BTCS - Spa 12 Hours Report
Porsche Beats Jaguar By A Handful Of Seconds

The first edition of the Spa 12 Hours, born out of the first and only edition of last year's Spa 2003 Miles, proved to be a major success last weekend. Some 30,000 spectators showed up to watch 45 cars do battle over 12 Hours and the weather for once was nice in the Ardennes. Strangely enough, this was apparently the very first time a 12-hour race has ever been organised at Spa, but contrary to last year's race, this one looks set to stay. Last year's race was a non-championship event, while this year's counts towards the Belgian Touring Car Series, with double points to be won as well.

Although the series is called the Belgian Touring Car Series, it's the big GTs and other tubeframe monsters that are the stars of the championship, and the one real endurance race of the year attracted some extra GTs and Silhouettes as well. The ever-young Dieter Quester (only 65 this year) turned up in a Duller Motorsport-prepared Red Bull BMW M3, which he shared with Belcar regulars Vincent Vosse and Fred Bouvy, while local team GPR Pino Racing added a fourth 911 GT3 to its line-up. Also back for more was the winner of last year's Spa 2003 Miles, the gorgeous looking and terrific sounding tubeframe Jaguar X-type.

Apart from these there was the usual bunch of 911s, BMW M3s, the official, championship-leading Audi A4 Turbo and of course the VW Polo Lehmann in the smaller class (because size doesn't always matter).

dailysportscar.comOne of the rules in the BTCS is that no car can qualify faster than a 2m30s lap at Spa, this in order to keep the costs in control. If you must go faster, you just get a 50-kilo ballast added (in practice) or a stop-and-go penalty (during the race). Needless to say, the frontrunners all came very close to this limit, with only the Jaguar setting a 2m29s time; good enough for pole, and a complementary 50 kilos of weight.

The (standing) start of the race saw the Porsches jump to the lead, the Jaguar dropping back (50 kilos does that to you) and everybody generally getting away cleanly and up Eau Rouge without incident. Unfortunately, it wasn't a Porsche nor the Jaguar leading after lap 1, but the Safety Car. In the flat-out double left-hander of Blanchimont (remember Burti in the Jaguar F1 a few years ago?) the diff on Sylvie Delcour's BMW M3 Silhouette decided to call it quits, sending the car sideways across the track and collecting the Audi A4 Turbo in the process. Exit the BMW - and the Audi into the pits for lengthy (11 laps) repairs.

dailysportscar.comLap 7 (still behind the Safety car) saw another favourite temporarily sidelined: the VW Polo came to a stop just before Blanchimont, a half shaft snapped in two. "I thought I was going to kill somebody," said Bob Winter - right, and about to start a stint at the wheel, below. "It looked like I was going to get robbed of an endurance race yet again. Two years ago in the Zolder 10 Hours, Manu Collard basically raped the car, making us a DNF way before sunset. Last year, in the 2003 Miles, we blew the engine in qualifying and couldn't buy a new one for all the money in the world, while at the Zolder 10 Hours, a kingpin failed on the BMW M3 half an hour into my first stint."

Luckily, one of the rules in the BTCS long distance races is that cars stranded out on the track are brought back to the pits, either towed or on a flatbed. "Fortunately, Pascal managed to stop just where the tow-car was, so we only lost ten minutes on that lap. Unfortunately, since we had just changed the half shafts before the race, the team didn't think it necessary to bring a spare. Wrong thinking!"

That called for some repairs in true McGyver style, meaning welding the broken half shaft back together, sliding part of a jack over it and welding that as well, putting the whole thing back on the car and keeping your fingers crossed for the next eleven hours. "These parts are sort of tailor-made for our car, so we couldn't just buy one from the VW parts truck," Winter explained.

At the front of the field, the Jaguar made the most of its excellent line-up of drivers (including former British FFord ace Geoffroy Horion) and clawed its way back to the lead, where it would stay until the ninth hour of the race. A broken right rear upright saw the car limp back to the pits, where repairs caused the team to lose some five laps, handing the lead to the Porsche 911 GT3 (below) of Stéphane Lemeret (last year's European Renault Clio vice-champion, and about to replace Bouchut in a Zwaans Viper), Laurent Nef and Olivier Bouche. Instead of leading by two laps, the boys in the Cat were now trailing by three.

"Since we lost some 25 laps in the process of repairing our car, there wasn't much we could do to force a result, other than wait and hope the competition would have some serious problems," Winter said. "The class-leading Peugeot of Englishman Norris, Frenchman Tardivat and Belgians De Ridder and Thiebault developed an engine problem, which allowed us to reduce our deficit by some ten laps, but it still wasn't enough to make it to the top step of the podium. So we had to settle for second, which under the circumstances isn't half bad."

"Knowing that there's nothing you can do race-wise, allows you to cruise a bit and admire the big boys blast past you. And that, I can tell you, is quite a sight. Can you believe that the Jaguar set the fastest race lap at 1am in the pitch black Ardennes darkness? Amazing stuff!"

Never ones to give up before the finish line, the Jaguar trio actually set fastest race lap after fastest race lap for the better part of the last three hours. In the end they finished second overall, less than a minute behind the Porsche, after twelve hours of racing. It was a finish that certainly reminded the slightly older spectators of the finish of the Spa 1000Kms of 1986, when Thierry Boutsen in the private Brun-Porsche 962 beat Derek Warwick in the factory Jaguar by a handful of seconds. Which in turn reminds us of our own age!
Bob Winter

Spa 12 Hours Results
1. Lemeret / Nef / Bouche Porsche 911 GT3 251 laps in 12h01m04s161 (Ave: 145.531kph)
2. Thiry / Dermont / Horion Jaguar X-Type Silhouette + 0m58s887
3. Turco / Franchi Porsche 911 GT3 + 6 laps
4. De Sordi / De Blauwe Porsche 911 GT3 + 6 laps
5. Morlet / Van de Wauwer / Fumal / Linnertz BMW M3 + 8 laps
6. Chaillet / Coenen Porsche 911 GT3 + 10 laps
7. Hemroulle / Verbergt Audi A4 Turbo + 11 laps
8. Philips / Van Delm / Moonen Porsche 911 RS + 11 laps
9. Close / Menage Lotus Elise + 15 laps
10. Luxen / Heck / Haddouche / Vannerum BMW M3 + 17 laps
24. Norris / Tardivat / Thiebault / De Ridder Peugeot 106 (1st Class B) + 50 laps
27. Winter / Van Hoof / Nelissen Grade VW Polo Lehmann (2nd Class B) + 67 laps
45 starters, 36 finishers.


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