SPA SIX HOURS
Our very own Robert Barrie competes in a classic 911 racer
“I’M SURE I SAW A RAINBOW OVER EAU ROUGE…”
The Six Hours of Spa-francorchamps is one of the must-do events in historic racing. Itʼs also become a must-win for some well-heeled competitors. Fifteen Ford GT40S entered the twenty-fifth running of the race this year and one of them won. Again. It does seem to be the tool for the job. However, there were another 100 of us on the grid with plenty to play for..
I shared an early 911 with Steve Jones, its owner, and Pascal Pandelaar, from Duel Motorsport, who ran the car with Dale Racing. The car, as with all the others in the race, is prepared to period F FIA spec – which, among other things, means a 2-litre engine on Solex carburettors, a weight of just over 1000 kilos and skinny 5.5 inch wheels. We are on Avon tyres, which are reasonably grippy even if itʼs wet. The car is predominantly white with a green stripe, #128.
In our case, a good result will be a top thirty finish and/or a class podium. If we canʼt achieve either of those, Iʼll settle for being first of the ten 911s taking part. Actually, I am politely told at lunch on race day simply to make sure we finish. Okay, Roger, understood.
The race starts on Saturday afternoon and ends at 10.00 in the evening. Qualifying was late on Friday, by which time the circuit was drying out from another shower. I am sure I saw a rainbow over Eau Rouge. We set a time, but the session was red flagged and ended without much opportunity to improve on it. It wonʼt be a problem.
There are five 911s in front of us. Pascal set the fastest time of any in the light blue sister car to ours, #112. It is a steady start to our weekend and the car feels up to the job. I am optimistic there is more to come. Our strategy is simple. Steve will start and drive for just over two hours. Iʼll jump in and do a similar stint in the middle, leaving Pascal to do an hour and a half in the dark at the end.
We will refuel at both driver changes and change the rear tyres at the second. In this race, you need a plan and to know how and when to change it. You can gain or lose seconds on the track and minutes in the pits or at the pumps. The driving is about mechanical sympathy as well as speed. The first sign we may need to rethink is when the race is delayed. The race before us starts when it is due to finish. The Six Hours will be five-and-a-quarter hours as a result. I start to wonder if we can do it on one fuel stop.
The huge grid forms up in front of the old pit garages on the run down to Eau Rouge. We are some way up the hill towards La Source. As always, itʼs a bit chaotic back there. I check Steve is
okay and help another 911 find its slot. Eventually, the pace car leads the field away. In due course, it comes round and into the new pit lane, the start line lights go green and the race is on.
Steve has a good start and makes up some places. A 911 comes into the pits with a problem after a few laps. They canʼt fix it. Thatʼs very tough. Soon, the faster cars start to come through the field. We will be lapped by them more or less continuously from now until the end.
Weʼll lose time if we get out of the way and more than that if we get in the way. We also need to make sure we make our own way past slower cars. The traffic is relentless.
Steve stays out on track during the first and second safety car periods. Most of the other 911s come in to make stops. We stay out to avoid a queue at the fuel pumps. In round numbers, it takes five minutes to refuel. If we get stuck behind another car it will take twice that long or more. The answer is to come in before everyone else or stay out until after everyone else – we choose the latter and it works.
Steve comes in after more than two hours and hands the car over to me. He says itʼs slippery at the big double left at Pouhon. I drive round to the pumps, brim the tank, note how much fuel weʼve used, belt up and get out on track. Itʼs taken the minimum
“HE SAYS IT’S SLIPPERY AT THE BIG DOUBLE LEFT…”
amount of time. The car is running strongly and we start to move back up the order again. I have a lurid moment at Pouhon – Steve was right – but thereʼs no harm done and we carry on. It starts to get dark, but it stays dry.
With an hour or so to go, the lead 911 comes into the pits. Theyʼve got a problem and their race is over. The next four of us are now running next to each other. The pit board says we are second. Then the new lead 911 also retires with a problem. The race can be cruel. We are now the lead 911 and the car is still running strongly.
There are two further safety car periods before the pit board says itʼs time to come in and hand over to Pascal. Iʼve been in the car for almost two-and-a-half hours – the maximum allowed. Itʼs very dark by now and hard to pick out some of the corners, particularly when a following car fills the cockpit with light. While driving, I have been working out whether we need to refuel again. I have convinced myself we donʼt.
Thereʼs half an hour to go as I get out and Pascal gets in. As we cross, I tell him we donʼt need to refuel. I say it again, just in case. The guys change the rear tyres and the car shoots off into the night. It was right to change the tyres – the old ones are a mess. It seems everyone thinks we should have refueled, too. Steve nips to the pumps to see if Pascal
“WE START TO MOVE BACK UP THE ORDER AGAIN…”
has gone there anyway. He hasnʼt. Ah.
Itʼs a long half hour to the end of the race. The timing screen confirms we are quicker than the cars behind us, but do we have enough fuel? From the other side of the circuit we hear the chequered flag is out. The race is over. It has been won by Chris Ward and Andrew Smith in a GT40. Well done to them and their team.
We think we crossed the line just ahead of their car and have another lap to go, and then our car comes past very slowly. Surely, we canʼt have run out on the last lap? Thankfully not. It seems we were just behind, rather than just ahead of, the GT40 at the flag and Pascal was on a slowing down lap. Eventually, to everyoneʼs relief, not least mine, the car appears at our garage.
We have finished just outside the top thirty and just missed a class podium – those are still realistic targets – but we are the first 911 home. Our garage has filled up and there are celebrations all round. The next car – only a minute behind after more than five hours racing – is the red Jaz car, #91. The third 911 is the sister car to ours.
Congratulations to the 904 that finished in the top ten and also to the little 356 that punched well above its weight. You need luck to do well in the Six Hours, but you also need more than that. We had some luck this year, but we were also well-prepared and well-organised.
Many thanks to Steve Jones, Duel Motorsport and Dale Racing for the opportunity and for their excellent support. Roll on next year! CP
“YOU NEED LUCK TO DO WELL IN THE SIX HOURS…”
Above: Prepped to meet FIA Historic regulations, the 911 runs Solex carburettors on its 2.0-litre engine. The car is owned by Steve Jones Below left: Steve Jones drove the first stint before handing over to Robert
Below right: Jaz entry was the second 911 home, finishing just a minute behind after six hoursʼ racing
Above: As the event starts in the afternoon and finishes at 10.00pm, night-time racing is all part of the actionpacked programme
Below left and right: Duel Motorsportʼs Pascal Pandelaar set the quickest time by a 911 at the wheel of #112, sister car to #128
Above: Robert drives into the gathering gloom as darkness begins to fall across the circuit. He would soon hand over to Pascal Pandelaar for the final stint
Below left: Few circuits are as spectacular as Spa…
Below right: MGB in front, GT40 coming up behind – the Six Hours has it all