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British GT Championship - Spa 1000km
The Spa 1000km round of the British GT Championship was an epic. Not only did we lead for the first 2½ hours of the race and finish a strong third but the final outcome was not decided until almost the last corner of the final lap. It was a Mosler 1-2 in the end but we made them sweat initially! But more of that later!....

The circuit at Spa is truly awesome - cutting and sweeping its way through the Ardennes forest to the south of Liege in Belgium. It has every type of corner from 150mph kinks, to a first gear 25mph hairpin. It is quite unlike any other circuit in the world and is a real challenge for both car and driver. Due to the circuit’s geographical location it has one final ace up its sleeve - the weather. The weather at Spa is legendary! Bright sunshine one moment - heavy rain the next. With the circuit being so long it is not uncommon to have rain on the far side of the track and sunshine in the pitlane! One thing at Spa is certain, the race will never be a dull one.

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And so on race morning the day dawned bright and sunny. We'd qualified third behind the pesky Moslers but ahead of all the other regular British GT competitors - the Moslers hold a slight advantage in the dry, but in the wet the TVR T400R is a slightly more friendly beast to drive. We hoped for rain.

dailysportscar.comWe lined up on the grid under warm sunshine but over the hills to the north storm clouds were building. And even as I started the race on slick tyres I still hoped for rain. I made a good, positive start and settled in behind the lead Mosler of reigning British GT Champion Tommy Erdos and the Rollcentre version driven by Martin Short. Within a couple of laps it soon became clear that the storm clouds were heading our way and within the next five minutes the weather changed completely. The temperature fell, the light level dropped and coming back onto the old road section the heavens opened - I smiled broadly inside my helmet, slithered back to the pitlane (despatching Martin Short on the way) and dived into the pits for wet tyres.

I love driving in the wet: I had been quickest in wet testing on Friday morning and was very confident that I'd now be in a strong position. The next hour is somewhat of a blur but in summary, I took the lead of the race within a couple of laps and quickly began to pull away from the field. There was an awful lot of standing water on the circuit so a certain degree of caution was needed, but I kept pushing as hard as I dared.

Eventually, after over an hour of wet running, the track began to dry and I pitted for slick tyres and fuel. The stop was carried out quickly by all the TVR / Chamberlain crew and I rejoined still in the lead. Unfortunately the stop was TOO quick, British GT rules state that any stop for fuel should be a minimum of two minutes in duration and my stop was 12 seconds too short. My penalty was a drive through 'Stop/Go', where I had to pit on my next lap, pull up outside my pit garage and immediately rejoin. To say I was mildly annoyed was something of an understatement - I was not annoyed with anyone within the team, these things happen, but I was worried that it would cost us valuable track position.

I rejoined after my drive through penalty (with my lead intact) and worried that I had lost lots of time I gave it 101% for the next hour. Initially the track was still very slippery but it slowly dried and towards the end of my second stint it was totally dry. Unknown to me (because the in-car radio was poor) I maintained a 40 second lead over Tommy Erdos and over a minute to the Rollcentre Mosler.

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With the low fuel light flashing on I pitted after more than two hours in the car and handed over to Richard Hay. Richard drove a short middle stint before handing over to my 2002 team mate Michael Caine during a Safety Car period. We lost a full lap to both the Mosler teams as they seemed to be in the perfect position to pit as the Safety Car appeared and Michael rejoined in third place. Mick drove a fantastic anchor leg, he was also in the car for over two hours and was metronomically consistent - there was nothing he could do to close the gap to the Moslers, but he kept up a quick pace throughout.

The Mosler battle for the lead went down to the wire, with Tommy Erdos running out of fuel whilst leading on the final lap. This handed victory to the Rollcentre Mosler driven by Joao Barbosa, who had driven an awesome final hour to hunt down and catch Tommy Erdos. Tommy managed to coast his Mosler over the line and secure second position for Balfe Motorsport.

After the anticlimax of the Spa 24 Hours it feels great to have performed so well in the Spa 1000km.

Many thanks are due as always to my team of sponsors and supporters - The Cobra Group Plc, Jelson Homes, Microscan and the British Racing Drivers' Club.

And to all the Chamberlain / TVR team (Team Manager - Derek Kemp from Chamberlain, my engineer - Cushty from TVR, my mechanics - Dickie, Chief and Ben from TVR and Dick from Chamberlains) who worked very hard in the damp conditions over the weekend - thanks very much guys, top effort.

 

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