Tag Archives: Spa 24 Hours

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Local Boys Make Good – GT1 says farewell to the Spa 24 Hours

I wrote this retrospective a while back, intending it to be used for another purpose. Perhaps it should have seen the light of day last weekend when the attention of the GT Universe was focused on Francorchamps. It matters not, like the 2019 edition the 2009 Spa 24 Hours was action packed, this part of Belgium rarely disappoints. So take a few minutes to look back to the time of GT1………….

Change was in the air for those anticipating the 2009 edition of the Spa 24 Hours. In early July that year the FIA had given approval for SRO’s next big step, the FIA GT1 World Championship, a brave venture to launch in the face of the financial storms that were raging at the time. This bold move also spelled the end of the road for the FIA GT Championship which had graced tracks around the globe since 1997, taking GT racing to new heights.

The 2009 Spa 24 Hours would therefore be the last contested by the GT1 cars that had pretty much ruled the roost since 2001 when SRO took over as promoters of the Belgian endurance classic. That fact combined with the economic challenges of the time faced by all the competitors meant that the field in the leading class was smaller than in previous years. However, the quality of the competitors more than made up for any shortfall in quantity.

Hot pre-race favourites were the trio of Maserati MC12 GT1s entered by Vitaphone Racing, as winners in three of the previous four years at Spa, they looked on course to add to their trophy cabinet. The German team’s driver line ups were first class too. In #1 were the reigning FIA GT Champions, Andrea Bertolini and Michael Bartels with Stéphane Sarrazin and Alexandre Negrão completing the quartet. #2 MC12 had regulars Alex Müller and Miguel Ramos supported by Pedro Lamy and Eric van de Poele, a record five-time winner at the Spa 24 Hours. The final Vitaphone entry had Belgians Vincent Vosse and Stéphane Léméret leading the charge with Carl Rosenblad and Alessandro Pier Guidi also in the team.

The opposition to the Italian supercars came in the shape of three Corvette C6.Rs. Local favourites Peka Racing Team gave the crowds something to shout about and did not lack in speed and experience in the driver department with a line-up of Mike Hezemans, Anthony Kumpen, Jos Menten and Kurt Mollekens. Race day would be Mike’s 40th birthday, what better present than a second triumph at the Spa 24 Hours?

Bringing a touch of the exotic to the grid was the C6.R of Sangari Team Brazil. The car, formerly run under the DKR banner, was crewed by ex-F1 driver Enrique Bernoldi and his fellow Brazilian Roberto Streit, with Xavier Maassen the third driver.

The final Corvette on the grid was entered by Selleslagh Racing Team, long-time supporters of the Championship. Leading their challenge was Vette factory driver and all-round good egg, Oliver Gavin. His teammates were James Ruffier, Bert Longin and Maxime Soulet.

The brave new world of the future GT1 class was also represented on the grid with the Marc VDS Ford GT and a factory backed Nissan GT-R. While these novelties attracted much attention, they were considered too new to challenge for outright victory.

The Qualifying sessions were struck by rainstorms of biblical proportions and there was virtually no running in the dry. The grid lined up with the Vitaphone Maseratis at the head with the Sangari and Selleslagh C6.R pair up next. Then it was the Marc VDS Ford, the final Vette of Peka Racing and the GT1 field was rounded out by the Nissan.

The Maserati phalanx immediately grabbed the lead on the run down to Eau Rouge and headed the field on the climb up the Kemmel Straight to Les Combes. If the MC12s thought that they would dominate the race they soon disabused of that notion. Within seven laps it was a Corvette 1-2, with Bernoldi heading Gavin, while Hezemans was also on the way up the leader board. However, the weather gods decided to get in on the act and soon heavy rain was falling and that seemed to favour the Maseratis.

For the first two hours the race swung between the leading six cars, then Streit’s Corvette crashed heavily at Raidillon and was out of the race. The rain returned with a vengeance after that with the contest potentially being won and lost in the pits as much as on track. Getting the right tyre strategy was vital to keeping up the pace, the engineers were as stressed as the drivers. The lead continued to change until just after Midnight when Bertolini lost control of his MC12 after encountering oil all over the track at Pouhon. He managed to get the heavily damaged car back to the pits but the repairs would take three hours and cost 67 laps. It later emerged that Hezemans was following the Maserati closely and also spun on the oil but without making contact with anything, that really was a late birthday present.

The problems at Vitaphone piled up when Pier Guidi was hit by a backmarker not long after the Bertolini incident. The subsequent repairs took ten laps and banished any realistic prospect of victory. Meanwhile out on track a fantastic battle raged in the darkness between Gavin, Hezemans and Lamy. This contest continued when Soulet, Kumpen and Müller took over their respective mounts at the next set of pitstops.

The rain gradually disappeared and as dawn broke the remaining Maserati began to slowly edge away from the chasing Corvette pair, although a mighty stint from Gavin yielded the fastest lap of the race, 2:15.423, and kept his Vette in contention. Then just after 10.00am disaster struck Müller in the MC12 when the Maserati’s rear right wheel collapsed approaching Fagnes, damaging the suspension. Despite his best efforts Müller could not get the three-wheeler back to the pits and was forced to retire on the spot.

The race had one more act of motoring cruelty to inflict, this time on the Selleslagh Corvette. A breather pipe worked loose, the loss of oil damaged the engine and the team parked the car in anticipation of completing one slow lap at the finish, being classified and scoring points would be scant reward for their efforts battling for the lead.

The final three hours of the race played out without drama at the head of the field till Kurt Mollekens crossed the line to score a popular and famous victory. The Peka Racing Corvette hardly missed a beat, the only one of the leading contenders to do so. Eleven laps down, and in second place, was the recovering #33 Maserati, but bitter disappointment would be all that Vitaphone Racing would take away from Spa.

The final step of the podium was taken by Phoenix Racing’s Audi R8 LMS which was running in the G2 class. The crew, Marcel Fässler, Marc Basseng, Alex Margaritis and Henri Moser had a largely trouble free run. The performance of the Audi gave a clue as to the future direction of the Belgian classic. The Audi was essentially a GT3 car, the race would prosper under that formula when it was adopted for the 2011 event. The fantastic entry for this year’s race is proof of that.

GT1 has signed off at the Spa 24 Hours in the most dramatic fashion, now there was a World Championship to chase.

John Brooks, August 2019

The Moment

I spend a lot of my working days looking at motor-sport photographs, both mine and those by others. To put it mildly there is a fair amount of dull dross around, and that’s just my archive. There are currently several “ace practitioners”, as they might witlessly describe themselves, who are nothing of the sort and whose output is embarrassing. The other side of the coin is to find an image that captures both the moment and the spirit of an event. I encountered the above while researching pictures for a book and it immediately grabbed my attention. It could only be Spa and the 24 Hours back in 2009……………of course it is the work of the great French agency DPPI who have been at the top rank of motor-sport photography for decades, the individual credit goes to Gregory Lenormand. So Monsieur Lenormand, Chapeau! Bravo! Respect!

 

John Brooks, August 2016

Vintage at Montlhéry

Montlhéry is the venue for a charming vintage motorsport meeting held biennially. The Special Correspondent attended and now gives us the benefit of his observations. This piece got lost in the system and has now resurfaced a year on. I consider it is worthy of exposure even a little later than intended.

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Every two years pre-1940 French cars gather at the L’autodrome de Linas-Montlhéry, south of Paris – it is an Aladdin’s cave!
Here is the famous start/finish area which has thankfully been saved.

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So good to find a Hurtu-built Léon Bollée Voiturette pottering around the Paddock area.

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Salmson made aero engines during WW1 and diversified into car production afterwards. They began by building G.N.s under licence; this is one of them.

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A 1938 Simca Gordini (chassis T8 823885). This car won the Bol d’Or 24 hour race that year here at Montlhéry.
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This is an Amilcar CC, the firm’s first model. André Morel used one to win the first Bol d’Or on the Vaujours circuit in 1922.
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One of France’s best small sporting cars of the 1920s, the Sénéchal. The marque won numerous successes including the Bol d’Or in 1924, ’25 and ’26 at Saint-Germain-en-Laye.
2015 Montlhery Vintage
Bugatti Type 39 with a 1.5-litre 4-cylinder engine. A Grand Prix de Tourisme was run at the time of the French Grand Prix in the early Twenties, the last at Montlhéry in 1925. This took place on 19 July, a week before the big race and Bugatti entered five of these Type 39 cars. Clearly derived from the Type 37, they had wider bodies, long flowing wings, hoods and full lighting equipment. They were driven to the circuit from the factory at Molsheim and had little difficulty in dominating the 1500 class, only one of them retiring. It was noted at the time that the race was very poorly supported by the public, the main grandstand occupied by only 59 spectators!

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An early Sizaire-Naudin. These cars were noted for their transverse-leaf independent front suspension.

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Notice the rocker-operated valve mechanism on the big 1-cylinder engine.
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The Amilcar C6 into which C.A. Martin had inserted a 4-cylinder engine. This car scored many successes in the early Thirties, including an outright win in the 1933 Bol d’Or and a class win at the Spa 24 Hours that same year.
2015 Montlhery Vintage
A very pretty Amilcar with a body by Duval.
2015 Montlhery Vintage
In 1921 Georges Irat introduced this 2-litre 4-cylinder o.h.v. sporting model. It went on to score many successes in the long- distance sports car races of the Twenties – the Routes des Pavées, the Spanish and Moroccan Touring Car Grands Prix and the Coupe du Roi in the 1927 Spa 24 Hours are some examples.

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Ariès of Courbevoie, Paris also supported endurance racing in the years after the First World War especially in the 1100 class – a notable success was a class win in the 1924 Le Mans 24 Hours, the car driven by Lapierre and Fernando Gabriel, the victor of the 1903 Paris-Madrid race.

2015 Montlhery Vintage

 

 

2015 Montlhery VintageThe company then developed this big 4-cylinder 3-litre car which was very unlucky to lose victory in the 1927 Le Mans; some compensation came with a win in the Georges Boillot Cup and a 3rd overall and class win in the Spa 24 Hours that same year.
2015 Montlhery Vintage
Eventually Hotchkiss bought Amilcar and for 1938 introduced the completely new Amilcar Compound. This may be a rather tatty example but the car has a very interesting specification: unitary construction in Alpax alloy, a 4-speed synchromesh gearbox mounted ahead of the (initially) side –valve 4-cylinder engine which drove the front wheels, all-independent suspension with torsion bars at the rear and rack-and-pinion steering. Only 681 were made.
David Blumlein, May 2016

Action in the Ardennes

We can now all relax, the Spa 24 Hours is done and dusted. A famous victory was the result for the BMW of Marc VDS that lays to rest that team’s hoodoo in their local endurance classic. The Special Correspondent was something of a ‘crash magnet’ during the early hours of the race, it all kicked off where the Kemmel Straight turns into Les Combes. Remind me not to stand near him in future.

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The Duqueine Engineering Ferrari with team owner Gilles Duqueine at the wheel clattered the barriers, apparently losing control on the unforgiving tarmac.

2015 Spa 24 Hours

Sorting out the mess was complicated by the fact that the French businessman is a paraplegic, having been the victim of a serious road accident 30 years back. Since then he has become a respected racing driver, winning titles along the way. He will be back as he was unhurt in the incident, though the Ferrari was too damaged to continue.

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The Special Correspondent had just got his breath back when there was a copycat incident. Karim Ojjeh’s BMW getting airborne after hitting the same steel barrier.

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Karim was shaken by the accident, caused by a lockup on the downshift according to the telemetry. Otherwise he was OK.

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There will be a ‘Reflections on Spa 24 Hours’ along later this week.

Meanwhile here is a gallery to enjoy.

A Primer on Sports Car Racing – Part Two

In the second part of his survey of the endurance motorsport scene, János Wimpffen considers the leading organisations in European GT racing, SRO, Creventic and VLN.

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The Stéphane Ratel Organisation is now the granddaddy of European GT racing. Its antecedents go back to the BPR (Barth-Peter-Ratel) Global GT Series which began in 1994 and most famously provided the framework for the long-lived FIA GT Championship. After having lost its World Championship status SRO became semi-independent from the FIA which has turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

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SRO, through its former European GT3 Championship, was responsible for carving out a niche for the GT3 class and it has become the sole category for what has bifurcated into two quite different series. The present form of the Sprint Series began in 2010 and consists of two races during the weekend. The main function of the Qualifying Race, typically held on Saturday, is to set the grid for the Main Race. Both are one hour in length with pit stops and driver changes taking place during a mandated ten-minute mid-race window.

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The SRO Sprint series is the most creative of all sports car series in testing the waters at some rather unique venues, including street courses in Baku and Moscow.

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The SRO Endurance Series primarily consists of three hour races with the Spa-Francorchamps 24 Hours as the season’s centerpiece. In many ways the Endurance championship is the spiritual successor to BPR as it caters largely to “gentleman” drivers. While the technical formula for both series is based on GT3, there are subsidiary classes reserved for non-pro rosters called Pro-Am and Am (Silver Cup in the Sprint Series).

2014 Spa 24 Hours

The Blancpain sponsored Endurance Series has grown into a very rich forum displaying all of the current GT3 machinery. New models for 2015 include the Lamborghini Hurracan and the McLaren 650S. Many other marques are currently circulating such as Audi, Aston Martin, Bentley, BMW Mercedes-Benz, Ferrari, Nissan, Porsche, and Jaguar—the last being represented only by a troubled, privately built car.

Entries for the Endurance Series have frequently exceeded 60 cars but the Sprint Series rarely has made it to two dozen. The short races do offer no holds barred cut-and-thrust battles. It is rare for the entire field to make it through the opening lap unscathed. That expectancy of carnage is one reason why some teams have balked and run primarily in the endurance rounds. Orthodox sports car fans may balk at one-hour races being considered a major event but the made-for-TV / video game format has a special type of appeal. Both of the SRO series have exclusive agreements with Pirelli.

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The Dutch based Creventic Organisation has emerged as another major player on the European scene. They have been managing the Dubai 24 Hours since 2006 and this race has steadily risen in prominence, becoming a wintertime jaunt for European runners. Creventic expanded the concept a bit with a loose series begun in 2008 and this year the all-Hankook shod 24 Hour Series has become a full-fledged FIA championship. Despite the title, many of the rounds are actually 12 hour races. The fields for Creventic races are an eclectic mix of GT, Touring and silhouette specials. Overall winners at Creventic races invariably are built GT3 specs. Called A6, they are slightly altered and frequently must run above a reference lap time—a variation on the BOP theme.

2014 Nurburgring 24

There are important endurance races which are independent of any series. The chief European example would be the Nürburgring 24 Hours. For most of this race’s 30 plus year existence it was primarily a gigantic German club race.

2014 Nurburgring 24

Many of teams in its almost preposterous starting fields of nearly 200 cars still fit the mold of club racers and come from the ranks of slower GT and Touring categories. However, the sharp end of GT3 (called SP9-GT3) has inexorably become the domain of the major factory teams and has been fiercely contested of late by BMW, Audi, and Mercedes. Further afield in Australia, the Bathurst 12 Hours has taken on a similar role as the antipode’s most significant independent GT endurance race.

The Spa 24 Hours A History

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A new book has just been published, The Spa 24 Hours A History. Its author is David Blumlein, a regular on this website and an automotive historian of note. The subject matter is a comprehensive review of one of the world’s greatest endurance motor races, the Spa 24 Hours. It is the first such history written in English.

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This year marked the 90th anniversary of the classic race and the book traces the events down the decades and illustrates the changes that the Spa-Francorchamps has gone through from the earliest days.

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The chapters are arranged in a logical fashion to cover the races that were run to common regulations as the event has changed from Le Mans-type sports cars to Touring Car and now to GTs.

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Each chapter is enhanced by a selection of “Further Facts” which give detailed background information that might otherwise be missed. Similarly the photography seeks to show the more unusual aspects of the race such as the Ferrari Mondial of Keke Rosberg in 1989.

One of the successful Škodas at Eau Rouge in 1948. (Chpt 6)

There is a comprehensive set of Appendices detailing such subjects as those who lost their lives at the race, a profile of some of the more important Belgian drivers and, of course, the results. The author is candid about the conflicting records on the lower placed finishers and has attempted to use the most reliable sources.

Moskvitches lined up before the start in 1971 (Results)

There are forewords from François Cornélis (President of the RACB), Stéphane Ratel (CEO of SRO Motorsports Group) and Belgian drivers Pierre Dieudonné and Eric van de Poele who have eight victories in this great race between them.

Here is the Peugeot 806 People-Carrier!

There can be very little left to be discovered about the Spa 24 Hours that is not covered somewhere in this book.

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I must disclose a personal connection as I have supplied some of the photos used including the one above of Lilian Bryner at dawn on her way to victory in 2004 driving the BMS Scuderia Italia Ferrari 550 Maranello.

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Furthermore I assisted David in this enterprise in a capacity of Project Manager, so it would be fair to say that I am not objective about the book.

A view of the daunting Burnenville section on the old circuit. (Chpt?)

When David and I set out on this journey it was agreed between us that we should strive to produce something that we could be proud about and in my opinion we have done just that. It is a good read and will be a valuable reference work in the years to come.

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The design is clean and elegant, just what you would expect from Marcus Potts. There are many others who given significant assistance along the way and when you buy the book you will read of them.

The Publisher is Transport Bookman Limited and the book can be found at the link below.

Chaters Motoring Booksellers

26 Murrell Green Business Park,

Hook, Hampshire
RG27 9GR 

UK

T: +44 (0)1256 765 443
F: +44 (0)1256 767 992

E: books@chaters.co.uk

Price £39.99 or €52 plus postage

 

John Brooks, December 2014

 

Houston, We Have a Problem

2013 BES Spa 24 Hours

Not what you want to see in the viewfinder at Radillon, Alex Buncombe is a passenger as the GT-R heads towards the wall…………and me……………still it gave the commentators something to laugh at,

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oo_aGVtqRgg&feature=youtu.be

always pleased to be of service! And yes I ducked………….

John Brooks, July 2013