Gardiner/Wolfe take lights-to-flag Masters Pre-66 Touring Car win at Imola

Mike Gardiner and his new team mate Andy Wolfe converted pole position into a dominant win in the Masters Pre-66 Touring Car race at Imola. Gardiner led until the pit stops to hand over the Ford Falcon to Wolfe who proved to be an able replacement for Phil Keen by further stretching out Gardiner’s lead over Olivier Hart’s Ford Mustang. A second safety-car period at three-quarter distance failed to perturb Wolfe who ran off to a 13-second advantage at the chequered flag.

It’s never easy at the front”, said Wolfe, “but Mike works really hard to win and it’s hard to disappoint him. But yes, it was pretty straightforward, even after the second safety car – although I did go off on my out lap – the sun blinded me, I couldn’t see a thing!

Olivier Hart had climbed from fifth to second, passing Peter Klutt in the Klutt/Hallford Mustang, Norbert Gross in the Dutch-championship Ford Falcon and then Julian Thomas in the Thomas/Lockie Falcon, but with Lockie in the car young Hart had to cede his position again, as Lockie turned up the wick, proof of which was fastest lap of the race in his pursuit of the Dutchman. However, Lockie then spun on the oil that would provoke the deployment of the second safety car, and second place was Hart’s again.

I was trying to pass Norby Gross in the Falcon”, Hart explained afterwards, “catching him towards the double righthander, and then he misjudged his braking and I had to take avoiding action. And when I rejoined the track I did so right into the path of a backmarker that I genuinely hadn’t seen…

There was plenty of drama in both the Cortina and Mini classes as the first safety-car period shook up the order in the lower ranks quite a bit. Since the safety car’s advent coincided with the opening of the pit window, all drivers bar seven grabbed the first opportunity for their mandatory pit stops.

Mark Martin was among the few deciding to avoid the pit lane mayhem – and it proved an inspired decision, his Lotus Cortina jumping well up the order to find itself in second place in class behind Andrea Stortoni. When the Italian was a shock retirement on the final lap, Martin gladly inherited the class win ahead of Graham Wilson. Stortoni was still classified third in class as Stortoni’s Cortina rivals in the first part of the race all ran into trouble.

Yes, I saw the queue in the pitlane and thought that by pushing on and catching the safety car I could make up time. And then when I went in myself I had the pitlane all to myself! I jumped Graham [Wilson] with whom I always seem to be fighting for position, and then got P1 at the end. Indeed, who needs Andrew!

An entertaining all-Cortina fight between Stortoni, Greg Thornton and Geoff Letts – while also mixing it with Rob Fenn’s Mustang – was broken up in the ensuing pitstop chaos, Stortoni leaving the pits with a clear advantage over Martin and Wilson, while the Letts Cortina was pushed down into the clutches of Nick Swift’s class-leading Mini.

Swift looked set for a dominant class win but it all went wrong three laps from the end when contact put an end to his race. This handed the class win to the Ian Curley/Bill Sollis Mini while Liam Sullivan/Jonathan Lewis took second ahead of Raymond Low. Meanwhile, Lewis and Snetterton Speedshop team mate Ron Maydon also managed to trip each other up in those frantic closing stages, leading to Maydon’s retirement.