The Strakka Racing BMW M3, co-driven by team regulars Peter Hardman and Nick Leventis, and joined for this one-off endurance event by fellow Briton Christian Vann, worked through from fifth on the grid to lead the BTCS Spa 12 Hours by the half-way stage. Up against a daunting array of specialised "silhouette" and touring cars, the M3 was the front-running conventional car in a race highlighted by major incidents, accidents and mechanical problems.
Peter Hardman had given the team the best possible start by qualifying the Strakka BMW in fifth position overall. With only the highly specialised "silhouette" cars ahead of it on the 52-car grid, the team's M3 was immediately the leading runner amongst the 'standard' entries. "The combination of the BMW engine and Michelin tyres really helped us put in a good time," said Peter. "I went 2.5 seconds quicker than I'd ever gone round Spa before, and that was just one lap. I honestly believe we could have gone another second quicker."
The first few hours of the race were marked by a series of major problems amongst the pre-race favourites, with five significant retirements. Throughout all this, the Strakka BMW M3 powered on untroubled, and by the end of the third hour was holding a comfortable second place. With five hours gone the race was looking even more settled, but it was a temporary lull. Having escaped the early spate of problems, the leading Delahaye Racing Renault Megane collided with a back-marker, leaving the Strakka BMW to move through into an uncontested lead. It was a position the trio of Hardman, Leventis and Vann consolidated for the next hour or more. "The car was running like a dream," said Peter. "I did my first stint, and when I got back in again four hours later, it was as if I'd only just got out. The car was so easy to drive."
As the race passed beyond the half-way stage the BMW's advantage extended to more than four laps. Christian Vann was part-way through his second stint and leading comfortably when the first signs of a problem became evident. Smoke filled the M3's cockpit, and the Walsall-based driver was quick to head for the nearest marshals' post. "It appeared to be a repeat of the problem we'd encountered in testing at Jerez, when the exhaust overheated and cracked," said Nick Leventis. "Christian had flames knee-high inside the car!" Extinguishers were used to quell the blaze, but the team's race was immediately over.
The BMW's demise handed the lead briefly to John Hartshorne's Chad Racing Peugeot 406, then the DB Motorsport BMW 120, before Vanina Ickx came through in the recovering Delahaye Megane. She and co-drivers Bouvy and Loix then held first place to the finish.
"To have this follow on so soon after Le Mans is a bitter disappointment," said Nick. "To be leading a race like the Spa 12 Hours is a great achievement, but more than that, we were in a very comfortable position, and were cruising along with a huge advantage. If we'd managed to hold on to that it would have been a truly memorable result. Even so, the guys have been away from home for over a month now and this has been a fantastic team effort."
The next outing for Peter and Nick is the Le Mans Classic weekend, July 12th and 13th, when they will be recreating historic scenes from the past by racing an Aston Martin DBR1 and a Ferrari Dino 246. That will be followed by a return to the Peroni Endurance Touring Car Series with Round Five at Misano in Italy on July 20th. "Onwards and upwards," said a philosophical Nick Leventis. "With some major races coming up, I think we're now due some good luck!"