Steve Dance (Ford Capri RS3100) and Harry Whale (BMW M3 E30) scored a narrow win apiece as the Historic Touring Car Challenge and Tony Dron Trophy combatants regrouped in strong numbers for their eagerly-anticipated annual visit to Belgium’s Spa Six Hours event, always a seasonal highlight.
Mixed conditions all weekend made survival tough at times, and tyre choice crucial, but Dance in his Weisberg tools tribute-liveried car wailed past Friday’s chequered flag 1.482s clear of Calum Lockie in Julian Thomas’ Kaliber Sierra RS500 which the duo had wrestled through from the back of the grid following a stub axle failure in qualifying earlier in the day.
Saturday’s wetter going was manna to Whale in his father Nick’s original Auto Trader ‘Beemer,’ with its 2.5-litre DTM-spec engine. “Spa in the wet is M3 territory. Spa in the dry is not; we’d have been about 10th,” smiled Mr Silverstone Auctions, who soloed in the opener. Dance summoned all his reflexes in the potent Capri-GAA to finish runner-up, 1.855s behind and clear of the Sierras of Max and Ian Goff and Sean and Daniel Brown, the latter’s completed earlier in the week.
The TDT Group 1 set also had different winners. James Hanson/George Pochciol (Ford Capri) beat the gallant VW Golf GTi of Jim Morris/Tom Shephard and John Spiers’ Capri by a few seconds on day one and finished 13th overall. Olly Bryant took his turn in the family Chevrolet Camaro – piloted by dad Grahame in the opener – and growled home eighth in the sequel, in which the plucky Golf was again second.
The lure of the magnificent Francorchamps circuit, chiselled into the pine forests of the Ardennes region, attracted a superb HTCC/TDT entry, the grid for which was bolstered by 11 Pre-1966 cars from the Under 2-litre Touring Car set.
Two dramatically-liveried Ford Sierra RS500s made their debuts – and their presence felt – increasing FoMoCo’s winged wonders’ number to seven. Built from a new Ford Motorsport shell, the Brown & Geeson Racing team’s stunningly-finished example was shaken down at Snetterton on Monday, then sent to Spa. David Tomlin’s, meanwhile, attracted more local interest, sporting the Batibouw livery of Belgian Thierry Tassin’s period Group N mount.
Dance claimed pole with a sizzling 2m40.530s (97.61mph) shot in the 3.4-litre Capri which would stand as the weekend’s quickest lap as weather conditions deteriorated. The turbocharged two-litre Sierras of the Browns and Mark Wright/Dave Coyne were closest, on 2:41.316 and 2:41.696 respectively. A cracked cylinder liner sidelined Wright’s Rouse-built car for the weekend, alas, having been quickest through the Kemmel Straight speed trap at 137.2mph. Eric Mestdagh’s stunning ex-Willy Braillard/Jean Xhenceval ’73 Spa 24 Hours-contending 3.5-litre BMW CSL ran it closest!
Ric Wood claimed P4 in his Calsonic tribute Nissan Skyline GT-R, chased by Australian Carey McMahon – achieving a long-held ambition to race at Spa and blown away by the circuit on his first visit – in his sensational ex-Tony Longhurst RS500, which pulled 190mph at Bathurst in 1990, and Mestdagh in the Marabout BMW. David Hart’s gold Capri RS3100, Paul Mensley’s RS500 and the similarly-specced BMW M3s of dad-and-lad Mark Smith and Arran Moulton-Smith (ex-Steve Soper) and the Whales also under 2m50s.
Belgians Thierry and Alexandre de Latre du Bosqueau put their immaculate two-litre Cosworth BDA-powered Wooding Tuning Ford Escort RS1600 11th, ahead of the fat-arched Rover SDI of Fred Wakeman/Patrick Blakeney-Edwards, arch-enthusiast Patrick Watts in his Computervision MG Metro Turbo and Tomlin’s colourful RS500, the last to lap inside three minutes.
The Rovers of Ken and Tim Clarke (Steve Soper’s TWR Hepolite Vitesse) and Martin Overington/Guy Stevens (Unipart) were next up, pursued by Jonathan ‘Jo’ Gomm’s RS1600. TDT pacesetter Spiers did a fine job to qualify 18th overall on 3:03.000 (85.62mph) in his Hermetite Capri 3.0S, ahead of local man Raphael de Borman’s more modified HTCC version. Morris/Shephard completed the top 20 in the Morris Vulcan/Triang/Lifeline Extinguishers Golf, a period racer in Jim’s father John’s skilled hands.
For the record, Modern GT racer Shaun Balfe was the class of the U2TC field in his Lotus Cortina, his 3:05.641 good enough for 21st and a second and a half swifter than Graham Pattle/Mark Burton and Gary Pearson/Carlos Monteverde in sister cars. ‘Skid’ Scarborough/Howard Dawson (Capri 3.0S) divided them, with the Boule d’Or Alfa Romeo GTV6 of marque dealers Ian and Frank Guest in close company.
Till Bechtolsheimer’s Watts-run Metro Turbo (the original family-sponsored Massa car) and Larry Warr’s Mini 1275GT were monstered by the Bryant Simoniz Camaro with Jonathan and Adrian Miles’ splendid Cortina Mk2 next of the HTCC contenders. Tom Pead’s BMW 1600Ti, Paul Clayson’s Alpilatte Alfa Romeo GTV6, the earlier Giorgetto Giugiaro/Bertone 105-shaped GTV of Glynn Allen/Darren Roberts, Chris Keen/Richard McAlpine’s Shell Capri and Klara Rettenmaier’s BMW 1800Ti rounded out the MRL qualifiers.
The remaining RS500s were in trouble. Suspension failure on his first flying lap fired Julian Thomas through the gravel into the guardrail at Stavelot 2, fortunately with a light impact. Non-starter Wright sportingly lent a spare upright/stub axle assembly and some T-Cut had the ex-Guy Edwards/Andy Rouse car out for the afternoon race, for which the Goffs also made the grid having not managed a practice lap.
Spasmodic rain, typical of the region, gave way to brighter skies before the first race got under way, yet still teams were in a quandary over tyres with it being damp underfoot. Sean Brown led the opening lap from Mensley and Nick Whale, Tomlin, Hart, Mestdagh and Smith, with poleman Dance shuffled down to eighth. Mensley’s recalcitrant steed fizzled out, post-pitstop, at La Source hairpin.
As Wood stopped his blue Nissan with a gearbox glitch Thomas had scorched through to 18th at the end of the opening lap, increasingly confident that his car was OK. The Racelogic VBOX boss was into the top 10 in three circuits and fourth by the time he stopped to relay Lockie after five frenetic tours. Max Goff had progressed even more rapidly, handing over to Ian having arrived second in a line, behind Hart and ahead of Tomlin (who had led for a lap), Thomas and Dance.
Dance was quickest back into his stride and powered the white, blue and orange Capri on to the chequer. Lockie was flying – as a 134.8mph charge “with an mega tow” through the speed trap attested – and reeled him in, passing Hart and Goff on one lap. The Scot wasn’t finished, for having clocked fastest lap of 2:43.628s (95.75mph), he was sizing up the leader on the final lap. “We were lapping an Escort at Stavelot 2 but the driver saw Steve, who was driving beautifully, but not me. I had to jam on the brakes and slewed sideways, but the chance [of victory] was gone,” said Calum.
Dance and Thomas/Lockie thus finished five seconds clear of the Goffs, with soloist Hart fourth. Smith/Moulton-Smith were first of the BMWs in the AMSpeed-run M3 in fifth, 45 seconds ahead of Mestdagh. Wakeman/Blakeney-Edwards, the de Latre du Bosqueaus, McMahon – who recovered brilliantly from 35th on the first lap, having taken a bold gamble on slick tyres and been swallowed by the pack – and the Clarkes made up the top 10. Whale and Overington/Stevens chased them in.
Former British Touring Car Championship racer Hanson relayed Pochciol to Tony Dron Trophy honours, outrunning Morris/Shephard, Spiers, Bryant Sr, Scarborough/Dawson and Warr. Balfe won the concurrent U2TC race, finishing 15th overall.
Most teams chose wet tyres for Saturday afternoon’s sequel, but immediately wished they hadn’t as the most powerful machines ate the treaded rubber voraciously. Early pacemaker Thomas knew he was torpedoed within a lap, but still led from Max Goff, the howling Capris of Dance and Hart and the M3s of Smith and Whale Jr.
Sean Brown shot from 19th to seventh on the opening circuit and was among the first to stop, handing his RS500 to Daniel. Out of luck, though, was McMahon who, chasing fast-rising Whale and Mestdagh up the Kemmel Straight, became embroiled in an unfortunate melée. The Belgian braked earlier and harder for Les Combes than the shadowing Whale had anticipated and as Harry jinked left, the Aussie collected the CSL he revealed and clipped the M3. With a damaged nose moulding and deranged steering geometry, the famous yellow Sierra was out.
Thomas hung on in front to the stops, but it was Whale, revelling in the slippery conditions, filling his mirrors as he did. The Kaliber RS500’s turnaround went “spectacularly wrong,” according to finisher Lockie, for it took far longer than expected to fit slick-shod wheels. Calum bounced back from 21st to 10th, setting fastest lap of 2:50.136s (92.14mph) but ran out of time to improve further.
Whale found himself six seconds ahead of Dance, who closed in as a lighter grey ‘line’ appeared through the sullen darker asphalt. Steve had reduced that by two-thirds when the chequered flag flew, but “couldn’t quite get what I needed from the track.” Almost half a minute later the Goff RS500 finished third, with Dan Brown’s looming ever larger in his wake. Moulton-Smith’s M3 netted fifth, despite a late spin, with Mensley sixth after an enjoyable blast through the field.
Hart, resounding Tony Dron Trophy victor Bryant and the green and blue Rover (in which Mike Grant Peterkin subbed for the indisposed Wakeman) beat Thomas/Lockie back. Front-wheel-drive helped the little black Golf, enterprisingly conducted as ever by Morris and Shephard, to go the full 10-lap distance. The combo finished 11th overall, humbling the Capris of Spiers and Hanson/Pochciol in the TDT division. Scarborough/Dawsons’s Track Marshall car and Warr’s Mini completed the top six.
Back in the HTCC classification, De Borman, the de Latre du Bosqueaus, the Guests’ Alfa and the Rovers of the Clarkes and Overington/Stevens finished solidly. Balfe again won the U2TC battle, albeit with a bit of trouble from the pesky Mini Cooper S of Tom Bell/Joe Ferguson, at its best when the track was most slippery.