Joao Barbosa – Three Charges At Spa
We had the history lesson 24 hours or so ago – with Tommy Erdos’s column on the Spa 1000 Kms, in the Balfe Motorsport Mosler.

dailysportscar.comFor Joao Barbosa, the story really began at Thruxton, when Tom Herridge was taken off by a car he was passing, damaging the original Rollcentre MT900R chassis. That meant calling upon Warren Mosler to help out with another chassis, which was flown across the Atlantic very smartly. Joining it was factory Mosler driver Joao Barbosa. A response to Erdos in the rival car? The two Portuguese speakers ended up having an extraordinary race – the last hour was a classic.

“Martin had a dry set-up all ready for the car, the same as he’d used at Spa for the 24 Hours. It worked very well for him then, and because the Mosler chassis are so good, he could put the same set up on the silver car and expect it to work. But the weather was so variable throughout the weekend, we weren’t sure what set up to use for the race. We changed it completely for the race morning warm up, because that was the first time we’d had a properly dry track. Obviously we’d had a wet set up until then.

“I did maybe two or three laps in the warm up, and that was the first time I’d driven this car in the dry at Spa. The team did a great job to even have it ready for the meeting, because they had a lot of work changing the engine and transmission once it arrived in England.

“The plan for the race was that Martin would drive, then me, then Tom, then maybe Martin and then me at the end. But with the changing conditions in the first stint, Martin decided to stay in the car, because he had a very good feeling for the track. I was ready to get in the car, but it was a good decision for him to stay in it.

“The strangest thing about my race was that I was playing catch up three times – each time chasing the same car, the Balfe Mosler. I had a compromise with my seating, but the car was so good that that wasn’t a problem. I was able to drive fast laps all the time – I had to drive fast laps all the time, to catch the other car.”

“Now we saw some fireworks,” was Martin Short’s description of what happened next. “We knew he was good – but not that good!”

“It was the most fun I’ve had in a racing car for years. I chased Jamie Derbyshire the first time, passed him.....

.....then the Safety Car came out, so I pitted, he didn’t, and I had to chase him all over again. I passed him both times, then I was called in under the next Safety Car, for Tom to take over.

“Martin asked how I was feeling. I was OK, but very thirsty. He told me the plan – that I would get in the car to the finish. I felt bad for Tom, because he only drove a few laps, but if we were going to win the race, we had to catch up with the other Mosler.“When I took over I think I was 64 seconds behind. That’s a lot of distance round Spa, but there was almost a full stint to go, and I had plenty of fuel. What the team didn’t tell me was that the other car might have been marginal on fuel, but really I didn’t need to know that.

“From that distance back, I didn’t think that I could do it: Tommy is a great driver, which made it very difficult, by my job was just to push as hard as I could. I also had to play it safe of course, because I couldn’t risk putting the car off the road – so I left a very small margin. I’m sure Tommy had problems with backmarkers too, but when I met one in the wrong place, I had to push even harder on the next lap. Two laps from the end, I lost two seconds behind a TVR at Eau Rouge, and I thought that was it. I pushed really hard then, but the gap seemed to be too large.

“My knees were like jelly,” said Shorty.

“Then I could see Tommy getting closer and closer: the team had been making sure that I knew his lap times all the time, but really I was just pushing, pushing all the time.

“I made up the last two seconds in the first part of the last lap, and I was with him all the way from Les Combes. We were side by side at the Bus Stop, which is where he ran out of fuel. He’s a real professional, and he pulled over out of the way to let me through.

“Afterwards I found out the problem he had: if I hadn’t pushed him so hard, he would have been able to back off a little more and would have made it on the fuel, so I was glad I pushed so hard. I hadn’t met Tommy before, but we spoke after the race, and he was obviously very disappointed. It’s cruel the way it works out sometimes. We had about 15 litres of fuel in the car at the end – and he had nothing at all.

“For us it was a sprint race for nearly six hours. We just ran as fast as we could for the whole race.

“Although I hadn’t met Tommy before, I knew how quick he is because I follow how the Graham Nash Saleens are doing in the FIA GT Championship, because the Portuguese drivers are in the other car.

“My next race is in the Heritage Mustang at Mont Tremblant: that’s a beautiful track too. It’s got some very demanding turns, and although it’s got elevation changes like Spa, it’s really nothing like Spa. After that, I don’t really have anything lined up, but I’d like to drive a Daytona Prototype for the last two races.

“I think until Sunday, some people in Europe had forgotten who I was. It was a good feeling to be able to remind them.”

We’ll leave the conclusions to Martin Short:

“This was a race of teamwork. We shouldn't have even been there after the crash at Thruxton, and the Championship for Tom should have been dead and buried. But Mosler Automotive generously offered us a car, Tony Herridge made it happen, Luke, Matt, Julian, Steve, Glen, Pete, Dan and Mike put the car together, and the rest of the team put their heart into it. Les, Caroline, Dominiek and Chris, Martin and especially Kate who looked after Morgan for the whole race watching Bugs Life 2 (!), Mole, Easty, Helen, Claire.....and most importantly of all Tom Herridge, who sacrificed his stint and put his ego in a box for the result.

”And finally to Mr. Joao Ricardo Da Silva Barbosa......Ayrton Senna’s name was Da Silva, just a coincidence, it’s a family name, but in all my years of racing I have never seen a drive like that, not at this close only read about them by the greats, Fangio at the Nurburgring.....Mansell chasing down Piquet at the Silverstone Grand had to be here to understand the achievement....every lap, flat out, no mistakes...after already having been in the car for an hour and a half.

”Joao gave everybody a driving lesson at Spa. Somebody somewhere should give this guy a topline drive. He is special.”

Indeed he is.


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