deman’s Tyrrell 010 and Steve Hartley’s Arrows A4. Thornton had inherited the lead when pole man Lyons retired his Williams FW07C on lap 6 but two laps later lost it to Deman. When the Belgian was baulked by a backmarker, Thornton was handed back a lead that he kept until the end. Hartley ended up a distant third, 20-seconds adrift.
“Loïc got me at the end of the straight. After that, I sat back hoping that something might happen – and it did!”, said a jubilant Thornton.
“I was trying to lap James Hagan’s Lec who was in the middle of the track and I spun…”, Deman explained.
In the pre-78 class, another pre-race favourite failed to make the finish when Nick Padmore’s Fittipaldi F5A suddenly slowed and coasted back into the pits with gearbox problems. That gave the lead to Max Smith-Hilliard, whose Shadow DN5 was embroiled in a close fight with Jason Wright’s Shadow DN8 that lasted until the line. The pair were split by a mere second all race. Patrick D’Aubréby took third in his March 761 after Jamie Constable’s Lola T370 lost speed in the latter half of the race.
“A good start of the year”, said a happy Smith-Hilliard, “but Jason kept me honest right until the end. I couldn’t quite pull away, so I had to make sure not to make any mistakes.”
“I’m simply not fit enough”, said Wright, the American being honest as ever. “I’ve had too many business responsibilities in the past few months, so I just got tired at the end. But the car felt good, I really enjoyed myself.”
At the start of Sunday’s race, Lyons got away from pole cleanly to lead Thornton and Deman into the first corner. On lap two, he produced the fastest lap of the race to open up a three-second gap that he set about maintaining thereafter.
Meanwhile, Steve Hartley had done an amazing job to climb up to fourth, having dropped down to seventh at the start. He was followed by a six-car train led by Andy Wolfe (Tyrrell 011) who had got past Christophe d’Ansembourg (Williams FW07C) and Simon Fish (Ensign N180). They were followed by Joaquin Folch (Brabham BT49), pre-78 class leader Nick Padmore and Mike Wrigley (Williams FW07C). A gap then opened up to Smith-Hilliard and Wright, both just shy of the top-ten, with Ian Simmonds’ Tyrrell 012 as the sole Lauda class competitor following the pair for the entirety of the race.
On lap five, as Deman closed in on Thornton, the leader was beginning to slow, Lyons’ progress halted by a broken throttle linkage that made him crawl back to the pits at an ever-slower pace.
The next lap around, Thornton was the new leader but Deman was setting him up for a pass, which duly occurred at the start of lap eight. At the same time, though, another leader was slowing, Padmore’s pre-78 class-leading Fittipaldi returning to the pits with terminal gearbox issues, handing the class lead to team mate Smith-Hilliard.
Deman then kept a lead over Thornton of around a second until on lap 12 when, coming up to lap James Hagan’s Lec CRP1, the Belgian was forced onto the grass and spun, thereby handing a gift to Thornton that the Lotus driver was happy to accept. With four seconds in hand on Deman, Thornton ran out the race to become the first FIA Masters Historic Formula One winner of 2017.
Steve Hartley had a lonely race to third, finishing 20 seconds down on Thornton, while Andy Wolfe kept Simon Fish at bay to take fourth. Sixth was Folch, ahead of d’Ansembourg, whose Williams lost pace in the closing laps, and Wrigley. Top pre-78 runners Smith-Hilliard and Wright rounded out the top-ten, ahead of Simmonds, ‘Mr John of B’ (Ligier JS11/15) and D’Aubréby, who grabbed third in the pre-78 class after Jamie Constable’s Lola T370 dropped back with three laps to go.
The broken throttle linkage on Saturday and a three-place grid penalty for Sunday’s race couldn’t stop Michael Lyons from taking his first FIA Masters Historic Formula One win of the season in the second race. At Barcelona, the RAM Williams FW07B driver used a good start to move up from fourth to second and then passed Deman’s Tyrrell 010 for the lead before the end of lap two. Lyons then maintained a two-second gap that only fluctuated because of traffic to take victory after 15 laps. Deman held off the Tyrrell 010 of Andy Wolfe, who charged up from fifth to third on the first lap and kept the Belgian busy all race.
“I had a good first corner”, said Lyons. “Probably the left side of the grid had a bit more grip, so those on the outside all had a good run into the first corner. I then had a nice run on Loïc but decided the better of it, so I waited and passed him on the second lap. The gap went up and down because traffic was difficult today – I seemed to catch it in all the wrong places!”
“Two second places is not bad, it could be a lot worse”, said a philosophical Deman. “Today was very hard and physical, Andy pushed me until the end, I really had to work for it.”
“We made some major changes to the car last night”, Wolfe said about his early charge, “and bolted on a set of new tyres. So I knew I had everything to do in the first few laps.”
The top-three were tracked by pole-sitter Thornton for three laps before the Lotus 91 began to suffer from an oil leak. Thornton did return to the track after a long visit to the pits but the winner of Saturday’s race finished well out of the points. His place was quickly taken by Steve Hartley (Arrows A4), who drove a lonely race to fourth. d’Ansembourg initially led Simon Fish’s Ensign N180 in fifth before dropping back and retiring. Fish was followed home by Folch (Brabham BT49) and Wrigley (Williams FW07C) in sixth and seventh. Frenchman ‘Mr John of B’ finished eighth in his Ligier JS11/15, having passed pre-78 class leader Smith-Hilliard on lap 15.
Smith-Hilliard made it two out of two in the pre-78 class, his Shadow DN5 easily fending off Jason Wright’s Shadow DN8 and Jamie Constable’s Lola T370. Constable was second in class for most of the race but had to give way to Wright two laps from the end.
“It was straightforward, really”, said Smith-Hilliard on his maximum points haul, “although six laps from the end i had to back off because of a nasty vibration. That’s when I left the Ligier in front, since it was not in class.”
“I got a bad start”, said Wright when asked why he was unable to challenge Smith-Hilliard. “But I did get Jamie [Constable] at the end of the straight. We were in a group of cars, very entertaining, and I didn’t want to pass him too soon.”
“This man is too good on the brakes!”, said Constable about the American’s move.
The two were split from class winner Smith-Hilliard by the Lotus 87B of newcomer Jonathan Holtzman, who recently acquired the Lotus 87B that was previously raced in the championship by Nico Bindels.
Sole Lauda class runner Simmonds (Tyrrell 012) and Dave Abbott (Arrows A4) were part of the same group that crossed the line separated by just a handful of seconds