JAMES ROBERTS

“Spa is still a fear­some chal­lenge”

Motor Sport News - - Racing News - Pho­tos: Jakob Ebrey, Gary Hawkins By Stephen Lick­o­r­ish Photo: Mick Walker

I“

had an ac­ci­dent at Spa that was to change my life for­ever.”

Speak­ing in his suite at the Ritz Carl­ton ho­tel in Mon­treal ear­lier this year, Jackie Ste­wart chill­ingly re­calls a his­toric moment in the his­tory of grand prix rac­ing. De­spite the pass­ing years he re­mem­bers the events of the 1966 Bel­gian GP – and his deathde­fy­ing shunt – in pre­cise de­tail. It was a race that set in mo­tion a trans­for­ma­tion in the sport: a cru­sade to im­prove safety.

The 1966 edi­tion of the race started in dry con­di­tions, but as the field streamed flat-out to­wards Bur­nenville – on the old Spa road course – they hit a wall of wa­ter. A mas­sive down­pour sent cars scat­ter­ing in all di­rec­tions.

At the Masta Kink, Jackie was help­less as his car slid off the cir­cuit at high speed. He was trapped. There were no mar­shals, no medics – no help. That day he was lucky and af­ter his ac­ci­dent set in mo­tion a cam­paign to trans­form the safety of grand prix cir­cuits across the world.

To­day, Spa in its trun­cated form is still con­sid­ered a fear­some chal­lenge. The dip and rise through Eau Rouge, the des­cent into the dou­ble-left at Pouhon and the flat-out turn of di­rec­tion at Blanchi­mont de­mand a high de­gree of skill and brav­ery – es­pe­cially when the track is sub­jected to the no­to­ri­ously fickle Haute Fagnes weather.

In the 50 years since Ste­wart’s ac­ci­dent, ad­vances in car and cir­cuit de­sign have saved many lives and re­search con­tin­ues. Although the halo head pro­tec­tion frame has been de­layed from ap­pear­ing in F1 un­til 2018, it once again made an ap­pear­ance at the week­end, when Mercedes’s Nico Ros­berg tri­alled the de­vice in Fri­day morn­ing prac­tice.

A year has passed since Justin Wil­son’s fa­tal head in­jury at an Indycar race and there was re­lief when last week He­lio Cas­tron­eves es­caped harm from a dra­matic pit­lane col­li­sion – again in Po­cono – when Alex Rossi’s car was launched dan­ger­ously close to Cas­tron­eves’s hel­met. To­day, head pro­tec­tion is the most press­ing area of rac­ing car safety.

In Ste­wart’s day the con­cern was with the para­pher­na­lia on the edge of the cir­cuit: tele­graph poles, trees and build­ings and the risk of fire. Changes needed to be made, but were un­wel­come at the time.

As the sport at­tempts to re­duce the risk of head in­juries, we should take a moment to re­flect on the events of the Bel­gian GP half a cen­tury ago and re­mem­ber the cru­sade that Jackie started. “There were a lot of peo­ple who were not pre­pared to sup­port change,” says Ste­wart. “But ul­ti­mately we won that bat­tle.”

Re­nault will launch a new Ju­nior Clio Cup cham­pi­onship next sea­son.

It will be open for 14-17-year-olds and Re­nault will sup­port the se­ries, which will fea­ture 12 races across six events that will form part of BARC club meet­ings.

Cham­pi­onship man­ager Will Fewkes said the planned run­ning costs for the se­ries would be £30,000-£45,000.

“Re­nault­sport is renowned for pro­duc­ing a mas­sive amount of tal­ent, sin­gle-seater and tin-top wise,” he said. “It’s the ideal op­por­tu­nity for a mass car man­u­fac­turer to get into the ju­nior mar­ket. If we can add an­other rung on the lad­der it’s go­ing to be a front-wheel-drive op­tion to the Bri­tish Tour­ing Car Cham­pi­onship.

Bryant was guest in Lo­tus Elise Fewkes be­hind se­ries Same car as main se­ries will be used

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