Report, Spa-Francorchamps – June 3
Franck – or Champs?
Series Winners Harry Handkammer and David Leslie used all their
endurance skills in the GTS Motorsport BMW M3 to take a magnificent
victory in Saturday evening’s four-hour combined Britcar /
ProductionS1 race, finishing a lap ahead of the Porsche GT3-RS of
Peter Cook and Franck Pelle.
And it didn’t
rain. At all.
For those who
haven’t visited Spa before – and that, surprisingly
included veteran commentator Brian Jones – the sweeps, undulations,
and general vista are breathtaking. Any TV footage that you have
seen, even the best pictures in books or magazines, leave you ill-prepared
for the sheer majesty of the place. That said, the spectator areas
and facilities are redolent of a third-division football ground,
and it’s small wonder that Bernie has taken it off the F1
45-minute qualifying session had seen first the GTS Motorsport BMW
at the top, then the Cook / Pelle Porsche, then Peter Hardman, in
the Bilmo BMW GTR, lowering the target to 2:33.414. Once Richard
Chamberlain climbed into his Porsche 935, however, things changed,
the orange car posting 2:21.037 on its first flying lap; “Straight
on the case, straight on the pace,” according to Brian Jones,
who, incidentally, was a bastion of British work-ethic in a box
of Belgian waffle.
take look at the grid, starting drivers in bold;
1 5 GTRS Chamberlain
/ Allen Porsche 935 2:31.037
2 24 GT3 Hardman / Leventis BMW M3 GTR 2:33.414
3 23 GTRS Sharpe / Haynes Ford Falcon 2:33.747
4 18 GTRS Cook / Pelle Porsche GT3RS 2:35.001
5 1 GTC Handkammer / Leslie BMW M3 E36 2:35.771
6 31 GTC Rodriguez / Wyatt / Mott BMW M3 E46 2:37.443
7 36 GT3 C Cole / E Cole Ferrari 360 2:39.802
8 6 GTC Mercer / Bullock Marcos Mantis 2:39.835
9 97 P2 Campbell / Cuff BMW E30 2:41.943
10 37 GTC Aucott / Macari BMW M3 E46 2:42.415
11 92 P2 George / Bennett Honda Civic 2:44.310
12 90 P1 Symons / D’Cruze BMW M3 E36 2:44.519
13 4 GTC Gilbert / Harrison Marcos Mantis 2:45.700
14 51 P1 Aitken / Heintzelman Vauxhall Astra 2:45.980
15 60 P2 Lemmer / Demetriou Honda Integra 2:46.198
16 78 P2 Clarke / Donaldson BMW 320i 2:46.607
17 11 GTC Edwards / Newman Marcos Mantis 2:46.760
18 86 P2 Horton / Cunningham Seat Leon Cupra 2:47.195
19 83 P2 Cutts / Donaldson / Clarke BMW M3 E36
20 70 P1 Wilmott / Benham / Gerrish BMW M3 E36
21 42 GT3 Back / Foster Ferrari 360 2:49.227
22 81 P3 Smith / Plotnek MG ZR 2:49.473
23 50 P1 Moulesdale / Kent Vauxhall Astra 2:50.360
24 80 P3 Smith / Bennett-Baggs MG ZR 2:54.117
25 91 P3 Harvey / Maynard Mini-Cooper 2:55.232
The three mandatory
pit stops meant little to Richard Chamberlain and John Allen, for
they would need to come in seven times to refuel the thirsty Porsche.
Peter Hardman was sharing the Bilmo BMW GTR with relative novice
Nick Leventis, son of the owner of the collection of historic race
cars that Hardman regularly drives. Adam Sharpe was stopping-off
between his Australian exploits and the Le Mans test weekend. Peter
Cook had brought along his red Porsche – the car seen previously
in occasional British and FIA GT races. “This is the car we
always intended to run in Britcar. We’ve removed the turbo,
so it’s now naturally aspirated, and we should be able to
get away with three pit stops,” he explained. Ben Aucott was
sharing the Red Bull BMW M3 of the crack Duller team, with Joe Macari.
Honda Integra was a newly-built car, intended for some extra-curricular
fun away from Barwell’s GT programme, and the returning Andy
Demetriou was nursing a hand injury. Phil Cutts hadn’t raced
since Zolder last year, and nor had his M3, but, having joined forces
with Kevin Clarke’s Intersport team for the weekend, it was
determined that both Clarke and Ian Donaldson would share the car,
as well as their usual 320i. The Colin Wilmott / Barry Benham /
Guy Gerrish BMW M3 was the old GTS Motorsport car used by John Cowgill
and Calum Lockie, and the MG series frontrunners were being run
by the ex-MG Sport & Racing team.
With the Britcar
contingent installed in the Grand Prix pit garages, and with no
visual or oral communication between the pit lane, commentary box
and press office, this was going to be a difficult race to follow,
with some guesswork and assumptions made.
As the cars
filed out to form up on the grid, there was disappointment for David
Cuff, the Metcalf BMW stopping out on the circuit with a suspension
problem. At this stage of the proceedings, recovery was possible,
leaving a glimmer of hope as the car was loaded onto a flat-bed.
went into an immediate lead at the green lights, with Sharpe on
his tail, but Peter Hardman had made a quick getaway, and, with
Cook’s Porsche snapping at his exhaust pipes, made a move
on Sharpe, too. Adam was having none of it, though, and got back
ahead before the first lap ended. David Leslie had taken Cook as
well, and as they came out of La Source, Chamberlain, Sharpe and
Hardman powered down the hill in line, then a short gap before Leslie
Ben Aucott overdid
it at La Source on lap two, hitting the tyre wall, and ending the
race for the Duller BMW.
and Sharpe, with just a quarter of a second separating them, had
left Hardman in a lonely third. In ProductionS1, Kevin Clarke had
hauled the Cutts BMW up to ninth overall, leading the class in front
of Mark Lemmer, and Michael Symons’ Geoff Steel BMW.
was a problem with the Symons car though, for with just 15 minutes
gone, he pulled off at the top end of the circuit. “The gear
selector broke,” said co-driver Andre D’Cruze later,
“they wouldn’t recover us, so the team drove out there
with all the parts, but they weren’t allowed to work on the
had stretched his advantage to nearly four seconds, but as the leaders
hit traffic eight laps in, Sharpe closed the gap to less than a
second again. The two orange cars, nose to tail, are becoming familiar
in Britcar races, but so, too are punctures, and with just 10 laps
done, the Porsche 935 was in for the first of what would be several
Chamberlain faced an almost impossible task to get back into contention.
Good news, though, for David Cuff, who joined the race eleven laps
down, the sheared wishbone bolt having been replaced on the BMW
There was a
scare for Doug Newman at the worst possible place. With smoke billowing
from the rear of the Marcos Mantis as he entered Eau Rouge, he spun
on his own oil, backwards into the Armco. He crawled back to the
pits to retire, rear heavily damaged, and wing askew.
in the Mardi Gras Honda Civic, had been scrapping with Peter Heintzelman’s
Astra, and was bearing the scars on the back bumper. Sadly, the
Civic would retire after 23 laps, leaving Phil Bennett without a
As the first
hour passed, Sharpe held a lead of 35 seconds over Hardman’s
GTR, with David Leslie holding it steady in third, a further 13
seconds adrift. Anthony Mott was doing a sterling job in the Simpson
Motorsport BMW, fourth, and the last car on the lead lap. Craig
Cole’s Damax Ferrari was fifth, followed by Franck Pelle,
who had relieved Peter Cook in the red Porsche. Chamberlain had
hauled the 935 back up to seventh, though two laps down, and David
Back had atoned for a poor grid positioned, the black Damax Ferrari
360 now in ninth. Jon Harrison had parked the #4 Topcats Marcos
out on the circuit.
John George temporarily held the lead, but would soon retire, with
the impressive Colin Wilmott BMW second, and the Barwell Honda third.
Ian Donaldson had retired the Intersport BMW after an electrical
fire, so now he and Kevin Clarke were concentrating their efforts
on the Phil Cutts M3, which was 12th overall.
The second hour
saw both Peter Hardman and David Leslie assume the overall lead
as pit stops were taken, and Anthony Mott had the BMW up to second
before handing over to Jeff Wyatt.
at the halfway stage of the race, and still a pleasant evening,
it was Handkammer’s BMW leading, followed by George Haynes
in the ASM Falcon, Jeff Wyatt’s BMW, then Nick Leventis in
the GTR. The two Porsches of Pelle and John Allen were fifth and
sixth, then the leading PS1 car, the amazing Cutts BMW. Phil had
initially doubted his fitness to race before the event, and was
on the cusp of withdrawing, but was now in the middle of what would
be a masterful 90-minute stint, and the car was now leading the
Barwell Integra, and the Wilmott / Benham / Gerrish M3.
The Cole brothers
Damax Ferrari had now retired with clutch problems, and the Topcats
Marcos Mantis had taken a stop / go penalty for a pit lane entry
The third hour
saw the white GTS Motorsport BMW retain the lead through a round
of pit stops (Leslie to Handkammer, right), but the Falcon was eating
into its 10-second lead to the tune of a second per lap.
long lap round Spa, though, and the Falcon’s progress was
halted, with 90 minutes to go, by another pit stop. Richard Chamberlain
called it a day now, the third puncture having damaged the bodywork.
“One puncture at Silverstone, two at Snetterton, and three
here – and it’s always the sidewalls, not the tread,”
exclaimed Chamberlain. The Simpson BMW retired out on the circuit,
with an unknown fault. “They wouldn’t recover us back
to the pits, so we don’t know what the problem was –
could have been fuel,” snapped an angry Tony Rodriguez after
As the race
entered the final hour, it was still Handkammer / Leslie in front,
with the Sharpe Falcon still in touch, half a minute down. The Hardman
/ Leventis BMW was third, two laps down, followed by Cook / Pelle
on the same lap. Lemmer and Demetriou were making ProductionS1 their
own, fifth overall, and a lap in front of the Cutts / Clarke / Donaldson
BMW. The Wilmott BMW was next, and Gary Smith and Stuart Plotnek
had brought the class-leading MG ZR into eighth overall. Davids
Back and Foster were struggling with no power steering in the Damax
Ferrari. Shoring-up the top ten, and keeping their powder dry, were
Mick Mercer and Rupert Bullock in the Topcats Marcos Mantis.
This was to
be no cruise to the flag, though. The usually consistent Handkammer
/ Leslie BMW was atypically erratic in its lap times, and the Falcon
actually drew up to sniffing distance, before needing yet another
pit stop. Once refreshed, the Falcon got back onto the same lap
again, but with half an hour left, a 70-second deficit was a bit
too much to make up. Cruel luck saw the Hardman / Leventis GTR stop
out on the circuit with just 15 minutes left to run, and the Barwell
Honda Integra risked losing the ProductionS1 lead by making a cautionary
fuel stop, rejoining just eight seconds in front of Ian Donaldson’s
It was now around
ten o’clock, and virtually dark. And there was drama in the
darkness. Adam Sharpe had come across two squabbling back-markers,
and his attempts to lap them had seen him in heavily into the Armco.
The Falcon limped back to the pits, crawling across the line to
finish the lap, and Steve Kent’s Astra exhibited damage too.
had responded to the threat from the #83 BMW, and now Rupert Bullock
was making a final dash for glory, the Mantis having taken Donaldson
and the Back / Foster Ferrari in the last quarter of an hour, and
on the last lap, the Barwell Honda too.
now conserving fuel, took the flag, having completed 89 laps. “It’s
good to win here, on such a phenomenal circuit,” he said.
And those inconsistent
was oil at Stavelot – from the Simpson BMW I think –
and I went off-line to avoid that, and then the traffic; you can
blast through here, and risk it, or hang back. I didn’t want
to throw away a win, so I held back, and that can cost you a couple
of seconds here, losing power out of a corner into an uphill straight.”
Peter Cook and
Franck Pelle brought the Porsche home second, and it had apparently
been a bit of an unknown quantity, as Pelle explained; “We
had done no testing before coming here, so we had no set-up, no
data. The bodywork was nearly flying off, and we had to make a stop
to tape it up.”
and the ever improving George Haynes, despite the late accident,
had done enough to be classified third, and it was jubilant Mick
Mercer and Rupert Bullock fourth.
and Andy Demetriou were fifth, heading the ProductionS1 runners,
then David Back and David Foster in the black Ferrari, searching
for gears towards the end.
and Ian Donaldson salvaged their race by helping bring Phil Cutts’
BMW home seventh. Gary Smith and Stuart Plotnek won the “baby”
class in the #81 Mickel Racing MG ZR, eighth overall, and the Paul
Horton / Mark Cunningham Seat completed a steady race in ninth.
The endurance-spec Mini Cooper of Paul Harvey and Alan Maynard finished
tenth overall, and runner-up in Class 3, despite the team’s
Barry Benham and Guy Gerrish are not MG front-runners for nothing,
and they acquitted themselves well in the ex-GTS BMW M3, though
a progressive loss of gears through the race saw them left with
just fourth gear towards the end.
It was “what
might have been” for the Metcalf BMW E30, the last car to
actually finish on the road, and posting the fastest ProductionS1
lap, after starting the race 11 laps down.
“We could have been on the overall podium,” rued Fergus
The GA Motorsport
Vauxhall Astra had a race full of incident and accident, their quartet
of US and UK drivers getting to grips with European circuits, after
previously racing exclusively in the Middle East.
MG ZR of Kelly-Anne Smith and Sarah Bennett-Baggs encountered problems
towards the end of the race, but was classified 15th.
Steve Wood for keeping up with the action
throughout an eventful evening - and special praise to Peter
May, who shot these images at Spa, then drove through
the night to Le Mans, and captured some of the images you might
have seen from that event. It was quite a weekend for all of us,
trying to bring reports from three European meetings.
1 1 GTC Handkammer / Leslie BMW M3 89 laps
2 18 GTRS Cook / Pelle Porsche GT3RS 88
3 23 GTRS Sharpe / Haynes Ford Falcon 85
4 6 GTC Mercer / Bullock Marcos Mantis 83
5 60 P2 Lemmer / Demetriou Honda Integra 83
6 42 GT3 Back / Foster Ferrari 360 82
7 83 P2 Cutts / Clarke / Donaldson BMW M3 E36 82
8 81 P3 Smith / Plotnek MG ZR 82
9 86 P2 Horton / Cunningham Seat Leon Cupra 80
10 91 P3 Harvey / Maynard Mini Cooper 79
11 70 P1 Wilmott / Benham / Gerrish BMW M3 79
12 97 P2 Cuff / Campbell BMW M3 E30 77
13 24 GT3 Hardman / Leventis BMW M3 GTR 76
14 50 P1 Moulesdale / Kent Vauxhall Astra 73
15 80 P3 Smith / Bennett-Baggs MG ZR 58