An excellent vintage...and well washed down!
This weekend even the most atrocious weather conditions couldn't deter the F1 Historic & Spa Six Hours held on the renowned Spa-Francorchamps circuit from being a brilliant event, with some 650 cars and more than one thousand drivers present battling it out over 14 different races, ranging from a 20 minutes sprint through to a 6 hours endurance race. And what has now become a tradition over the last few years, the general public came down in droves to appreciate these fabulous classic cars, whose drivers this time around had to negotiate a highly tricky track, which caused quite a few worries, incidents and accidents.
The undeniable top of the bill for this meeting was the Spa Six Hours event, held on Saturday from 16.00 through to 22.00hrs. A breath taking spectacle, with a raging battle between the Ford GT40, which had dominated the qualifying sessions, AC Cobra, Jaguar E-Type, TVR Griffith, Chevrolet Corvette not forgetting the Ford Mustang. All the specialists in this type of event, mainly British, were on hand, fearless when the rains put in another appearance (especially during the last hour of the race), and keeping their fingers crossed that they wouldn't loose too much time during refuelling which was taking place at the fuel pumps in the endurance paddock.
If on the one hand the various Ford GT40 were favourites, it was an E-Type Jaguar which came out on top, namely that of John and Jason Minshaw, and well backed up by Martin Stretton. A trio that clinched victory in the 6 Hours of Spa for the third time, with this feline which had only just had its racing debut a few months before, and great for a car of this vintage.
However the victorious Jaguar had to wait until the last stages of the race the make the break with the GT40, who were also on the podium, with Leo Voyazides and Simon Hadfield just ahead of Richard Meins and Chris Lillingstone-Price. Exceptional performance put in by the superb Aston Martin DP214, an entirely rebuilt car to original specification, which Thornton, Garrett and Willmott brought home in 4th place overall, ahead of the AC Cobra of the Oliver and Grahame Bryant brothers, teamed up with Smith, and the E-Type Jaguar of Clark, Clark and McCaig. David Hart and Nicky Pastorelli, in the Chevrolet Corvette, had to be happy with a 7th place, having at one time put in a claim for a top 5.
We should also mention Anthony Reid's brilliant performance, the former BTCC driver clocking up lap times some 10 seconds faster than his competitors during the final stages at the wheel of a rather modest Marcos 1800 GT, quite formidable in these apocalyptic conditions.
In the Belgian ranks, following the early retirement of the powerful and fast Ford Shelby Mustang 350 GT of Vincent Vosse (engine) and Marc Duez (engine) as also the Ford GT40 of Loïc Deman (fuel supply), it was Frederic Bouvy and Gerard Marcy who saved the day with their Porsche 911, a far more modest car than most of the top players. They finished the race knocking at the door of the top 10, and winning their class. Excellent performance also for Guy Lauwers and Patrick Van Heurck, who finished in the top 20 with their Lotus Elan, just ahead of the Anthony and Stephan Schrauwen brothers, slowed down at the end of the race, also in a Lotus Elan. Less luck for the AC Cobra of Francois Kicq and Herve Regout, who fell right back in the rankings near the end of the race, as was the case also for the Lotus Elan of Fawe, Cartenian and Van Riet.
Water and even more water!
On the Grand Prix Masters front, bringing together the F1 cars competing in the world championship between the end of the '60s and the beginning of the '80s, the rain perturbed the race considerably. The first leg, held on the Saturday, saw various competitors shod with rain tyres, whilst others set off on slicks. Even though the track was dry at the start the rain soon put in an appearance during the race ... and this just before the sun started to dry up the tarmac once again. A brain-teaser for some but which Rob Austin, the British driver in his Arrows A3-3 solved coming out on top ahead of the Tyrrell 009 of Bill Coombs and the Copersucar F5A of Richard Barber. Having called in to the pits for rain tyres at the end of the first lap Jean-Michel Martin (Fittipaldi F8) climbed back up into 5th place, ahead of the Belgian brigade led by Herve Regout (Williams FW07, 8th) and Christophe D'Ansembourg (McLaren M26, 9th).
As for the following morning race and as the result of further downpours over the renowned circuit in the Ardennes it was brought back to a basic three lap event for the F1 power beasts. Once again Rob Austin clinched victory ahead of Bill Coombs. Defying the laws of balance Jean-Michel Martin clinched the lowest rung of the podium, whilst Herve Regout (McLaren M26) took 2nd place in the pre-1978 category. This gave the Belgians a double podium.
Other spectacular events; in the Masters Sports Cars the Lolas of various generations demonstrated their power, and even though the American driver Bobby Rahal (Lola T212), winner of the Indy 500 and double CART champion, took full advantage of the power of these monstrous T70s, he was penalised with a 30 second penalty for having carried out a pitstop one lap too late! All to the advantage of the Brit Jason Minshaw and the Dutchman David Hart, who took the chequered flag ahead of the Abarth Osella of the Brit Richard Evans, and ... Bobby Rahal, who nonetheless decided to sulk on the podium; At the wheel of the other Lola T70, Marc Devis just made it into the top 10 notwithstanding a penalty, whilst Loïc Deman took the chequered flag in 4th place in his class at the wheel of his ex-Jackie Stewart and John Surtees Lola T70 Spyder, and this shod with the mandatory tyres, but in no way adapted to the aquatic conditions.
Amongst the other events on the programme we should mention the double victory of the New Zealander Roger Wills (Cooper T51) in Historic Grand Prix Cars Association, whilst Andy Smith (March 79B) took the spoils in Open Wheels. The Formula Junior category went to the German Roland Fischer (Tecno) and the Croatian John Milicevic (Cooper). A turbulent race in U2TC (Touring cars under 2 litres) with victory going to Leo Voyazides and Simon Hadfield at the wheel of their Ford Cortina Lotus, and complete domination of the Lotus XV brigade in the Stirling Moss Trophy, with Danny Whright taking top place on the podium. The Belgians Wanty and Van de Wauwer (Lotus XI) were ranked 8th and won their class. In the Top Hat Masters All Series it was Harry Wyndham's E-Type Jaguar which claimed victory ahead of the Ford Capri of Tom Pochciol. As for the RAC Woodcote Trophy, it turned into a double for Jaguar, with the D-Type of Monteverde and Pearson finishing ahead of the Arif and Buncombe C-Type. And last but not least the British Sports, GT and Saloon Challenge saw Lim and Dickson impose their RAM Cobra up against the gorgeous Aston Martin DB4 of Melling and Snowdon.
The weekend was rounded off with a two hour event, namely the Masters Gentlemen Drivers, and this time it was the AC Cobras which had their revenge on the previous day, with the Greek Leo Voyazides, who was celebrating his 62nd birthday at Francorchamps, and the Brit Simon Hadfield taking the spoils ahead of an Oliver Bryant who was driving solo for the occasion. The E-Type Jaguar of the English rally drivers Haddon and Lockyear completed the podium, whilst in the under two litres the cunning and fearsome Marcos 1800 GT made it two in a row, ahead of the Lotus Elan of the Belgians Guy Fawe and Christophe Van Riet. A mention also for the 10th place overall of Eric Mestdagh and Pierre-Alain Thibaut, at the wheel of their Bizzarini 5300 America, whilst another Bizzarini, driven by the young Swiss Fredy Barth, a rising star in the WTCC, took the start prior to handing over to the veteran Alberto Francioni joining the ranks.