Algarve Classic Festival; 29th – 31st October 2021

Formula Junior moved across the one hour time difference from the Jerez Historic Festival in Spain to the Algarve, some making the best of the free nights at the Casino Hotel, while others spent a few days in or around Seville en route; Philipp Buhofer headed for the islands, but the rest were joined by Clive Richards (Lotus 22), Niklas Halusa in the green family 22, and it was also the intended return of JP Campos Costa  with his bright yellow Lola 5, repaired after Zolder 2018: sadly both his mechanics had conspired to injure themselves, and hotel and apartment reservations were to go to waste.

Wednesday arrivals found the previous weekend’s ELMS cars still in the garages; of FJ relevance as our Richard Bradley had taken the 3rd overall, sharing with Archduke Freddy Hapbsburg of Austria and Sophia Flörsch, a late change from Germany, making headlines as the first lady driver to share a European Le Mans Series podium.

Back to the Classic weekend, and Thursday was only for signing on and scrutineering, with Testing confined to Masters F1 and similar in a mixed evening session. Tom Smith and team, Alex and Lewis, had been working in a workshop under the grandstands for the first few days, getting Mark Shaw’s Lotus 21 back into racing shape, Alex flying back to UK for the bits, so once reassembled, Mark decided to concentrate on that, after all the effort, and to leave the BT6 in reserve. Tom had also hoped to work on Gilbert Lenoir’s Elva 200, but the oil surge seemed to be a deeper problem than could be fixed trackside, so, although scrutineered, Gilbert, too, was sadly destined not to start again.

And then on Friday came the rain!! FJ had the 8.30 slot for their free timed practice. Everyone participated except Duncan and Peter Anstiss, with Lukas Halusa, who was to prove the wet star of the event, on top, ahead of Clive Richards and Alex Ames.  all These three were many seconds faster than Richard Smeeton (Wainer) and Lee Mowle (20/22) who led the rest, including some HGPCA cars that had asked to join our session, on discovering that due to differences in their grid’s agreement, there would be no chance of a prequalifying run for them, even for their newcomers.

Qualifying, just after midday, was dry, but it was the same three out front, Ames just pipping Clive Richards on the last lap by 0.2s, with Halusa heading last week’s winner D’Aubreby. James Hagan was noticeably getting to grips with the disc/drum Lynx: Duncan completed his intended  5 laps, just shy of Malcom Wishart’s Faranda, but then Richard Wilson sheared a stub axle in his 27 and headed straight into the gravel without further damage, but it necessitated a red flag and a ten minute delay.

The weather had by now set in for the weekend; our first race was very wet, but it did make for exciting racing. Into the first hairpin, and Alex, in the lead from Clive Richards, had a short spin, and many took avoiding action, with a heart stopping moment avoided between Lee Mowle and Stephane Rey, but it was still Alex who emerged in the lead after that first lap, from Clive and Lukas, with D’Aubreby leading  a very close battle between Rey, Smeeton, a flying James Hagan in the light blue Lynx, and Niklas Halusa, straight from his Masters F1 drive in the race before. At the back, Duncan had managed to get by Wishart and Ciers, but spun it away going up the blind hill……

Lee Mowle was now lapping significantly faster than the five car battle, and by lap 3 was ahead of all of them, up to 5th, with James Hagan in his wake, and on the 8th lap, the flying Hagan was up beside and then past Mowle. Up front, Clive was proving more erratic than Alex, who was drawing ahead, while Clive had to watch Lukas over his shoulder. A really excellent drive brought Hagan a 5th spot, and Class E2 victory in his 4sp gb Lynx. Duncan had repassed Hans, but just failed to catch Malcolm again, by the flag.

On Saturday night the clocks went back, so a 9.15 start for Race 2 was not quite so horrific, however although it was not raining like the previous day, intermittent showers made the track very slippery: Richard Smeeton had looked out of his hotel window, and decided to be sure to take the Wainer home in one piece!!

Alex Ames made the best start but coming round at the end of the lap, he and Richards were too close for comfort in the conditions; no contact but Richards spun leaving him a race long target to get back up with Ames and Halusa, achieved with the help of the safety car, when D’Aubreby took his 22 sideways into the pit entrance wall whilst trying to avoid a spinning Lee Mowle just ahead of him.

James Hagan had made a splendid start, up to 6th, but dropped behind Stephane Rey, after an off course moment, while Duncan, having again outpaced Wishart and Ciers at the start, and still with Pierre Guichard and Anstiss in sight, also went ploughing, by which time Malcolm was out of reach. Andrew Beaumont (22) was another spinner, and the advent of the SC put paid to any improvement back up the field for him beyond Wishart.

With the safety car in, Ames made a strategic restart, not to be headed, but Richards and Lukas were side by side, right up to the flag, Richards taking the second podium spot by less than half a second,  with the next three, Niklas Halusa, Lee Mowle and Stephane Rey almost inseparable. 

While FJ had put on a good show, it was also FJ drivers who participated in what must have been two of the greatest Historic races of all time; arriving at the circuit to find the 1927 T 35 Bugatti still in the truck from Jerez, Lukas made a late entry in the pre –’66 HGPCA race. A very good, but not earth shattering practice, still had the Bugatti “above its station” on the grid. But in the wet race, it was remarkable; moving slowly up the field, Lukas was soon 5th overall!! then 4th, then an incredible third, with Fierro’s 250F chasing, our Richard Wilson’s Dino Ferrari 2nd , [with Michael Gans’ Tasman Cooper, some way ahead]. On the last lap, Lukas made a little mistake, and it was a nail biting finish, a fraction ahead of the 250F, with Fierro expressing clear frustration at being beaten by a car, 20 years older: but he had totally missed the point: Had it been otherwise, it would have spoilt this incredible and exciting result.

The HGPCA race 2 on Sunday went even better: Lukas had a good grid position from R1, and although he let some places go at the start, he was soon up to 4th, with John Spiers this time the leader in his 250F, Michael Gans having spun away his chances to last position early on. Initial excitement was Richard Wilson taking the front engined Dino into the race lead at Âľ distance from Spiers, but Lukas was now third, and the last lap was an amazing, almost, photo finish, with Wilson dropping back to third, and Halusa just failing to catch Spiers: Lukas was sure that another lap, and he would have done it. Mark Shaw was out of the top six in his Monaco winning Lotus 21!

And that was not all for FJ drivers, as Clive Richards was also driving a hired Caterham, and held second place in a huge field before a very late safety car, from which he made a poor restart and dropped to 4th.  He then went on to take 5th the following day in R2. Tim Child was also in his Caterham, but in the “road” class, heading then to Jerez, and finally Estoril, in a three race Caterham package.

The running of the meeting took a most peculiar turn on Sunday afternoon; Moto GP trucks and hospitality had already arrived in the morning for the next week’s GP, where Valentino Rossi is to make his final bow; [Every grandstand seat has been sold !! a dynamic contrast to the four or five isolated couples watching the Historics from the main stands!] whether it was nerves about the bikes, no one knows, but the two hour long finale of Flavien and Vanessa’s 4 race GTSCC series ran for a mere 40 minutes or so, before someone shed a bit of oil on the far side of the track, the SC came out, they then toured round .. and round .. until a red flag was shown. Then all the cars sat on the grid, two restart times were shown .. still nothing happened .. and eventually the race was just cancelled. Much the same antics occurred for the next local CPV race, then finally Masters ran a late F1 race, and the rest were shortened; no real explanation seemed forthcoming.

A good weekend nonetheless, with plenty of fish at the various beach side restaurants, and one evening at the amazing “Calisco” cave restaurant, near Alvor; Vern Williamson was down at Praia de Luz, and visited on Sunday, as did ex Emeryson FJ driver, Roger Skipp on Saturday

Some truck delays, but no significant travel, covid or carnet problems otherwise: we all got there safely and back, so it all portents well for a full continental and UK season in 2022; and we hope our US and Antipodean FJ drivers will be back too.