Olivier Hart takes home win in Masters Pre-66 Touring Car race at Zandvoort
Despite a five-second time penalty for a jumped safety-car restart, home boy Olivier Hart claimed victory in the Masters Pre-66 Touring Car race at Zandvoort. Across the line, the youngster’s Alfa Romeo Giulia GTA had nine seconds in hand over the Cortina of Mark Martin and Steve Soper. Soper passed pole man Chris Middlehurst’s Mini with five minutes to go, the pair completing an all-under-2-litre top-three on the twisty Dutch track.
“I didn’t have a good qualifying”, said Hart. “The speed was there but I couldn’t get it connected. But I had a good start, passed three cars at once, and then caught the Minis and Cortinas up front. I’m sure I passed the line at the second safety-car restart but I worked away at a lead, having had my tyre pressure lowered at the stops. After that, the car was perfect.”
“He needs dad in the car with him, and then maybe… When I saw he was driving solo, I thought S…t!’” said Soper with a smile. “Chris was on his own and didn’t put up a fight but the other Minis… I passed them and they got back me, I passed them again – it was hard work!”
The Leo Voyazides/Simon Hadfield Ford Falcon was the only American V8 that broke into the top-five, Hadfield pipping Kevin Abbring on the final lap. The Dutch WRX star guesting in René de Vries’ Mini had run as high as third in his opening stint but was later scrapped from the results for a rules infringement.
“That’s where we should be!” Hadfield quipped about being in the single Falcon among the frontrunners.
Following an additional lap behind the safety car to allow the drivers to explore a damp track, Callum MacLeod got the jump on pole man Chris Middlehurst to momentarily lead, but Middlehurst was soon back in front. Behind them, Olivier Hart was making up ground in the GTA, along with that other local star, Dutch WRX hero Kevin Abbring in René de Vries’ Mini, the pair having passed Jonathan Lewis in another Mini. On lap 4, Hart also moved ahead ahead of MacLeod to take second.
Tom Sharp’s BMW was sixth ahead of Michael Cullen’s Mini, with Mini class leader Tom Bell following next, ahead of Mark Martin and John Spiers in a pair of Cortinas. The first American V8s were still languishing outside the top ten, Voyazides leading Thomas in 11th and 12th.
On lap 5, the safety car was out for a car into the gravel at Hugenholtz but on the restart one lap later young Hart stormed past Middlehurst to take the lead. A big lock-up for the GTA into Tarzan didn’t prevent the Dutch teenager from inching away from the quickest Mini with fastest lap of the race – but then the safety car was out again as Julian Thomas had ground to a halt at Slotemaker with a very smoky and oil-leaking Falcon.
As the Falcon was cleared the news came through that Hart had jumped the safety-car start, along with Chris Wilson’s Dodge Dart, and the pair were consequently hit with a 5-second time penalty.
All the while, the pit window was fast approaching, and indeed it opened on the lap that the safety car was in. The Minis of Middlehurst, Lewis, Cullen and Bell all dashed for the pits, along with Mark Martin handing over to Steve Soper, Leo Voyazides for Simon Hadfield, and Martin Melling for Jason Minshaw. The rest stayed out. Hart was in on the next lap, while pro drivers MacLeod and Abbring continued out there.
With a minute of the pit window remaining, MacLeod, Abbring and Sharp were the last of the leaders to pit, followed in by the Cortina of Spiers and the Minis of Maydon and Stephen Mawhinney, the latter handing over to James Hagan.
On lap 14, once the pitstops had panned out, Hart led Middlehurst by three seconds. Bell had jumped the queue to be third ahead of Lewis, but Steve Soper was closing fast on them in Mark Martin’s Cortina, and caught and passed both on the next lap. Abbring was sixth ahead of Tom Sharp, but the BMW driver was slammed with a 17-second time penalty for overtaking under the safety car. Similarly in a hurry, Simon Hadfield in the first of the V8s was trying to erase a 11-second gap to Sharp, while Lewis dropped down to eighth with a spin. The Falcons of Minshaw and Smithies were still back in 14th and 15th overall.
Hart’s five-second penalty was negated on lap 16 as his advantage on Middlehurst had increased to 5.008 seconds. Steve Soper in third, however, was the fastest man on track, while Abbring held his own in fourth, lapping quicker than Sharp and Bell following him. In sixth, Hadfield then outdid Soper to further close on the penalty-hit Sharp (who he had passed on time anyway) but, more significantly, on Abbring as well.
With five minutes remaining on the clock, Hart looked safely in front with a fastest lap of the race but then Soper beat that to remove Middlehurst from second place.
“It was very slippery at the start”, said Middlehurst, “but when the track started drying out the Cortinas and the Alfa gathered more speed. I’m still first in the Mini class, I couldn’t have done any better. There was no point holding up Steve, so I just let him go.”
Abbring still had five seconds in hand on Hadfield, who was storming to a dominant over-2-litre win over the other Falcons of Melling/Minshaw and Clarkson/Smithies, while Bell dropped behind Sharp (on the road, that is) to lead Lewis by just three seconds in a fight for third place in the Mini class. At the line, Hart beat Soper by nine seconds, keeping four ticks in hand for the win. Middlehurst finished third ahead of Hadfield who pipped Abbring on the final lap before the Dutchman was disqualified.