A true end-of-term party atmosphere livened up the Masters season-closer at the Algarve Classic Festival on the Portimão circuit in Portugal. In mainly sunny conditions – with a few damp intervals – the Masters grids out on a stunning show with five highly entertaining races. On Saturday, the end-of-season vibe was paramount as the Masters teams in the paddock gave it their best to turn the Hawaiian-themed final race day into a resounding success. The weekend was topped off with a social evening of canapes and cocktails at the harbourside NH Marina Resort in Portimão where all Masters racers and team members looked back on a great 2023 UK & European Masters season.
From third on the grid on a damp track, Soheil Ayari completed a storming drive to win the first Masters Racing Legends race at the Algarve Classic Festival, the Frenchman’s post-82 Ligier JS21 first following Nick Padmore’s Lotus 77 through past the pole-sitting Brabham BT49 of Werner d’Ansembourg before relieving Padmore of first place on lap 3. The former F3000 hot shoe then rolled off the laps to win by 11 seconds from d’Ansembourg who made a strong recovery to second place, having initially dropped to fourth behind Ken Tyrrell’s Tyrrell 011.
“t was great, it was being on slick tyres on the wet”, said a beaming Ayari. “So it was sideways everywhere. Braking problems, locking wheels, traction problems, spinning everywhere. But it was a lot of fun. Really, in the car it was amazing. During the winter, I go ice racing, and this was just like that!”
“I want to say it was fun, but I'd be lying. That was terrifying!” said d’Ansembourg. “It was very, very frightening. It was my first time in these conditions on slicks. I guess I had some very good drivers to follow, which put me in confidence quite fast. But I'd be happy if I never have to do that again!”
Padmore took another pre-78 class win in third, chased home by teammate Marco Werner whose Lotus 76 found its way past the warring Tyrrell 011 duo of Ken Tyrrell and Jamie Constable, the American in the end prevailing with six seconds in hand, despite an early half-spin dropping him down to sixth. Behind Warren Briggs in the McLaren M29, David Shaw took a fiercely contested third in the pre-78 class, his Williams FW06 narrowly keeping ahead of Max Werner’s Hesketh 308C and Yutaka Toriba’s Williams FW05 who both took turns in third place in class.
“That was scary!” said Padmore. “It was just too slippery. Yeah, I did lead for a bit but I couldn't hang on. I had no grip whatsoever, so I couldn't wait for the chequered flag to come out. I was so sideways, understeer and everything. Just no grip! It was good fun, though.”
“It was a little bit of a frustrating moment”, said Tyrrell of his minor slip-up. “Because I felt like if I hung with those guys, as the track kind of came in, maybe I could continue to move up. We spun, kind of grabbed the wrong gear, bogged, got the right gear. By that time, Constable had gone by and it took me several laps to get by him. And then everybody else had kind of checked off. But fun. I mean, this is a fantastic circuit.”
“It's a nice car”, Werner said about debuting the Lotus 76, “but it's really not a car for the top three normally. So I'm happy with fourth position. It was a little bit difficult for me because I was on new slicks. I only had new ones. And in these wet conditions they are still not on the grip level to start with. So with used tyres it would have been better. Later in the race, especially the first four corners were nearly dry, and that's where the tyres came good – so I needed more corners like that with more drying up. But it is like it is. I'm happy. It's nice to be back after a long time.”
“It was a beautiful race in the sense that it really absorbed your concentration”, said Shaw. “It was so slippery. And when you look at the track, it looks nearly dry, but it's so little grip.
And I had a spin in turn 15 on lap 2. So after that, every lap around there, it was just so... And I still nearly lost it again. But I'm really happy just to be out and finish a race after I’ve been out of action for about 15 months. And I've only done about two races in that Williams… But I’m fully fit now, and am looking forward to more racing!”
On a damp Saturday morning, but with the sun breaking cover, the Masters Racing Legends made an unusually early start to their final round of the season with their first race of the day. The sizeable Italian section of the paddock wasn’t having a good time of it, though, as missing was Marco Fumagalli, his Theodore TR1 having hit trouble in practice, while Marco Coppini’s March 761 ground to a halt on its warm-up lap and needed to be recovered to the pitlane. Starting from his first career pole, Werner d’Ansembourg led away in his Brabham BT49, followed by fellow front-row sitter Nick Padmore in the Lotus 77 and 19 more 3-litre F1 cars.
Soon, the order changed around, as Padmore grabbed the initiative on the opening lap, followed through by Soheil Ayari’s Ligier JS21 and Ken Tyrrell’s Tyrrell 011, while on the damp track d’Ansembourg took a careful approach in fourth. Marco Werner’s Lotus 76 was next up, followed by Jamie Constable’s 011, with David Shaw moving his Williams FW06 into seventh overall and third in the pre-78 class behind Padmore and Werner. Mark Hazell’s Williams FW07B and Warren Briggs’ McLaren M29 followed in eighth and ninth, with Max Smith-Hilliard moving into the top ten in his Fittipaldi F5A.
After two laps, Padmore, Ayari and Tyrrell had broken away from d’Ansembourg, who now had Constable harrying him for fourth, the Tyrrell having passed Werner’s Lotus 76. Further back, Smith-Hilliard was on a roll and had jumped both Hazell and Briggs, the former having spun to drop down to 18th, just ahead of pre-72 class leader Ewen Sergison’s Surtees TS9B.
At the front, Ayari started to pressure Padmore, and into lap 3, the Frenchman was past. Meanwhile, a brief slip-up from Tyrrell allowed d’Ansembourg and Constable up into third and fourth. In eighth, Yutaka Toriba was another man on a charge, as his Williams FW05 had fought its way past David Shaw for third in the pre-78 class.
Immediately, Ayari began to set a blistering pace, breaking free from Padmore at a rate of two seconds a lap, as the former F3000 driver led the Lotus 77 by four ticks on lap 4. D’Ansembourg was a steady third now, six seconds behind the Frenchman, while the two Denim-liveried Tyrrells warred over fourth place. Marco Werner held strong in sixth, while Briggs moved back ahead of Toriba in seventh. Behind them, the other Werner – Max in the Hesketh 308C – was now up into ninth (and fourth in the pre-78 class) in a topsy-turvy battle in the midpack, the German leading Shaw and three Arrows in line astern, Nick Pink in the ex-Neil Glover Arrows A5, Patrick d’Aubreby in the Arrows A4 and Valerio Leone in the Arrows A6, as Smith-Hilliard abandoned the chase to report to the pits.
On lap 6, Ayari still led, but it was d’Ansembourg who now did the chasing, the Belgian having caught and passed Padmore for second. Constable and Tyrrell were still at it for fourth, ahead of Marco Werner and Briggs, while Shaw had regained the upper hand in the titanic struggle for third in the pre-78 class, the Williams FW06 repassing Toriba’s FW05 and Max Werner’s Hesketh.
Ten minutes remained on the clock, and Ayari looked a safe bet for the win, leading d’Ansembourg by seven seconds. Padmore looked like a trouble-free pre-78 class leader as well, ten seconds adrift of the leader, while Tyrrell had finally found a way past Constable, with Marco Werner following through into fifth.
Truly enjoying himself, Ayari produced a stunning fastest lap of the race on lap 9, the French hot shoe rounding the Portimão circuit in 1.54.213 to increase his lead to a massive 12 seconds. Further back, Marco Werner had passed Tyrrell for fourth overall to now beat Ayari’s fastest lap of the race, but Padmore was eight more seconds up the road in third. Tyrrell’s fifth place was still under threat from Constable, but behind them a big gap had opened up to Briggs in seventh, who in turn led the pre-78 class battle for third, still headed by Shaw, but with Max Werner, Toriba and now also Geoffroy Rivet in the Trojan T103 all pushing the Briton to defend his podium spot.
After 13 hugely entertaining laps, Ayari crossed the line as the winner, 11 seconds from d’Ansembourg, with Padmore and Marco Werner in third and fourth, the pair cornering the two top spots in the pre-78 class. Tyrrell clinched the final post-78 podium spot ahead of Constable, with Briggs a distant seventh. Shaw held on to claim third place in the pre-78 class, chased home by Max Werner, Toriba and Rivet, with Hazell’s Williams in 12th ahead of Pink, d’Aubreby, Leone, Marco Bianchini’s in the ex-Jason Wright Shadow DN8, Ewen Sergison in the pre-72 class-winning Surtees, with Luciano Biamino’s Lotus 81 and Guillaume Roman’s Ensign N175 bringing up the rear.