2015 Algarve Classic Festival, Portimão
Carved into the lush hills outside Portimao in southern Portugal, the spectacular Autódromo Internacional Algarve has provided an imposing challenge to end the European historic racing season since 2009. Following a dry Friday, which showcased the swoopy 15-turn 2.91-mile circuit at its best during this year’s preliminaries, the region’s capricious autumn weather closed in for the weekend, but it failed to dampen the enthusiasm of competitors from around the world.
The popularity of 2014’s debut meant Peter Auto separated its Classic Endurance Racing field into the regular Pre-1971 and Pre-79 sets, timelines that straddled the proud tradition of sports-prototype competition in Portugal and Angola, the former’s African colony until 1975. The track was incredibly slippery for the early group’s hour, in which Martin O’Connell, sailing Sandy Watson’s Chevron-FVC B19 with the navigational skills of Vasco da Gama on a voyage of discovery, blew rivals away. Richard Meaden led the fruitless pursuit, thundering Grant Tromans’ Lola T70 Mk3B home ahead of the little Lolas of David Tomlin (T210) and impressive American Jim Farley (T212).
Sonorous Cosworth DFV-engined prototypes featured in the later race, but proved impotent against the 2-litre hordes – although all were left floundering by GT star Phil Keen in Hans Hübner’s Porsche 934/5 before its driver change. French ace Patrice Lafargue added to his campaign tally, winning handsomely in his ultra-sleek Lola-BMW T298, from Britons Russell Busst (Chevron-BDG B31) and Tony Sinclair in Grant Reid’s glorious Lola-BDG T292, Chris Craft’s 1973 European Championship winner. Sight of the race was the stirring GT fight between Christian Bouriez (Ferrari 512BBLM), David Ferrer (Lancia Beta Montecarlo turbo) and Christian Traber (BMW M1 Procar).
In the FIA Lurani Trophy Formula Junior championship decider the advantage teetered on a knife edge between the two remaining protagonists. Driving his ex-Jo Siffert Lotus 20 brilliantly, points leader Bruno Weibel streaked ahead in Saturday’s damp opening leg, only for gearbox failure to sideline the Swiss for the duration. Italian Daniele Salodini (Taraschi-Fiat) thus had a golden opportunity to snatch the crown.
FJ guru and series promoter Duncan Rabagliati (Alexis-BMC HF1) proved the final arbiter. Having finished runner-up in the front-engined group – a lap ahead of Salodini – on day one and third, a lap behind him in a rare dry spell, on Sunday – their aggregate times for an equal number of laps determined the points allocation. Fractionally under half a second quicker in total, Rabagliati landed second (behind Robin Lackford’s Elva-BMC 100) thus Salodini ceded the title to the astonished Weibel.
The Lola Mk5 derivatives of James Claridge, Portuguese stalwart João Paulo Campos Costa (both raced in period by mustachioed Swede Picko Troberg) and Philipp Buhofer topped qualifying, but all spun (Claridge four times) in Saturday’s treacherous opening stanza on an oily track. Switzerland’s Christian Traber kept his Lotus 22 on the island to win. Claridge screamed to the chequer on Sunday, but the round victory fell on aggregate to Richard Smeeton in his Italian-built, turtle-badged Wainer 63 after the engine in Mark Pangborn’s Lotus 20B went sick in the race’s final seconds – a choker since he was forced to miss qualifying.
Delays earlier in the day, including one caused by an oil spill, meant that Motor Racing Legends’ evening 1950s sports car enduro ran two hours late, in total darkness and finished at 10.20pm. Jon Minshaw won it for the second successive season, this time sharing the Demon Tweeks Lister-Jaguar Knobbly with Phil Keen. Small-capacity cars enjoyed good runs with Philip Champion/Martin Stretton (Lotus XI) and Charles Gillett/Steve Smith (Willment-Climax) leading the pursuit.
Despite a puncture – fortuitously after the pitlane opened – Minshaw and Keen also won Sunday’s GT & Sports Car Cup finale, a splendid 40-car Pre-1966 slugfest with Jaguar E-types, AC Cobras and the ISO Grifo A3C of Georg Nolte and Frank Stippler in the vanguard. Martin O’Connell and Sandy Watson also went the distance, completing a Jaguar one-two, ahead of Carlos Monteverde and Gary Pearson (Cobra). Meanwhile Jeremy Welch (who shared his Austin-Healey 3000 with Pangborn) hounded down Simon Orebi Gann and Calum Lockie (Morgan SLR) to land GT2 honours in a tight finish for 10th overall.
In stark contrast to 2014’s sunshine, both Iberian Historic Endurance contests were nocturnal affairs, thus the vast array of machinery, from a Mini Cooper S (which started on three cylinders) through an Opel 1900GT to Porsche Carrera RSRs and Ford GT40s, was largely invisible. Portuguese father-and-son Rui and Pedro Macedo Silva in their pale green open GT40 won the first and finished second in the latter as top qualifier Stippler howled Nolte’s GT40 back from midfield to sixth.
Peter Horsman won both HGPCA Pre-1966 events in his ex-Tony Shelly Tasman spec Lotus 18/21 and was joined on the podium by Rod Jolley (Cooper T45/51) and Spain’s Guillermo Fierro (Maserati 250F). The MRL pre-war sports cars also made their annual visit with Robert Spencer (Bugatti T35) and Charles Gillett and Patrick Blakeney-Edwards (Frazer Nash Super Sports) winning a race apiece. Marcus Pye