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High Drama on the Battlefield


Jon Minshaw and Phil Keen enjoyed a stellar Spa Six Hours weekend, with victory in the Stirling Moss Trophy Pre-1961 element of Motor Racing Legends’ Belgian showpiece in the Demon Tweeks Motorsport Lister-Jaguar Knobbly over the fabulous Ferrari 246 Dino of Gregor Fisken/Bobby Verdon-Roe opening the modern GT racers’ joint account on the world’s favourite circuit.

The concurrent Royal Automobile Club Woodcote Trophy race for Pre-’56 sportscars of impeccable provenance was yet closer fought, and had a sting in its tail when Patrick Blakeney-Edwards (in Fred Wakeman’s Cooper-Jaguar T38) sensationally ambushed long time leader Chris Ward’s Jaguar C-type one third of the way round the final lap to repeat 2014’s win.

The line-up for the annual ‘Battle of the Ardennes’ was magnificent, 53 cars representing 15 marques gracing proceedings. It was good to see three Cadillac V8-engined Allard J2s in the field, pére-et-fils Tim and Oliver Llewellyn and Canadians Bob Francis/John Thompson (whose car contested the ’53 Goodwood 9 Hours with Tony Page) joining Till Bechtolsheimer, whose monster sadly expired in practice.

Newcomers to the fray included Frenchman Serge Kriknoff [more usually seen in a Lola T210 of the ’70s] with a Lotus 11 in which he pipped countryman Jean-Jacques Gravier’s, five seconds shy of Philip Champion/Sam Stretton’s streamliner. A second Mercedes-Benz 300SL caused excitement, Germany’s Christian Plessdorf out-qualifying Paul Chase-Gardener’s fire-breathing coupe, while the Lola Mk1 of Tim Reid/Mike Stewart looked pretty.

The Minshaw/Keen Lister topped the timesheets after Friday’s qualifying session, their impressive 2m49.870s (92.50mph) shot on the seven kilometre switchback more than 2.6 seconds quicker than the ex-Phil Hill/Wolfgang von Trips/Rodriguez brothers N.A.R.T. Ferrari which joined it on the front row. Another Lister Knobbly, with Tony Wood/Will Nuthall up, gridded third with the remarkable 1216cc Coventry-Climax FWE-engined Lotus 17 of Dion Kremer alongside.

Martin Stretton thrust Karsten Le Blanc’s two-litre Cooper T49 Monaco – first of the rear-engined chassis – into P5, with the snarling Lister-Jaguars of Dutchman David Hart and Shaun Lynn snapping at its heels. Another feisty tiddler, the Lola Mk1 Prototype of the omnipresent Keith Ahlers/Billy Bellinger completed the top eight.

Ward headed the ‘Woodcoteers,’ posting a brilliant ninth place in JD Classics’ distinctive bronze Jaguar C-type XKC018, back on home soil having been delivered to the Belgian Motor Company of Brussels in October 1952, before being exported to future five-time Formula 1 World Champion Juan Manuel Fangio in Argentina. Chris’ 2m58.351s (87.84mph) was almost 1.9s clear of closest rival Wakeman/Blakeney-Edwards, separated by Andy Wolfe in Ivan Vercoutere’s Lotus 15, the last car to circulate inside three minutes.

Carlos Monteverde/Gary Pearson – back in the ex-Gillie Tyrer/Murkett Brothers XKD 517 in which Henry Taylor finished third at Spa in ’57, before Jim Clark raced it for the Border Reivers – Malcolm Paul/Rick Bourne (ex-Mike Anthony Lotus-Bristol 10), Christian Gläsel (ex-works/Ecurie Ecosse/Michael Salmon Jaguar XKD504) and the Allard of the Llewellyns were next of the earlier set.

Best of the Belgian contingent were the Lotus 15s of Guy Peeters/Michel Wanty and supermarket baron Eric Mestdagh in 13th and 19th places respectively. Compatriot Nicolas Bert would start his cycle-winged HWM Alta-Jaguar in the thick of the pack. Adrian van der Kroft (Cooper T39 Bobtail) joined Hart from the Netherlands, and other neighbours included German Hans Hübner (Lister-Jaguar Knobbly) and Louis Zurstrassen who brought his Elva MkV from Luxembourg.

Minshaw used his straight-six Jaguar XK engine’s torque to storm ahead of the scarlet Ferrari at Saturday morning’s start, while competitors deep in the peloton snaked through the F1 chicane. Everybody then jostled for position as they accelerated towards the right-handed La Source hairpin which presages the long plunge to the Eau Rouge flick-flack, exit speed from which is critical for the steep climb over the brow of Raidillon and onto the Kemmel Straight.

Fisken, David Hart, Martin Stretton and Wood led the chase as Wolfe wriggled Vercourtere’s cream Lotus from 10th to sixth on the opening lap and Lynn’s ex-John Bekaert Lister gobbled Kremer’s Lotus up. Behind them Ward was ninth, already 2.3 seconds up on fast-starting Monteverde’s white D-type which had Wakeman’s ex-Tommy Sopwith Equipe Endeavour Cooper-Jaguar in tow.

Minshaw extended a 3.4 second lead over the tussle between Hart and Fisken who exchanged places several times before making an impression on the green Lister. Fisken made his mandatory stop at eight laps, shortly after the pit window opened, relaying Verdon-Roe six days after his Sussex Trophy victory at Goodwood in the Ferrari within 55 seconds. Next time round Minshaw and soloist Hart were in, Keen getting mobile after 52 seconds, 22 quicker than his rival.

Stretton’s Cooper and Wood’s Lister pitted while leading, the latter in the company of Wolfe, before the stagger unwound. Quickly into his stride, BV-R hounded Keen for a few laps before the talented youngster – who had won a Pre-’66 Touring Car race earlier that morning in a rorty Ford Falcon Sprint – pulled away as they lapped constant traffic, competing a 9.4 second victory.

Driving his little roller skate like a demon, Kremer narrowly beat Hart home for a brilliant SMT4-winning third place. Wood/Nuthall, Lynn (who caught and passed Le Blanc’s class-winning steed four laps from home) completed the top six, with the polished aluminium-bodied Lola of Ahlers/Bellinger eighth overall in more potent company and victorious in ST1.

Of the retirements, Wanty’s Lotus was out early with an oil leak as was Tony Ditheridge’s Cooper Monaco which overheated. Later, Tarek Mahmoud’s T49 returned to the pits without its nose while a stripped final drive pinion stopped Vercoutere’s Lotus in the race’s closing phase.

Ward – last year’s outright winner in a burly Lister-Jaguar Costin – looked likely to add Woodcote Trophy honours to his Francorchamps CV to the stops. Like Fisken, Chris dived in to the pits at the earliest opportunity, having plumped a cushion of more than eight seconds over Wakeman at that stage. The American stayed out for two more laps, though, whereupon the Blakeney Motorsports backroom boys weaved some magic. In getting Blakeney-Edwards back under way in 43 seconds, 20 quicker than Ward (who as a soloist had to be stationary for 30 seconds) and into the lead they gave the boss a sporting chance.

It took Ward seven laps to catch PB-E, then Moss class leader Bellinger split them, but Patrick never gives up. Although it was not widely apparent from the side of the circuit, he had noticed wisps of smoke from the Jaguar ahead in the final stages thus redoubled his efforts. “It was coming through the dash,” confirmed Chris, who – watching the gauges like a hawk – kept the dark blue Cooper in his mirrors onto the final lap.

Blakeney-Edwards hounded Ward over Raidillon then growled past on the Kemmel Straight to reach the circuit’s summit at Les Combes ahead. Ward tried to retaliate, but PB-E, head down, set his fastest lap (a whisker outside Ward’s Woodcote best, recorded on the first flyer) and punching the air in jubilation took the chequer 1.027s in front of his adversary.

Wakeman – who ceded his seat to Andrew Hall at Spa last year – was made-up with the long-serving Cooper-Jaguar’s latest success as he and Patrick awaited their podium call. “You’ve been calling yourself a legend for a while, but today you really earned the title,” beamed the Californian as he embraced his team-mate. Ward’s consolation was a class win.

Even Gary Pearson could not keep the leaders in sight. Lapped in the closing stages, he brought Monteverde’s finned Jaguar home third, ahead of Rudiger Friedrichs’ C-type, Silverstone Classic promoter Nick Wigley in Peter Mann’s ex-Tony Crook Cooper-Bristol T24/25, the similarly-powered Lotus aerodyne of Bourne/Paul – both division winners – and the sole-surviving Allard of Francis/Thompson. Steve Boultbee Brooks’ Kangaroo Stable Aston Martin DB3S beat the Mercedes in its class.

Click here to watch a video of the Spa Six Hours meeting – the MRL race is featured at 2.02.