Nef, Lemeret and Porsche Win 2004 BTCS
Winter, Van Hoof & dsc Polo Are Vice-Champions

The last two rounds of the 2004 Belgian Touring Car Championship were held at Spa last weekend (October 30-31), where title contenders in all the classes were found to be as busy with setting up their cars as they were with calculating points (the current points system is rather complicated but the organisers have promised to make it simpler for 2005). With Audi/VW Belgium putting in a big marketing effort and with former tennis star Henri Leconte, plus Vanina Ickx, joining the grid (both in a Porsche) the grandstands were quite full on an otherwise cold day.

For the overall championship, favourites Stéphane Lemeret and Laurent Nef just had to finish in the top six of the first race to be crowned champions, even if the official Audi A4 Turbo won the race.

dailysportscar.comIn the smaller classes things were less straightforward. The dailysportscar.com VW Polo Lehmann (probably serving Team 86 for the last time, as the car is to be sold to Germany) had a rather uphill mission to accomplish. Bob Winter and Marc Van Hoof would have to win both races, with the Peugeot driven by Englishman Karim Norris finishing second only once, and the championship leaders in their factory-built Citroen C2 VTS not finishing higher than fifth in both races.

The first race saw the Silhouette Jaguar X-Type storm to the front, only to run out of track halfway around the first lap. The Audi on the other hand did what it had to do: charge hard from pole position and try to win at all costs. The GPR Porsche boys also did what they had to do: trundle around within the top six, making sure not to make any mistakes and steer clear on any incidents.

The lesser gods at the back of the grid had a tougher task. "The points system makes it difficult for any team to have a too large advantage coming into the last race weekend, or to catch up if you miss a race like we did," Bob Winter explained. "Three cars and driver pairs were still fighting for the title, and two more could still have a go, finishing second or third in the championship. Prisoners would therefore not be taken!"

Rain had upset the apple cart a bit in practice, with the Collin / Ronveaux Peugeot setting fastest time in class, Marc van Hoof qualifying the Polo in third. "Their car is a bit faster than ours, but I think their Dunlop tyres were better in the rain than our Michelins," Winter said.

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That wouldn't matter too much in the race because, although cold, the track would be dry (the previous night's six-hour Fun Cup race, Le Mans winner Guy Smith’s favourite discipline, had to be red-flagged because of fog reducing visibility to about twenty metres). Collin and Ronveaux were gone at the start and not seen again until the finish, while Winter and Van Hoof had to settle for second. "Halfway through the race that didn't look too bad for the championship as they would take points away from everybody," Winter said (driver change for the Polo, below).

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But with the Citroën in third and the Peugeot in fourth, it looked like any title hopes would have to be buried at the finish flag. "That was before the unthinkable happened and both the Citroën (fuel pump) and the Peugeot (engine) retired within one lap from each other. Unfortunately for us they both covered 60% of the race distance, so they would take points."

So out came the pocket calculators again, because if the Peugeot was out of the equation for the title it could still "help" the Polo by taking points away from the Citroen. "Unfortunately, they couldn't get their engine fixed, so that put paid to our title ambitions. It also meant we would be vice-champions if we just finished within the top three," Winter continued.

At the (standing) start of the race a mass crash was avoided when the David Loix / Sylvie Delcour car stalled, but that couldn't keep newly crowned champions Nef and Lemeret from going as fast as they could. Without any pressure, they just had a ball and led the whole race, leading from the Jaguar, the Audi and the Vanina Ickx Porsche. The Audi spun in the Bus Stop Chicane and had to pit for repairs, giving an easy victory to the GPR Porsche, half a minute clear of the Jaguar and almost a minute ahead of the second GPR Porsche driven by Pascal Mathieu (who, apart from being extremely quick, is also the guy who paints all the helmets for Bell in Europe) and Martial Chouvel.

dailysportscar.comIn the B-Class Collin and Ronveaux once again sped away in the distance, with Winter and Van Hoof (waiting to get in, right) settling for second. "The Citroen again retired, but this time early enough for us not to worry," Winter said (having just got out, below left).

dailysportscar.com"From then on it was just relaxing and enjoying the ride."

Until the gearbox broke four laps from the end.

"Marc just waited at the La Source hairpin and rolled down the track when the flag came out. The only semi-retirement we have had to endure all year. So where did we lose the title? At the first two races, where we didn't show up because the engine wasn't ready. In the other nine races we scored one win, six seconds, a third and a fourth, so with that finishing record, I'm sure we would have scored a similar result in the opening rounds and had a better chance at the title. Nevertheless, we're quite happy with our second vice-championship in three years, but we'd obviously like to win it next year," Winter concluded.

For 2005, the BTCS is likely to expand from six weekends to seven, each time with two races per weekend, except for the 12 Hours. Races are scheduled at Spa (4), Zolder (1) and Dijon in France (1), with a second one to be held in Flandres at either Zolder or the Coxyde military airport by the coast. The points system is said to be simplified, and some other detail changes are expected as well. With the French Silhouette series in trouble for 2005 it isn't unlikely that quite a few of these tubeframe BMWs and Peugeots will make it to the BTCS as well.

And Team 86? "Marc, who owns the car, is looking at a 2-litre FSI Polo for next year, which will make our lives a bit faster but also more difficult as the 2-litre class is the best attended of the championship. Depending on sponsorship, we even might race something different altogether, but we'll know for sure around Essen Motor Show time when we know what's for sale."

2004 BTCS - Round 10 - Spa
Overall

1. Verbergt/Hemroulle Audi A4 Turbo 34 laps in 1h30m25s095
2. Delcour/Loix BMW M3 Silhouette at 0m13s543
3. Chouvel/Mathieu Porsche 911 GT3 at 0m41s932
4. Nef/Lemeret Porsche 911 GT3 at 1m11s326
5. Ickx/Chaillet Porsche 911 GT3 at 1 lap
6. De Sordi/Deblauwe Porsche 911 GT3 at 1 lap
7. Lupant/Corbissier BMW M3 Silhouette at 1 lap
8. Dumont/Schmit BMW M3 at 3 laps

Class B
1. Collin/Ronveaux Peugeot 106 29 laps in 1m33m15s427
2. Winter/Van Hoof VW Polo Lehmann at 1 lap
3. Deridder/Thiebault Citroen C2 VTS at 6 laps

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2004 BTCS - Round 11 - Spa
Overall

1. Nef/Lemeret Porsche 911 GT3 (above) 35 laps in 1h32m13s199
2. Thiry/Dumont Jaguar X-Type Silhouette at 0m30s912
3. Chouvel/Mathieu Porsche 911 GT3 at 0m50s501
4. Ickx/Chaillet Porsche 911 GT3 at 1 lap
5. Lupant/Corbissier BMW M3 Silhouette at 1 lap
6. De Sordi/Deblauwe Porsche 911 GT3 at 1 lap
7. De Pauw/Leconte Porsche 911 GT3 at 2 laps
8. Sterckx/Heeren Renault Clio at 3 laps

Class B
1. Collin/Ronveaux Peugeot 106 29 laps in 1m34m05s938
2. Winter/Van Hoof VW Polo Lehmann at 4 laps
DNF Deridder/Thiebault Citroen C2 VTS at 18 laps

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