Rossi dominates FIA Masters Historic Sports Car season-closer at Estoril

Fresh from taking the championship in the FIA Lurani Trophy for Formula Junior cars, Manfredo Rossi jumped straight into his Abarth-Osella PA1 to dominate the final FIA Masters Historic Sports Car race at Estoril. Driving like a man inspired, Rossi took the lead on lap 2 and never looked back, opening up a 32-second gap at the chequered flag to second-placed man Jason Wright (Lola T70 Mk3B).

“I came out of the Junior car full of adrenalin! That was perfect. The car was super good”, said a jubilant Rossi right after the race, before adressing Jason Wright. “I fell asleep on you last time [at the Nürburgring], but it wasn’t going to happen this time!”

Initially, Wright tried to keep with Rossi, as he kept the gap under 10 seconds during the first part of his opening stint but then had to let the Italian go.

“It’s the right track for that car, it’s so agile”, said Wright. “I’ve got more top speed but there’s too much twisty stuff here. Trying to stay with him hurt the brakes, resulting in a bad tyre vibration. The car was shaking to pieces at the end.”

Rossi’s work was made slightly easier when two of his Lola T70 Mk3B-equipped rivals dropped out within the time frame of four laps. Pole man Mike Donovan led away from the start but hit the wall in the first corner at the start of the second lap while Paul Gibson retired his car on lap 4 with a suspected head-gasket failure.

Ross Hyett’s Chevron B16 took third overall while also winning the battle for Siffert class honours. Initially battling with the B16 of Italians Emanuele and Giampaolo Benedini, Hyett followed Emanuele Benedini closely before taking over third place shortly after the pitstops, with brother Giampaolo behind the wheel of the Chevron that gradually slipped down to sixth place.

“It was very, very close. Emanuele drove very well”, said Hyett. “A great battle, we gave each other space. But I knew his brother was slower so my real race was with him. And can I just say that this is a great circuit, and the people have been so welcoming.”

Contact with Emanuele Benedini in the opening laps didn’t prevent Keith Ahlers and Billy Bellinger from taking a strong fourth and the Hulme class win in their Cooper Monaco King Cobra. The win also secured the pair’s second consecutive FIA Masters Historic Sports Car title.

“Yes, we did it!” said Ahlers. “And we did it in style, with a win! Billy did a good stint but when I got into the car the sun was so low over the pits, I had no idea what was going on behind me. I was expecting Andy [Wolfe] and Laurie [Bennett] to come through any minute, so I just drove as hard as I could.”

As it was, Ahlers’ lap times in the opening part of his stint were similar to those of Andy Wolfe in the pursuing Lola T70 Mk1 Spyder that Wolfe shared with Graham Wilson on this occasion, and only towards the end Ahlers tailed off when his brakes began to fade. He kept four seconds in hand at the flag. Laurie Bennett’s McLaren M1B was a distant third in class.

“I was trying to see how many laps I had left”, said Wolfe, “and then the flag came out!”

“The race was hot and hard”, said Bennett, “but the car went well. No dramas, no scratches, I’m really happy with it.”

Respective Bonnier and Pescarolo class honours went to Pierre and Laurent Dutoya (Elva Mk8) and Aaron and Dale Head (Porsche 911 RSR) while the Portuguese Lotus 47 entry of Conçalo Gomes and James Claridge caused a brief scare by catching fire on lap 16.