Event of the month - Tour of Spain

A sunnier date added to the experience of an event with a growing reputation. as some ex-F1 stars joined a quality entry. By Paul Lawrence photography by Juan Miguel and Tour of Spain

The sixth running of the Tour of Spain delivered a demanding five day mix of special stages on closed roads and races at Jerez and Guadix. Spanish-based Brit John Sheldon took his Lotus Elan to pre-1965 spoils while John Bosch powered his Ferrari 365 to post-1965 victory.

Moved forward to October from its previous November date, this year’s tour was blessed with warmer weather and longer days. What had not changed was the tremendous challenge of the event, with a number of crews coming to grief on very slippery road stages.

Though less well supported than the Tour Auto, the event drew an entry high in quality: ex-F1 stars Clay Regazzoni and Erik Comas and former Renault F1 boss Jean Sage were among the big names that arrived at the spectacular Olympic Stadium in Seville for the start.

Widely considered to be as good as the Tour Auto in terms of route, its Spanish cousin offered a slightly less hectic schedule for the crews than its French counterpart. But the opening stage on Friday produced more than enough drama with up to six cars going off. Notable among the casualties was the lightweight Jaguar E-type of Gary Pearson and Carlos Monteverde. “We flew off the road on the first special stage,” admitted Pearson. “It was a heavy landing, but we managed to drive out of the field and keep it going.” The loss of around 1 min 40sec dogged their progress over the rest of the event. While Pearson/Monteverde set about getting the E-type ready for day two, Greg Hart took the lead in the pre-1965 category in his Lotus Elan 26R. On his second visit to the event, he was to set a storming pace and was still extending his lead when the cars arrived at the twisty Guadix track on Sunday. “Barring problems, we were just creeping away with it,” reported Hart’s co-driver Grahame Standen. However, a long sweeping bend at Guadix prompted an oil pick-up problem and the engine ran a big end bearing. Their event was over.

Instead, Sheldon took control of the pre-1965 division, having been half a minute down on Hart at the close of Saturday. Over the final two days he was able to stay comfortably clear at the head of the division as an E-type battle developed over second place.

Despite an ill-handling car that was consuming its tyres at an alarming rate, Pearson/Monteverde still chased into contention but could not quite overhaul the E-type of Michael Cowdray/Ludovic Lindsay. When the Cowdray car picked up a minute of road penalties, the gap was down to 18sec but any chance for Pearson ended when the final special stage was cancelled. The test was scrubbed on safety grounds due to rain and mud on the road from farming activity.

The destiny of the post-1965 category was heavily influenced by the opening stages. Notable among the casualties was Paul Knapfield, who put his Ferrari Daytona off the road, while the Renault Alpine of Comas followed on the second test.

It was the Ferrari 308 of François Entremont that took a firm grip on the category but his event ended with mechanical dramas on the penultimate day. That elevated Bosch’s Ferrari 365GTB/4 into the lead and he fended off a substantial Porsche challenge to win by 80sec.

Sage steered clear of any dramas to score victory in the concurrent index of performance in his Alfa Romeo Giulietta; Regazzoni posted an early retirement with transmission failure in his Lancia Aurelia.

“It really is a fantastic event,” said Pearson. Its reputation continues to grow — and its winning format has been rumoured to be coming to the United Kingdom soon…