The rasping induction roar of Jaguar XK engines and delicious woofle of their straight-six exhaust notes through the densely-forested pocket of Belgium’s Ardennes region into which the magnificent Francorchamps circuit is carved, provided a charismatic soundtrack as Chris Ward (Lister Costin) and Carlos Monteverde/Gary Pearson (D-type) reprised glories past in MRL’s concurrent Royal Automobile Club Woodcote Trophy and Stirling Moss Trophy contests at the 25th Spa Six Hours event.
To crown a memorable day on which he won the race for a third time in the bulbous Lister, Ward added the evening’s enduro title to his haul with JD Classics, sharing a Ford GT40 with Andrew Smith, the Scot with whom he triumphed in 2013’s Woodcote competition sharing the ex-Cyril Wick Cooper-Jaguar T33.
Reflecting increased grid capacity this year, the 61-strong entry (up from 58 last September) arrived mainly from Great Britain but embraced six Belgian teams and enthusiastic competitors from Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Lebanon, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Switzerland, the USA and Zimbabwe. Truly a cosmopolitan set in a cross-section of the finest Pre-1961 sports racing cars on the planet.
Friday’s qualifying session was horribly wet, as reflected in Phil Keen’s pole time of 3m33.856s (73.26mph) – some 43 seconds from Saturday’s ultimate race pace on the 4.35-mile circuit – in Jon Minshaw’s Demon Tweeks Lister-Jaguar Knobbly. The British GT ace slithered round 4.5s quicker than Ward in the slipper-bodied Lister (3:38.368) with last year’s winners Tony Wood/Will Nuthall (Lister-Jaguar Knobbly) and Olly Bryant (Lotus 15) claiming row two of the grid with laps in the 3m39s bracket.
Best of the Woodcote Trophy Pre-’56 brigade by a country mile was Pearson, whose 3:44.730 (69.71mph) shot in the white Jaguar, raced in period by Gillie Tyrer and Jim Clark, was rewarded with P5, five places ahead of Fred Wakeman/Patrick Blakeney-Edwards in the former’s ex-Equipe Endeavour Cooper-Jaguar T38, the winner here in 2014 and ’15.
Nigel Greensall planted Chris Milner’s grunty 5.5-litre Lister-Chevrolet Costin alongside, fractions quicker than two-litre standout Michael Gans (ex-Roy Pierpoint Lotus-Climax 15) and Richard Kent, sharing his blue Lister-Jaguar Costin with TV presenter Chris Harris. The big Ecurie Ecosse Tojeiro-Jaguar of James Cottingham/Massimiliano ‘Max’ Girardo shared row five with the Cooper-Jag, with Lotuses on their heels. If Dion Kremer was comfortable on half a session in the family 15 – co-driven by 81-year-old father Gabriel – their buddy Ben Mitchell was sensational in Hong Kong commuter Jason Yates’ 1500cc 11, sploshing the ‘Custard Climax’ round in 3:47.855 for P12.
Dutchman David Hart (Lister-Jaguar Costin) and the gallant Aston Martin DB3 of Martin Melling/Rob Hall – Peter Collins/Pat Griffith’s ’52 Goodwood Nine Hours winner, fresh from a popular Revival Meeting victory there with Hall up – straddled the 3m50s line, the black Aston third of the ‘Woodcoteers.’ Behind them sat personable Italian Andrea Stortoni, enjoying his maiden outing in the ex-Douglas Graham Lotus 11, long in rebuild, and the omnipresent Keith Ahlers/Billy Bellinger in Lola Cars founder Eric Broadley’s ’58 brainchild, the Mk1 Prototype.
The top 20 was completed by Barry Wood/Julian Bronson (RGS Atalanta-Jaguar) and the thumping Allard-Cadillac J2 of Tim and Oliver Llewellyn from the Woodcote set, Sam Stretton soloing in top timber merchant Philip Champion’s Lotus 11 Le Mans and John and Charlie Brown, another dad-and-lad combo, in their Jaguar C-type. The Healeys of Jason Minshaw/Andy Willis (100 Le Mans), Paul and Jonathan Mortimer (100M) and Karsten Le Blanc/Jeremy Welch (100S) were also inside four minutes, separated by David Graus/Martin Stretton (Frazer Nash Targa Florio) and Malcolm Paul/Rick Bourne (ex-Mike Anthony Lotus-Bristol 10).
Nestling in midfield after the preliminaries were the Lotus 15s of American Mike Malone (destined not to start), Harlequins rugby legend David Cooke, versatile local man Guy Peeters and Richard Wilson, racing his ex-works car for the first time. Marc Gordon – in several races at Spa – did extraordinarily well to grid 27th in his Jaguar XK150, ahead of the Willment-Climax of Charles Gillett/Steve Smith, top Belgian Gregory de Pris’ Rejo, the hairy Kurtis-Chevrolet 500S of Chris Keen/Richard McAlpine, Paul Woolley in the quickest Cooper Monaco and the cycle-winged Cooper-Bristol T24/25 of John Ure/Nick Wigley.
Further Belgian interest was focused on Olivier Blanpain (Cooper Monaco), Marc Valvekens (Lola Mk1, Arnold Herreman’s Cooper T39 ‘Bobtail’ and Tom de Gres’ Lotus 11. Clive Joy’s pretty blue Jaguar D-type, Malte Muller-Wrede’s shapely full-bodied Allard J2X Le Mans, the Lotus 11s of London-based Cypriot Costas Michael and rallyman Brian Palmer and Dutch classic car dealer Jan Gijzen’s very original three-litre Lister-Jaguar Knobbly caught the eye too.
Fifty nine cars formed an impressive rolling-start stampede as Saturday’s 61 minute race (Stephen Bond having withdrawn his Lister-Jaguar) got under way on a mercifully dry circuit with light clouds overhead. Ward set off with his customary vitesse, pursued by Minshaw and the ever eager Gans, with Cottingham outgunning Greensall and Kent on the opening lap. Hart, from P13, was seventh at the end of the opening lap, with Woodcote Trophy leader Monteverde between him and Bryant who – having had a nightmare at the first turn – had Dion Kremer and Wakeman on his tail.
“I was in La Source as Carlos [Monteverde] arrived alongside, locked-up,” said Olly. “I ran wide and let the lock off to give him room and went out over the outside kerb where there was no grip so couldn’t keep it lit and slithered back into the pack having lost a lot of places.” Two laps later it was all over for Bryant when a rear damper snapped at Eau Rouge. “It was a little lively, but I managed to not crash!”
Bellinger dived into the pits on lap two, suspecting a rear puncture on the little Lola having felt a wobble, but was quickly under way again, fears allayed. “It was the right thing to do,” said car owner Ahlers, “Billy probably ran over something small in the track, or maybe hit oil.” Already gone were the Lotuses of Michael (gearbox failure) and Peeters, while last year’s winning Lister was retired with a broken throttle pedal pivot which precluded Wood from getting full power, not an issue in timed practice.
Ward opened a gap of almost four seconds to Minshaw over the first six laps, but traffic enabled Jon to get back within reach before he pitted on lap nine and parked the Knobbly with clutch problems. The 2015 SMT race winner’s demise promoted Cottingham to second, which became the lead when Ward made his stop bang on half-distance.
After Milner replaced Greensall, who had chased Minshaw, the Lotus 15s of Gans and last of the late stoppers Kremer were promoted to second and third behind Cottingham, who put Girardo in to bat after 13 laps. Ward thus went back to the top of the lap chart and calmly drove on to the chequered flag, repeating 2014’s SMT win in the car – following which he landed his second Woodcote Trophy gold in a C-type Jag in ’15.
Class winner Gans led the pursuit, crossing the line almost a minute adrift of the dark green Lister and 11 seconds ahead of the sister machine of Hart after 21 laps. Cottingham/Girardo and Greensall/Milner claimed fourth and fifth, also on the lead lap. Sixth of the Stirling Moss runners was the Willment of Smith/Gillett after an excellent run which saw them finish seventh, 11 seconds behind the D-type. “I had great fun carving through from 28th to ninth, then handed over to the boss who completed the job,” said Steve.
Monteverde and Pearson, who landed a hat-trick of wins together from 2010-’12 – the British Jaguar specialist also won in ’07 with Switzerland’s Lukas Huni in another XKD, incidentally – were again the class of the SMT field. They finished a meritorious sixth overall, a brilliant job in mighty company, having covered 20 laps. Despite their unscheduled two-stopper, Bellinger/Ahlers charged back to pip Sam Stretton’s dark red Lotus, another class winner, for eighth.
Tenth overall and second in the Woodcote Trophy section was a great result for the Llewellyns in their Allard. “The car’s going like fury now; not nearly as scary as when we bought it about five years ago,” said Tim on the podium. A feisty recovery drive by Blakeney-Edwards saw the Cooper-Jaguar depose the Paul/Bourne Lotus-Bristol from third of the early set in the final exchanges. “Fred was spooked when he thought something had broken at the back [a similar story to Bellinger’s] so he came in for us to have a look,” said Patrick, who came home 14th.
Ahead of PBE, Ford Lotus Cortina racer Stortoni climbed to a splendid 11th in his dark blue Lotus 11 and will clearly be a force to be reckoned with once he gets mileage under his belt. Runner-up to Stretton, he saw off Serge Kriknoff S1 version. Both of the slippery tiddlers finished ahead of the rumbling Kurtis. Louis Zurstrassen (Elva MkV) and the Paul/Bourne Lotus streamliner also completed 20 laps.
First Cooper Monaco home, after a charge from 58th to 18th, was the Tony Ditheridge/Barry Cannell example. Best of the Belgians, also after a strong run, was Valvekens whose beautiful Lola Mk1 flashed over the timing line 28th, half a second ahead of the Elva Mk5 of moustachioed German Ralf Emmerling and French-based Briton Phil Hooper. Almost as tight was the Healey tussle in which the Mortimers pipped Le Blanc/Welch by seven tenths after points failure halted the Minshaw/Willis car on lap 5.