Davies takes controlled Masters Pre-66 Touring Car win at Donington

Craig Davies almost led from lights to flag to take a controlled win from the front in the Masters Pre-66 Touring Car race at Donington. From ninth on a rain-affected starting grid, the Ford Mustang driver charged up into the lead on lap 2 and never looked back.

It was really good fun”, said Davies. “I love the track here, and full respect to everyone out there that gave us the room. The car was good, really well prepared.

For most of the race, Davies was chased by the Julian Thomas/Calum Lockie Ford Falcon until that ground to a halt at Starkey’s Bridge with ten minutes to go. After that, the Mark Martin/Steve Soper Cortina took up the gauntlet but Davies allowed Soper no closer than 1.6 seconds at the end. The Leo Voyazides/Simon Hadfield Ford Falcon finished a distant third.

No, he was just cruising to the end”, said Soper when asked if he could have caught and passed the leader

Yeah, it was good”, said Martin about his stint. “It was nice to keep up with the bigger-engined cars!

We seem to have some kind of clutch problem”, said Hadfield. “So I just kept it going to the finish. It wasn’t glamourous, it wasn’t exciting, but it’s a podium!

Having already taken wins at Paul Ricard and Brands Hatch, Tom Bell again drove the fastest Mini, converting his shock pole position into a strong fourth place overall.

Not a bad start of the season to win all three!” said Bell. “We never dreamt of it, really. That first lap from pole was actually very good, I was surprised that I even built a good lead, but I knew that they were coming. It’s Magny-Cours now, a place I’ve never been before, but that was the same at Paul Ricard, and we won that, so…

Qualifying having taken place on a very wet track, the American V8 cars used the first four laps to restore the natural order on a dry circuit, Craig Davies’ Mustang relieving poleman Tom Bell from the lead on lap 2, with Julian Thomas in the Falcon joining him in second place on lap 4. By lap 7, the field had settled into a rhythm, and Davies led Thomas by three seconds, followed by Mark Martin’s Cortina, Bell’s Mini, Warren Briggs in another Mustang and Leo Voyazides in the Falcon.

On lap 8, Briggs made his way past Bell. In seventh, Jeff Smith easily maintained his place in the top-ten, now chased by a gaggle of more Minis pedalled by Edwin Solheim, Dan Lewis, David Edgecombe and Ben Hatton. Martin Strömmen and John Spiers were next up, as the second and third Cortinas in class. Meanwhile, shock front-row qualifier Tom Sharp retired his BMW 1800 TiSA on the very same lap.

Fifteen minutes gone, Thomas was closing on Davies but a couple of laps later the Mustang had eased away from the Falcon, its lead now up to seven seconds. Martin trailed the leader by 16 seconds, as Briggs and Bell still fought over fourth place, six seconds down on the class-leading Cortina. Voyazides was still in sixth, half a minute in arrears on Davies. Further back, Strömmen had put some space between himself and Spiers’ rival Cortina, space now occupied by the Minis of Lewis (Dan) and Edgecombe. Edwin Solheim was with them on the road but was handed a five-second time penalty for repeatedly exceeding the track’s limits.

As the pit window opened on lap 19, Martin was the first of the leaders to come in, handing over to Steve Soper. Voyazides pitted on the same lap, with Simon Hadfield taking over from the Greek. One lap later, the leader was in, but Thomas stayed out for two more laps before handing the wheel of the Falcon to Calum Lockie. One lap before, Jeff Smith had handed his Mini to Jo Polley.

With 25 minutes still to go, the top-three had remained the same through the stops: Davies led Lockie by five seconds and Soper by 17 seconds, all circulating at the same pace, but Tom Bell had moved back up to fourth again. Eight seconds further down the road, Hadfield had caught and passed Briggs for fifth, while Spiers had jumped Strömmen for seventh. The Cortinas were followed by no less than five Minis, Edgecombe leading Lewis, Polley, Lars Ekorness (in the car started by Solheim) and Hatton.

On lap 29, with 16 minutes remaining, Hadfield passed Bell for fourth but now needed to close a gap of half a minute to Soper to have any chance of third place, but as both were setting similar lap times this was looking very unlikely. Bell and Briggs looked settled in fifth and sixth, but Spiers and Strömmen were really battling it out for seventh, the Norwegian moving back up on lap 31. On the next lap, Spiers outbraked himself into the chicane to drop down the order, before deciding to return the Cortina to the pitlane.

With ten minutes still on the clock, Lockie began to lose pace – and then on lap 34, the Falcon failed to come through. Parked at Starkey’s Bridge, it saw Soper fly past into second place, and fly the Cortina did, now closing on Davies at the rate of a second a lap. Was the leader simply controlling his pace? Yes, he was, as with five minutes to go, Davies stabilised the gap at around seven seconds, and then let Soper close to within 1.6 seconds at the end.

As Davies won, with Martin/Soper as the leading Cortina in second, Hadfield took a distant third ahead of Tom Bell who like at Paul Ricard and Brands Hatch was at the wheel of the fastest Mini. Warren Briggs in the Mustang finished fifth ahead of Martin Strömmen in the second Cortina, leading the Minis of Dave Edgecombe, Dan Lewis and Jeff Smith/Jo Polley. Allan Ross-Jones was 12th as the third of the Cortinas.