2020 Estoril Classics – full report

“Après la pluie vient le beau temps,” (The calm after the storm) was the French proverb in everybody’s mind today. After a difficult period for motor sport, whether historic or modern, the Peter Auto teams managed to put on all the events scheduled for the second half of 2020 and finished the year in blazing sunshine on the lovely Estoril circuit – a victory for one and all!

This meeting brought down the curtain on the current season in anticipation of a restart in March 2021 with, for the first time, preliminary practice that will enable the competitors to make the final tweaks before the opening races. Rendezvous for the Series Test Days on the Paul Ricard circuit on 4 – 5 March. In the meantime, a look back at the weekend’s races in the beautiful Cascais region in Portugal.

Summary of the races

The Greatest’s Trophy – 35 minutes

The beautiful cars in the The Greatest’s Trophy grid were back, this time on the Estoril circuit where the outcome of the battles for the titles in the series by Peter Auto would be decided. The rivalry between the Lister Jaguar and the Bizzarrini was still as intense as ever, but it was the battle for third place in the classification between the #61 Maserati T61 driven by Guillermo Fierro and the #49 Porsche 904 GTS that was the highlight of the race. After very close practice and qualifying times the previous day, the two cars put on a marvellous show with clean-cut incisive overtaking moves on the track where they were often separated by only a few seconds and were always on each other’s gearbox. Neither driver wanted to give way. But with just five minutes to go to the chequered flag, Hipolito Pires in #49 made a mistake and was handed a 45-second penalty for abuse of track limits. The Bizzarrini did the same thing less than a minute from the end and received the same punishment. This failure to respect track limits cost the two drivers dear and helped the #61 Maserati T61 to a second-place finish while victory in the first race of the weekend went to David Hart. Battle was joined again the following morning for the grid’s second race of the weekend. Unfortunately absent from the starting lineup was Hart’s winning Lister as its gearbox failed earlier on in the morning. The #49 Porsche 904 GTS completed only one lap before retiring. The #68 Bizzarrini and the #61 Maserati T61 went at it hammer and tongs for first place with the Bizzarrini coming out on top as it opened up a gap of 36.443 seconds over the Maserati driven by Fierro.

Group C Racing – 45 minutes

It looked like Michel Lecourt-Raymond Narac in their Porsche 962C were up against a tough rival in the shape of Pierre-Alain France’s Nissan R90 CK. This car had to retire from the race at the last meeting, Monza Historic, because of a loose pulley that it was impossible to access in the engine compartment. Estoril Classics gave the Nissan an opportunity to take its revenge. In qualifying the two competitors laid down a marker by exceeding 300 km/h on the straight. As soon as the start was given the #82 962C shot into the lead closely followed not by the Japanese car, but by the #10 Spice SE92 in the hands of Allard Kalf. After a few minutes racing, Race Control brought out the yellow flags when Pierre Fischer crashed his #104 SE89C in the third corner. In the 10th minute there was an upset as Kalf who was in first place in front of Lecourt had a problem on his Spice when a thick cloud of white smoke emerged from the engine compartment. He was forced to lift off handing the lead to the Frenchman in #82. It seems that it was an oil leak that sounded the death knell of the English car. This mishap gave the #27 Nissan provisional second place on the podium. Now its aim was to knock the Porsche 962C from its pedestal. There were 15 minutes left. France set the fastest lap, but the gap was still 1m 05.926s. On lap 36 came the final twist when the Nissan went off in turn 7 bringing out the safety car. Finally, the much sought-after second place went to Bertrand Rouchaud in the #129 Tiga GC288. It was revenge time when the Group C cars were unleashed for their second race. Lecourt’s Porsche 962C and Kalf ‘s Spice, which had suffered glitches the previous day, resumed their duel. In the first 20 minutes of the race the two leaders were separated by a few seconds, but on lap 10 the #10 Spice SE92 was again hit with problems and it was forced to retire to avoid engine damage. The #27 Nissan R90 CK took up the chase although it was 55.334 seconds behind Raymond Narac in#82. The Japanese car failed to close the gap, but finished in a well-deserved second place.

Sixties’s Endurance & 2.0 Liter Cup – 2 hours

The last race of the day (held in the evening) saw not one but two grids take to the track as Sixties’ Endurance and the Porsches in the 2.0L Cup shared the tarmac. The race got off to a flying start for the #109 Shelby Cobra driven by Emile Breittmayer and Christian Oldendorff ‘s #66 Alfa Romeo Giulietta who both jumped the start and were given 1-minute penalties! Things didn’t get any better for the Cobra that had to retire after 20 minutes because of an overheated engine. Leading the field was a well-known trio in Sixties’ Endurance: Xavier Galant (#8), David Hart (#376) and Damien Kohler (#16), all three in Shelby Cobras. There were two Cobras fighting for third place, Yvan Mahe in #50 and Damien Kohler. They were separated by a tiny gap and Kohler did his best to increase his lead which, at that moment, was under a second. On lap 25, Galant was in first place in #8 with 36 seconds in hand over Hart in #376. Would the driver changes upset the order? With less than 45 minutes to go to the end Xavier Galant and Olivier Galant held on to first place while firmly ensconced in second were David Hart and Nicolas Pastorelli. Battle still raged for third between Erwin France in #70 and Guillaume Mahé in #50. Kohler-Christophe Van Riet had lost several places. With only 28 minutes left Pastorelli took three seconds out of Galant’s lead: it was the same story next time round. The gap was shrinking! In the 72nd minute, France overtook Pastorelli and began to pose a threat to Galant as, on lap 50, the gap to the leader was now less than 8 seconds. Night fell on the Estoril circuit and the drivers switched on their lights. Pastorelli was on France’s gearbox with less than two minutes to go to the chequered flag and only 1.857 seconds separated the two cars. Last lap, the suspense was at its height. Finally, after two hours racing only a split second decided victory – Wow! – and the place on the topmost step of the podium went to Erwin France and Pierre-Alain France in their #70 Cobra Daytona. What a fabulous duel!

Heritage Touring Cup – 1 hours

The Heritage Touring Cup was the second grid of the day to take to the Estoril tarmac. More than 20 cars lined up on the starting grid with Scot Dario Franchitti, 4-time IndyCar Champion (2007, 2009, 2010 and 2011) and 3-time winner of the Indianapolis 500 Miles, on pole in the #113 1974 Ford Capri 3100 RS Cologne. Hot on his heels was Belgian Christophe Van Riet also Ford Capri 3100 RS mounted (#72). He was out for revenge as he had crashed out on lap 13 during Monza Historic due to a transmission problem. This time it was Franchitti who was hit by bad luck as he had to pit at the end of the first lap due to an engine problem. The car didn’t rejoin the race until lap 17 with Zak Brown at the wheel. He only managed to cover three tours before the Capri stopped again with an accelerator cable issue. Van Riet was in the lead closely followed by Yvan Mahe (#60) and Yves Scemama (#52), all three in Ford Capris. Unlike the previous meeting the Fords, not the BMWs from Munich, filled the top positions.

Classic Endurance Racing 1 – 1 hours

Classic Endurance I had only one race this weekend. David Hart in his #34 Lola T70 MkIII, victorious at the previous meeting, was in second place on the grid and as soon as the pack was unleashed he shot into the lead. Closely following him came the #11 McLaren M8C DFV, which managed to match his pace for the first nine laps. But the McLaren was under heavy pressure from Steve Brooks in another Lola (#159). He pulled off a beautiful overtaking move putting the two Lola T70 MkIIIs (#34 and #159) in the first two places. The McLaren was back in third but was under threat from the #15 Chevron B19, hot on its heels in what looked like a battle worthy of David and Goliath as the McLaren was powered by a 3-litre 8-cylinder engine compared with the 2-litre 4 cylinder motor in the Chevron. Only a few seconds separated them and the battle between the two was a fabulous sight. With 17 minutes of the race left Martin O’Connell in the #11 McLaren M8C DFV stopped on the trackside bringing out the yellow flags. He seemed to have a problem, but Martin knows his car inside out and he managed to get it going again almost immediately. He pitted and discovered that the gearbox had failed ending his race. John Emberson in the #15 Chevron B19 slowed down and also ground to a halt just after the fourth corner. A pity. So third went to a car that started in seventh place, the #69 Ford GT40, which was a bit of a surprise. With less than nine minutes to go to the chequered flag two Lolas (#34 and #35) filled the first two places. On the last lap Alexandre Beirao’s Chevron B19 (#56) that was in fourth spot stopped suddenly right in the middle of the track with a blown engine. Red flag, end of race!

Classic Endurance Racing 2 – 1 hours

When the cars lined up on the grid Yves Scemama in his #52 TOJ SC304 was on pole. In last place was Philippe Scemama (winner of the race at Monza Historic) in the #600 Lola T600 as he was unable to cover a full lap in qualifying the day before. The track marshals waved the green flags and the #600 Lola made a lightning start. In less than two laps Philippe Scemama was up into second place and challenging his brother, Yves. Only 4.338 seconds separated the two drivers. Although Philippe was gunning for the lead he had to protect himself from his pursuers as Francisco Lara Resende in the #126 Chevron B 36 had but a single aim – to overtake him. The former had no room for mistakes.

By lap eight the pressure was too much and the Lola was overtaken by the Chevron which, once it had dealt with its rival, closed the gap to Yves Scemama in the lead. With 36 minutes to go Race Control hung out the yellow flags and deployed the safety car. There was oil on the track and the cars had to be grouped together to allow the technical teams to remove the fluid and ensure that the event took place in optimal safety conditions. It looked like the restart would be packed with fireworks. The drivers were running neck and neck. The safety car pulled off and the pit window opened. All the cars headed for the pits immediately except Lara Resende (#126). His strategy was obvious: take advantage of a clear track to bang in the fastest laps possible. But it didn’t pay off and he was unable to rejoin in front of Yves Scemama in #52 after his obligatory pit stop. With 22 minutes to go the safety car was redeployed as Philippe Scemama in #600 made a mistake. He spun into the safety barriers on the approach to the first corner. The impact damaged the car’s suspension and left-hand rear tyre. With 15 minutes racing left the cars passed through the pit lane behind the safety car to avoid the zone of the accident and allow the Lola to be evacuated as quickly as possible. On the restart only three minutes remained. The #126 Chevron B 36 harried the #52 TOJ SC 304 mercilessly. Only 0.282 seconds separated them, but Yves Scemama and his TOJ hung on to score a great victory!

The 2020 season of the series by Peter Auto ended with these two thrilling races full of twists. A big thank you, gentlemen, for putting on such a marvellous spectacle that more than 80 000 TV viewers were able to follow live at a distance. Rendezvous in 2021 for new adventures!

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