Beighton rumbles to Masters Sports Car Legends victory at Donington
In a race punctuated twice by lengthy safety-car periods, Chris Beighton guided his Lola T70 Mk3B to the narrowest of wins when the sting proved to be in the very tail of the Masters Sports Car Legends race at Donington Park. Gary Pearson and Alex Brundle looked the likely winners until their T70 Mk3B failed with just two laps to go. This handed Beighton the lead which he only narrowly kept across the line, as he defended from Andy Willis in the Stephan Joebstl/Andy Willis Lola T212.
“It was so close at the end”, said Willis. “One more lap? No, with half a lap, I would have done it!”
However, Beighton said that he had it all under control. “I was watching all the yellow flags, with cars suddenly stopping all over the place. I didn’t want to be a naughty boy and get nicked because of that.”
“Well, he almost gave us a nervous breakdown!” said Beighton’s preparer Simon Hadfield.
Behind the two up front Gary Furst in another T212 was lifted up on the podium after Brundle’s demise, with Nick Pink taking fourth in his T210.
“It was pretty physical doing the race on my own”, said Furst. “It was wonderful chasing the T70s, but they have so much grunt! I think I lost out a bit at the pitstops, as I pitted right after the first safety car – but that’s the luck of the draw. I still enjoyed it!”
On their return to the series, Keith Ahlers and Billy Bellinger and their Cooper Monaco King Cobra snatched the pre-66 class win after the John Spiers/Nigel Greensall McLaren M1B faltered to provoke the first safety-car period shortly before the pit window opening. The third T70 in the race dropped out to create the second neutralisation after Jason Wright hit the gravel trap.
Still in glorious Easter weather, the Masters Sports Car Legends field blasted away for their one-race race, Gary Pearson leading the other T70 Mk3Bs of Chris Beighton and Jason Wright, as Gary Furst was fourth in the first of the open-top 2-litre sportscars, his Lola T212 ahead of John Spiers in the McLaren M1B and Stephan Joebstl in the second T212. Pink in the T210, Sheldon in the Chevron B16 and Billy Bellinger in the Cooper Monaco King Cobra were up next while Paul Allen’s T212 was the race’s first retirement. John Davison, sadly, proved to be a non-starter in his Chevron B6.
After five laps, Pearson led Beighton by four seconds, with Wright a further 11 seconds adrift. The American had Furst breathing down his neck, with Spiers also at close quarters. Four more laps in, though, and Beighton wasn’t letting go. In fact, the gap had narrowed down to 3.7 seconds, as behind the two leaders Wright had slowly dropped away to trail the lead T70 by 23 seconds as he continued to be harried by Furst in the Gunston-liveried T212.
15 minutes into the race, the safety car was called to negate all the accumulated gaps. John Spiers had gone off, in the process handing the pre-66 class lead to Bellinger in the Cooper Monaco King Cobra. The field now fully bunched up with the pit window fast approaching, the field was given the green flag with just five seconds remaining before the window would open!
With everything to play for again, Beighton was handed the lead when Pearson pitted to hand over to Alex Brundle, while Wright similarly took the first opportunity on lap 19. A lap later, Joebstl came in to give the T212 to Andy Willis, with Nick Pink coming in as well to serve his mandatory pitstop. Out on track, meanwhile, Beighton was giving his everything by recording a string of fastest laps of the race before Brundle on his second lap out eclipsed that. With his elite driver time penalty having been effected at the stops, the former WEC and ELMS driver had some catching up to do, just as both Beighton and Sheldon elected to pit on lap 23, leaving Bellinger the last one out before handing over to Keith Ahlers.
The catching-up was done fast enough, though, as Brundle hit the front as soon as lap 25. Beighton was suddenly leaving six seconds a lap on the table, which meant that Willis was catching him at a quick rate too. However, action was suspended once again as now Wright found himself in the gravel.
On lap 29, the green flag was waved for 17 more minutes of racing. Brundle put the hammer down immediately, lowering the fastest lap of the race to a 1.08.7, getting some two seconds in between himself and Beighton, with Willis, Furst and Pink all chasing, the latter passing Sheldon into lap 31. Putting his mind to finishing the race after his long absence, Ahlers was seventh overall and down to win his class.
There was no change with ten minutes remaining, as Brundle’s lead increased to some seven seconds, with Willis a similar margin adrift from Beighton and ahead of Furst. Pink trailed the two T212s by half a minute but had some eight ticks in hand over Sheldon.
Towards the chequered flag, Brundle kept maintaining a safe pace towards the end to nurture a ten-second lead to the flag. However, the sting was definitely in the tail, as the lead Lola was suddenly seen slowing! On lap 43, Beighton, Willis and Furst all zapped past before the T70 coasted to a halt, while at the same time John Sheldon’s Chevron B16 also bowed out. And still it wasn’t over, as Willis was now homing in on the leader too! As they crossed the line, Beighton had kept just four tenths in hand to salvage the win. Furst inherited third, with Pink fourth and the Bellinger/Ahlers Cooper Monaco King Cobra in fifth.
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