Before the rain
2016 Spa Six Hours report
- Mattijs Diepraam
- September 27, 2016
- 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 - Taking on the GT40s, 2013 Spa Six Hours 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
Jason Wright, Michael Gans, Andy Wolfe
2016 Spa Six Hours (September 17, 2016)
Rain was predicted all week, and in the end it did fall but only moments after the winning Ford GT40 of Jason Wright, Michael Gans and Andy Wolfe crossed the line. In fact, the spray of champagne with which the old pitlane was showered felt a lot wetter than the few drops of genuine water to come down from the heavens above the Ardennes. You’d think the 2016 Spa Six Hours was easy then, but the truth was that the attrition rate was higher than ever. Of eleven GT40s entered, only the Wright/Gans/Wolfe ran troublefree – which handed them a long-awaited victory – while many of their rivals also faltered.
In recent years, the Spa Six Hours – or at least the race for overall victory – had turned into some sort of a ‘GT40 Cup’ while the organisers had increasing problems policing the fuel tanks of their 110-car strong field. For 2016, they came up with a brilliantly simple idea to tackle both in one effective strike: refuelling would now be restricted to a maximum of 100 litres per competitor. This equalising measure would most probably hobble the fastest, fuel-guzzling runners while they was slightly less of a necessity to check whether every competitor was running a fuel tank to its homologated size.
All smiles on this Belgian Mustang. (photo 8W)
The GT40 teams were rightfully worried. If they would need a splash-and-dash right at the end – and that certainly looked the case – then suddenly previous winners would come into play that had been having no more chance of overall glory in recent years: a couple of Jaguar E-types, DHG Racing’s AC Cobra, the Friedrichs/Mallock/Hadfield Aston Martin Project 214, to name but a few. A lightning-quick and frugal TVR Griffith would also be in with a shout.
In the end, the race developed into a GT40 benefit anyway. And if almost all of them ran into trouble at least once, one came through to take a victory that was only challenged by another GT40 delayed by damage incurred to one of its doors. The reason was that this year’s Spa Six Hours was in fact a Spa Five-and-a-Half Hours, a lengthy stop in one of the preceding races effectively handing the GT40s back their advantage. In the HSCC Closed Wheel Race, three races ahead of the Six Hours, Sandy Watson suffered a sizeable crash at the top of the Raidillon. The half-hour delay couldn’t be clawed back in the remaining programme, since it was hardly possible to simply scrap either the first FIA Masters Historic Formula One race or the combined Stirling Moss & RAC Woodcote Trophies.
Two of Carlos Monteverde's machines: D-type and 917. The Salzburg-liveried replica only ran in Friday practice before it was withdrawn. (photo 8W)
And so it was 16.35 when the green flag was finally waved for a race of 5 hours and 25 minutes. Many of the leading GT40s fell by the wayside in the early stages, including the pole-sitting Lanzante machine driven by Gerhard Berger, Paolo Barilla and Richard Meaden, the latter being responsible for the car’s pole time. With Berger at the wheel, a ball joint snapped while the Austrian was navigating through Les Combes, so that was one GT40 gone. Another favourite to leave the scene early on was Hans Hugenholtz’ Dutch GT40, that was due to be co-driven by David Hart and Nicky Pastorelli. After an early setback, Hugenholtz was clawing his way back through the field when he encountered a Porsche 911 that pushed him off track. The car’s gearbox casing then got a huge hammering when Hugenholtz ran over a big hole in the kerbs, and moments later the gearbox itself seized.
The Wright/Gans/Wolfe GT40 had taken charge before the halfway point, after which its only consistent challenger became the Tony Wood/Martin Stretton GT40. Racing against a strong Andy Wolfe, Stretton just couldn’t make up the time at the end. Where did he lose the race? “I lost quite some time queueing for fuel, and then I got hit by a backmarker, which almost pulled the door out of its hinges. I had to come in twice to have it fixed, in the end we just taped it up.”
The 2016 Spa Six Hours winners are showered in bubbly by some of the class winners. (photo 8W)
So the win went the way of the Wolfe Manufacturing crew – and after Roger Wills and James Littlejohn last year, Wright, Gans and Wolfe were three more first-time winners. “I had to take two drivethroughs, probably because they thought we were going too fast, but that was it, really”, said an elated Gans. “We had a quiet, trouble-free run. Everything went according to plan.”
Speaking to Jason Wright on the pre-78 FIA Masters Historic Formula One podium the next day, the American was still on cloud nine. “I had the most beautiful afternoon of my life”, he said, exuding a deep, zen-like satisfaction. “The GT40 was driving so beautifully, I had a couple of great fights with a couple of other GT40s, and this is a wonderful circuit. You know that since we have the GT40 this is the first time that we actually finished the race?”
Tony Wood and Martin Stretton valiantly gave chase. (photo 8W)
The Craig Davies/John Young/Andy Newall GT40 ended up taking the final podium spot while in fourth the nimble TVR Griffith of Mike Whitaker, Nigel Reuben and Eugene O’Brien showed what might have been if the race had run the full six hours. The Griffith did take GTS12 class honours, ahead of the Max Girardo/James Cottingham/Olivier Hart AC Cobra that took sixth overall. Other non-GT40 outsiders for overall victory were unable to capitalise on the new-for-2016 fuel restrictions: the Thomas/Lockie and Minshaw/Hindley E-types both ran into trouble while the Friedrichs/Mallock/Hadfield stumbled right at the end while on course for either fifth of fourth overall.
Meanwhile, the supporting programme had its highlights too. Nick Padmore became the new FIA Masters Historic Formula One champion, the Briton taking the title prematurely when on Saturday Loïc Deman ground to a halt in the final corner… The Belgian had looked set to finally beat Padmore and end in the Briton’s 10-race winning streak but ran out of fuel halfway into the final lap. It was heartbraking to see the Tyrrell 010 come up short literally in sight of the chequered flag, to allow Padmore’s Williams FW07C past to take its 11th straight win and the championship.
A detail shot of Mike Cantillon's Tyrrell 010 bodywork. (photo 8W)
Padmore couldn’t believe his luck. “I chased and chased, but kept hitting the limiter. And then on the last lap, Loïc’s car grew bigger and bigger. I thought, oh, I gotta have this! And then in Blanchimont, his car just died… There is a God!”
Padmore also won the second race on Sunday, and again it was a close-fought thing. Once more, Deman led most of the way but was baulked by Frank Lyons in the Hesketh 308E normally occupied by his son, which allowed the newly crowned champion to nip past.
It's all about grip... (photo 8W)
“It was like a Formula First race!” said Padmore, still excited after his hard-fought win. “I was so much quicker than him on the Kemmel straight, but I couldn’t find a way past. I was waiting, and waiting, hoping for traffic. Then Frank [Lyons] held him up badly, and I just went for the gap.”
“Frank Lyons didn’t see me, unfortunately”, said a despondent Deman, “and then Nick was gone… He was a bit quicker than me, so it was very hard to keep my position. But I’m still happy, and I’ll be back at Jarama to try again!”
Robert Oldershaw waiting to go out for practice in his Lola T212. (photo 8W)
Two safety-car periods turned the FIA Masters Historic Sports Car race into a something of a mess. David Hart/Nicky Pastorelli won on the road but the Dutch pair were disqualified when it was found that Hart came in to change drivers before the pit window was opened. Oliver Bryant – driving solo on the weekend – did the same in his Lola T70 Mk3B but then corrected his error during the safety-car period that followed. He was then handed the win when the Dutch Lola was removed from the results.
With his Sports Car victory, Bryant became a double winner, as early on Sunday morning he had also won the Gentlemen Drivers race. Again without father Grahame, Olly beat father-and-son duo David and Olivier Hart, who both fought valiantly. David led early on but another pit-window error threw him back behind Bryant. Olivier then took on the chase, and looked like the slightly quicker driver, but a wild 360-degree spin on top of the Raidillon cost him five seconds and all chance of victory. It was an amazing save, though, by the Dutch teenager. Bryant and the Harts were given a break when the safety car missed the leading pair to hold up the Voyazides/Hadfield Cobra Daytona Coupé and everyone else in its wake.
Oliver Bryant took wins in both the Masters Sports Car and Gentlemen Drivers race. (photo 8W)
The Masters Pre-66 Touring Car race was easily won by Craig Davies after the Voyazides/Hadfield Ford Falcon dropped out early on. Davies’ Mustang kept the Falcons of Robs Huff and Hall at bay right at the end, after a safety car had closed up the field. The spoils in the Masters 70s Celebration race went to the Sunbeam Tiger of father-and-son team Chris and Ben Beighton.
Both the Historic Grand Prix Car Association and Formula Junior races split their winners, Peter Horsman (Lotus 18/21) and Rod Jolley (Cooper T45/51) being triumphant among the Grand Prix cars, while Sam Wilson (Lotus 20/22) and Cameron Jackson (Brabham BT2) shared the Junior spoils.
After its Silverstone Classic appearance, this brand new Ecurie Ford France-liveried Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupé continuation made a welcome return in the hands of Paul Pochciol and James Hanson. (photo 8W)
The combined RAC Woodcote and Stirling Moss Trophies resulted in a field of 60-plus cars. Two of the usual suspects – Tony Wood and Will Nuthall – took overall honours in their Lister ‘Knobbly’. Another pair of familiar names – Chris Ward and the bronze JD Classics Jaguar C-type – won the Woodcote section of the race.
The HTCC and U2TC touring cars combined for another huge grid, as HTCC entrants Grant Tromans and Richard Meaden grabbed the overall win. Andy Wolfe and Rob Hall’s Lotus Cortina won the U2TC race-within-a-race.
Beautiful locally entered CSL. (photo 8W)
The weekend was bookended by the British GT & Saloon Car Challenge with its curious and amazing collection of not entirely standard-spec cars from all eras. Russell McCarthy’s MGB V8 GT proved to be the quickest of them all.
It was a fine Six Hours weekend again, with the crowd again given access all areas – sometimes even in media zones and media red zones, which was slightly worrying. The press themselves had to bring their own coffee and water, with not even a water cooler in sight in the media centre, but the chips-and-beer stands in the spectator areas helped out with their hospitality. It’s fortunate the press consider themselves fans too…