Wilson/Pittard Elan 26R takes Masters Three Hours at Estoril

In a race with two faces, Graham Wilson and David Pittard took final Masters Three Hours honours at Estoril, as their Lotus Elan 26R held off the similar car of Mark Martin and Andrew Haddon. Danny Gibson had led during his opening stint but handed a brakeless Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupé over to father Paul. Despite a couple of offs, Gibson Sr still managed to finish a distant third.

In damp qualifying, the nimble Elans had danced their way onto the front row of the grid but under the Portuguese morning sun on race day the more powerful Cobras soon found their way to the front. Danny Gibson in the Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupé he shared with father Paul stormed into the lead right at the start, and after six laps the CRC Cobras of Chris Chiles Jr & Sr (Senior starting)/Paul Ingram and Dominic Barnes/Jamie McIntyre (with Barnes at the wheel) were Gibson’s closest pursuers. Close was a relative term, though, as Gibson had built up a 20-second lead 15 minutes into the race, which increased to 40 seconds at the first half hour, as Barnes took over second place from Chiles Sr on lap 10.

Gibson then began to stabilise his lead as at the 45-minute mark the Chiles/Chiles Cobra came in for its first pitstop, dropping them down to seventh. With one hour of racing done, however, Chiles Jr was back into fifth place. However, a lengthy second pitstop at the halfway mark turned into premature retirement for the father-and-son team.

Meanwhile in CLP class, Graham Wilson and Mark Martin kept each other honest in their opening stints, running in fourth and fifth once the Cobras got ahead, often with no more than two seconds between them. On lap 34, 75 minutes into the race, Martin finally found a way past Wilson.

“Yes, it was a great fight”, Martin said. “And then he hit me! But it was OK, it was just a little hit.”

“Backmarkers came into play”, Wilson explained. “We were very close in performance.”

Five minutes before half distance, the two pitted simultaneously, during which their car switched positions, David Pittard getting ahead of Andrew Haddon before going on to set fastest lap of the race.

The race then changed face when Danny Gibson handed the Cobra Daytona Coupé over to father Paul, now with a full lap in hand on Pittard and Haddon, who had both swept past the AC Cobra that Dominic Barnes had handed over to Jamie McIntyre. Running up to ten seconds a lap quicker than Gibson Sr, Pittard was reeling in the Cobra Daytona Coupé fast, and then on lap 48, found himself in the lead when Gibson went off and took ages to rejoin the track.

Two laps later, Haddon – also quicker than Gibson – relieved the American V8 of second place as well. And then on lap 54, a second off for Gibson Sr and a resulting pitstop to have the car checked led to him losing another place, this time to McIntyre. However, on lap 60, McIntyre pulled off his Cobra at turn 3, handing third place back to Paul Gibson.

“No brakes!” said Gibson. “I was going to retire the car, but they said ‘Come on, you’re third or fourth, carry on!’…”

“There wasn’t a lot of the car left over when I handed it over”, said the younger Gibson. “No brakes and no rear tyres. I was pumping the brakes from lap 2…”

Towards the end, Pittard allowed his lead on Haddon to occasionally drop under 20 seconds, but his lead was back up to 32 seconds at the finish. Gibson hung on to third place in his battle-scarred Cobra Daytona Coupé, four laps down. On the back of a troublefree run, the Elan of Roger Barton and Richard Bateman took fourth ahead of the Ginetta G4R of Pierre and Laurent Dutoya, which temporarily ground to a halt on lap 73, losing the Frenchmen fourth place to the Barton/Bateman Elan.

“I wasn’t sure where each car was during the pitstops”, said Pittard, “but we managed to pip the other guys in the pitlane. And then we got the Daytona almost right after the pitstops.”

“And then the car took care of you”, Wilson said to his young charge.

The C1 class was quickly decided in favour of the Steve Jones/Robert Barrie Porsche 911 as the rivaling 911 of Manfredo Rossi/Pietro Vergnano was forced into a lengthy 7-lap pitstop on lap 10, with Vergnano at the wheel. Jones and Barrie’s faultless run handed them sixth overall. A valiant recuperating effort by Rossi helped him overtake the Francisco Sa Carneiro/Joao Cannas 911 on the final lap, handing him ninth overall.

Despite a couple of additional pitstops, the Rob Fenn/James Barclay Ford Mustang was dominating the touring-car section, the pair leaving the Bernardo Hartogs/Will Nuthall Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint GTA in their wake, until a fourth pitstop with 20 minutes still on the clock proved fatal. This handed Hartogs and Nuthall an unexpected touring-car win, while also taking seventh overall.

“We were one of the slower cars in the field, but you’ve got to finish”, said Nuthall. “And we did overtake a couple of people!”

The Shelby Mustang GT350 of David Allen and Paul Chase-Gardiner looked to take sixth as second of the big cars but agonisingly, the three-hour race proved to be five minutes too long for them. They were still classified eighth overall.

The single runners in C2 failed to finish. In the opening half, Keith Ahlers kept himself busy by fighting the Jeremy Cooke/Mike Dowd Lotus Elan and the Pierre & Laurent Duyota Ginetta G4R, but the Morgan SLR failed to start again for Billy Bellinger’s stint. When Bellinger finally got going he got himself up to a distant eighth but ten minutes before the end parked the Morgan at turn 6.