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Nightmare morphs into fairytale
2017 Spa Six Hours report


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Chris Ward/Andrew Smith


Ford GT40




2017 Spa Six Hours (September 15, 2017)

Chris Ward/Andrew Smith, Ford GT40, 2016 Spa Six Hours

The 2017 edition of the Spa Six Hours was won by the most unlikely of driver pairings – at least for anyone who was a witness of Chris Ward punting off Andrew Smith only the week before, during a very tense RAC TT Celebration race at the Goodwood Revival. Inadvertently or not, it happened, and Ward received a lot of flak for it. And the next weekend he would be teaming up with the victim of his actions. But the nightmare turned into a fairytale. The two shook hands, vowed to put it behind them, and concluded another tense race with a victory that was theirs to grab when their German GT40 rivals faltered during one of their refuelling stops.

If a Hollywood screenplay writer had been given the gig of turning the Spa Six Hours into an epic movie drama, this is the stuff that he would have come up with. In real life, you couldn’t have scripted this – and yet it happened. Of course, the deal was done a long time ago that Chris and Andrew would team up at JD Classics for the Spa Six Hours, as they have done before, so after their unfortunate Revival contretemps it was simply a matter of getting over it and getting the job done. “It’s just one of these things”, said Smith on the starting grid of historic motor racing’s most gruelling endurance event. “And let’s face it, I could also not be on the front row of the grid in a GT40 on the world’s greatest circuit, with a great chance of a win!” Indeed, and well said, Smithy.

Oliver Bryant/James Cottingham, 2017 Spa Six Hours

The Bryant/Cottingham example was among several of the GT40 casualties. (photo 8W)

At that moment, and in the first three hours after the start, their biggest worry was the car starting one position ahead of them – the GT40 driven by Michael Funke, Frank Stippler and car owner Georg Nolte. From the get-go, the German-entered machine showed its dominant, pole-sitting pace, setting fastest lap of the race on lap 2 before building a lead of over a lap while making an extra stop in order to allow the much slower Nolte to do a couple of laps as well. Ward and Smith themselves were respectively a lap and two laps up on the two previous winner pairings, Roger Wills/James Littlejohn and Jason Wright/Michael Gans/Andy Wolfe – all in GT40s, of course, as the Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupé challenge of Nicky Pastorelli/David Hart/Olivier Hart had just faded with brake problems. It all looked settled and spread out for the final hour until the Germans came up for another refuelling stop. They planned wrong – the caution period was just about to end, and then they encountered a 10-minute queue at the fuel station, where often the Spa Six Hours is won or lost. Funke/Stippler/Nolte lost. Suddenly, they were the ones who were a lap down. Even though Stippler got back on the lead lap, Ward simply had to bring it home for the win, which he duly did. “The car was faultless”, he explained. “It’s payback for last year” – when the JD Classics car was one of the earlier casualties – “and reward for all the hard work the guys have put in.” After losing two of his three Revival wins, this victory must have had exceptional sweet taste for Ward.

This time, other GT40s failed to make it to the end. The Tony Wood/Martin Stretton example – another former winner – limped home as a five-pot GT40 (“We’ve broken a rod”, explained Stretton, “so we’re running on five cylinders now”) while the Wills/Littlejohn car lost its final spot on the podium when its gearbox gave up the ghost in the closing stages. With the Hart/Hart/Pastorelli Cobra Daytona Coupé out, Simon Hadfield picked up the glove to storm up to a magnificent sixth place for the Friedrichs/Mallock/Hadfield Aston Martin Project 212, as the best of the non-GT40 runners.

Wolfgang Friedrichs/Michael Mallock/Simon Hadfield, Aston Martin Project 212, 2017 Spa Six Hours

The Friedrichs/Mallock/Hadfield Aston Martin Project 212 was fastest of the non-GT40 runners. (photo 8W)

Fortunes swung violently in FIA Masters Historic Formula One as well. Loïc Deman (Tyrrell 010) and Michael Lyons (Williams FW07B) each scored a win but were non-scorers in the other race. On Saturday, Deman surged to the front from fifth on the grid, passing the Williams FW07s of CGA Engineering team mates Christophe d’Ansembourg and Mike Cantillon while not needing to pass Lyons’ FW07 since that broke down on the warm-up lap, its Cosworth DFV having dropped a valve. Thanks to the generosity of rival Mike Wrigley lending Lyons an engine, the championship leader was able to take the start in Sunday’s race in which he duly reeled off a dominant win. Deman, on the other hand, was out after three laps. D’Ansembourg who on Saturday had lost his second place to Cantillon with a spin on the final lap, made no mistake on Sunday and soaked up the pressure from Cantillon to grab second place.

Nick Padmore (Shadow DN5) took two easy pre-78 wins but all eyes were on his team mate and team boss Max Smith-Hilliard (Fittipaldi F5A) and championship rival Greg Thornton (Lotus 77). In the first race, Thornton proved the quicker man but on Sunday his battery failed. MSH was unable to fully capitalise on that misfortune since Jamie Constable – back in his Shadow DN8, repaired from its damage sustained at Silverstone – was on hot form and took second place ahead of Smith-Hilliard, who still leads the title race. While Lyons won the post-78 championship with his win on Sunday, the pre-78 title fight goes down to the wire at Estoril.

Historic Formula One memorial to David Ferrer, 2017 Spa Six Hours

Ahead of Saturday's first FIA Masters Historic Formula One race, all drivers gathered on the grid with Masters Historic Racing's Ron Maydon and Rachel Bailey for a touching memorial ceremony dedicated to David Ferrer, the French driver who succumbed to his injuries after a violent crash at Zandvoort. (photo 8W)

Another title was prematurely decided when Jonathan Lewis and René de Vries did enough in the Masters Pre-66 Touring Car race to not just win the class title but take the overall championships spoils as well. Second in class for the Anglo-Dutch Mini pairing was enough for them to lift the title. The race proved easy pickings for Phil Keen after the first half of the race was run behind the safety car due to the dense Saturday morning fog. All cars were on equal footing when they all came in for their pitstop at the first possible moment, so when Keen took over from Mike Gardiner in the Ford Falcon Sprint, the dominant pole man was set to dominate once more. Roger Wills was a distant second in his Mercury Comet Cyclone.

The FIA Masters Historic Sports Car race saw some sort of repeat of the proceedings at Zandvoort two weeks earlier where Leo Voyazides and Simon Hadfield (Lola T70 Mk3B) made no mistakes while their rivals did. Four other T70s in with a shout were penalised – Mike Donovan and Chris Beighton received drivethroughs for their jumpstarts, Paul Gibson came in ahead of the pit window to hand over to Chris Ward (who had put the car on pole) so had to come in again a couple of minutes later, while Olly Bryant’s drivethrough for being stationary at his stop three seconds short the mandatory one minute robbed him of certain victory.

Michael Gans/Andy Wolfe, AC Cobra, 2017 Spa Six Hours

Michael Gans and Andy Wolfe jumped back from their self-inflicted damage to claim an unlikely Gentlemen Drivers win. (photo 8W)

Bryant was the weekend’s unlucky man anyway, since he also lost the Masters Gentlemen Drivers win to a time penalty. This time, however, the mistake was slightly more than the technicality in the Sports Car race, as he was penalised for overtaking under yellows. This handed a very unlikely win to Michael Gans and Andy Wolfe, whose AC Cobra had been put to the back of the grid for causing an avoidable collision in qualifying. Indeed, Gans’ thump up the back of the Voyazides/Hadfield Cobra Daytona Coupé had been monumental but the American apologised and then made up for his mistake in his opening stint by hauling the Cobra all the way up to the front and passing all bar Bryant. This gave Wolfe the cushion over Hadfield that made his life a lot easier. And when Bryant got his one-minute penalty an hour after the race, the win was theirs in what has already been a highly successful season for Wolfe Manufacturing.

Spa also saw the ‘pilot race’ for the new Masters Endurance Legends series that is due to run to a full championship in 2018. Two of the leading LMP1s fell foul of the only spot of rain to fall all day, the Kriton Lendoudis/Nicolas Minassian Peugeot 908X and Christophe d’Ansembourg’s Lola-Aston Martin DBR1-2 wrongly gambling on wet tyres, leaving the race to be fought over by the two newest cars in the field – the ORECA 03 LMP2 machines of Sean Doyle and Jonathan Kennard. The latter briefly led in his ex-Boutsen Ginion car but Doyle retook the advantage in the Murphy Prototypes car to win by a small margin. Matthieu Lahaye upheld LMP1 honours by taking third in his Pescarolo-Judd 01.

Jonathan Kennard, ORECA 03, 2017 Spa Six Hours

A promising prelude to the new Masters Endurance Legends championship saw Jonathan Kennard miss out on the win, his ORECA 03 beaten to the line by the similar machine of Sean Doyle. (photo 8W)

Both Historic Grand Prix Car Association races fell to Sam Wilson in John Chisholm’s Lotus-Climax 18. In each of the races, Wilson’s margin on the next driver – Joaquin Folch’s Lotus 16 in the first race and Andy Middlehurst’s Lotus 25 in the second race – was substantial.

The combined Stirling Moss Trophy and RAC Woodcote Trophy race run by Motor Racing Legends proved to be a similarly dominant affair, Chris Ward and Andrew Smith tasting victory in the JD Classics Lister Costin before they would take the big win later in the day. Their lead of Michael Gans’ Lotus 15 was close to a minute, while the Bryant/Bryant Lotus 15 and Minshaw/Keen Lister Knobbly challenges faded by way of retirement. David Hart took a close third in his Lister Costin while the Carlos Monteverde/Gary Pearson D-type was the quickest of the RAC Woodcote runners.

David Hart, Lister Costin, 2017 Spa Six Hours

In his Lister Costin, David Hart took third in the combined Stirling Moss Trophy and RAC Woodcote Trophy race. (photo 8W)

Both Historic Motor Racing News U2TC races saw similar scenarios played out, with Max and Andrew Banks winning twice in their Alfa GTA while being harried all the way down to the line by Steve Soper’s Lotus Cortina.

Voyazides and Hadfield took their second victory of the weekend by being triumphant in the HSCC Closed-Wheel Race, their beautiful Gitanes-liveried Lola T282 leading home local heroes Guy Peeters (Chevron B23) and Eric Mestdagh (GRD) while father and son Bryant got the win that they came for when they grabbed the Spa One Hour spoils on Sunday morning.

Leo Voyazides/Simon Hadfield, Lola T282, 2017 Spa Six Hours

Allez les Bleus for Leo Voyazides and Simon Hadfield in the HSCC race. (photo 8W)

A new addition to the programme was the Jaguar Classic Challenge. In the one-hour race, Andy Newall led during his stint but team mate Rhea Sautter was unable to keep Graeme and James Dodd’s similar E-type behind her. The Halusa brothers finished third in another E-type.

More pictures of the Spa Six Hours weekend