Historic car racing: Recapping the 2015 Spa Classic
Held under virtually and uncharacteristically dry conditions, the much-loved Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps hosted the fifth annual Spa Classic. One of Peter Auto’s blue ribbon events, the 2015 edition once again featured all of the familiar grids like the CER, Sixties’ Endurance and Trofeo Nastro Rosso, complemented by the ever impressive Group C machinery and the U2TC for mid-1960s touring cars. In the spirit of the Spa 24 Hours, the touring car races also boasted a night race on Saturday evening, stretching that day’s proceedings to close to 15 hours of track action.
Like all Peter Auto events, the Spa Classic also provided ample space for clubs and we were told over 1,500 vehicles were displayed in the various club enclosures. On Sunday afternoon, British auctioneer Bonhams also staged a sale inside the pit building, headlined by a Porsche 962C, which sold for close to Euro 1.5 million.
Historic Touring Cars:
Celebrating the rich history of the Spa 24 Hours were a pair of touring car grids, both of which had one-hour afternoon and evening races. The earliest cars were found in the U2TC for under two-liter machinery, which included Ford Lotus Cortinas, Alfa Romeo GTAs, BMW 1800s and a lone Mini. Richard Meaden and Grant Tromans had snatched pole but were unable to start the first race due to an engine issue. This paved the way for a straightforward victory for Richard Shaw and Jackie Oliver in the former’s BMW 1800 TiSA. They won again in the evening race and Tromans and Meaden used their repaired Cortina to place second. Meaden also finished third in the Cortina he shared with David Tomlin.
The grid for the up to 1984 touring cars for the two HTC races was one of the most colorful weekends and featured Escorts, Capris, Rovers, a choice of BMWs, and even a Volvo 240 Turbo and a Plymouth Hemi Cuda. Although considerably older than quite a few cars on the grid, the Ford Capri 3100 RS of Chris Ward and Andrew Smith was easily the quickest car of the field. The JD Classics entered machine, powered by the hugely powerful but also fragile twin-cam V6, won both races handsomely. In the first race Ward was over seven seconds faster than the pole time set by Richard Meaden in Tim Summers’ Group 2 Rover Vitesse.
Trofeo Nastro Rosso:
Not always attracting the biggest of grids, the Trofeo Nastro Rosso, for Italian and Italy-related cars, does provide a unique platform for some of the world’s most valuable cars that are rarely seen racing elsewhere. With 18 cars entered, the strength of the Trofeo Nastro Rosso was once again not in numbers but the grid did boast the unique Ferrari 250 GT Breadvan, a pair of the highly sought after Ferrari 275 GTB/Cs and the very Maserati 300S used by Stirling Moss to score the first of his three consecutive Nurburgring 1,000 kilometer victories. Using his blisteringly fast Ferrari 275 GTB/C and home advantage to great effect, long-time historic racer Vincent Gaye qualified on pole for both 45-minute races. He won both races, leading his neighbor from the north Jan Gijzen home on both occasions. The Dutchman had also started both races on the front row alongside Gaye. In the first race Martin Halusa valiantly fought back to third, after losing time early in the race, in his unique Breadvan, while in the final race of the weekend the Bizzarrini 5300 GT shared by Jean Brandenburg and Raphael Favaro finished third.
Strength in numbers is certainly a fitting description for the Sixties’ Endurance grid. Open to GT and sports racers of up to 1966, the two-hour race featured over 70 entries, while well over 60 cars started the race. Among them was a fleet of Shelby Cobras, seven of which qualified in the top 10. Among the more unusual machinery in the massive field were a Morgan SLR, a Porsche 904/6 and a Shapecraft Lotus Elan 26R. However, from the outset it was clear that one of the Cobras would go on to win the race.
Fastest of all in qualifying was the Cobra shared by owner Karsten Le Blanc and the very quick Nigel Greensall. The former was nevertheless beaten to the first corner by Carlos Monteverde in his Le Mans Cobra after a jump start. It was the start of a thrilling battle for the lead, which ended when Monteverde served the drive-through penalty for his false start. This enabled Le Blanc to hand over his Cobra to Greensall from the lead, which was never threatened again. Father and son Pierre-Alain and Erwin France placed second and Andrew Beverley was third on the all-Cobra podium. The Performance Index was won by Vincent Tourneur and Glen Duthie in their Porsche 356 Speedster from 1954.
Classic Endurance Racing 1:
The Classic Endurance Racing (CER) series is the longest running of the Peter Auto classes and for several years now is split in two different fields depending on age. CER 1 is the earliest and features prototypes up to 1971 and GTs of up to 1975. The tantalizing grid at the 2015 Spa Classic featured a host of Porsches, Lolas, Chevrons and Ford GT40s. Setting the pace in qualifying was Eric Jamar in the Chevron B19 he shared with Romain Belleteste. The second position on the grid was taken Carlos Monteverde and Gary Pearson in a Lola T70 but they failed to make it to the start. This promoted five-time Le Mans winner Emanuele Pirro to second in the gorgeous Alfa Romeo 33/3 he shared with owner Gianluca Rattazzi.
Using the raw power of the three-liter V8 to his advantage, Pirro managed to grab an early lead. After a thrilling battle, Jamar recaptured the lead and the diminutive Chevron missed out on the victory due to a technical issue. The race was stopped prematurely with a red flag after 48 of the allocated 60 minutes. Leading at the time was Toni Seiler in his striking Lola T70, while the second place was for Serge Kriknoff in the Lola T212 that had originally been used by Helmut Marko to win the 1971 European Championship.
Classic Endurance Racing 2:
Sports cars and GTs of a slightly more modern vintage took to the track in the CER 2 race, which kicked off the action on Sunday morning. Lolas and Chevrons were again strongly represented in the prototype ranks, which also included rarer machinery like a DFV-engined TOJ and no fewer than three of the four Cheetahs built during the 1970s. The GT2 field boasted a fabulous selection of Porsche 935s and also two 934s, including one of just ten 934.5 variants built in 1977. Filling the front row after the two qualifying sessions were Patrice Lafargue, who snatched pole in his two-liter Lola T298 and compatriot Dominique Guenat in his DFV-engined Lola T286.
Both of the rapid French racers were out-dragged to the first corner by Swiss Philippe Scemama in his DFV-powered Lola T290. He retained the lead through the mandatory pit stops only to see his race end at Les Combes after his rear suspension failed and his right rear wheel came off. Lafargue emerged in the lead ahead of the TOJ of Yves Scemama, while third was for Frederic da Rocha in another Lola T298. The GT2 class win was for Christian Bouriez who fought back valiantly after spinning his Ferrari 512 BBLM in the first corner.
The icing on the cake of the Spa Classic is traditionally the Group C race but, compared to last year, the grid was relatively small and eventually only 14 cars lined up for the start on Sunday afternoon. Among the cars missing from the grid was local hero Christophe d’Ansembourg’s lightning quick Jaguar XJR-14. Effectively a Formula One car with a roof and fenders, this very rare machine was quickest in the first qualifying session but was then sidelined with electrical issues. Going faster still in the second qualifying was the Spice SE90 GTP shared by Michael Simpson and Steve Tandy. Lining up second was Bob Berridge in his Nissan R91CP, while the Sauber-Mercedes shared by Kriton Lendoudis and Rui Aguas was third fastest.
Aguas had the best start and stormed to the lead of the one-hour race ahead of Simpson in the Spice with Berridge holding station in third. Following the pit stops, Berridge quickly made up ground and passed both Tandy and Lendoudis to claim victory. Tandy finished second in the pole-sitting Spice, while Lendoudis crossed the line in third. The ‘junior’ C2 class was won by Michel Ghio in a very rare Cosworth-engined ADA.
With the ever-impressive Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps as the backdrop and some of the finest GT, Prototypes and Touring Cars from the sport’s golden era as the protagonists, there is little not to like about the Spa Classic. The spectators seemed to agree and with over 20,000 set a new record for the event. What they were treated to can be found in our action-packed 280-shot gallery.