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Agreeable circumstances
2011 Spa Six Hours report



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Christian Gläsel/Ralf Kelleners


Ford GT40




2011 Spa Six Hours (September 24, 2011)

Ford GT40, Spa Six Hours 2011, Gläsel/Kelleners

There’s no arguing that a true Spa event needs rain but after a wet Six Hours in 2010 – and a rather moist Revival weekend still soaking our memories as well – we were rather pleased with the untypical Ardennes weather welcoming us as we navigated into the Spa-Francorchamps valley with its peculiar micro-climate. We were treated to a totally sunny autumn weekend, the cars basking in warmth right up to sunset. Even at night the six-hour enduro continued in most agreeable circumstances. It was still tough on the cars though…

La Source kerbs, 2011 Spa Six Hours

The track at La Source soaking up the sunshine. (photo Mattijs Diepraam)

So Spa gave us a pleasant reversal of fortune, with bodywork acting as reflector shields for a change, instead of surfaces that droplets of water can desperately cling on to. In the paddock, mechanics seemed to be working at a more leisurely pace, even though their checklists looked just as long as they always do. Drivers, meanwhile, kicked their feet up as a way to focus on their forthcoming race – or races, in the cases of Roger Wills, Manfredi Rossi, Simon Hadfield and other car-wielding gents who spent more time in their assorted ground rockets than out of them. With regards to seat time, historic racing weekends are still the best way of spending your fortune while getting a good return of fun.

Mark Dols/Erwin Dijkman, MG B, 2011 Spa Six Hours

Preparing for the Six Hours: the mechanics checklist of the Mark Dols/Erwin Dijkman MG B. (photo Mattijs Diepraam)

Pictures of paddock atmosphere

Soon, though, the question loomed where we ourselves would be getting the best return of fun. Having visited Spa many times, including several previous Six Hours events, we were keen to avoid the usual suspects among the major vantage points. That meant no top of Eau Rouge this time and no braking zone at Les Combes, and no Pouhon – although we couldn’t stop ourselves taking a brief halt during our evening walk along the track. Pouhon is simply too majestic to overlook, and at night, with the only light provided by the wandering beams of GT cars barreling down from no-name corner to the endless sweeper that’s actually better than anything the old circuit had on offer, you can’t help being swept away. Even in a 100-car field, they race by in batches, and as the last car of each batch pushes forward the shadows it simultaneously pulls along the darkness like a black blanket. It only lasts for a while, but in these brief moments the stars in the sky remain the only source of light. Sniffing the fresh forest air tinged with the aromatic scent of burnt Castrol R got us right in touch with nature again.

John Clark/Chris Clark/Alisdair McCaig, Jaguar E-type, 2011 Spa Six Hours

Sparks fly as the Clark/Clark/McCaig E-type heads up the hill from Eau Rouge. (photo Frank van de Velde)

Does that mean that Eau Rouge and the Raidillon that is following aren’t as majestic as Pouhon? They most certainly are, but there are multiple ways of enjoying them. This time, we chose the middle of Eau Rouge, halfway up the hill, to get a better view at the drivers setting their cars up for the ballsy climb up to the Raidillon. After that, we paused for a while at the end of the Raidillon. At marshals’ post number 5, which seemed home to the Spa marshals best capable of trackside self-pampering, the group having a huge BBQ party while taking care of business, we had a great view of racing cars storming right towards us just before they guided around that last kink onto the Kemmel straight.

Carlo Vögele/Willie Green, Ferrari 330 GTO, 2011 Spa Six Hours

Carlo Vögele/Willie Green leads Pre-'63 GT field out of Raidillon. (photo Mattijs Diepraam)

We had the best time at post 7, however, which is at the exit of Malmédy, the right-hand corner between Les Combes and Rivage. Amidst some pleasant banter exchanging between ourselves and the Dutch-speaking crew on call from Zolder, we shot some wonderful images, helped by some terrific battles between Jon Minshaw and Bobby Verdon-Roe in the Stirling Moss Trophy race, before Minshaw's 'Knobbly' swapped ends right in front of our eyes.

Jon Minshaw/Martin Stretton, Lister-Jaguar 'Knobbly', Bobby Verdon-Roe, Ferrari 246S Dino, Stirling Moss Trophy, 2011 Spa Six Hours

Jon Minshaw's Jaguar-engined Lister 'Knobbly' wages battle at Malmédy with Bobby Verdon-Roe's Ferrari 246S Dino in the Stirling Moss Trophy race on Sunday. (photo Frank van de Velde)

Pit and grid scenes

We started the Saturday from the roof of the F1 building before moving to the Bus-Stop exit – at least as interesting as its entry, mostly because you’re stuck in between the track and the pitlane entry. And so what about the La Source pictures? They are obligatory and almost perfunctory, we agree, but the track’s hairpin remains a place where you can literally be on the edge of the action. And don’t seventies F1 cars simply look gorgeous there?

Roger Wills, Lotus 92/5, Grand Prix Masters race 1, 2011 Spa Six Hours

Roger Wills throws his Lotus 92 into La Source in the first GP Masters race of the weekend. (photo Mattijs Diepraam)

Which leads us to Fagnes, where we ended the Sunday. Nowadays, this combination of corners between Pouhon and Stavelot is quickly dealt with by the incumbent F1 machinery, having become a chicane of sorts, but the classic racer has his work cut out for him handling his mount through these esses. Hitting the first apex is paramount in order to get a fast line into the second turn and consequently the exit speed for his blast towards Stavelot. Or he can just have a bit of fun and go sideways all the way around, first into a drift to the right before switching full-lock to the left. This was done most spectacularly by Michael Schryver in his nippy Elan 26R and by François Schneider in his Healey 3000. In short, we had a ball at Fagnes, and we had it all by ourselves since apart from one or two other track photographers the area was completely devoid of spectators.

Jeremy Welch/Mark Pangborn, Jaguar E-type, Masters Gentleman Drivers, 2011 Spa Six Hours

Jeremy Welch/Mark Pangborn E-type dives inside Healey 3000 at Fagnes in the two-hour Masters Gentleman Drivers race. (photo Mattijs Diepraam)

It’s hard to understand why the thousands of spectators now flocking to the Six Hours aren’t out there – where the action really is. These days the main grandstand is packed to capacity, and although it’s obvious that many people will want to gauge the frantic action in the pitlane, six hours is ample time for a walk around the circuit to return and pick up on the running order in the closing hour. Perhaps the general public, having got used to following races on TV, didn’t want to take their eyes off the lead battle. So did this mean that we ourselves remained oblivious of what was going on in the races? Using our mental lapchart we kept pace with the leaders but most of the time we didn’t actually care. We were simply happy that the gentlemen and the occasional lady in the cars were providing us with a great show.

Palle Birkelund Pedersen/M Borch Christensen, Ginetta G4, Masters Gentleman Drivers, 2011 Spa Six Hours

Danish-crewed Ginetta G4 attacking Fagnes. (photo Mattijs Diepraam)

Pictures of the Saturday track action

In the main event, the five GT40s at the head of the field quickly ran off into the distance but halfway during the race one after the other began to falter. The Meins/Lillingstone-Price, Wilson/Pearson and the pole-sitting Wills/Twyman examples dropped away while the red front-row starting Voyazides/Hadfield car and the black Gläsel/Kelleners machine momentarily dropped down the order through lengthy pitstops. This helped the plucky Shipman/Hales/Reuben TVR into a brief but unexpected lead. The little Griffith would remain in contention all throughout, but once the two remaining GT40s got back into their strides there was no stopping them. In the end, the German duo won relatively easily, fending off its red twin by about half a lap.

Leo Voyazides/Simon Hadfield, Ford GT40, 2011 Spa Six Hours

Voyazides/Hadfield GT40 gives chase to winning Gläsel/Kelleners car as it prepares to attack Eau Rouge.
(photo Frank van de Velde)

The Minshaw/Stretton E-type semi-lightweight that added a third Six Hours victory in 2010 didn’t figure this time, as the E-type to watch soon became the Watson/O’Connell/Yool example, at least initially, before the Scragg/Coyne/Wright car asserted itself as the GT40s’ main rival. Meanwhile, the Hart/Hugenholtz Hall & Hall-run Cobra that ran the Lanzante GT40 close in 2009 with Jeroen Bleekemolen sharing the wheel finished sixth behind their Eau Rouge Trophy-winning DHG Racing team mates Weavers/Batenburg/Van Hoepen in their Kirkham Cobra replica.

Pictures of the Sunday track action

Christian Gläsel/Oliver Ellerbrock, Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupé, Masters Gentleman Drivers, 2011 Spa Six Hours

Thundering sideways into Fagnes: Gläsel/Ellerbrock Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupé, fresh from its triumph in the RAC TT Celebration at Goodwood, still carrying Bräck/Kristensen decals. (photo Frank van de Velde)

For some torturing their cars for a meagre six hours wasn’t quite enough. The two-hour Masters Gentleman Drivers race on Sunday afternoon gave them the opportunity to turn their weekend into a Spa Eight Hours bonanza – and many of these double-timers survived the ordeal without any noticeable trouble. There was more German glory in the weekend when the race delivered a lights-to-flag victory to the turquoise E-type of Graf von Oeynhausen, ably seconded by Frank Stippler making a break at the start. In the Jag’s wake two Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupés – one of which the recent winner of the RAC TT Celebration at Goodwood – fought over second place before the pole-sitting Hall/Hall Cobra reasserted itself as the Germans’ main challenger, followed by that untiring Shipman/Hales Griffith.

Rob Hall/Rick Hall, Shelby Cobra, Masters Gentleman Drivers, 2011 Spa Six Hours

The Hall & Hall Cobra trying to catch up with the German Jag in the Masters Gentleman race.
(photo Mattijs Diepraam)

When we returned to the pit complex, ‘Stippy’ and the count had already collected their trophies, as they walked back across a rapidly emptying paddock. Always in a rush, these racing folk, although some seemed still enchanted by the unexpected Spa sunshine and moved at a slower pace. It allowed for a few final romantic scenes – and we are a sucker for those…

Jeremy Welch/Mark Pangborn, Jaguar E-type, Masters Gentleman Drivers, 22011 Spa Six Hours

Sunday evening: the Denis Welch E-type taking a rest after a long afternoon's work. (photo Mattijs Diepraam)