McInerney & Keen beat Gardiner & Wolfe in epic Masters Pre-66 Touring Car race

Sean McInerney and Phil Keen (Ford Mustang) prevailed in an epic two-horse race with Mike Gardiner and Andy Wolfe (Ford Falcon Sprint) to win the Masters Pre-66 Touring Car race at Spa. McInerney passed Gardiner on lap 3 to open up a 7-second gap at the stops, and when the pursuing Wolfe dropped it on lap 17, Keen was free to take the win.

It was good – Sean gave me a good buffer that I could work with”, said Keen. “Andy kept me on my toes, though, and I said to Mike that it was bound to happen sometime this year that I would be fighting ‘my’ old car! It was my first time in the Mustang, it’s a good car.

The clutch went to the floor, and then I spun at Bus-Stop…” said Wolfe. “The grass was still wet so I couldn’t get away! It was a shame as Phil was having brake problems so I was trying to stay with him and get him at the end.

Behind them, Peter Klutt’s Mustang took a lonely third on the road but a couple of 30-second time penalties dropped the Canadian down to fourth place behind Rob Fenn in another Mustang. Fenn had been fighting Mark Burton’s Mustang all race, Burton taking fifth, as Klutt’s penalties were not quite enough for him to take fourth.

Mark Martin and Andrew Haddon took a convincing Lotus Cortina class win, Martin staying close to Rui Macedo Silva before handing to Haddon, who had little trouble in catching Pedro Macedo Silva to take sixth overall. The Portuguese father-and-son team finished 11th overall. Norwegian Viggo Lund took third in class after Graham Pattle and Martin Strommen ran into trouble.

“This nearly makes up for it!” said Martin about coming good after a Spa Six Hours race the night before that brought all sorts of electrical trouble to the Elan he shared with Haddon and Shaun Lynn. “It was good, though. I had a good start, focused on a good Eau Rouge and kept the big cars behind me. I didn’t lose too much time to the Portuguese hotshoe, as I knew his father would be slower, and gave it to Andrew…”

The Mini class was decided on the final lap when Nick Swift thought he had seen the chequered flag and slowed down. Endaf Owens, who was in hot pursuit of the class leader, said thank you and grabbed the win. Steve Maxted finished third in class.

I thought I saw the chequered flag! I swear I saw the guy waving it…” said a despondent Swift about slowing down at the start of the final lap. “So yes, he caught me but he was not going to get past me!

“Oh, I was hanging back anyway!” Owens joked, who just couldn’t stop smiling…

The opening half of the race saw Gardiner lead away from pole in the Falcon Sprint, harried for three laps by McInerney before the Mustang got past and established a lead of about six seconds towards the pitstops. In third, Peter Klutt’s Mustang kept a steady pace to stay within striking distance of the leaders, but the gap to Roger Wills in the Ford Falcon and then Macedo Silva Jr in the leading Cortina (who moved ahead of Wills on lap 4) steadily widened to 35 seconds for the Portuguese at the end of lap 9.

The Mustangs of Rob Fenn and Mark Burton circulated in sixth and seventh, Burton having climbed up the order from ninth, passing Nick Swift in the leading Mini on lap 4 and then pushing Mark Martin in the Cortina down to eighth position one lap later.

Behind them, the Mini battle now really started to rage, as the quick-starting Swift dropped back into the clutches of Endaf Owens, who himself had nicked second in class from Ian Curley on lap 3. At the halfway point, Swift, Owens and Curley were running nose-to-tail in ninth, tenth and eleventh, some 1 minute and 20 seconds behind the leading McInerney.

Third place in the Cortina class changed hands three times when Graham Pattle was overtaken by Martin Strommen before the Norwegian ran into trouble on lap 5, handing the place back to Pattle, who was running just outside the overall top-ten. With Pattle coming in early, however, and then missing the pit window for his mandatory stop, third place was now effectively owned by the other Norwegian Cortina – that of Viggo Lund.

The two-horse race to the finish continued after the stops, Phil Keen now chased in the car he occupied last season as Mike Gardiner’s team mate. Andy Wolfe set fastest laps on tours 12 and 13 to narrow the gap to just over four seconds but Keen was almost matching Wolfe’s times and didn’t seem too bothered with 15 minutes still to go.

In third, Peter Klutt was now half a minute away but the Canadian was then slammed with another 30 seconds for exceeding the track limits on one too many occasion. However, with the pursuing Wills in fourth place now 1.13 in arrears of Keen in the lead, Klutt’s third place was safe for the moment. It was completely safe when Wills spun at La Source and fell down to seventh before pitting and dropping out of contention.

Behind Klutt and Wills, Burton and Fenn had swapped places at the stops, while behind the pair of Mustangs Andrew Haddon was closing in Mark Martin’s Cortina, now well into the lead of the Cortina class as Macedo Silva Sr had dropped away behind the warring Minis, Swift still having to deal with the attentions of Endaf Owens. Howver, Steve Maxted had now moved into third in class (and tenth overall), Bill Sollis in the Curley/Sollis Mini having been forced into a second pitstop.

At the front, Keen had inched away from Wolfe, and it was all over when Wolfe on lap 17 lost 18 seconds with a big spin. And so, Keen beat Wolfe by 21 seconds, with Klutt in third. Fenn, meanwhile, had got back in front of Burton in an epic intra-Mustang fight to take fourth. Fenn was then promoted to third when Klutt was handed another 30-second time penalty for exceeding track limits, the Canadian dropping back right in between Fenn and Burton in the final classification.

In fifth, Haddon completed a dominant Lotus Cortina win for himself and Mark Martin, well ahead of the Rui & Pedro Macedo Silva, the Portuguese father-and-son team finishing 11th overall. Viggo Lund took third in class in 16th overall. It wasn’t over among the Minis, however, as Owens used Swift’s mistake to nip past his rival right at the end to take seventh overall and a surprise class victory, with Steve Maxted in third.