Thomas & Lockie take lights-to-flag victory in Masters Gentlemen Drivers race at Paul Ricard

Julian Thomas and Calum Lockie gave their new Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupé a triumphant Masters Gentlemen Drivers debut by claiming a dominant lights-to-flag win at Paul Ricard. They were followed home by the CLP-class-winning Lotus Elan of Rob Fenn and Jake Hill, the pair inheriting CLP class victory when Aaron Head’s Elan agonisingly retired from second place with just eight minutes to go.

It was faultless”, said Thomas about his new car. “It was just as fast at the end as it was at the beginning. No brake issues at all!

In third, Ron Maydon’s Ginetta G4R took second place in the CLP class ahead of the Steve Soper/Mark Martin Elan. Didier Gruau’s AC Cobra and Nikolaus Ditting’s Jaguar E-type completed the top-three C3 runners while Nils-Fredrik Nyblaeus and Jeremy Welch (Austin Healey 3000) beat Keith Ahlers and Billy Bellinger (Morgan Plus 4 Super Sports) to the C2 class win.

We were struggling with the car in qualifying”, Welch explained. “This is a challenging track for the Healey. Nils started on full tanks so he had his work cut out, but we had made some changes that made the car work in the second part. For me, the oil on track helped – Keith was having much more trouble with that, so it allowed me to close the gap.

The changes were in the right direction but we were ready 15 minutes before the start!” said Nyblaeus. “France seems to be a lucky place for us, though. We won at Magny-Cours two years ago, and here we are again – and without the help of rain!

Overcoming a drivethrough penalty for a jump start, Michiel Campagne (Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport) won the GT race for the guesting Dutch Historic Touring Car & GT Championship, running concurrently for 60 minutes of the 90-minute Gentlemen Drivers race. Campagne beat Oliver Douglas in the Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupé and Roger Grouwels in the Iso-Rivolta 300 GT.

A storming start by Julian Thomas in the Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupé saw him march away into a 20-second lead over Aaron Head’s Elan after ten minutes of racing, with José Beltramelli’s Corvette a further 14 seconds behind. Behind the top-three, Ron Maydon (Ginetta G4R) and Steve Soper (Lotus Elan) had charged up the order, to the detriment of Didier Gruau’s Cobra and Pierre-Alain Thibaut’s Shelby Mustang GT350.

An even more storming start was made by Michiel Campagne in the Corvette Grand Sport, jumping from ninth to second to take the lead in the 60-minute Dutch Historic Touring Car & GT Championship race running concurrently with the 90-minute Masters race. The Dutchman was soon given a stop-and-go penalty for in fact jumping the start, handing the Dutch lead to Oliver Douglas in the Cobra Daytona Coupé.

“My only challenge was clearing Georg Nolte’s Ford GT40 at the start”, said Thomas about the Dutch Championship car that was put on pole by Nolte’s fast team mate Michael Funke but was much slower in its owner’s hands. “Calum said before the start: just floor it when you can! And I did! The others must have got stuck behind him in the first few turns because I was amazed at my lead after the opening lap…”

In front, 20 minutes into the race, Thomas now had 33 seconds in hand over Head, as Maydon made his way past Beltramelli in third. In C2, Billy Bellinger in the Morgan Plus 4 Super Sports held a 20-second lead over perennial class rival Nils-Fredrik Nyblaeus in the Austin Healey 3000.

As the Dutch cars came up to their pit window, Thomas had increased his lead to 48 seconds, with Maydon 30 more seconds adrift of Head in second place. Beltramelli Sr trailed Maydon’s Ginetta by five seconds and had a cushion of six seconds to Steve Soper. Gruau and Fenn were next up in sixth and seventh. After the Dutch stops, Campagne was back in the lead of his race, passing Douglas on lap 12.

Soon after, the Gentlemen Drivers pit window opened, Aaron Head taking the first opportunity to pit, his Elan now trailing the leading Cobra Daytona Coupé by 67 seconds. Maydon, Soper, Gruau and Fenn followed suit, Soper handing over to Mark Martin, and Fenn being relieved by Jake Hill. On lap 18, the leader was into the pits, Thomas handing the wheel to Calum Lockie. They were joined by the Beltramelli Corvette, son Brady taking over from father José – however, Beltramelli Jr wasn’t going any places as the oil pump failed, turning the Corvette into an instant retirement from fourth place.

This gave Didier Gruau a distant second among the over-2-litre cars, with Nikolaus Ditting now third in the C3 class in his E-type. Aaron Head’s Lotus Elan continued to lead the CLP class in second overall, ahead of Maydon, Martin and Hill. Keith Ahlers, having taken over from Bellinger, was now leading Jeremy Welch in the C2 class.

After an hour the Dutch cars were flagged off, Michiel Campagne beating Oliver Douglas despite being given that drivethrough penalty. Campagne’s Corvette Grand Sport was third on the road when it was shown the Dutch national flag, with Douglas in fifth. Roger Grouwels in the very rare Iso-Rivolta 300 GT took third ahead of Armand Adriaans’ Corvette and Jos Stevens’ Elan.

Going into their final half hour, Lockie still led imperiously by about a minute, with Head’s Elan the only other car on the lead lap. In third, Ron Maydon was now facing Jake Hill’s challenge from fourth, the BTCC driver setting personal best times lap after lap. By lap 25, Hill was on the tail of the Ginetta, and then past on lap 26. In fifth, Mark Martin had slowly dropped away, now some 50 seconds down on Hill and Maydon. Sixth was Gruau, while Ahlers had to give his all to keep the rapidly closing Welch at bay in the C2 class. Next up were Nicolas Minassian, flying in Rick Carlino’s Elan, and Nikolaus Ditting in the third of the C3 cars.

“It was awesome”, Hill said about getting past Maydon. “It was an amazing fight, he stayed very clean.”

“They’re too quick – and too light!” Maydon quipped while referring his opponents’ youth.

With ten minutes to go, Jeremy Welch finally passed Keith Ahlers for the C2 class lead, and then a couple of minutes later Head’s Elan dramatically retired from the race, handing second place and the CLP class win to the Fenn/Hill Elan. Nothing, however, prevented Julian Thomas and Calum Lockie from taking a crushing win by no less than a full lap.

“Taking second was the silver lining to our day when our engine blew earlier”, said Fenn, pointing to his mishap in the earlier Masters Pre-66 Touring Car race. “Then Jake had a good battle with Ron – although I’m very sorry for Aaron.”