The Grand Prix de France Historique meeting at Paul Ricard treated us to three days of the finest historic motorsport, run in perfect racing conditions. Blessed by a clear blue sky, the four Masters grids presented the French crowd with six races – all of which entertained from start to finish.
From third on the grid, Mike Cantillon powered his way up to win the first Masters Historic Formula One race of the Grand Prix de France Historique at Paul Ricard. The Irish-licensed Williams FW07C driver past Jamie Constable’s pole-sitting Tyrrell 011 on lap 3, and hit the front one lap later as he passed Nick Padmore’s Lotus 77. Padmore had removed Constable from the top spot two corners into the race. Cantillon then romped away to lead Padmore across the line by 5.2 seconds, to add another 2021 win to his pair of victories in the season opener at Donington Park.
Marco Werner inherited the final podium spot after Constable spun away third place. The German had passed Christophe d’Ansembourg for fourth on lap 3, and finished 15 seconds down on Cantillon. In fifth, Lukas Halusa’s McLaren M23 won a drag race to the line to pip Laurent Fort, but the Frenchman had starred by slicing through the field from his back-of-the-grid start in an Ensign N181 that had succumbed to a clutch problem in qualifying. The fight for seventh was equally nailbiting, ‘Mr John of B’ in the Ligier JS11/15 eventually coming out on top after battling with Georg Hallau’s Theodore N183 for two-thirds of the race.
After his spin that dropped him down to 15th, Constable salvaged ninth but it was a true case of ‘what could have been’. Meanwhile, Padmore and Halusa led the pre-78 class but third place in class wasn’t decided until two laps from the end when Nicolas Matilé’s Matra MS120B lost out to Philippe Bonny in the Trojan T103 as the pair fought over tenth overall.
The race’s first drama had already occurred before the first lap was run. Having incurred damage to his Lotus 91 in the dying moments of qualifying, Brooks was unable to start from the first pole position of his career. So it was Jamie Constable who stormed away from pole but two corners into the race, Padmore passed the Tyrrell for the lead. Further back, Marc Devis was seen slowing and stopping in his Surtees TS16.
Behind Padmore and Constable, Cantillon slotted into third, the first three already opening up a sizeable gap to d’Ansembourg in fourth, the Belgian harried by Werner, Halusa and d’Aubréby. In a remarkable eighth overall, Alain Girardet was showing well in the invitational F5000 McLaren M10B, with Georg Hallau in the Theodore N183 up next. However, having started from the back, Laurent Fort had hauled his Ensign N181 up to tenth, and soon moved past Hallau as well as Girardet to be eighth.
At the start of lap 3, Cantillon outbraked Constable into the first corner to take second, while behind the leading trio Werner had removed d’Ansembourg from fourth. Soon, the three leaders were reduced to two, as Constable – who wasn’t taking Cantillon’s pass lying down – spun braking into the Virage de l’Hôtel. He had dropped down to 15th before he got the Tyrrell going again…
Going into lap 4, Cantillon wasn’t done with his march to the front, as he deposed Padmore from top spot. So now, Cantillon led Padmore, with Werner 14 seconds down in third. D’Ansembourg was fourth, another four seconds behind, while Halusa was fifth ahead of d’Aubréby whose March was beginning to smoke and consequently given the ‘meatball’ flag as he started on lap 5.
Soon enough, the March pulled off, and this handed sixth to the flying Fort who by now was trailing Halusa by a mere second. Meanwhile, Hallau in seventh was having to fend off a fast-arriving ‘Mr John of B’, the home hero having switched from his Matra MS120C to his Ligier JS11/15. Girardet was ninth, but the recovering Constable was approaching fast, having already passed Nicolas Matilé in the Matra MS120B, Philippe Bonny in the Trojan T103 and Paul Tattersall in the Ensign N179. Vincent Rivet had dropped to 14th, having been into pits with his March 811, and would soon do so again, handing the place to Michel Baudoin’s Hesketh 308C.
15 minutes into the race, and seven laps done, Cantillon had left Padmore behind by 1.4 seconds, and five minutes from the end the gap had increased to 3.8 seconds. Werner kept his deficit stable at 14 seconds, in a Lotus 92 suffering from vibrations, while d’Ansembourg looked safe from Fort who had worked his way past Halusa for fifth.
As the clock ticked down to zero, Cantillon was home safe ahead of Padmore who took first in the pre-78 class, with Werner in third as the post-82 class winner. D’Ansembourg headed Fort and Halusa who then outdragged Fort on the run to the line to finish fifth and take second in the pre-78 class, while on the final lap ‘Mr John of B’ finally manage to leap ahead of Hallau to claim seventh. A dejected Constable was ninth, while Nicolas Matilé saw third in the pre-78 class evaporate when in the final two laps the Swiss driver saw both Bonny and Tattersall go past. This ensured Bonny third place in the pre-78 class.