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LMES - Spa-Francorchamps - Saturday Morning Report
A Spa Mixture

This first qualifying session was just typically Spa: early arrivals at the track were greeted with mist hanging between the trees, and a wet track after overnight thundery rain.

Everyone was out on wets to begin with, but after that, plans differed wildly.

Some like Sam Hancock in the factory Courage went onto slicks very early. “I did two timed laps on wets, then changed to slicks. My first lap on slicks was as quick as my second lap on wets, so it was the right thing to do.”

A red flag with ten minutes to go was the signal for some to join Hancock on slicks for a last thrash, but the provisional pole was set by Pierre Kaffer – on intermediates.

“We were on wets at the beginning, but then we switched to intermediates, and we stayed on them until the end,” said the young German. “With just eight minutes left at the end, there wasn’t time to go onto slicks, with all that traffic out there. It was better to stay on intermediates.”

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#8 pit board man David Cleverdon was spotted having a chuckle with Pierre Kaffer immediately after the conclusion of the session. “Pierre hit the pit board! I was holding it at exactly the height he asked for it to be placed, and he hit it. He was so close to the pit wall.”

Were you very close Pierre? “Yes, I am always close to the wall, to get the best line for Eau Rouge. But I didn’t feel a thing, I didn’t know I had hit it until after the session.”

We’ve seen this young chap demonstrate his prowess in changing conditions before – and here was another example of a young star excelling in tricky weather.

The rundown of the session – a very busy one – went something like this:

The new Lucchini was briefly up to sixth overall and comprehensively outpacing the factory Courage C65 in the opening minutes, but at the top of the timesheets it was a straight fight between Jamie Davies and Pierre Kaffer in the Veloqx Audi R8s.

Tommy Erdos was a very good fifth in the RML Lola, while Justin Keen was going well in the Lister, although the team was concentrating on a wet set-up, and didn’t expect to go dramatically quickly towards the end.

The same applied to the Creation DBA. “We were 15 minutes late out and that ruined our session in terms of getting a good time at the end,” explained race engineer Ian Smith. “We wanted to check the wet set-up, then change to a dry set-up towards the end – which would only have taken five minutes. But trouble with the gear change at the start meant we were on the wrong tyres (inters.) and the wrong set-up for the last few minutes.”

Nic Minassian shrugged his shoulders – at being sixth quickest.

Jonny Kane in the #41 RSR TVR was quickest in class virtually throughout the first half an hour, until the red flag. Warren Hughes was content to leave one of his partners in the car throughout. “It’s much better to leave Jonny in while the conditions are changing all the time. It’s a team effort here, and this is why we work so well together. He didn’t get much time in the car yesterday anyway.”

The Racesports TVR had been a very good fourth early on (Steve Hyde).

Both RSR TVRs had slicks fitted for the last few minutes, and they ended up fifth and seventh.

The sun briefly appeared with about 18 minutes of the session to go, and by this time we already had Cirtek on slicks (both the Porsche and Ferrari) – and this would help these two entries during the last few minutes.

In LMP2, the Tracsport Lola was also one to go out on slicks earlier than most. Opinions were divided up and down the pit lane. Paul Whight in the GNM Saleen was sure that wets were still the tyres to have, as David Leslie went out for the middle period of the session. Phil Bennett is at the 'Ring today.

Before the break, Pierre Kaffer was down into the 2:20s, about 13-14 seconds off a dry lap, but Jamie Davies was marginally quicker.

In GTS Hezemans on his inters. was battling with Alzen’s Saleen – and the Ferrari was ahead. “Inters. was absolutely the right choice,” said the Dutchman. "Our car isn’t quick enough in the dry, but in tricky conditions we were quickest in GTS.”

Then it was went wrong at the Bus Stop. “I came down the gears from sixth all the way to first and turned in to the left hander as normal, then the throttle stuck and it drove me into the wall, on full power. There wasn’t time to switch the power off, because the wall is so close there. A lot of damage, really, a lot of damage. It’s so silly – just a little thing. It was a 10 cents spring on the throttle. We had the same thing at Le Mans.

“I don’t think they can fix that for the race.”

That was the Dutchman's initial reaction, but things were looking up a little later.

"That hurt me more than when I went off in the Viper at Eau Rouge," said the stiff-necked Hezemans.

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Once the Barron Connor 575 had been removed and the session got underway again, it was Kaffer and Davies on their inters at the head of the queue, the German down into the 2:16s.

Whereas some teams were sticking with one driver, Jota had cycled through all three, which was good planning as it allowed Sam Hignett back in the car at the end – and he set a very impressive fourth best time, a 2:15.858 on slicks. The Jota team let slip that Hignett was on for a 2:11 until he met traffic. He was also on the harder of two Dunlop compounds, and the softer ones are the marked set for the race start.

Jean-Marc Gounon was also flying (on slicks) in the Pescarolo, fifth fastest at the end, just ahead of Minassian in the Creation DBA and Barbosa and Erdos in the Dallara and RML Lola – impressive performances from everyone here. The Nasamax set an unrepresentative 2:19, Werner Luperberger unable to find a clear lap to show what he and the DM139 can really achieve. Tommy Erdos also commented on the volume of traffic. He's still suffering with the bad back he had at Imola last week, the legacy of a fall down some stairs.

Soheil Ayari reckoned that "our dry set-up is very good (on the Pescarolo), but the wet set-up is not do good." Gounon is getting most of the time in this car.

Jonathan Cochet had the factory Courage up to speed in ninth overall – fastest in LMP2… by eleven seconds, from the WR and the new Lucchini. It was even more topsy turvy in LMP2 than usual.

The Lucchini was “mega” according to Filippo Francioni, but the new LMP2 was out on soft wets at the end, hence its unrepresentative time. There are still one of two minor gearbox gremlins popping up from time to time.

Improving track conditions seemed to suit the Porsches, with Maassen, Pompidou and Collard humbling the TVR – and then Kirkaldy popping up second fastest in the Cirtek Ferrari, for a Cirtek 1-2.

Franz Konrad reckoned that “we waited for the right moment to try slicks, and (the provisional GTS) pole was the result,” for the Vitaphone Saleen. Larbre didn’t go out early on with the two 550s, until the track showed signs of drying, then just after the two set off, the red flag came out. Pedro Lamy set three good laps (2:41, 33 and 28) as he brought his tyres in, but ran out of time to challenge the Konrad car.

So a very mixed session – and the forecast is for a wet track this afternoon.

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