Nick Padmore claimed the FIA Masters Historic Formula One Championship for post-1978 cars at Spa-Francorchamps at the weekend with two more wins, now 12 in total. The Williams FW07C driver needed a win in the first race of the weekend at Spa to secure the title, but for almost the entire race it looked like Loïc Deman (Tyrrell 010) was on course for a home victory until his Tyrrell expired at the Bus Stop chicane, literally in sight of the finish line. This handed the win to Padmore.
Padmore couldn’t believe his luck: “I chased and chased, but kept hitting the limiter. And then on the last lap, Loïc’s car grew bigger and bigger. I thought, oh, I gotta have this! And then in Blanchimont, his car just died… There is a God!”
Behind the leading pair, Christophe d’Ansembourg (Williams FW07C) and Greg Thornton (Lotus 91) had their private battle for third – which became second when Deman faltered on the final lap. Thornton looked like he had it sewn up and crossed the line in second place but was then given a five-second time penalty for exceeding track limits at Blanchimont.
D’Ansembourg had to fight his way up from fifth at the start when Paolo Barilla thundered past in his Williams FW07. The Belgian was back past the Italian ex-Minardi F1 driver before the end of the first lap and then took Thornton’s Lotus on lap two. The Lotus driver was first warned for exceeding track limits on lap four, as he tried to find his way past D’Ansembourg. He did so one lap before the end, but officialdom decided otherwise, demoting Thornton to third with the five-second time penalty.
“Yes, I was pushed back to third but it’s fair that Christophe got second,” said Thornton.
“I was really unlucky with backmarkers,” said D’Ansembourg, “and at the end that cost me the place. But at least I didn’t have a lonely race, I enjoyed it very much!”
Further down the road, Barilla and Simon Fish (Ensign N180) were never far apart. Fish, who had received a grid penalty for avoidable contact at the Nürburgring, was back into his original qualifying position after just one lap, and took Barilla’s fifth place on lap five.
Behind them, Jamie Constable (Shadow DN8) had a quiet race on his way to victory in the pre-78 class. His main rival for the weekend, team-mate Max Smith-Hilliard, failed to make the start when his fuel pump failed. A lap behind when he did get going, Smith-Hilliard was back into the pits after a single tour. It was a costly mechanical failure for Smith-Hilliard in his quest for the pre-78 class title, as he was hoping to profit from Michael Lyons having obligations at the Nürburgring driving in the Blancpain GT Series.
The two March 811s of Vincent Rivet and Mark Dwyer stuck close to each other from lights to flag to seventh and eighth respectively, the Frenchman passing Dwyer in a very eventful final lap. Ninth, and second in the pre-78 class, was Jason Wright’s Shadow DN8. The American fought his way up from the back of the grid to take second place in class when Keith Frieser’s Shadow DN1 went off into the barriers on lap threew.
John McKenna saw the engine of his beautiful Parnelli VPJ-4 blow up on the final lap but unlike Deman the American was still able to cross the line and take third place in the pre-78 class. McKenna had taken the place from Marc Devis’ Maki F101 on lap seven, and couldn’t believe his luck after securing the podium spot.
“Yes, the motor’s gone, but to be on the podium at Spa…” said a jubilant McKenna. “I wish my wife knew!”
Frank Lyons, in Michael Lyons’ usual mount, the Hesketh 308E, and John Delane (Tyrrell 001), the only runner in the Stewart class, brought up the rear. David Abbott (Arrows A4) and Mike Cantillon (Tyrrell 010) both went off at Les Combes on the opening lap.
Padmore and Deman put up a great show in the second race by battling it out for the entire race. Deman led for nine laps, with Padmore’s Williams FW07C climbing all over the back of the Belgian’s Tyrrell 010, before the Briton swept past when Deman was baulked by a backmarker. This gave Padmore his 12th win of the season.
“It was like a Formula First race!” said Padmore, still excited after his hard-fought win. “I was so much quicker than him on the Kemmel straight, but I couldn’t find a way past. I was waiting, and waiting, hoping for traffic. Then Frank (Lyons) held him up badly, and I just went for the gap.”
“Frank Lyons didn’t see me, unfortunately,” said a despondent Deman, “and then Nick was gone… He was a bit quicker than me, so it was very hard to keep my position. But I’m still happy, and I’ll be back at Jarama to try again!”
Behind the leading pair, Greg Thornton (Lotus 91) and Christophe d’Ansembourg (Williams FW07C) fought over third place lap after lap, Thornton finally passed the Belgian on lap nine – not a good lap for Belgians, since that was the same lap that Padmore swept past Deman. Earlier on, before claiming the final podium position, Thornton was made to fight for fourth place, first by Steve Hartley (Arrows A4) and then by Paolo Barilla (Williams FW07C), the Italian having fought his way up to fifth after passing Mike Cantillon (Tyrrell 010) and Simon Fish (Ensign N180). Barilla claimed fourth when D’Ansembourg began to slow in the final two laps.
“I was in Christophe’s tail on the run down to Rivage”, said Thornton on his clash with Hartley on lap two, “when Steve dived in on my inside. I thought he was a bit optimistic. He clipped my rear bodywork, but I was able to continue.”
Hartley was forced to pit with a broken front wing, and was the only retirement of the race.
In eighth overall, Max Smith-Hilliard (Shadow DN5) won a tight battle with team mate Jamie Constable (Shadow DN8) to take the pre-78 class. The two Shadows were never more than one second apart, and then touched while braking into the Bus Stop chicane a couple of laps from the end. Smith-Hilliard’s DN5 was momentarily on two wheels before resuming its trajectory. Both survived the clash but then Constable lost time on the final lap when he found that his front wheel was loose. This gave Dave Abbott (Arrows A4) ninth place overall. Constable crawled across the finish line to still take second in class, with Jason Wright in the other Shadow DN8 completing the pre-78 podium.
With Padmore crowned as the post-78 champion, the pre-78 division is still to be decided at Jarama on October 14-16.