Taking on the GT40s
2013 Spa Six Hours report
- Mattijs Diepraam (words & photography)
- September 26, 2013
- Spa - The Transit-and-trailer revival, 2006 Spa Six Hours report, by Mattijs Diepraam
- Spa - Inhaling enthusiasm, 2008 Spa Six Hours report, by Mattijs Diepraam
- Spa - A different world, 2009 Spa Six Hours report, by Mattijs Diepraam
- Spa - Rain, beer and champagne, 2010 Spa Six Hours report, by Mattijs Diepraam/Frank van de Velde
- Spa - Agreeable circumstances, 2011 Spa Six Hours report, by Mattijs Diepraam/Frank van de Velde
- Spa - Frantic action under the sun, 2012 Spa Classic report, by Mattijs Diepraam
- Spa - Tropical Spa… but in the rainy season!, 2014 Spa Six Hours report, by Mattijs Diepraam
- Spa - An old-fashioned one, 2015 Spa Six Hours report, by Mattijs Diepraam
Christian Gläsel/Kenny Bräck, Georg Kjallgren/James Littlejohn
2013 Spa Six Hours (September 21, 2013)
After a windy, chilly and rainy Goodwood Revival we said it would be the ultimate irony if one week later it would be three fine autumn days at Spa. But so it turned out to be. In more ways, it was a turnaround of affairs. Where at Goodwood grandstands and paddocks were virtually empty at times, the Spa Six Hours meeting was busier than ever. On Saturday, the day of the headlining Six Hours race, the paddocks and garages were almost overloaded with visitors, and attendance looked like it was booming like never before when the seats filled up for the first FIA Masters Historic F1 race and the main event.
The large visiting numbers had its drawbacks, though. It’s wonderful that the Spa Six Hours is maintaining its access-all-areas policy, and it was a pity (although understandable) that some of the bigger teams felt that they needed to close off their working space, but people taking liberties by drowning the pitlane in their multitudes, standing in the way of the crews and not watching their backs, was a worrying sight. Pit marshals tried all they could but it seems that some parts of the motorsport audience are growing an arrogance that in some cases in this accident-filled season (especially in the rally world) came with a very high price. Being allowed to walk freely is a luxury that should be treated with care.
Working on the Thorne/Rawe/Todd Mustang GT350. (photo 8W)
Fortunately, it didn’t hurt the overall atmosphere that is so typical of the Spa Six Hours. The event brings the best of what the likes of Masters Historic Racing, Motor Racing Legends, Historic Motor Racing News and the Historic Grand Prix Car Association have on offer, and adds that glorious 6-hour race that is truly evoking the spirit of endurance racing of times long gone. It’s a race for all-comers which means that there is wonderful variety from the well-funded, professional outfits at the front to the mom-and-dad teams at the back. The same, of course, applies to all the support acts, in which the competitors’ transport and housing modes go from large trailers and motorhomes to the smallest of vans and a simple canopy giving shelter to the car.
Still, even the largest truck and trailer doesn’t spoil the campsite feeling that is so alive during the Spa Six Hours. Here, Spa itself – the circuit, not the town – comes into play as well. Despite the Ecclestone-ordained renovation of several years ago le Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps is still very much rough around the edges. Although the current paddock area bears no resemblance whatsoever to the steep, fenced meadow that it was – and nothing more – in the time when Shell’s famous 30-minute documentary on the 1955 Belgian GP was made, it does in no way feel ‘new’. At least not in the Shanghai or Abu Dhabi sense of the word… It does help that the old touring-car pits are still there, and of course they need to be for the Spa 24 Hours. Housing the enthusiasts’ half of the Six Hours field, its distinctly mid- to late-20th-century appearance really contributes to the old-school Le Mans feel, especially at night. It is less present in the new pit building, even though it’s not half as shiny as the ones in the more eastern regions of our world – or The Wing at Silverstone, for that matter. And once inside its garages, with their unfinished interior, it soon oozes back in.
The Brooks TVR Griffith isn't quite race-ready yet. (photo 8W)
And the weather? An enduring Ardennes drizzle beneath a dark and gloomy sky – to which we were treated in 2010 – certainly adds to the romantic image of endurance racing of the past, a trade for rough men toughing it out during even the worst of circumstances. It wasn’t to be this year, the bad weather had already plagued the Revival meeting the weekend before. As it was, the 2013 Spa Six Hours was run on dry tarmac, in very pleasant ambient temperatures, all hours up until the chequered flag was waved at 10 pm. It wasn’t the heatwave we ‘suffered’ in 2011, but the sun did come out many times during the weekend.
In the build-up to the big race, there was panic with some of the teams when a rumour spread like wildfire down the pitlane. Everyone went checking their homologation papers upon the news that refuelling would only be allowed for the fuel tank capacity for which the car was homologated. This meant that enlarged or additional tanks would be rendered useless. Most of the teams we spoke to weren’t in trouble but some had to really verify their papers, just to be sure.
Talking to some previous winners before the race gave some insight into everyone’s chances. Jon Minshaw, sharing the Demon Tweeks E-type with son Jason and Oli Bryant, was targeting best in class, which was the GTS12 category that also included Cobras, Griffiths, Mustangs and Healeys. “We are praying for rain in the final hour”, Minshaw Sr said. “Then we might just beat the GT40s, as we did in 2010 when we raced the car with Martin Stretton.” In class, Minshaw feared that the strongest challenge would come from the TVR that would be raced by Phil Keen and the McInerneys. In the end, though, it was a Shelby Mustang GT350 run by Dutch crew Arthur Tjon, Tom Kuiper and Michiel that ran faultlessly towards the GTS12 class win and tenth overall. “We did better than we could have dreamed of”, said Tjon. “We ran completely trouble-free and didn’t run into any backmarkers. Our only scare was suffering a drivethrough penalty which almost got us blackflagged because Tom failed to notice our pit signals at first. We all had to climb on the pit wall to get his attention!” In contrast, The Minshaw Jag was an early retirement, leaking fuel almost from the onset, as it did in 2012.
Shaun Lynn and Andrew Haddon won the race in 2009, nursing their ailing GT40 across the line before DHG’s Cobra in the hands of Jeroen Bleekemolen was able to pounce. “That was exciting!” remembered Lynn. “But it won’t do this year. With so many GT40s in the field – and with faster drivers on board – we need to maintain a good pace throughout the race.” Speaking to Lynn at the halfway point, his car was in the lead, but he was sure it wouldn’t be there at the end. “The Gläsel/Bräck car is just too fast, they will catch us.”
Oli Bryant's pre-race peptalk to Jon Minshaw didn't stop their E-type from leaking fuel. (photo 8W)
Indeed, Christian Gläsel’s car, which had been tested profusely in the run-up to the race, had set pole in the hands of Goodwood Whitsun Trophy winner Kenny Bräck (in Adrian Newey’s car there), and was the odds-on favourite for the win. It wasn’t to be, though. A lengthy delay for Bräck during the car’s final refuelling put them back to fifth place.
Refuelling instead of safety car situations would be the decider, Michiel Campagne said, looking ahead to the race. The Corvette Grand Sport replica that he would share with Jan Lammers and Allard Kalff would be the only non-Ford car in the prototype category, the bellowing American machine taking on as much as ten GT40s, all gunning for overall glory. At Spa, as at Dubai, for instance, filling up is done at the petrol station in the back of the paddock, and with two lanes available, eight cars will form queues of four cars each. If your car happens to be at the back of those queues, with one or two GT40s with their huge capacity tanks ahead of you, it’s easy to lose as much as six laps – and that’s six very long Spa-Francorchamps laps. As an example, the Duel Motorsport Porsche 911 in the hands of Dutch trio Pascal Pandelaar, Shirley van der Lof and her father Alexander dropped 48 places there mid-way through the race, having had to wait for 22 minutes…
Jan Lammers in Tachyon Motorsport's Corvette Grand Sport at full tilt through Fagnes in the early hours of the race. (photo 8W)
Which is why DHG chose to go ‘out-of-sequence’ with their Cobra, Alexander explained. He had done the first stint in the Cobra and would do the final stint in the Porsche. “It meant that we dropped down the order during the early part of the race but we hope to come on strong in the closing stages.” In the end, the team couldn’t capitalize on the way they successfully minimized refuelling time, since the car suffered a drivethrough penalty in the hands of Hans Hugenholtz and was forced to retire after five hours, with David Hart at the wheel.
“All is won or lost at the petrol station”, Campagne said. “Losing five minutes during refuelling is deadly if you are aiming for overall victory. The trouble is that you are not allowed to have pit-to-car communication other than the pit signal boards. We have a guy at the petrol station informing the pit that there are no queues, but then it takes another four to five minutes before you’re actually there – in which time everything may have changed. Still, it’s the best you can do.” Campagne was confident his car could take on the GT40 phalanx in the class that would most probably produce the overall race winner. “Our car will have the GT40s on pace, and some will break, as they invariably do, but with so many of them in the field now, some are bound to survive. And they are easy to drive, whereas our car is hard work. It does help that we can run on Avons here, especially in the wet, but they all do that, so that’s not really an advantage.”
Refuelling played a big part in the outcome of the race. The Sinke/Deenik Healey wasn't having any trouble here. (photo 8W)
In the end, after all the refuelling permutations had panned out, it was a battle of three. While the Gläsel/Bräck GT40 had been removed from the equasion, the Lynn/Haddon/Clark example that was in the lead at the halfway point didn’t fully profit. Instead, it was lying in third place with half an hour to go, just ten seconds adrift of the Campagne Corvette, which was in a GT40 sandwich, with previous year’s winner on top. In his final stint, Goodwood’s amazing RAC TT Celebration winner Simon Hadfield had pushed through to take the lead and was heading Allard Kalff in the Corvette by a mere six seconds. So just 16 seconds separated the top-three after 5 hours and 30 minutes of hard racing.
We didn’t get the showdown everyone was hoping for, though. While Kalff was forced to save fuel, Hadfield was able to stretch his lead to 35 seconds when he took the flag and a repeat win for himself and Leo Voyazides. Instead, the excitement surrounded Kalff defending his second place against Shaun Lynn in the Gulf-liveried GT40. “I was getting cramp in my right foot because of my careful throttling!” Kalff said jokingly after he was able to coax the Grand Sport across the line less than a second ahead of Lynn. He wouldn’t have lasted another lap. “Another lap?” said Lynn. “Another corner, you mean!” With the 35-second gap to Voyazides and Hadfield, Lynn was ruing the drivethrough penalty that co-driver Andrew Haddon incurred in the opening stages. “That will probably stay with me for the rest of my f***ing life!” Haddon laughed. Still, Lynn was satisfied with third and admitted that there was no holding back Simon Hadfield. “Simon drove very well again. But what can you do? The guy’s is pro!”
Leo Voyazides and Simon Hadfield accepting the spoils. (photo 8W)
And so it was another win for Leo and Simon, adding to their considerable tally. It was reason enough for Hadfield to treat us to one of his rare smiles as he held the trophy and the champagne. The Greek gentleman driver and his professional co-driver modestly accepted all the congratulations. They would do more winning in the rest of the weekend, notching up another FIA Masters Historic Sports Car win while also being victorious (again) in the Pre-66 Touring Car race.
In the other Masters races Michael Lyons produced two more consummate wins in both FIA Masters Historic F1 races, again using the Hesketh 308E which he also took to two victories at Zandvoort. The younger Lyons was made to show his class in the Saturday race when an unscheduled pit stop made him an unlikely victor. Still, he pulled through. On Sunday, Michael was on his own again out front, while all eyes were on Steve Hartley’s Arrows, which battled its way all the way from last on the grid to second place on the podium. Mark Bates won the 70s Celebration section of the touring car race in his Porsche RSR, while in the Can-Am Interserie Challenge Italian Michele Liguori beat the T70s of Stretton/Tromans and Tandy in his nimble Lola T292. Ludovic Caron closed off the weekend by winning the Masters Gentleman Drivers race in his Cobra Daytona Coupé.
Hugues Taittinger brought out his glorious Ligier JS11/15 for the two Masters HFO races. (photo 8W)
The Dutch anthem played after the first race on Saturday when David Hart and Alexander van der Lof steered their Ferrari 250 Drogo to glory in the Historic Motor Racing News Pre-63 GT race. In the U2TC race, Jackie Oliver and Richard Shaw proved unbeatable in their BMW 1800 TiSA.
Motor Racing Legends pooled their Woodcote Trophy and Stirling Moss Trophy into a single race, which was won by the Ward/Young Lister ‘Costin’. Local eyes were on former Belgian prime minister Guy Verhofstadt racing an Elva MkIII and finishing the race.
Storming action from Roger Wills in the Mercury Comet Cyclone sometime during Sunday's Masters Touring Car race. (photo 8W)
Jason Minshaw put some smiles on the faces in the Minshaw camp by winning the first of the two Historic Grand Prix Car Association races. His ludicrously fast Brabham BT4 was an early retirement in the second race, however, with victory this time going to Goodwood Gordon Trophy winner Miles Griffiths in his Cooper T53.