Yes, Belgium is famous for its beers, and yes liquid flows freely in the Ardennes region that is home to the challenging Spa-Francorchamps circuit. Unfortunately it is mostly water falling from the sky and that’s precisely what happened for much of the weekend, most notably for the last 90 minutes or so of the Six Hour race on Saturday evening. To be precise, it was a five-hour, 30-minute race as delays in the program caused a late start, but concerns about noise means that racing has to stop at 10pm.
Actually that probably came as a relief to many, not the least the hardy marshalls and spectators. The Six Hours has grown steadily in stature and the 110-car entry (yes, really!) included a huge variety of machinery with the front end of the grid dominated by V8s of one sort or another. Pole position went to the Leo Voyazides/Simon Hadfield Ford GT40, with the similar car of Richard Meins/Chris Lillingstone-Price next up whilst the Jon Shipman/Mark Hales/Nigel Reuben TVR Griffith separated them from yet another GT40, that of Shaun Lynn/Andrew Haddon. Behind them came a bunch of Cobras, E-types, Mustangs and Falcons, best of the small cars being the John Watson/Matthew Watts/Nelson Rowe Lotus Elan that qualified 26th. No wonder there were pre-event grumbles about the smaller cars not standing a chance of a good result.
The race duly started in the dry at 5.30pm with the Voyazides/Hadfield and Lynn/Haddon GT40 duo quickly pulling out a small advantage over the Jon Minshaw/Martin Stretton/Jason Minshaw Jaguar, although by the three-minute mark the Meins/Lillingstone-Price car had made it a GT40 1-2-3.
The GT40s maintained a relentless pace at the front, swapping the lead between themselves with all three of them taking turns at the front.. Into the last hour and Lillingstone-Price was leading from Stretton who was dropping Hadfield, whilst the Lynn GT40 was in trouble with failing lights due to an alternator problem. Stretton eventually took the lead to give the E-Type a clear 1m 16s victory from the Hadfield GT40, both cars completing 98 laps. One lap down was the Meins/Lillingstone-Price GT40 with the battered Aston Martin DB4GT driven by Peter Thornton/David Garrett/Adrian Willmott taking fourth place. The very rapid Porsche 911 of Belgian pairing Gerard Marcy and Fred Bouvy just upheld the honour of the smaller cars by scraping into the top 10. Special mention should be made of the 13th place Marcos 1800GT shared by Chris Keen/Richard McAlpine/Anthony Reid. Driving the last, very wet stint Reid put in a stunning performance consistently lapping some 14 seconds faster than the leading car!
Whilst the Six Hours is the dominant feature of the weekend Grand Prix Masters is now given almost equal billing with the endurance event but the weather contrived to make something of a mockery of both Saturday and Sunday races; rain arrived at the wrong time for the first race, catching most people on the wrong tyres, whilst the second race was so wet that the first few laps of the 20-minute event ran under the Safety Car and even after that was little more than a procession. Rob Austin’s 1982 Arrows A3-3 was the victor, if you can call it that. Amongst the entry one or two more unusual cars added variety, such as Christian Vanhee’s Token RJ02 from 1974.
The two 30-minute Historic Grand Prix Car races probably included the most significant car of all amongst those competing at Spa, for Classic Team Lotus ran Andy Middlehurst in Jim Clark’s 1963 Belgian GP-winning Lotus 25, the stunningly beautiful little machine truly looking the part with Middlehurst’s helmet even looking similar to Jimmy’s. To add to the nostalgia, the car was in the care of long-time Team Lotus man Bob Dance. Again soaking wet conditions on Sunday rather spoilt things although Roger Wills made a race of it by disappearing into the distance to win at ease in his Cooper T51.
Speaking of Roger Wills, the Moscow-domiciled Kiwi almost certainly knocked-up more laps of Spa than anyone else, his punishing schedule included driving both Bizzarrini 5300GT (sharing with Joe Twyman) and Mercury Cyclone Comet (Twyman again plus Julian Bronson), Williams FW05 in the two Grand Prix Masters counters, McLaren M1B in the 61-minute Masters Sports-Cars, Lotus Elite in the 121-minute Masters Gentleman Drivers, Austin Mini Cooper S in the 61-minute Top Hat Masters All Series, Lotus Cortina in 61-minute U2TC and Lotus XV in the 61-minute Stirling Moss Trophy race, all shared drives with Joe Twyman, then for good measure did the two 30-minute HGPCA races in the Cooper T51. That’s some going!
That goes some way too to illustrate the depth and variety of the Spa meeting as in addition to that lot there were races catering for classic Formula Ford 2000 and Formula Junior and the RAC Woodcote Trophy for mainly 1950’s sports racers. The organisers go to some length to make the event appeal to the whole family with a paddock 'village' with shops and entertainment whilst a dedicated classics car park draws in enthusiasts from Britain, France, Germany and Holland as well as Belgium with quite an array of classics on view. Numerically, British-built cars dominate with many examples of Austin-Healey, Jaguar, Lotus, MG, Reliant and Triumph making you realise just how much heritage we have lost.
A great weekend and well worth a visit.
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