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An old-fashioned one
2015 Spa Six Hours report


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Michael Funke/Markus von Oeynhausen


Ford GT40




2015 Spa Six Hours (September 19, 2015)

Michael Funke/Markus von Oeynhausen, Ford GT40, 2015 Spa Six Hours

The 2015 edition of the Spa Six Hours turned out to be an old-fashioned one. It had rain but not too much (unlike last year), adding the challenge of fickle Ardennes weather in the mix, and it had top cars running into trouble, giving the slower but more reliable cars a crack at a podium in this most enduring of historic races on the calendar. In the end, Roger Wills and James Littlejohn secured a popular win in their GT40, after their umpteenth time of trying. Meanwhile, some of the support races that supply the headlines at other large historic events proved to be both epic and confusing at the same time…

“It’s actually a wonderful thing that the Goodwood Revival and the Spa Six Hours are on back-to-back weekends”, said Simon Hadfield sometime during the six-hour main event, when the GT40 he shared with Leo Voyazides on its way to three Six Hours wins had long since faltered, “as the contrast couldn’t be bigger.” True words from one of the most accomplished historic racers in the field. The Revival is great at supplying the glorious ambiance and fascinating and exciting sprint racing, whereas the Six Hours provides the slightly grubby atmosphere that is much more akin to what motor racing really used to be back in the old days. The period dress may be missing at Spa, but the ramshackle surroundings of the Spa paddock area – where even the (supposedly) F1-standard pitlane doesn’t quite look the 21st-century part – help to create a feeling of nostalgia that at the very least hails back to the seventies or eighties.

2015 Spa Six Hours

A picture that tells all about the character of the Spa Six Hours. (photo 8W)

The endurance race that gives the event its name adds true spice to the weekend, as it clearly outshines the Le Mans Classic in delivering the true Le Mans endurance experience of yore. For some cars, the six hours of continuous will pack an entire season into a single race.

For many years, the story of the Spa Six Hours was about how many GT40s would make it to the end of the race, the fast American cars usually dropping out one after another, with one or two surviving until the finish. More recently, though, their reliability was given a boost by their teams getting to know what it takes to have a clean run at Spa, turning the lead battle into some sort of GT40 Cup challenge.

Simon Hadfield, Ford GT40, 2015 Spa Six Hours

This was as lucky as Simon Hadfield was going to get in the entire Six Hours race. (photo 8W)

This time, however, it was back to the old days, with just the one GT40 – that of Wills and Littlejohn – managing a relatively troublefree run, leading home the pole-sitting GT40 of Michael Funke and count Markus von Oeynhausen. This in the fifth hour robbed second place back from the Dutch DHG Cobra of Alexander van der Lof, David Hart and Nicky Pastorelli. The DHG car was the quickest GT40 challenger, running like clockwork all throughout the race and setting GT40 times whenever the track was damp, especially with Pastorelli at the wheel. The Minshaw/Keen E-type also harried the GT40s from the get-go, and ended up in fifth. Among the Fords stumbling along the way were the examples piloted by Hadfield/ Voyazides, Lynn/Haddon and Wood/Stretton, all previous winners of the event.

Meanwhile, anyone regretting the fact that the leading teams are pouring ever growing amounts of cash into improving their cars to a quality level they never had in period had reason to be pleased about some of the true amateur efforts snapping at the heels of the mighty. If historic racing should also be about three guys in a small car sponsored by the local pub, then the MGB of Sjoerd Peereboom, Jasper Izaks and Tom Smith having a faultless run to 13th overall is certainly deserving of a special mention. With 10 minutes to go, the Anglo-Dutch trio looked set for an unlikely class win as well before the faster 911 of Mark Bates and Sean McInerney got back at them.

Peereboom/Izaks/Smith, MGB, Minshaw/Keen, Jaguar E-type, 2015 Spa Six Hours

The Peereboom/Izaks/Smith completes another faultless lap on its way to 13th overall while being passed by the Minshaw/Keen E-type Jag that would finish 5th. (photo 8W)

Masters Historic Racing provided most of the support programme, which saw Loïc Deman take his Tyrrell 010 to two convincing victories at his home track. With Deman’s championship rival Andy Wolfe posting a rare retirement on Sunday, the title fight in the FIA Masters Historic F1 Championship will go down to the wire at Dijon. Phil Keen was another double Masters winner at Spa, taking victories in both the FIA Masters Historic Sportscar race and the Pre-66 Touring Car race, while also grabbing the spoils in the combined Woodcote Trophy and Stirling Moss Trophy race hosted by Motor Racing Legends.

Saturday’s FIA Masters Historic F1 race got off to a false start when a heavy burst of rain hit the track just as the slick-shod cars were lining up on the grid. Inevitably, the race was redflagged on the opening lap after which all cars were changed to wets. After two more laps behind the safety car the pack was finally released. Deman’s Tyrrell 010 led away Christophe d’Ansembourg, who had qualified an excellent second in his Williams FW07, while Nick Padmore starred in his pre-78 Lotus 77 to briefly take third before Steve Hartley (Arrows A4) took the place back and also removed D’Ansembourg from second place. The racing remained close towards the finish, the top-five covered by just 10 seconds. Andy Wolfe’s sixth place meant another class win for him and his flat-bottomed Tyrrell 012, consolidating his championship lead.

FIA Masters Historic F1, 2015 Spa Six Hours

F1 tyre-changing mayhem in the pitlane after the heavens opened during the opening lap. (photo 8W)

Deman had a relatively easy time of it, he said. “I didn’t have the wall of spray like the others, so that helped. And it’s a long track so I had just a few backmarkers to overtake.” The Belgian’s win didn’t help him championship-wise, though. “Conditions were absolutely treacherous”, said Wolfe. “I could have made a couple of lunges, but at this time of the year you start to think about the championship. It’s not what I like, but as long as I keep winning there’s nothing Loïc can do.” Jason Wright had to start from the pitlane, and told quite a different story afterwards. “I couldn’t see a thing between La Source and Eau Rouge! I was simply trusting that the track was clear…” The Anglo-Italian still kept a slender lead in the pre-78 class, though, but Padmore closed up to within two points.

The second F1 race of the weekend proved to be slightly more straightforward, with Deman keeping D’Ansembourg at bay, despite the deployment of the safety car on lap 6 when Andy Wolfe suffered a tyre blow-out. “Not good”, he said afterwards, with a wry smile on his face. Behind the leading pair, Jean-Michel Martin (Tyrrell 010) fought his way past Nick Padmore and Steve Hartley to take third. Wolfe’s rare DNF means that the championship is wide open again, with the title up for grabs for both Wolfe and Deman at the final round at Dijon. “I’m very happy with the double win, and the fact that back with a shout in the championship again. But the most wonderful thing was the all-Belgian podium!”

Andy Wolfe, Tyrrell 012, 2015 Spa Six Hours

Andy Wolfe's tyre blow-out in the second F1 race meant that he was left with the tiniest of margins for the championship decider at Dijon. (photo 8W)

Jon Minshaw and Phil Keen were the runaway victors of Sunday’s FIA Masters Historic Sportscar race. Early on, Minshaw’s Lola T70 Mk3B still had Chris Beighton’s similar example at relatively close call while David Hart had blasted from seventh on the grid to third in his T70 Mk3B. Mayhem ensued in the pitlane when the pit window opened just as the safety car came out to allow the retrieval of Claus Andersen’s stricken Lola T212.

After the pitstops, Daniel Gibson (in another T70 Mk3B) and David Hart quickly dealt with Jon Finnemore, who had taken over from Beighton. The Beighton/Finnemore car then ground to a halt at Fagnes. In the closing stages, Hart overtook Gibson to take second.

Jon Minshaw, Lola T70 Mk3B, 2015 Spa Six Hours

Jon Minshaw was a double winner this weekend. (photo 8W)

Phil Keen also starred on Saturday morning, when the Pre-66 Touring Cars took to the track. Leo Voyazides led Keen’s team mate Mike Gardiner in the early running, but Keen turned the tables on the other Falcon by passing Simon Hadfield early on in his stint. On several occasions, Hadfield closed up to Keen, and pulled alongside twice, but each time Keen’s superior traction out of the Bus-Stop kept him in the lead, allowing him to take victory by just over 2 seconds.

The Davies/Young Mustang looked in contention until the stops, but ruled itself out when it pitted just before the pit window opened. A 15-second stop-and-go penalty threw the Mustang right back into a thrilling Mini tussle between Eric Hélary and Andrea Stortoni, the Frenchman coming out on top to take a remarkable third overall.

Phil Keen/Mike Gardiner, Ford Falcon, 2015 Spa Six Hours

Minshaw's team mate Phil Keen took a third win when he joined Mike Gardiner in his Ford Falcon. (photo 8W)

Michael Gans and Andy Wolfe took their AC Cobra to the car’s first win after they comfortably beat the similar machine of Karsten Le Blanc and Nigel Greensall in the weekend-closing Gentlemen Drivers race. The James Cottingham/Tim Summers Daytona Cobra Coupé that had led the first part of the 90-minute race faded when the order was shuffled up by the deployment of the safety car just seconds before the pit window opened.

The caution period was called when Marc Valvekens’ Lotus Elite rolled out. The car’s fibreglass body suffered severe damage but fortunately the Belgian was OK. Challenges from the pole-sitting Georg Nolte/Michael Funke Bizzarrini and the Voyazides/Hadfield Cobra Daytona Coupé evaporated early on, allowing German count Markus van Oeynhausen to take third in his E-type.

Miles Griffiths, Brabham BT4, 2015 Spa Six Hours

Miles Griffiths could have won both HGPCA races. (photo 8W)

In the two HGPCA races, Miles Griffiths had the same thing happening to him as at Zandvoort three weeks earlier: again, his Brabham BT4 got stuck in fifth during the first race, but he then made amends by winning the second one. Peter Horsman’s Lotus 18/21 profited from his mishap to take the win in the first race. “Yes, again!” he said afterwards while explaining that the coughing of puffing with which he negotiated Eau Rouge wasn’t due to a misfire, and laughed, “I’m going to find my mechanic and give him a huge wallop!”

Martin Hunt and Patrick Blakeney-Edwards won the Pre-63 GT race in their Cobra, beating Karsten Le Blanc’s Healey, while Richard Shaw took a customary U2TC win in his BMW 1800 TiSA. Laki Christoforou’s Escort Mk1 was victorious in the British Sports GT & Saloon Challenge.

Jon Minshaw/Phil Keen, Lister Knobbly, Bobby Verdon-Roe, Gregor Fisken, Ferrari 246S, 2015 Spa Six Hours

Minshaw and Keen (Lister Knobbly) held off Bobby Verdon-Roe and Gregor Fisken (Ferrari 246S Dino) in the combined Motor Racing Legends race. (photo 8W)

Sadly, several races got mixed up by the willful deployment of the safety car in the middle of the pack. Spa’s race direction should really be paying better attention to that. Moreover, utter confusion reigned in the 70s Celebration race, held in conjunction with the HTCC and DRM Pokal. With part of the field stationed in the F1 pitlane and the other cars in the endurance pitlane, the two sections had to merge to form a proper starting grid. But when the cars in the F1 pitlane weren’t allowed out they were forced to jump the pitlane lights and still found themselves at the back of the grid…

The race saw Goodwood Revival star Chris Ward do most of the leading in his HTCC-entered Broadspeed Capri, while Manfredo Rossi used the excess power of his Martini Porsche 935 to charge through the field and take the 70s Celebration lead (and second place overall) by lap 2. The Italian then missed his pit window, which meant that Mark Bates would have been the winner in his Porsche 911 RSR, but Bates along with six other cars were also excluded because of the pitlane infringement right at the start. Several of the drivers involved were seriously unimpressed.

Martin Stretton/Tony Wood, Ford GT40, 2015 Spa Six Hours

Sharing with Tony Wood, Martin Stretton could not repeat his 2014 Six Hours win. (photo 8W)

There was more drama right at the end when Ward was seen pushing his out-of-fuel Capri through the pitlane in a frantic effort to reach the timing beam. This gave Rossi the win on the road, but it was all for nothing. Will Toye (Triumph TR8) won the GT class while local Mazda driver Gust van Haelst took touring-car honours.

All pictures of the Spa Six Hours weekend