Thomas & Lockie conquer first Masters Pre-66 Touring Car race at Paul Ricard

Emerging from a thrilling three-way battle in the first part of the race, Julian Thomas and Calum Lockie claimed a resounding Masters Pre-66 Touring Cars win at Paul Ricard in their yellow Ford Falcon. Thomas fought hard with Jake Hill’s Mustang and Jason Minshaw in another Falcon but Lockie had a much quieter stint as Rob Fenn in the Mustang started by Hill was out quickly after taking over while Martin Melling in the Falcon was unable to keep with Lockie.

This was one of my favourite races ever!” said a jubilant Thomas. “It was so close… It’s a shame Jake didn’t quite have the power – Jason and I just drafted past after he took the lead from us. Through the corners it was proper side-by-side at 100mph… wow!

Dutchman Roel Korsten drove a very strong race to take second place as well as being the leading driver from the guesting Dutch Historic Touring Car & GT Championship, with the Mark Martin/Steve Soper Lotus Cortina in third, and the first of the under-2-litre cars. Carlo Hamilton’s Falcon finished fourth and was second of the Dutch cars, both getting ahead of Melling halfway into their stints.

Really super!” Korsten beamed. “I had a terrible start and lost many places but then I found a rhythm. Towards the end I saw my laptimes dropping each lap, it felt like I was flying on air!

Tom Bell and Joe Ferguson starred in the Mini class, taking an emphatic win ahead of Ron Maydon and Carl & Billy Nairn. Carl Nairn was Bell’s nearest challenger in the opening half of the race but Maydon moved past Billy Nairn into his second stint.

I just got my head down”, a modest Bell said about his strong opening stint

“Tom made it easy for me”, said Ferguson. “He was up and gone after a couple of laps, for me it was just a matter of bringing it home.”

From the rolling start, Julian Thomas managed to outdrag poleman Jake Hill into turn 1 to take the lead in the Falcon. Up in third was fast-starting Dutch Martin Bijleveld in the lead car from the guesting Dutch Historic Touring Car & GT Championship, getting in front of Jason Minshaw’s Falcon and Dutch Championship pole-sitter Bart-Jan Deenik in another Falcon. Steve Soper in the leading THC class car had more American V8 muscle breathing down his neck while Tom Bell was at the head of the Mini battle in tenth overall.

For three laps, Hill’s Mustang kept hounding Thomas around the French circuit before the BTCC start found a way past, the pair closely followed by Minshaw and Bijleveld. A further ten seconds down the road, Soper and Deenik kept swapping places, the Cortina nipping in front in the twisty bits only to see the Falcon thunder back past on the straights again. Bell, meanwhile, had opened up an ten-second lead on Carl Nairn in the Mini class.

Two laps later, though, it was all change at the front, as first both Thomas and Minshaw stormed past Hill, followed by Minshaw stealing the lead from Thomas while setting fastest lap of the race. Behind, Bijleveld was dropping back (and indeed headed into the pits at the start of lap 9) while Soper had shaken off Deenik in the second Dutch Falcon. Deenik in turn was chased by two more Dutch cars – Carlo Hamilton in another Falcon and Roel Korsten in a Mustang. Bell was now well clear of his Mini pursuers, leading José Beltramelli’s Cortina which ran second to Soper in the THC class. Beltramelli Sr pulled off on lap 9, though, handing the place in class to Andrew Lawley’s Alfa GTA.

I had to try and make a getaway”, said Soper about dealing with the V8 cars. “First they would get back at me, but finally I managed to open up a gap.

The top trio continued to run nose-to-tail towards the pitstops, Hill reclaiming second place from Thomas on lap 8 – but Thomas would have nothing of that, reasserting himself in second place on the next lap. On lap 12, both Minshaw and Hill came in to pit and hand over to Melling and Fenn respectively, as Thomas stayed out for one lap longer, edging towards the end of the pit window.

After the stops, Calum Lockie in the Thomas/Lockie Falcon led Rob Fenn by ten seconds on lap 14, with Martin Melling dropping back from the lead pair in third. Mark Martin was a safe fourth and closing on Melling, having taken over from Soper in the class-leading Cortina, his position further strengthened by his nearest class rival Andrew Lawley missing the pit window.

“I’m getting there!” Martin quipped. “Steve drove brilliantly, but I’m getting closer…”

Bart-Jan Deenik having dropped out, Roel Korsten’s Mustang and Carlo Hamilton’s Falcon were next up, the two leading Dutch cars split by a mere two seconds. Joe Ferguson in the Mini started by Tom Bell was seventh, still well ahead of nearest class rival Billy Nairn, who had taken over from brother Carl. The Minis were sandwiching the Christian Dumolin/Pierre-Alain Thibaut Mustang and Andrew Lawley’s Alfa GTA.

On lap 15, however, the excitement at the front was all over, Fenn’s Mustang coming to a halt on the pit straight. Attention now diverted to Mark Martin having caught Melling, the Cortina passing Falcon on lap 16. Further back, Ron Maydon removed Billy Nairn from second place in the Mini class. Two laps later, Korsten and Hamilton passed Melling to take third and fourth on the road in the two leading Dutch cars, with Korsten also getting ahead of Martin on lap 20, the Dutchman having come up like a storm in the second part of the race.

“I had a super race”, said Hamilton. “Yesterday, I was getting sick from driving on this circuit, despite having taken a pill against the motion sickness. So my wife advised me to take two pills this morning – and it worked!”

Lockie completed 23 laps to win by 1 minute and 15 seconds from Korsten. Martin trailed the Dutchman by four seconds but kept ahead of Hamilton in fourth. Melling was fifth ahead of Tom Bell/Joe Ferguson in the best of the Minis.