Voyazides & Hadfield win tense Masters Pre-66 Touring Car race at Magny-Cours

Leo Voyazides and Simon Hadfield claimed victory in a very tense Masters Pre-66 Touring Car race at Magny-Cours, after a race-long fight with the other Ford Falcon of Julian Thomas and Calum Lockie.

“That was a lot better than yesterday!” said Hadfield, referring to their turning the tables on Thomas and Lockie, who resoundingly beat them in the previous day’s Masters Gentlemen Drivers race. “Leo’s stint was the best stint of the week, and put me right in there. Calum was locking his brakes all the time, so I knew I had him…”

Voyazides indeed drove a strong opening stint, keeping Thomas behind for 23 minutes of the race before finally succumbing to his rival’s pressure. That left Hadfield with a deficit of 4.7 seconds to Lockie – and with a series of fastest laps he closed down the gap. A first attempt went awry when Lockie locked up and touched Hadfield but two laps later another lock-up by Lockie helped Hadfield to take the inside line into the Adelaide hairpin and move past.

“It was absolutely fantastic!” said Thomas about his fight with Voyazides. “Leo gave me one centimetre of room when I passed him…”

Mark Martin overcame his gearbox problems to haul his Cortina up to third overall, having initially dropped down to sixth. Tom Bell took an amazing fourth overall, making it four out of four Mini class wins to continue his exceptional season.

“It’s a gearbox weekend!” said Martin with a smile, having also suffered ‘box issues in the Masters Gentlemen Drivers race. “In the hairpin you need first gear, but it wouldn’t go in – and then it wouldn’t go into second either! So I drove around the problem and got there in the end…”

“In the first part of the race I was trying to manage it”, said Bell about his race plan. “Then, after the stops I put a few quicker laps in, and from there I just drove it home.”

Eventually taking second in the Cortina class, Geoff Letts ran a close third to Voyazides and Thomas in the first half of the race, but brother Alan was then unable to keep Martin and Bell behind.

“It was a good first half by my brother – he was right there”, said Alan Letts. “I just couldn’t match Mark’s pace in the second part. He was simply quicker.”

On a cooler track, covered by clouds coming in overnight, the Falcons of Voyazides and Thomas stormed away from the front. The Greek had his rival crawl all over the back of him lap after lap, as Geoff Letts kept a close eye on the leading pair two seconds down. Running fourth from lap 3 on, Tom Bell’s Mini was 20 seconds down with 12 minutes of the race done. Chris Clarkson’s Falcon had moved up to fifth from seventh on the grid while Mark Martin initially went the other way in his Cortina – from fourth to sixth, but chasing Bell and Clarkson hard. On lap 6, though, Martin back into fourth.

Half a minute behind the leaders, Ron Maydon had moved his Mini ahead of Steve Jones’ example, with Frenchman Jean-Baptiste Audoin’s Mustang a further three seconds down. On the verge of the top-ten, James Hagan was having a lonely race in his Mini, the Irishman well ahead of two more Minis piloted by Richard Longdon and Billy Nairn.

At the front, Voyazides momentarily saw the Falcon in his mirrors diminish in size as he set fastest lap on lap 7. On the next lap, however, Thomas beat that time to be stuck closer to the Greek’s boot than he had been all race – a mere two tenths. Voyazides valiantly held on for three more laps, but two minutes before the pit window would open, Thomas claimed the lead from the other Falcon. Geoff Letts was now ten seconds down, with Martin a further 23 seconds adrift, having opened up an 8-second gap on Bell, who in turn had dropped Clarkson by five seconds.

On lap 12, Clarkson was the first to come in, handing over the Falcon to David Smithies, as the rest of the field continued for another lap. However, Smithies’ time in the car was shortlived as he returned to the pits with a blown head gasket… The next car in was another Falcon – Voyazides being relieved by Hadfield just as Thomas out in front set another fastest lap of the race. Meanwhile, Alan Letts had taken over from brother Geoff in the third-placed Cortina, with Maydon, Jones and Audoin all pitting on the same lap, just as Stephen Upsdell in 12th place, handing the Cortina to Richard Bateman.

With 15 seconds to spare in the pit window, Thomas left his pitstop to the very latest, but he got in just as Tom Bell and Billy Nairn had done their stops, the latter handing over to Carl Nairn. All stops done, Lockie in the leading Falcon led Hadfield by 4.7 seconds. In third, Alan Letts trailed by 42 seconds, leading his Cortina rival Mark Martin by ten seconds – Martin, however, was closing fast. Tom Bell was still fifth, half a minute in front of the other Minis of Maydon and Jones.

At the front, we had a race on our hands, as Hadfield had been on it from the moment he got in, putting in a series of fastest laps of the race to cut Lockie’s lead by 2.3 seconds in three laps. Some 50 seconds down, another battle was starting to develop, as Martin had closed the gap to Letts and was now sitting right on his fellow Cortina’s tail.

It all came to a head on lap 21, when Lockie and Hadfield touched while fighting over the lead, Lockie staying ahead and Hadfield losing ground, but Martin found a clean way past Letts to take third. Having taken a couple of laps to take a deep breath, Hadfield set another fastest lap on lap 23 to close in on Lockie again. Braking for the Adelaide hairpin, Lockie suffered a huge lock-up and ran wide, and this allowed Hadfield to nip past on the inside, as five minutes were all that remained on the clock. Further back, Tom Bell had caught up and passed Alan Letts for a terrific fourth overall.

Hadfield had eeked out a 3.6-second lead on Lockie at the chequered flag, with Martin taking third, one and a half minute behind. Also still on the lead lap, Bell and the Letts brothers claimed fourth and fifth respectively. Steve Jones was the first of the lapped runners in sixth, having pipped Maydon right at the end. Frenchman Jean-Baptiste Audoin completed the over-2-litre podium in his Mustang.