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Britcar – Spa
A British Winner In Belgium

(Images to follow)

The Trackpower TVR Sagaris of Richard Hay, Richard Stanton, Dennis Leech and Andy Britnell claimed a well-deserved win in an intriguing four-hour race that ended in the Saturday evening darkness. Despite incurring a penalty for a pit-stop infringement, they retained the win ahead of the Kinfaun Porsche 997, driven in stirring style by John Gaw and Phil Dryburgh.

Qualifying saw the KRM Mosler take pole, the Riley/Flux machine posting 2:26.152; but subsequent examination of the data logger identified an irregularity and the officials determined that the time be annulled, forcing a flu-ridden Riley start the race from the pit-lane. Also falling foul of the officials for the same reason, was the Andrew Tate/Aaron Scott Porsche 996RSR, and the MJH Ferrari 360 of Andy Ruhan and Simon Leith; both joining the KRM car in the queue.

On pole now, then, would be the IN2Racing Lamborghini Gallardo, to be started by James Pickford, just over two seconds slower than the Mosler. But thereby hangs another tale, for Paul Hogarth had also decided to “tootle round” in the Dutch Supercar race that preceded the Britcar encounter. Paul had the misfortune to round a bend to find the safety car in front of him, and the brakes on the Lamborghini were obviously more effective than the BMW 3-series following it, for the BMW slammed into the Lamborghini, sending it into a series of rolls and an eventual fire, whilst the Bavarian machine itself turned over and slid on its side into the safety car. Thankfully Paul was unharmed, but the Lamborghini was wrecked, and out of the Britcar race.

That left the Sagaris to head the pack, in front of the Topcats Mosler of Andrew Beaumont and Henry Taylor, and the Apex Jaguar XKR - the team being buoyed by finding their true form at last and by Mark Sumpter joining the usual duo of Stuart Scott and Chris Ryan. John Gaw’s Kinfaun Porsche led the “old guard” Britcar runners, then the invitation entry RSS Performance Porsche 997, in the hands of George Mackintosh and Calum Lockie; the latter rapidly returning to his old ways. Row four was all Ferrari, the 360 of Witt Gamski and Keith Robinson alongside the M-Tech 430, and impressive performance by Duncan Cameron and new partner Mike Edmonds.

Class 2 pole, and 12th overall, went to the Hawthorns Porsche 996, with “secret weapon” Jay Shepherd joining Rod Barrett and Jan Persson; with the similar Seven Energy car of Peter Heintzelman next and, in an encouraging third, the Michael Symons/Andre D’Cruze BMW E46 GTR.

Top class 3 qualifier was the Peter Moulsdale/Steve Kent BMW M3, stealthily becoming a force to be reckoned with, then the Duke Video BMW M3 of Chris Wilson and Adrian Watt. Third in class went to invitation entry BMW M3 of Kevin Clarke and Wayne Gibson.

Ahead of all of the Class 3 runners, though, and an Ardennes kilometre in front of the rest of Class 4, was the invitation entry of Mark Lemmer and Mike Brown, sharing the latter’s Honda Integra.  The MGA Motorsport Honda Civic was back in action, posting the best time of the regular Class 4 runners; with  the usual Frick ‘n Flatt duo being joined for the longer race by Nick Beaumont, in front of Ian Lawson’s BMW 318i, which was shared with Mike and Anthony Wilds.

Sadly not taking part in the race was Keith Ahlers’ Morgan Aero 8, the engine having let go in qualifying. “One of the four crankshafts is broken, but we haven’t got a spare here” rued Ahlers, adding “This is my first Britcar meeting for a couple of years, and I’m really impressed with how the series has come on. Based on what I’ve seen here, I intend to be back”

It was a grey and murky evening and it was just before 6pm when the green lights set the pack racing, with Richard Hay taking an immediate lead in the Sagaris. Terry Pudwell, starting Dave Krayem’s Stealth, got caught in the mid-pack melee as the field crowded into La Source and, with front wheels damaged, was out of the race on the spot. Peter Heintzelman brought the Seven Energy Porsche slowly through well behind the rest of the pack, not yet knowing he was only in the middle of a set of early-race woes. In fact, early-race woes were afflicting several of the Class 2 contingent; for, as Hay steadily increased his lead over Taylor’s Mosler and Ryan’s Jaguar, both Jon Harrison, in the Topcats Marcos and Michael Symons’ BMW joined Heintzelman at the bottom of the lap chart. Harrison was soon back in the fray again, after Brian Howard and the Topcats spannermen fixed a rear drive flange; but Symons’ race was over, cooling problems culminating in cloud of steam and spray. “I parked it out on the circuit” said Symons dejectedly, after the car’s most promising performance yet. For Heintzelman’s story, there’s more to come, so read on.

Another early pitter was Dave Ashford in the Mazda RX7, to fix a loose diff bolt. 

And what of our pit-lane starters? Not exactly carving through the field just yet – Tate, Riley, and Ruhan being a spread-out 27th, 28th and 29th respectively.

So while the leaders were themselves spreading out – Hay ten seconds in front of Taylor, Ryan a further 12 seconds adrift and Gaw over half a minute from the lead car – some spirited midfield Porsche/Ferrari battles kept the interest up. Paul Collis, in the Team PCR Porsche (the team having put in an all-nighter  to rebuild the car after a heavy testing accident) was dicing with Duncan Cameron’s Ferrari 430; while Gerry Harrison, in the orange Eurotech 996 RSR was side-by-side with Cameron’s team mate John Dhillon, in the second M-Tech 430. Moving up the order, quite rapidly, was the Kessel Racing Ferrari 430; veteran Almo Coppelli taking the first stint and passing Gaw for fourth just seven laps in. The wiry Scot was having none of it, though, and recovered the position a few laps later.

Riley was the first to take a planned stop, bringing the Mosler in from 12th place after 38 minutes – too early for the first of the two mandatory stops and a tad early for a necessary fuel stop too. Most left it a little later – Tate first at 48 minutes, then a whole phalanx four minutes further in - Ryan, Dhillon, Coppelli, Collis and Mackintosh - although the leading pair stayed out. In fact, just before the first hour elapsed and with 22 long laps on the board, they pitted in sequence; Hay bringing the TVR down the pit lane 14 seconds in advance of Taylor’s Mosler. The Topcats team turned the service round quicker and Andrew Beaumont rejoined the race in the second position that Taylor had vacated; while Andy Britnell, having had a torrid moment on his out lap in the Sagaris, was fourth. Up at the front now was John Gaw, with a 14-second lead over Beaumont; while Graeme Mundy’s RSS Porsche was a further 20 seconds behind in third. Gaw, in fact, capitalised on his lead, drawing the gap out, before pitting himself, to hand over to Phil Dryburgh.

Time now to catch up with the Peter Heintzelman saga and, with Scott Aitken now installed in the Seven Energy Porsche, race manager Jim Hersey reflected; “Where do I start? First, we got bogged-down in the line-up behind a car that wouldn’t start, then the gear stick broke - and that’s a pretty substantial piece of kit to break. I scoured the DSC paddock, and Lammertink were kind enough to lend me their spare. Then a hose popped on the centre radiator. We replaced it, but didn’t bleed the system and it’s overheated; so Scott has just this minute parked it next to Michael Symons BMW”  The performance of the green and silver machine has opened a few eyes this season and this was an untimely demise.

Another tale of woe came from MJC, where Witt Gamski and Keith Robinson are enjoying one of their best seasons in the Ferrari 360. Witt’s race had showed early promise, but he began to slip down the order with a gearbox problem. Robinson took the car over to give his best shot in the circumstances, but, 40 laps in, the car was retired. Also out of the race by this point were the JMH Ferrari 360 Ruhan/Leith, and Alun Edwards’ Marcos Mantis.

With differing fuel strategies, even within the Class 1 runners, this was going to be a mixed-up race that wasn’t going to identify a clear finishing order until the final 45 minutes. Calum Lockie, having taken over the RSS Porsche from Mackintosh, led briefly during the second round of stops; as did Mike Edmunds, in the Ferrari started by Duncan Cameron. Ian Flux had taken over the KRM Mosler from Riley at that early stop and was for most of his stint the fastest round the circuit, but still only brought the car in for the second stop from eighth place. With Riley’s flu and starting from the pit-lane, this had been a low-key race for the erstwhile race winners, and they would retire in the final half-hour of the race.

The half-way stage saw the Topcats Mosler in the lead, with the Mundy/Hulford Porsche – regularly bobbing in and out of the top five – in second and the Sagaris, with Richard Stanton at the wheel, third. Gaw, never out of contention, was fourth and Sumpter in the Jaguar fifth. Kevin Clarke’s BMW M3, a Class 3 invitation machine, was the first no-Class 1 runner, having an excellent run and capitalising on its economy. Class 2 was led by the Barrett/Persson/Shepherd Porsche; with the similar Masarati/Wright/Masarati machine second and the Jaz Motorsport 911 of Henry Firman and Steve Bell third, despite being delayed by a puncture.

The Mousldale/Kent BMW M3 led the Class 3 points-scorers, while Class 4 invitation runners Mike Brown and Mark Lemmer, in the Barwell Honda Integra, were having a terrific run in 17th overall. The Class 4 regulars were headed by the returning-to-form MGA Motorsport squad in the rejuvenated Honda Civic.         

Photographer Paul Cherry texted a report of rain over on the far side of the circuit and, now around two and half hours into the race, the weather closed in around the pit area and the whole circuit. Murky it may have been, but it was never really enough to contemplate a change of rubber; all teams deciding to tough it out and suffer the increased lap times. There were incidents though. The Topcats Mosler clashed with an unidentified BMW, then rolled back across the track in front of Calum Lockie. All three cars continued, but later, a brakeless Lockie hit the barrier, damaging the radiator on the RSS Porsche. He and George Mackintosh carried on, but 15th place was scant reward for a fine effort.  
 
The end of the third hour saw the Porsche contingent come in to play once more, as the fuel strategies for the thirstier cars pegged them back; and, as usual, it was the Gaw/Dryburgh (the fastest car on the track at this stage) and Mundy/Hulford machines in first and fourth, flanking the Sagaris and the Jaguar. As the final hour ticked over though, the order was restored, with the Sagaris reclaiming the lead which, despite a final stop for fuel 30 minutes from the end, it would never relinquish. Phil Dryburgh brought the Kinfaun Porsche home second-overall, the middle-aged relative novice having, with Gaw, put in a stunning performance. It was the best result yet for the Apex Jaguar, the team sticking rigidly to their strategy, and the driving squad of Scott, Ryan and Sumpter delighted with the podium finish.

Graeme Mundy and Miles Hulford had to give best to the Jaguar in the closing stages, but finished an impressive fourth. After starting from the pit lane, it was heads down and get on with it for Andrew Tate and Aaron Scott in the ABG Porsche RSR. The pair put in a sublime performance, finishing fifth.  The recalcitrant paddle shift on the Topcats Mosler stymied Andrew Beaumont and Henry Taylor’s efforts in the closing stages and, after being a leading contender for much of the race, they finished sixth.

An amazing seventh overall, Kevin Clarke and Wayne Gibson’s BMW M3 - a Class 3 invitation entry - split the Class 1 finishers after a faultless run. This was a brilliant performance from the Midlanders and augurs well for the 24 hours.  Talking of which; the German Topper Team are regularly successful in that event and once again at Spa showed that they are always there or thereabouts, with father and son duo Jan-Marc and Dirk Schulz coming home 10th in their Porsche 996.

It was good to see the Xero Competition Corvette C5R racing at last. Having had some bodywork fly off due to an errant clip during free practice, Mitch Millett and Alan Bonner qualified the car 18th and finished 16th after a steady inaugural race run.

The Class 2 spoils fell to the Hawthorns Motorsport Porsche 996; veterans Rod Barrett and Jan Persson enjoying a successful season, with the help of former TVR sparring partner Jay Shepherd. Like several of the Porsche contingent, they suffered a scary moment with a puncture during the race. The Class 2 top three finished in a row, 11th, 12th and 13th overall, with the Masarati family Porsche claiming the class runner-up spot; brothers Miles and Piers sharing a fine run with Chris Wright. Third, after a second puncture right at the end of the race, was the Jaz Motorsport Porsche 911 of Henry Firman and Steve Bell. “I drove the last couple of laps with a left rear puncture” said the Uxbridge Porsche-sourcer, adding “It’s really good to have Steve on the team”. In fact, stooping to change a wheel may have lost them third-in-class; for just a lap back was the Jemco Ginetta G50, with Nick Reynolds assisting Leigh Smart and Kevin Hancock. They’re getting to grips with the car now and this was an impressive performance; reflecting, to an extent, their best result in the old Marcos, at the same track a year ago. They had been keeping a check on the similar car of In2 Racing - an invitation entry from the one make series, piloted by Fiona James, Jamie Robinson and Peter Richings - which came home fifth in class, and 23rd overall.

With Clarke’s Class 3  invitation BMW way up the leader board, you had to look a little further down to find the points-scoring runners and the Geoff Steel  BMW M3 E46 was the official winner here; both Peter Moulsdale and Steve Kent putting in solid performances. The Whiteacre Racing M3 E36 bagged the runner-up spot, with the usual stealthy showing from Robert Day and Paul Phipps.

With just minutes of the race left to run, the Barwell Honda Integra was towed into the pit lane, ending a marvellous run by team boss Mark Lemmer and young spannerman Mike Brown; almost achieving their avowed intent to be the best-placed saloon car in the race. The Class 4 victory and well deserved after seasons of relative disappointment, went to the MGA Motorsport Honda Civic of Alex Frick, Terry Flatt and Nick Beaumont. “We had an intermittent power steering failure and the tyres were down to the canvas at the end; but this was a team effort - the pit stops were fantastic and the driving was faultless” smiled Flatt. Despite being awarded a time penalty for a pit-stop infringement, the “gentleman’s club” BBG Porsche 944 claimed the runner-up Class 4 points, in what would be the last race for veteran endurance exponent John Ballentyne; sharing with son Tom, Ian Gibson, and multiple world land speed record holder Alex Postan. Completing the class podium and the final classified finisher was the Brunswick Mazda RX7 of Giles Groombridge and Dave Ashford. Not claiming points, but splitting the class podium, was Moore Racing’s sole entry; the Honda Civic piloted steadily by series returnees Gary Coulson and Kevan Wells.

Sadly, failing to finish were the Ferrari  430s of John Dhillon/David Back and Coppelli/Slipsager; who joined Adrian Watt/Chris Wilson (Duke Video BMW M3) and the Ian Lawson/Mike and Anthony Wilds BMW 318i on the list of late-race retirements.

So, the Sagaris kept the win, despite a penalty of 61 seconds for a pit stop recorded as one second shy of the mandatory three minutes;, but it had been a tough weekend for the team, as Dennis Leech explained; “We had an alternator go on Friday and had a replacement shipped over from the UK; but it was slightly different and we had to change the pulleys and make new brackets.” Thereafter, the car, at least, was no problem, as Richard Hay explained; “I had a spin at the start and we all had to drive flat out every lap, but the car ran faultlessly”, while patriotic Richard Stanton once more reminded us of the car’s origins: “It’s a hand-built British car and it’s a winner”.

Steve Wood