Matra Back On Tour

The French marque is chasing Tour Auto success half a century after it played a starring role on home soil

Nearly half a century after company CEO Jean-Luc Lagardère entered two Matras for the Tour de France Automobile, a Matra MS 650 is tearing across France again in the 2018 Tour Auto (April 23-28). Frenchman Jean Guittard – aka ‘Mr John of B’ – will be at the helm of the open-cockpit, two-seater Matra.

The 2125km route includes closed-road stages as well as races at Dijon-Prenois, Bresse, Lédenon and French GP host Paul Ricard. The route begins at the Grand Palais in Paris, finishing in Nice via Besançon, Megève, Avignon and Aix-en-Provence.

The Matra 650 was created in 1969 for the Sports Car World Championship, the first open-cockpit car designed by the French manufacturer with fibreglass bodywork and a total weight of 861kg. This was heavier than its rivals, but the Matra was powered by a V12 engine that produced 470bhp.

This Matra 650 has an additional seat for the co-driver, lights, additional cooling and suspension modifications for the open road – built almost to Tour de France specification.

In 1970 Matra had an all-star line-up for the nine-day event; drivers Jean-Pierre Beltoise/Patrick Depailler and Jean-Pierre Jabouille/Henri Pescarolo secured a Matra one-two, abetted by navigators Jean Todt and Johnny Rives.

Peter Auto is enjoying a successful historic campaign to date, with Jenson Button confirmed for the Le Mans Classic and several bumper grids at the Espíritu de Montjuïc event in Barcelona. The promoter attracted 212 cars to the Spanish event compared with last year’s 145 – a 45 per cent increase. The Group C racing category fared particularly well, with 21 cars this year rather than 12 in 2017, though F2 numbers remain slender (see Hot Topic).

Like many racetracks in Britain it has gone through fallow periods – especially since noise restrictions mean it can host only 12 race days per year. However, in recent seasons a comprehensive modernisation programme has been undertaken. The new Thruxton Centre is the latest part of that and, when finished, it will feature a fully-catered facility comprising a new restaurant and bar, exhibition space, function rooms, hosting suites and outside viewing terrace.

Advance tickets for Thruxton’s 50th Anniversary Celebration on June 2/3 are available from £12 for Saturday entry and £15 for Sunday or £24 for both days. Sunday grandstand seats are an additional £5. Accompanied children aged 15 and under will be admitted free of charge. Just make sure you arrive early for front-row seats for the Murray and Nigel show.

Briggs Bags McLaren

Former McLaren team member Warren Briggs will race an M29C in the Masters Historic Formula 1 Championship this year, though he had to miss the opening race at Imola on April 20-22 due to a suspected metering unit failure.

The car is now expected to race at Brands Hatch in the Masters Historic Festival, with Briggs also taking it to the British Grand Prix support race in June.

“I bought it a couple of years ago,” said Briggs. “It’s a 1979 car, which was Patrick Tambay’s from the 1979 British GP onwards. It was then upgraded to M29C spec and became John Watson’s car through 1980.

“It’s been through a few owners, but as I used to work at McLaren during the period, it was the only car I wanted. I’d been looking for it for a while and I got so excited when I had the opportunity to buy it.”

This M29, which was previously based in Italy, was last raced in 2005 before Briggs took it to an initial shakedown at a wet Blyton Park earlier this year and then the Masters test day at Brands Hatch – its first run on slick tyres.

“I have to say, it was fantastic but daunting as well. It was actually unbelievable at Brands Hatch. The corners come up so fast and getting used to it is a handful: it has huge slicks that you have to get up to temperature and huge wings as well. There’s a tremendous amount to learn, but it’s just amazing to drive,” added Briggs, who has recently raced a Ford Mustang but also competed in FF1600 and British F3 during the early 1980s.

XK Club’s Record Bid

The 70th anniversary of the Jaguar XK engine will be celebrated with the XK70 Jaguar Festivalat Shelsley Walsh on June 9-10. The Jaguar XK Club is aiming for a world record-breaking 700 XKs, expanding its invite to include hundreds of E-types, XK8s, XKRs and F-types.

Two notable XK120s – NUB 120 and LWK 707 – will be brought to the festival by the Jaguar Daimler Heritage Trust: NUB 120 won the Coupe d’Or in the hands of Ian and Pat Appleyard, while LWK 707 averaged more than 100mph for seven days and nights over 16,851 miles at Montlhéry, Paris, in 1952. 

Other cars confirmed so far include the TWR XJ220C driven by David Coulthard, David Brabham and John Nielsen at the 1993 Le Mans 24 Hours (they won their class before being disqualified) and the 1987 World Sportscar Championship-winning XJR-8. A number of racing Jaguars will be taken up the Shelsley Walsh hillclimb at speed, with Goodwood Festival of Speed winner Justin Law at the helm of an XJR and Chris Ward driving a number of cars, too.

Gracing the event with their presence will be engineers Peter Sargent and Dr Samir Klat, who developed and modified the low-drag E-type. Well-known E-type racer Peter Sutcliffe and 1970 Le Mans 24 Hours winner Richard Attwood will join them.

Also invited will be Sir John Egan, the former Jaguar chairman widely credited with rescuing the Midlands-based manufacturer from near collapse, and chief stylist Keith Helfet, who was responsible for the XJ220 and XK180 concept cars.

Jaguar Classics

The Historic Sports Car Club has announced the fourth year of the Jaguar Classic Challenge and revealed its calendar. The series begins at the Donington Historic Festival in early May, followed by a June 16-17 meeting at Silverstone, an invitational event supporting the Le Mans Classic on July 6-8, the Oulton Park Gold Cup (August 25-27) and the Spa Six Hours (September 15-16).

The series is open to XKs, C-types, Mk1 and Mk11 saloons and original-spec pre-1966 E-types.

“We are delighted to continue managing the Jaguar Classic Challenge,” said HSCC CEO Grahame White. “We’ve got a first-class calendar, including an invitation race at the Le Mans Classic, and we’ve already got 30 entries for the first race of the season.”

Clark Commemorated

The life and career of double F1 champion Jim Clark was celebrated and his death commemorated by the HSCC at Donington Parkon April 7, with about 500 people gathering on the start line. The HSCC’s season-opening race meeting took place 50 years to the day after Clark’s death at Hockenheim. 

Bagpipes were played before a minute’s silence was held, with drivers, team members, marshals and spectators standing together on the grid in a touching tribute. Assembled cars included Lotus 18 chassis 372 (in which Clark took his first major single-seater win in 1960), the Lotus 23B of Darren Wilson and John Davison’s Elan 26R.