Spa Classic 2015

Spa Classic 2015

Friday 22nd May – Sunday 24th May 2015 – Spa Francorchamps Circuit, Belgium

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Group C Race Report

After an entertaining opening to the season in Barcelona, Group C Racing moved on to the ever-popular Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belgium; a track on which many of the assembled cars had done battle back in the day.

All the teams had prepared for the notoriously fickle Ardennes weather, but the Avon wets were destined to remain on the back of the trucks as dry conditions prevailed for all three days. There were several newcomers and returnees for this round, with all three classes benefitting. Class 1 saw the season debut of the Applebee Spice SE89 of Adrian Watt and the ever-popular Tic Tac Porsche 962 of Henrik Lindberg, while the SE88C of Thomas Dozin and the ADA of Michel Ghio swelled the Class 2 ranks (alas, the Spice-Tiga of Siggi and Philipp Brun was not quite ready to race, although it was on display in the paddock).

And while the Gebhardt was absent for this round – Michael Lyons being on race duty elsewhere this weekend – Class 3 welcomed the arrival of the Porsche 962s of Mischa Strijder and Jean-Marc Merlin/Yvan Mahé.

Steve Tandy had invited his British GT teammate (and Ginetta factory driver) Mike Simpson to join him for this event – Mike’s first ever experience of Group C – while Tommy Dreelan would again be racing with Aaron Scott and Kriton Lendoudis with Rui Aguas.

Bob Berridge, however, found himself alone in the #27 Nissan RC93 after business commitments had reluctantly kept Gareth Evans away.

The timetable for this popular and busy event saw Group C allocated a 45 minute qualifying session on both the Friday and the Saturday, with the 60-minute race following on the Sunday afternoon.

The first session would unfortunately see the demise of two cars within the first half hour, with the unfortunate Richard Eyre suffering a repeat of the crankshaft issue that had prevented him from racing his Jaguar XJR16 in Spain. The team had three spare crankshafts available, but none turned out to be to the car’s liking and despite great efforts they were forced to admit defeat and withdrew. Katsu Kubota’s participation, meanwhile, ended after just 20 minutes with an off in his #23 Nissan R90CK resulting in more damage than could be dealt with at the circuit.

But as these two cars left the scene, the remainder of the field put on an entertaining session.

Steve Tandy and Christophe D’Ansembourg swapped fastest laps in the opening stages, but as the Belgian got into his stride in the Jaguar XJR14 the laptimes fell significantly and the bar was set at 2:14.673 when the red flags were shown following Kubota’s off. This time would not be bettered for another 30 minutes – again by the Belgian – but the 3.5 litre car was by no means running off into the distance; Mike Simpson finding ever more speed in the #5 SE90 GTP and pretty much matching the purple car’s pace lap for lap. By the end of the 45 minutes, D’Ansembourg had set provisional pole at 2:12.537, but Simpson was just four-tenths behind him.

Rui Aguas set the third-fastest time in the #31 Mercedes C11, while Bob Berridge was fourth – second in C3 – in the FROMA Nissan. David Methley led Class 2 in his #171 Spice 89SE on 2:26.076, but Michel Ghio was just 1.381s behind in his #105 ADA.

The second session began early on Saturday afternoon and looked set to see a grand fight for overall pole. As things turned out, however, one of the major players in the scene would be exiting stage left after just six minutes; Christophe D’Ansembourg limping back into pitlane with a broken camshaft on the Jaguar. This would also prove to be terminal, leaving the race devoid of three very popular machines.

But Bob Berridge wasn’t shedding any tears and was soon improving on his Q1 pace in the Nissan and relishing the improvement in handling that had been achieved by Chamberlain Synergy since Barcelona.

After six laps the yellow car was down to 2:13.295 and it looked like a challenge for pole was on, but that was as close as Bob got. His efforts were good enough to cement a front row start, however. Pole went to the #5 Spice, but not as a result of the Jaguar’s demise. Instead, Simpson – absolutely enthused by his first experience of the car – took the GTP round in 2:10.808 on his ninth lap to set the fastest lap of the meeting so far, but just two laps later was parked by the side of the track after being stranded by drive shaft failure.

Elsewhere, David Methley dealt with the threat from Michel Ghio by finding an extra four seconds in the second session to take Class 2 pole.

The timetable happily allowed for plenty of time between qualifying and race for necessary work to be carried out and the cars that had survived the first two sessions were all present and correct on the grid as the start time (14:40) approached.

A new rule for 2015 required the ‘Pro’ drivers in any two-driver teams to start the one-hour races, and so we had Mike Simpson in the #5 Spice, Aaron Scott in the #14 Porsche, Rui Aguas in the #31 Mercedes and Yvan Mahé in the #53 Porsche as the pace car set off. When the field again approached the grid all eyes were on the lights, and when they signalled that the race was officially on the noise of several thousand angry horses echoed around the forests.

Simpson timed his start well and won the all-important drag race to La Source, rounding the tight hairpin first. But behind him was not the yellow Nissan, but the silver Mercedes; Aguas having nipped down the inside of Bob Berridge to take second. As the leaders crested Raidillon the white and silver cars were nose to tail, but when they came back into sight the positions had been reversed.

Simpson fought back and attempted to regain the position, but the Spice driver found himself having some difficulty selecting second gear – an issue that would remain throughout the race – and ran wide at the final turn on Lap 2 and lost several seconds to Aguas.

Berridge was now just behind the #5 Spice in third, while Scott was a dozen seconds further back in fourth in the Leyton House Porsche. In an excellent fifth overall was the Class 2 leading Spice of David Methley, who had started his race by passing the #60 Cheetah of Erik Rickenbacker and the #15 Spice of Adrian Watt. Watt had also demoted the Swiss racer to hold sixth, but was being pushed hard by the green G606.

This pressure was released just a lap later when Erik’s car suddenly lost two valves, forcing it into the pits and sadly into retirement, but the Applebee Spice itself lasted just a few corners more before it ground to a halt at Rivage and didn’t move again.

With about 10 minutes of the race run the #5 Spice was back on the pace of the leading Mercedes, but several slow laps prior to this arising from the gearbox issue meant that Simpson now trailed Aguas by almost 15 seconds. In seventh overall, second in Class 2, was the #105 ADA of Michel Ghio and he was starting to harass the #33 Porsche of Henrik Lindberg for sixth; the gap between the two being 1.6s. And the fight for ninth was also a close one, with Frank Lyons defending the position in his #177 ALD C289 from the #107 Spice SE88C of Thomas Dozin.

Aguas was soon lapping the backmarkers, with Mischa Strijder’s 962 the first to be passed on Lap 6; the Portuguese going on to put a lap on the majority of the field before handing the C11 over to Kriton Lendoudis at the end of Lap 15 with a sizeable lead.

By this point in the race the rest of the field had already made their stops and, where applicable, had changed drivers.

But things had changed during the stops, with Berridge’s Nissan being turned round 15 seconds quicker than Steve Tandy’s Spice and almost 30 seconds quicker than the Mercedes. The result was that Lendoudis saw the big yellow RC93 flashing past into the lead as he joined the race, and his mirrors were filled with the white of the #5 Spice; second place also changing hands before the 17th laps was completed.

As he has done so often in the past – although not in this car – Berridge put his foot down and pushed to consolidate his lead. Tandy did what he could in response, but the pace of his hamstrung car was two to three seconds off that of the Nissan.

Jean-Marc Merlin received the #53 Porsche 962C from Yvan Mahé in eighth place overall and within five minutes had set the car’s fastest lap of the race so far. At the end of its 16th lap, however, the orange car was back in the pitlane as the gearbox pump started to play up.

This unscheduled stop cost it six minutes before it could return to the race, but after just two more laps Merlin realised that the problem wasn’t going away and he had no choice but to return to the pits once more, this time for good.

On Lap 19 just three cars remained on the lead lap. Tommy Dreelan was keeping up a good pace in the #14 Porsche and still enjoyed a healthy advantage over the still-pushing David Methley, who was actually lapping the #171 Spice a bit quicker. The battles for sixth and eighth, however, were still raging with Lindberg/Ghio and Lyons/Dozin still seemingly tied together.

As the race entered its final five minutes the order of the top five seemed set. Berridge led by almost 20 seconds, with Lendoudis a by-now-distant third. Dreelan was fourth and Methley fifth. But with just two minutes left on the clock, the C2 leader was visibly slowing and after losing 30 seconds on the lap crawled into the pitlane. Disastrously, the car was out of fuel and a certain win had being snatched from the team’s hands; the car also losing valuable points as a result of not being classified.

To say Methley and his team were gutted is something of an understatement.

Oblivious to this late drama, an elated Bob Berridge took the flag at the end of Lap 25; and although he had a comfortable margin over the second-placed Steve Tandy, he had had to work hard for his win and the physical toll was plain to see as he struggled to get out of the car.

“It was Mike Simpson’s first ever go in a Group C car and he acquainted himself very quickly in Q1 and went on to impressively set pole in Q2,” said Steve. “Unfortunately an excursion over the La Source kerb did a drive shaft but as ever Pete Chambers was able to fix the car in good time for the race. We were hoping for a good dice with Bob and Rui but unfortunately were hampered with gear selection problems at the Bus Stop and La Source which meant we were unable to properly compete. However we were able to nurse the car home for a great result and hope to repeat at Monza!”

Kriton Lendoudis was third overall, with Tommy Dreelan taking the final C1 podium slot. Henrik Lindberg was fifth, having prevailed over the unrelenting pressure from Michel Ghio who finished just half a second later to claim the C2 win.

“The weekend was fantastic,” beamed Michel. “The team and I are very happy. The start was very hot but clean, and all the drivers drove well. I had a problem with my brakes during the race, but I was able to get into a sufficient rhythm to make the podium. I feel very sorry for David Methley, though – the victory was for him”.

And the margin between Frank Lyons and Thomas Dozin was just a couple of tenths larger as the ALD held off the Spice for second and third in C2 respectively.

“I thoroughly enjoyed the weekend, and more so because it was an hour race,” said Frank. “It was a shame for David running out of fuel – I’d anticipated coming third. There is still room for improvement with the car but we are getting there.”

“It was really a trouble-free weekend for me with the car running like clockwork during both the two qualifying sessions and the race,” said Thomas. “However, it seemed like the track was slow on the Saturday and although I pushed hard at the end of the second session I couldn’t match my best lap time of last year.

“I took a good start and was side by side with Frank all the way to La Source and all down Eau Rouge. He then pulled away a bit, but over a few laps I was able to close the gap and came back very close to him just before my pitstop. Unfortunately, I then missed a gear at La Source and he was gone. I am very pleased with the result for my first race of 2015 and very happy for the Mecauto team as well”.

Mischa Strijder was the final classified finisher in the #99 Porsche 962, with his reward being third in Class 3.

“This is my first podium finish in Group C, thanks to the support of my team and a little bit of luck,” said Mischa. “More importantly, driving a Group C car is so rewarding and I would like to invite all gentleman drivers to participate in this exciting race series, challenging these iconic cars. Looking forward to the next event at Monza!”

After two meetings the championship standings look like this:

Class 1

Steve Tandy 57
Kriton Lendoudis 46
Tommy Dreelan 35

Class 2

Frank Lyons 22
David Methley 19
Michel Ghio 14.5

Class 3

Bob Berridge 18.75
Christophe D’Ansembourg 16.5
Hervé Regout 16

Next up is another iconic circuit – Monza, for the Coppa Intereuropa on June 19-21.

MH