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Nightmares and fairytales
2023 Spa Six Hours report


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Miles Griffiths/Andy Priaulx/Gordon Shedden


Ford GT40




2023 Spa Six Hours (September 30, 2023)

Miles Griffiths/Andy Priaulx/Gordon Shedden, Ford GT40, 2023 Spa Six Hours

Miles Griffiths, Andy Priaulx and Gordon Shedden took the win in the 30th anniversary edition of the Spa Six Hours when in a bone-dry race with numerous neutralizations, their Ford GT40 was glued to the front of the field right from the start, and, in the end, the only GT40 not to fall flat on its face before the chequered flag.

Qualifying had taken place on a soaking wet track after a heavy rain shower covered the Spa-Francorchamps circuit on Friday. This meant that many rookies – including multiple IndyCar champion Dario Franchitti and multiple NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson who shared a GT40 with Marino Franchitti – had to find their way around the track yet again on their opening laps. Victory at the Spa Six Hours has gone to a GT40 for years – and this year no fewer than 18 entered, with Count Marcus von Oeynhausen’s brand-new example taking pole thanks to a massive lap from Nico Verdonck who had pulled off that feat before, and initially led the field as well.

Soon, though, the winning car hit the front, only to be initially threatened by the David & Olivier Hart and Nicky Pastorelli GT40, but a broken driveshaft put an end to the Dutch ambitions. Then another pairing of previous winners pushed through to take the lead before a broken Weber carb ended the race for Olly Bryant and James Cottingham. And so the latter part of the race turned into a straight fight between Shedden in the lead and Verdonck in pursuit, the German GT40 having lost precious time twice while refueling. Bit by bit, the fast Belgian caught up with the leading car until he had to report back to his pits half an hour before the end – the car’s brakes had gone. That was the clincher.

Dario Franchitti/Jimmie Johnson/Marino Franchitti, Ford GT40, 2023 Spa Six Hours

The superstar car finished seventh on the Spa debut for both multiple champions. (photo 8W)

Verdonck rejoined after a two-lap delay but could not prevent the Jordan Racing Team’s Elan from taking second place overall after a flawless run. Then, on the final lap, the Belgian was also passed by the Tony Wood/Will Nuthall/Michael Lyons GT40, with the Von Oeynhausen/Verdonck pairing missing out on the overall podium as a result. With sixth and eighth place overall, Simon Evans/James Littlejohn and James Claridge/James Denty/Gonçalo Gomes showed how fast a Lotus Elan runs these days – and that on a power track. And so three Elans from the GTS10 class finished ahead of the complete GTS12 podium consisting of the Jon Minshaw/Phil Keen Jaguar E-type, the Harry Barton/Ollie Reuben/Nigel Greensall TVR Griffith and the Paul Friedrichs/Simon Hadfield Aston Martin DP214.

In the touring car class, Dutch trio Bas Jansen and father and son Jac & Ties Meeuwissen took the win. It was a stunning victory for their Ford Mustang which dictated the race from the front. The Ford Falcon of Chris Milner and his Anglo-Dutch teammates Karsten Le Blanc and Christiaen van Lanschot came close, only to drop out dramatically at the very end.

Bas Jansen, Jac Meeuwissen, Ad Dekkers, 2023 Spa Six Hours

Bas Jansen and Jac Meeuwissen chatting with their preparer Ad Dekkers about their winning run in the Ford Mustang. (photo 8W)

In the support races, Antoine and Werner d’Ansembourg – sons of historic veteran Christophe d’Ansembourg – recorded their first major victories in historic motor racing, with Antoine grabbing a surprise victory in the second Masters Endurance Legends race on Saturday morning while Werner repeated the trick later on the day with a win in the second Masters Racing Legends race. In a weekend that combined nightmares with fairytales, the two Belgian brothers won after a terrible day for their team Front Row Racing. On Thursday, both their father and Christian Gläsel suffered heavy crashes that resulted in painful injuries, as Christophe broke three ribs and had to watch from the pitwall for the remainder of the weekend, while Gläsel’s smash in the Pescarolo-Judd 01 at Blanchimont was so huge that he broke a vertebra on impact. The German required immediate surgery, but is doing well.

On Friday Antoine and Werner had featured strongly with excellent placings – Antoine even scored his first podium – but one day later they surprised everyone including themselves by each producing a flawless run to victory. In fact, Werner copied the way his brother Antoine had won his race – by by passing the car on pole on the Kemmel straight on the opening lap, and then putting years of intimate track knowledge to good use on their home circuit on their way to victory.

Christophe d'Ansembourg, Lola-Aston Martin DBR1-2, 2023 Spa Six Hours

Christophe d'Ansembourg was unlucky to sit out the weekend through injury but watched on as a proud father to see both his sons bag their debut wins. (photo 8W)

In his ageing open-top Dallara-Judd LMP1, Antoine managed to hold off Stuart Wiltshire’s Peugeot 90X, although its diesel engine was down on power, resulting in the car’s retirement towards the end. Like the day before, however, he equally managed to keep ahead of the more recent LMP1s of Keith Frieser (Zytek 09S) and Steve Tandy (Lola B12/60), while on this occasion he also beat Olivier Galant’s Honda-HPD ARX-03a. Werner, in turn, grabbed the lead from poleman Matt Wrigley in the Penske PC3 before guiding his Brabham BT49 to victory by a whopping 13 seconds. These had been two phenomenal performances.

The first MEL race was entirely about the rivalry that over the season has developed between Steve Brooks and Stuart Wiltshire. Both their Peugeot 90Xs are calling the shots in this year’s championship for recent Le Mans prototypes and GTs, but Brooks has always had the upper hand so far and emphasised the fact with a fabulous pole lap on Thursday. On the start of the first race, however, Wiltshire had the bit between his teeth and flew by Brooks on the Kemmel straight. He then kept gaining a few tenths on his rival until Brooks slipped up in his chase to spin out of the race in no-name corner. And so, for the first time, Wiltshire beat his rival on pure pace.

Ken Tyrrell, Tyrrell 011, 2023 Spa Six Hours

Ken Tyrrell negotiating La Source in spectacular fashion, holding a slide through the track's famous hairpin. (photo 8W)

In the first F1 race on a half-wet track, Mike Cantillon wrote a sensational scenario called ‘Spin & Win’, the Irishman starting from pole, spinning his Williams FW07C at La Source and from sixth place fighting his way back up into the lead, helped somewhat by a safety-car period halfway through the race. The leader up until that moment was Nick Padmore, who in the process was battling his pre-78 title rival Matt Wrigley. As at Silverstone, Wrigley had been fastest in qualifying, but once again Padmore made up for that in the races. Since Wrigley was forced to retire from the second race, two class wins were enough for Padmore to take the title. It is the Briton’s fourth F1 championship: he previously won the pre-78 title in 2015 and 2016, and in 2018 took the post-78 title.

There was more Formula 1 on the programme, as the Historic Grand Prix Car Association brought its GP cars up to 1966 – but without Dutch favourite Michel Kuiper who dropped out in qualifying with a broken Colotti gearbox in the back of his Brabham BT4. As a result, he missed out on a fantastic first race in which Tim Child (in a BT3/4) prevailed in a five-car battle for first place. On Saturday, Michael Gans (Cooper T79) and Justin Maeers (Cooper T53) dueled for victory, with Gans narrowly ahead of his opponent throughout the race. In the older front-engined cars, Mark Shaw (Scarab-Offenhauser) and John Spiers (Maserati 250F) went head-to-head twice and split the spoils after the latter suffered bad luck on Friday and the former on Saturday.

John Spiers/Nigel Greensall, TVR Griffith, 2023 Spa Six Hours

Once again, John Spiers and Nigel Greensall proved unstoppable in Masters Gent Drivers. (photo 8W)

In the combined Masters Gentlemen Drivers & Pre-Touring Car competition for GTs and touring cars up to 1966, familiar names ran away with the victories: John Spiers and Nigel Greensall added yet another GT victory to their tally in a very successful season, while in touring cars Sam Tordoff dominated once again. Spiers actually did all the hard work during his opening stint, as he built on a conspicuous start to charge up into the lead shortly before the stops. Despite his usual elite-driver time penalty taken at their mandatory stop, Greensall was able to finish the job in the fashion that we have come to expect from him, producing one banzai ‘qualifying lap’ after another before sending the TVR Griffith past John & Gary Pearson’s E-type. Meanwhile, Giles Dawson shone again by getting on the overall podium with his Lotus Elan 26R. Tordoff’s Ford Falcon was once again untouchable in the touring cars, even though Rob Fenn had brought out BTCC star Jake Hill for his Ford Mustang.

In the Masters Sports Car Legends, the battle seemed decided after four laps when Diogo Ferrão took the lead in the Lola T292 shared with Martin Stretton. The latter did not seem to be troubled in the second half despite the fact that Kyle Tilley had made a mighty leap from last to second after he was forced to start his Chevron B23 from the pitlane. But the safety car coming out in the final ten minutes did not grant the race its grand finale, as it had not done the Chevron’s brakes any good...

Diogo Ferrão/Martin Stretton, Lola T292, 2023 Spa Six Hours

Diogo Ferrão and Martin Stretton ruled in Masters Sports Car Legends. (photo 8W)

While the win in the Masters GT Trophy went to series leader Craig Wilkins after another dominant run in his Lamborghini Huracán Super Trofeo Evo, Dutch eyes were on the debut of Jac & Ties Meeuwissen’s Ferrari 488 Challenge and the return of Hans Hugenholtz’s Ford Mustang FR500C. Against three Lambos, the Meeuwissens seemed to have no chance but when Keith Frieser’s Huracán dropped out early on, the two still made it to the podium. For Hugenholtz, the top step of the GT4 podium was up for grabs when after having qualified cautiously in the recently restored Mustang, he used the pouring rain to good effect to drive from last to first.

That same rain had caused the first race of the Belcar Historic Cup to be cut short after four laps, resulting in a surprising victory for Ilaria Stallivière’s Renault Clio, but the big guns were able to stretch their on a bone-dry track the next day. Initially Eric Qvick’s BMW 320i STW and the Luc Branckaerts’ Corvette C4 took turns in the lead, but in the second part of the race Wim Kuijl’s older Ford Capri RS3100 stormed through into first place. And so, after his shock win at the Silverstone Festival, the Dutch youngster had won another big race.

Ben Thaens/Bert Theunissen, BMW E36 325i, 2023 Spa Six Hours

The Belcar Historic Cup provided a big taste of seventies, eighties and nineties touring cars. (photo 8W)

The Sport Proto 2000 provided a rather lean contribution to the programme, as with seven cars at the start for a one-hour race, it was going to look like a calm Friday morning. With the race clock turned back to 45 minutes, the Chevron B8s that we know from the Masters Sports Car Legends took the honours, with Chris & Freddie Lillingston-Price defeating Charlie Allison and Hugh Colman.

Speaking of lean, Motor Racing Legends had left its famous RAC Woodcote Trophy & Stirling Moss Trophy at home while the Belcar Historic Cup was already catering for the more recent touring cars – and so MRL turned up with its Pre-War Sports Cars only. In this race, one favourite after another dropped out, victory instead going to Ross Keeling’s Delahaye 135, as Keeling made his debut at Spa. Thanks to quick Calum Lockie who had put the car on pole, the French sportscar was flying after its driver change and resulted in Lockie leaving Christopher Mann’s Alfa Monza and Martin Halusa’s Bugatti T35B to trail at the finish.

Paddocks, 2023 Spa Six Hours

Sadly, some of the paddocks were emptier than usual. (photo 8W)

To summarise, the 30th Spa Six Hours’ support programme was lacking a certain pizzazz and wasn’t quite worthy of an anniversary edition. In fact, the Thursday and Friday programmes didn’t start until after ten o’clock after German promoter FHR cancelled their CanAm & Sportscars at the last minute. Many thought that the adjusted timetable was to blame. In this new format, the six-hour race itself had become the final event, with Sunday reserved entirely for a car-club trackday instead of acting as the final race day on which Six Hours entrants could still compete in various Masters races.

Consequently, the fields were (much) smaller than usual, as many teams did not want to risk their cars in the support races. Others stayed away entirely, not wanting to lose almost an entire week of work by traveling on Tuesday to be ready for Wednesday’s test day. What’s more, teams with multiple cars chose to split them between the Six Hours and the Masters races rather than enter them in both. Also, much of the paddock area had already been emptied during the grand finale on Saturday night, leading to a soulless atmosphere in many garages of the F1 pit building.

And so, the Sunday experiment with the car clubs – although commendable from the point of view of finishing the racing on a high – does not seem to warrant a repeat if organiser Roadbook wants to maintain the heart of its event in healthy shape.

More pictures of the Spa Six Hours weekend