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– Spellbinding racing at retro-flavoured HSCC-run event
– Fastest circuit in Britain the perfect setting for no-holds-barred single-seater, sportscar and touring car duels
– Popular victories for household names Cleland and Needell

The first day of the Thruxton Easter Revival meeting witnessed outstanding wheel-to-wheel racing, dramatic twists and turns and wall-to-wall sunshine as the fastest circuit in Britain played host to some of the most legendary cars ever built.

The second edition of the popular event attracted large grids and a similarly large crowd, as single-seaters, sportscars and tin-tops from years gone-by returned to the track with just as much verve as in their heyday.

Oliver Ford and David Tomlin waged a pulsating duel for ‘70s Road Sports glory, with the latter’s Ferrari 308 GTB reeling in the pole-sitting Lotus Europa and pouncing when Ford found himself delayed by a backmarker in the chicane.

The duo continued to run nose-to-tail and occasionally side-by-side as they boldly monstered Thruxton’s kerbs, and Ford had just regained the lead when Tomlin suffered a late-race puncture that pitched him into a spectacular 360-degree spin and left him pitlane-bound.

Ford thereafter enjoyed an untroubled run to the chequered flag, with fellow Europa driver Jim Dean – who had briefly challenged for the lead on the opening lap before being forced to give best to Tomlin’s superior V8 power – placing second. Peter Shaw completed the podium in third at the wheel of his TVR Tuscan.

Teenage phenomenon Callum Grant recovered from a wheelspin-plagued start to the Historic Formula Junior race in his Merlyn Mk5/7 to hunt down pole-sitter Andrew Hibberd’s Lotus 22 for the race lead. The pair subsequently engaged in an earnest battle, until mechanical maladies hobbled Hibberd’s bid, allowing Grant to make good his escape.

Andrew’s pain, however, was father Michael’s gain, as the elder Hibberd overhauled Steve Jones’ Cooper T67 for the runner-up laurels in his famous 1963 ex-works Lotus 27.

The opening round of the new HSCC Super Touring Car Championship was one of the undisputed highlights of the day, and the racing had the crowd on their feet from lights-out to chequered flag. James Dodd led away from pole position in his Honda Accord at the rolling start and proceeded to establish a comfortable advantage over the fraught four-way fight behind for second place, involving both John Cleland’s Vauxhall Vectra and the Peugeot 406 of Patrick Watts.

Stewart Whyte made it a Honda one-two by working his way through into second in his Accord, before spinning it away on the exit of Church Corner. A late-race driveshaft failure for Dodd then promoted Cleland into the lead and former sparring-partner Watts to second as the Super Touring legends wound back the clock with a popular result.

Paul Smith ended up third in his BMW 320, ahead of Simon Garrad’s Williams Renault Laguna, which had earlier gone doorhandle-to-doorhandle with a behemoth from a different era – Craig Davies’ flame-spitting Ford Sierra RS500.

“The first few laps were pretty hectic, and after that, James was gone and driving very well,” conceded a magnanimous Cleland, BTCC Champion in both 1989 and 1995. “I could see I was catching him at times, but I thought he was just playing with me. I’ve raced against James a few times now and I have huge regard for him; if he was in the current BTCC, I really think he would shine there, too.

“Unfortunately, the car let him down today, but Patrick and I were there to pick up the pieces. I’ve always loved racing at Thruxton – it really rewards the brave!”

Cleland has never been short of bravery, and Watts concurred that he had thoroughly enjoyed rolling back the years: “That was a lot of fun. It’s great to drive these cars round Thruxton and really give them some welly – and back in the day, if I had finished just a few seconds behind John here, I think the Peugeot team would have been very happy!”

Following a feisty opening salvo from an ultra-committed Martin Stretton in the Elva Mk7S, the Guards Trophy Sports Racing Car encounter soon developed into a cat-and-mouse affair between Chris Goodwin in his McLaren M1B and James and Graeme Dodd in their Ginetta G16. In the closing stages, the chasing Goodwin – who had not driven at Thruxton for 20 years – inexorably homed in on Graeme Dodd in the lead, but fell just under three seconds shy at the flag.

The tussle over third was only resolved on the very last lap, as Chevron B8 twins Phillip Nelson and Peter Thompson duked it out tooth-and-nail right the way to the line – even going either side of a backmarker through the chicane. Nelson’s blue Chevron ultimately got the verdict over Thompson and driving partner Charles Allison’s red model by less than two tenths-of-a-second.

The blue riband Derek Bell Trophy race staged a showdown between the thundering, five-litre Formula 5000s and their lighter and nimbler Formula 2 rivals. As his qualifying form had suggested he would, Neil Fowler streaked clear of the opposition in his March 782 and ultimately emerged victorious by a commanding 26 seconds to strike a blow for Formula 2 – but the action was all taking place in his wake.

Reigning champion Neil Glover’s Formula 5000 Lola T330/332 was all over Mark Charteris’ Mallock Mk20/21 Clubman from the start and he blasted his way into second on lap three – but against all odds, the indefatigable Charteris clung on and refused to admit defeat. The pair’s enthralling duel went right the way down to the flag, with Glover narrowly prevailing but having been given absolutely no margin for error by his plucky pursuer.

One of the most exciting races of the day was undoubtedly the Guards Trophy GT battle, as Paul Tooms in his Lotus Elan nabbed the lead from pole-sitter Mike Whitaker’s V8-powered TVR Griffith at lights-out. Although the latter soon regained the upper hand, Tooms would remain a thorn in his side throughout as the pair sprinted away from the chasing pack.

Weaving incisively through the traffic with their headlights blazing a path past the backmarkers, there was nothing to choose between Whitaker and Tooms and they pitted together at the end of lap 12 – emerging in the same order. Following an exhilarating display, the result was only determined in the very closing stages, as Whitaker – increasingly struggling with his rear tyres – overcooked it on the final lap, allowing Tooms to gratefully sneak past to a superb success. Craig Davies’ Chevrolet Corvette Stingray completed the podium in third.

Historic Touring Cars had fans all around the circuit gripped by a sensational scrap for the spoils, as Neil Brown’s iconic Ford Mustang, Tim Davies’ similarly Alan Mann Racing-liveried Lotus Cortina, Sean McInerney’s BMW 1800Ti and Mike Gardiner and David Tomlin’s Lotus Cortinas went at it hammer-and-tongs for lap-after-lap. As Brown’s snarling, 3.7-litre V8-engined Mustang bottled the field up, the action was fierce and frantic as positions regularly changed hands.

A sideways slide by Brown through the chicane on the penultimate lap enabled Davies to pull alongside and with the inside line for Allard, the late-braking Lotus Cortina snuck through into the lead with just 2.356 miles to go. He maintained that advantage all the way through to the chicane again – where Brown returned the favour to prevail by a nose. McInerney wound up third at the end of a truly breathless encounter.

The final outing of the day saw the Historic Formula Fords fire into life, with Michael O’Brien in his Merlyn Mk20, Maxim Bartell in a Merlyn Mk20A, Thruxton favourite Tiff Needell in a Lotus 69 and Benn Simms in a Jomo JMR7 fighting it out at the front. First Bartell and then O’Brien spun away their chances, leaving a straight scrap between Simms and Needell that the former Top Gear presenter got the better of on the very last lap by a scant six hundredths-of-a-second. Novice driver O’Brien recovered to salvage third.

“I won my first ever race here in this car back in 1972,” enthused a jubilant Needell once the chequered flag had fallen, “and now, more than four decades later, I’ve won in it again. It was a tremendous race, needing to look in both mirrors all the time – great fun!”

That it certainly was – a fitting manner in which to conclude an excellent and entertaining day of retro-flavoured racing.

Provisional Race Results for Saturday

‘70s Road Sports
1) Oliver Ford (Lotus Europa): 13 Laps
2) Jim Dean (Lotus Europa): +16.667
3) Peter Shaw (TVR Tuscan): +56.096

Historic Formula Junior
1) Callum Grant (Merlyn Mk5/7): 14 Laps
2) Michael Hibberd (Lotus 27): +34.780
3) Steve Jones (Cooper T67): +35.424

Super Touring Car Championship
1) John Cleland (Vauxhall Vectra): 15 Laps
2) Patrick Watts (Peugeot 406): +7.244
3) Paul Smith (BMW 320): +17.397

Guards Trophy Sports Racing Car
1) James Dodd / Graeme Dodd (Ginetta G16): 28 Laps
2) Chris Goodwin (McLaren M1B): +2.734
3) Phillip Nelson (Chevron B8): +43.464

Derek Bell Trophy
1) Neil Fowler (March 782): 16 Laps
2) Neil Glover (Lola T330/332): +26.293
3) Mark Charteris (Mallock Mk20/21): +27.263

Guards Trophy GT Race
1) Paul Tooms (Lotus Elan): 23 Laps
2) Mike Whitaker (TVR Griffith): +9.568
3) Craig Davies (Chevrolet Corvette Stingray): +53.349

Historic Touring Cars
1) Neil Brown (Ford Mustang): 12 Laps
2) Tim Davies (Ford Lotus Cortina): +0.320
3) Sean McInerney (BMW 1800Ti): +2.396

Historic Formula Ford
1) Tiff Needell (Lotus 69): 9 Laps
2) Benn Sims (Jomo JMR 7) +0.062
3) Michael O’Brien (Merlyn Mk20): +12.637

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