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Tropical Spa… but in the rainy season!
2014 Spa Six Hours report


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Martin Stretton


Ford GT40




2014 Spa Six Hours (September 20, 2014)

Martin Stretton, Ford GT40, 2014 Spa Six Hours

It’s almost a law of nature. If it rains at Goodwood, the sun will be out in full force at Spa – and vice versa. So when the 2014 Revival was graced with three days of Indian summer weather it was almost inevitable that conditions at Spa would be the reverse. And so it turned out. On the Saturday night of the Spa Six Hours the Ardennes were treated to thunderstorms of tropical proportions, and the race had to be red-flagged ten minutes from the end. Martin Stretton and Diogo Ferrão came through the deluge for a popular win, but the rain lashed down so hard that they were only able to pick up their trophies the following morning. Spraying the bubbly would have gone completely unnoticed in the monsoon that even to Francorchamps’ high standards was unprecedented.

The funny thing was that the weekend started out in the finest possible weather. In fact, the races leading up to the main event were all held in bright and sunny conditions, temperatures rising to 24 degrees on Saturday afternoon. In the early morning Jon Milecevic had won the Formula Junior race, followed by Michele Liguori easily taking Can-Am Interserie challenge honours in his Lola T292, as all of the big Macs as well as Harm Lagaaij’s Shadow Mk1 fell by the wayside. In the first HGPCA race Peter Horsman had an equally easy time of it in his Lotus 18/21, handsomely beating the Brabhams of Max Blees and James King, while Julian Bronson had no trouble winning the front-engined class in his thundering Scarab-Offy.

Grace/Smithies/Rawles, Healey 3000 MkII, 2014 Spa Six Hours

At work on the Grace/Smithies/Rawles Healey 3000 MkII. (photo 8W)

The HSCC’s first race went to the Brooks/Brooks pairing in their Lola T212, and so we went on past lunch. By now it was getting really sweaty, it almost felt like the tropics. Two races would follow that wouldn’t see a repeat on Sunday. First it was the combined Woodcote Trophy and Stirling Moss Trophy, Motor Racing Legends turning out a huge field of 60 cars. In the end, Chris Ward’s Lister Costin had the measure of Bobby Verdon-Roe in the Leventis Ferrari 246S and Mark Piercy’s Cooper Monaco. The U2TC touring cars were next, and here the potent German duo of Alex Furiani and Max Werner ran home a gaggle of Cortinas in their GTA.

And so it was time for the first of the FIA Masters Historic F1 races, with the big question to some of the championship’s big guns: would they rather be in Singapore for the inaugural support race in the Grand Prix weekend there, or were they happy to be in Spa? Simon Fish was adamant: “Oh, here, definitely. Great weather, great circuit. Perhaps I might have gone if my application had been accepted but then I thought: what’s the fun of Singapore? It’s a street circuit, the only thing you get to see is walls.” Richard Barber agreed. “I could have gone, but I didn’t want to miss out on Spa. Next year, I will only go if it doesn’t clash with Spa.” But his old car did win there, Ollie Hancock being victorious twice in the Fittipaldi F5A that Barber used to race. “Yes, I know! That was great news. It’s a good car, mind you, I developed it for three years. I hope to be doing the same with this one”, he said, pointing to his recently acquired Williams FW08. “I’m still very new to it. I only raced it once before, at the Silverstone Classic, but I was an early retirement.”

Another Williams was leading the grid. It’s good to see Martin Stretton back in a seventies F1 car on occasion again this season, after his epic years in the Tyrrell P34 sixwheeler, and he duly stuck his FW07B on pole. Fending off Steve Hartley’s challenge in the Arrows A4, Stretton went on to win. Would that be a good omen for the Big Race?

Tribute to Denis Welch, 2014 Spa Six Hours

Just one of many tributes to Denis Welch that we saw in the paddock. (photo 8W)

More pictures of the Spa Six Hours paddock atmosphere

Meanwhile, the Six Hours teams were anxiously looking at all sorts of bad omens, their weather apps all predicting huge rains ten to thirty minutes after the start. It was hard to believe, as we all felt the sun burning on our necks. Then again, the air was increasingly filling with moist and the heat was so pressing that parallels with certain equatorial climates were hard to ignore. It was tropical at Spa alright, but in the rainy season!

Some teams were praying for rain, though. The rear-engined Porsches were the obvious tools in wet conditions, but the Dutch DHG team had their hopes for overall victory firmly pinned on rain as well. David Hart, still on cloud nine after his victorious Revival weekend with Giedo van der Garde, was buoyant about his chances against the GT40s, of which a record number of ten entries could mathematically push the entire rest of the field out of the top-ten at the end. Hart wasn’t going for the class win, he said, not after taking the ‘race of the year’ the weekend before. His challenge was over, however, before the first rain eventually came. A last-gasp engine swap hadn’t made life any easier for the team, but it wasn’t prepared for the warm-up lap disaster that would befell them, as Hart, doing the opening stint, suddenly noticed his car was on fire! He sped up on the Kemmel straight, hoping the additional speed would extinguish the flames – and according to Roger Wills’ thumbs up it did, but still Hart went off at all the following corner. The diff oil cooler had burst from under the car, and oil was leaking on the brakes. A lengthy repair followed, but in the hands of Hans Hugenholtz the car was an early retirement. Nicky Pastorelli never got to drive.

Simon Fish, Ensign N180, 2014 Spa Six Hours

Simon Fish took two Historic F1 podiums in his Ensign N180. (photo 8W)

That left the GT40s to fight it out between themselves – or did it? The German duo of Markus von Oeynhausen/Dirk Adorf would have none of it. In their distinctive sea blue E-type the Bilster Berg owner and his professional BMW VLN co-driver brashly took the lead halfway through the race, cleverly using the safety car periods to their advantage. And there were a lot of those… Ten minutes after the start, a huge dark cloud was approaching La Source, and half an hour into the race, all hell broke loose. The worst shunt involved the Beverley/Humphreys Cobra colliding on the finish straight with the Tomlin/Adcock Elan. The wrecks lay immovable on the left-hand side of the track, after which the horror followed of watching the Sidery-Smith/Knight MGB on a ramming trajectory for second after second without looking to steer away from the stricken cars. The driver won’t have seen a thing, since he hit the side of the Elan at full force, not deviating an inch from his course. The impact was huge, and the Elan was totally destroyed in it. After the initial downpour, which according to Stretton left him aquaplaning behind the safety car, several more caution periods followed because of cars falling off the slippery track. Because of that, the McInerneys also put their little but potent TVR Griffith in the top five during that period.

By then, the pole-sitting Ford was way off. As was the case last year, money was no object for Christian Gläsel, as he and Kenny Bräck tested their GT40 for four days to again make it easily the fastest GT40 in the field. In 2013, the pair lost out at the refuelling stops, each time picking a moment that left them in a big queue for the petrol station, now it was drivethrough penalties hurting their chances of victory. They collected three of them.

Nicky Pastorelli, AC Cobra, 2014 Spa Six Hours

Not starting the race – and, as it turned out, not getting a race lap in at all – had some advantages for Nicky Pastorelli. (photo 8W)

This left the Ferrão/Stretton GT40, itself having done numerous days of testing at Donington, in the lead on the fourth hour, as a longer dry – or dryish – spell opened up. In second place was the Wills/Littlejohn GT40 but that was a lap down and unable to make any significant inroads into the Anglo-Portuguese car in the lead. The GT40 in third place, however, was. Coming back from earlier delays, Leo Voyazides and Simon Hadfield were gunning for a third consecutive Six Hours win, and especially in the hands of the very able Hadfield, the red No.1 GT40 was eating chunks out of Stretton’s lead. After five hours of racing, Hadfield had passed the Wills/Littlejohn car and was back on the lead lap.

By now, Martin was simply managing the gap to Simon, as he told us on Sunday morning. Calculating how much he could lose he was playing it safe, he said, as he could have so easily binned it in the tricky conditions. Which quickly became hazardous when the next thunderstorm hit the track. This was one of truly epic proportions, one that surpassed everything that had been thrown at us in many years at Spa. Stretton agreed. Still almost a lap in hand, he was glad the red flag closed the curtains on the race with some ten minutes still on the clock. “I couldn’t see a thing! On the red-flag lap I found myself at the hospital exit at Stavelot, and after that I simply homed in on the paddock lights, not having a clue of where I was on the track – or off it!” Another competitor, Armand Adriaans, said he was unable to see the sides of the track. Four cars in front of him simply couldn’t find the pitlane entry and had to continue on another lap.

Alexander Berstein, Jaguar E-type, 2014 Spa Six Hours

Alexander Berstein's Jaguar E-type flying through Fagnes during a somewhat drier spell. (photo 8W)

More pictures of the Spa Six Hours track action

So, Stretton and Ferrão won the race ahead of Voyazides/Hadfield and Wills/Littlejohn, while the home team of Dumolin/Meyers/Van Riet took touring-car honours in their Mustang. But there would be no prize giving since every finisher had run for shelter. And what use was it getting soaked during a podium ceremony that no-one was watching anyway? It was a very private ceremony on Sunday morning, too, when the winners came to collect their trophies, but at least they didn’t get wet.

Many of the drivers competing that morning did, though. If anything, the weather was even more atrocious than on Saturday night, which meant lots of safety-car periods for the British Sports GT & Saloon Challenge, a race that in all honesty should not have been run. Conditions had improved dramatically for the running of the FIA Masters Historic Sportscar race, which got underway in the dry. That is, the track was still very slippery and wet, but at least it wasn’t raining. This time, Voyazides and Hadfield got the win that still eluded them this weekend, but they wouldn’t get a repeat victory in the Masters Touring Car, which is usually theirs in their Ford Falcon. Instead, Stephen Dance’s Capri took the spoils.

Roger Wills/James Littlejohn, Ford GT40, 2014 Spa Six Hours

The third-placed Wills/Littlejohn GT40 splashing through the pitlane after the race was redflagged. (photo 8W)

In the second Formula Junior race, Manfredo Rossi had the advantage of prior track knowledge due to his participation in the Masters Sportscar race, and used it to good effect to finish a fighting second to Stuart Roach. Rossi added another second place in Sunday’s Historic F1 race, with Steve Hartley’s Arrows A4 finishing a further 11 seconds up the road.

In the wet, front-engined cars came to the fore in the second HGPCA race, Julian Bronson winning overall in his Scarab-Offy, with Rod Jolley’s Lister Monzanapolis, Tony Wood’s Tec-Mec and Guillermo Fierro’s 250F. Peter Horsman was the single rear-engined interloper, taking second place in his Lotus 18/21.

Christian Gläsel/Kenny Bräck, Ford GT40, 2014 Spa Six Hours

Conditions on Sunday morning were almost as atricious. Here's the Bräck/Gläsel GT40 that started from pole but could only manage fourth in the end. (photo 8W)

More Spa Six Hours pitlane images

By now, most of the crowd had gone – if they had already showed up, since many must have been scared off by the torrential rain crossing the Ardennes on Sunday morning. In front of empty grandstands and a largely emptied-out paddock area, the 90-minute Gentlemen Drivers enduro went to the Wills/Littlejohn Bizzarrini 5300 GT. The lovely light blue machine beat two other usual suspects in the form of the black Voyazides/Hadfield Cobra – its nose still in bare metal after its Zandvoort startline contretemps – and the white Cobra of Rob Hall. Karsten Le Blanc and Nigel Greensall made up for a weekend of bad luck by taking fourth in their silver Cobra, ahead of Michael Gans and Andy Wolfe in another Cobra.

And that was it for a very wet edition of the Spa Six Hours. Will the tables turn again for next year?