Motorsport – Spa 1000 Kms – R9 British GT Championship
Down To The Wire
Spa-Francorchamps, one of the world’s truly great racing circuits,
and Eclipse would be doing battle over up to six hours of racing
to try to retain the lead in the 2003 British GT championship.
With a grid of 21 British GT runners joined by a depleted (but still
awesomely quick) selection of prototype racers from the FIA Sportscar
championship, plus a Guest class featuring a trio of very quick
GT cars, it always looked like being an interesting weekend. Sadly
it was interesting for all the wrong reasons on Friday as the cars
went out for free practice: the rains came down, Shane Lynch was
tiptoeing around to the pits, and…he was hit squarely in the
rear by an aquaplaning Porsche.
It looked bad, but the ever-resourceful Eclipse crew worked miracles.
By Saturday morning the car was ready to get back into the fray,
the tank tape on the rear of the car and the badly dented rear diffuser
displaying ample evidence that its continued participation had been
far from a foregone conclusion. Shane’s description of the
renumbered (for this race only) #169 T400R as looking “a little
sore” was bang on the money, but she would run, and run fast.
A torrential downpour left the Ardennes area just in time for the
start of the GT qualifying session on Saturday afternoon. With so
little track time a fight for pole was never going to be on the
cards for #169. Up front then it was a battle between the Moslers
and then four of the five TVRs, in the order DeWalt, DeWalt, Peninsula
and Piers Johnson in the Eclipse T400R. No matter this was going
to be a long, long race. Qualifying wasn’t that important:
nothing like as important as for a typical ‘sprint’
race of 75 minutes.
Simon Pullan – joining Piers and Shane for six hours of race
action – had impressed the team no end by giving up seat time
so that Shane, in particular, had a little more time in the TVR.
“I didn’t think it was a very big deal, after all, I’ve
raced here several times before, Shane hasn’t.” There’s
a very level head on these shoulders.
So in GTO Championship terms, the contenders lined up fist, second
and sixth in class. With the Friday accident, Shane Lynch was still
lacking track time on this daunting circuit.
only done about seven or eight laps, so I’m still coming to
terms with it: I need more time, but I suppose I’ll get that
in the race!” The Irishman wanted it “either wet or
dry, not damp.”
Wet or dry then? The surface was drying as they lined up, but although
the line was virtually free of moisture, it wasn’t dry everywhere.
Slicks it was then for all, but only for two or three laps. Piers
The rain though poured down on lap three, and in they all came.
The pit lane was crammed with cars, pit crew and marshals as slicks
were discarded and wets were fitted all round.
The Eclipse team had a relatively trouble free stop (it was as bad
for everyone as the cars were manhandled into their pit bays and
then edged carefully out again).
With the rain still pouring and the pitstop chaos now settled, the
order stabilised. At 15 laps (or just over one tenth distance for
the race-leading prototypes) the guesting ‘Pocket Panoz’
Gillet Vertigo was the leading GT car (sixth overall!) followed
by Thomas Erdos in the Balfe Mosler, Cor Euser in the 650 bhp Marcos
Mantara, Rob Barff was next up in the #192 DeWalt TVR with the guesting
Lamborghini eleventh. Lee Caroline was enjoying his debut in the
other DeWalt TVR, fending off Martin Short in the Rollcentre Mosler.
Pat Pearce was flying in the lead of Cup while Piers Johnson was
dicing with Dan Eagling in the Peninsula TVR for nineteenth overall,
ahead of Nick Adams in the Damax Ferrari. Hectic stuff.
Piers was having a torrid time though, in #169: “When we changed
for wets the handling was just awful, major understeer on right
handers and major oversteer on left handers.” This would turn
out to be a six hour event in which the Eclipse men hung on as best
An additional hiccup had caused a few concerns in the Eclipse camp
when the windscreen wiper failed during the worst of the weather.
The car’s screen was liberally doused with the rather wonderful
Rain-Ex and Piers was able to see, this isn’t the track where
you want your vision impaired!
the sun came out! And it would be the last we saw of significant
Eagling passed Piers, with both TVRs also finding a way past Pearce
on a drying track. It was nip and tuck between the battling TVRs
right through to the first fuel stops (a mandatory two minutes),
Eagling handing over to Graeme Mundy and Piers to Simon Pullan (ready
to go, above)..
The stops came thick and fast, led by a suspect one for Barff’s
TVR. 12 seconds quicker than the two minute minimum would result
in a stop and go, no fault of Barff’s of course, but his TVR
was still right in contention anyway, thanks to his wet pace –
and a later stop for Erdos.
Barff was the class (and GT overall) leader at two hours despite
his pit problems, 23 seconds ahead of the Gillet, 48 seconds ahead
of Shaun Balfe and over a minute ahead of Martin Short. The Moslers
were duelling hard, the gap first closing then eased out once more.
Simon Pullan was having a good race with Graeme Mundy for fifth
in GTO, but Eclipse were marooned in this position for much of the
race, a sticking throttle further blunting any challenge for progression,
with the drivers inability to heel and toe costing valuable time.
Just over half distance and the Safety Car appeared for the first
time. The ISL Mantis and the Clio were in the gravel at consecutive
corners. The timing hurt the Eclipse charge badly, effectively putting
the Peninsula car out of reach. The pace though would still be good
enough for them to take their title challenge to the last race.
A wheel gun failure at the stop to put Shane Lynch in for the finish
didn’t do enough damage to put their position in doubt. Shane
then had a cracking battle with the Corvette, a car well suited
to the flowing Spa curves, Paula Cook finding real pace in the big
Pullan was typically (and needlessly) self critical: “With
hindsight I probably drove a 12 hour pace rather than a six hour
one. The key though is the championship, get it to the end, get
the points on the board and give the guys the best chance possible
at Brands Hatch.” Quite right.
Up front it was a fantastic race to the flag between the two warring
Moslers, Guest drivers Erdos and Joao Barbosa staging a stunning
duel which would only be settled on the very last lap, with the
cars just tenths apart, before Erdos finally found his fuel tank
dry. He would coast home for second, as the Rollcentre team took
their first win of the season.
The reliability of the GTO field was magnificent, just one car (the
#191 De Walt TVR) failing to finish, a magnificent achievement for
a race lasting nearly six hours, from a field more used to ‘sprint’
one of the best British GT races ever (perhaps the best), the points
read Balfe Motorsport pair (Balfe and Derbyshire) 184 points, Eclipse’s
Johnson and Lynch 180, and Rollcentre’s Herridge 179. It’s
all to play for at Brands Hatch (25 – 20 – 17 –
15 – 14 etc.).
Chris Pollard neatly summed up Eclipse’s fortunes. “We
lost a lap under each Safety Car, but if you’d told me at
the start of the season that we’d go to the last race with
a chance at winning the Championship, I wouldn’t have believed
you.” And all this after Eclipse’s nightmare Friday.
Roll on Brands Hatch and the deciding contest. It’s a Mosler
pair vs. the prettiest TVR race car on the planet for the title
and it’s all down to a 75 minute race on another of the world’s