Round 1,2 & 3

Spa Franchorchamps

27 & 28 April 2019

1st R1: Yannik Trautwein (458/Ch) / R2: Yannik Trautwein / R3 Yannik Trautwein
2nd R1: Ralf Goral (430/Ch) / R2: Holger Harmsen / R3 Ralf Goral
3rd R1: Holger Harmsen (45/8Ch) / R2: Georgios Eleftheriadis (458/Ch) / R3 Holger Harmsen
report by William Moorwood, Colin Sowter and Chris Butler
photography by Johan, Christopher Goral

The Spa race weekend was the full-on wet racing experience. The qualifying and the three races were all in either wet or very wet conditions but despite this or more probably because of this it was a great race weekend that was enjoyed by all.

From the start there was a clear concise briefing from Clerk of the Course, Steve Burns, and a very good atmosphere in the pit garages where all the cars were located.

There was a grid of 30 cars with a sizeable contribution of 15 cars from the German FOC, 4 more modern Tipos from the UK, all 430s, and 10 cars from our formula classic series. Race two might have started in drying conditions but by the time the race actually started the rain was torrential. There was only a one hour gap before the Race 3 and this was started behind the safety car as the conditions had failed to improve. The ability of the 458 and 488 cars on full wets to put up an impenetrable screen of spray was truly impressive…

In the course of the weekend there was no car to car contact and only one serious mishap occurring in the first race when Lee Moulden aquaplaned into the barriers at Blanchimont. Carl Burgar had a heart stopping spin coming out of Eau Rouge but only sustained a slight knock which allowed him to participate in the next race.

In the races the winning 458 of Yannik Trautwein really impressed, so too did Ralf Goral who came second in the two races in his 430. Without an observer at the track it has been hard to put a coherent race report together so I have opted for contributions from two of the drivers.

Colin Sowter drove consistently in his 430 and sums up his thoughts as follows:

It’s always such a treat to go to a continental race meeting, the atmosphere and excitement, with the different nationalities, being in another country, hearing many different languages spoken, even something as simple as the different nation’s number plates on the race trucks, it all adds up to create an exotic air to the event, it’s such a buzz, almost making one feel like a professional racing driver.

Due to the extremely bad weather and constant rain, driving in such high performance cars could certainly be described as extremely challenging…  I can only attempt to convey the feeling of racing a 200mph Challenge car in the rain at Spa with little visibility or grip, as something akin to driving into a wall of spray on the motorway with only 30 feet of forward visibility, the wall of spray being so thick it’s like being behind 10 articulated lorries on the motorway at 150mph while driving on ice.  One ended up driving down the Kemmel Straight looking sideways, as the only way to see where the straight finished and the Les Combes and Malmady corner complex started and one needed to brake for the corner was by looking out of the side window at the marker posts on the side of the track and counting down the meters to your braking point, all the time while praying that no one had spun or broken down in front of you.

Similarly, where the circuits are used so much these days – for track days and leisure use – the surface gets worn out and so much rubber is laid down that it’s treacherous in the rain. Even on racing wet tyres it feels like there’s little more grip than on a wintery icy road surface in the UK, even though on the fastest parts of the circuit, the Kemmel Straight and approaching Blanchimont we were still reaching close to maximum revs in 6th gear in the Challenge cars, which frighteningly is approaching their 200mph top speed.  The driving conditions certainly weren’t for the faint hearted!

All in all the meeting was a fantastic success, the weather tried to foil us, but I’m sure all who competed had their limits stretched, and at times with some very hairy moments, such as almost understeering off the circuit at 150mph approaching Blanchimont, or aquaplaning at top speed at the end of the Kemmel straight, had their nerves jangled! But I’m sure all involved learnt more about their driving skills and high speed car control than would have been learnt in a dozen sunny race meetings in the UK.

After the meeting the drive home left plenty of time for reflection and experiences gained on what was an exciting, enjoyable and challenging weekend.

Chris Butler had a similar exciting time in his 328:

Spa was quite biblical out on track. I half expected to see Moses parting Blanchimont at any time…..perhaps it was Moses that caught out poor Lee Moulden?

Those drivers present were drawn to Spa because of its status as the best race track in Europe and likely the World. At Spa it simply doesn’t matter if it is dry or wet or hot or cold because it’s Spa and we are all lucky little blighters to be racing there

The way the Club went about securing an event at Spa and sharing it with our German counterparts was inspired. The driving stands were top class and no car to car contact in such challenging conditions was a testament to the Club feel of our races and the respect that all the drivers had for each other whether racing a 488 or a 308GT4. I think that must have been due to the excellent drivers briefing? Due to the conditions and the odd safety car the slower cars were not lapped as frequently as they might have been but whenever I had a 488 flying up behind me I always found them wait for me to turn into the corner and through the exit before they came past and there was no lunging down the inside whatsoever which was great and perfectly correct considering the conditions.

As for the Barkaways/Butler Ferrari 328 I was delighted to return home in one piece having enjoyed some terrific and close racing with Richard Moseley in his 328 heading up Class 1. Running on our  control treaded tyre and seemingly enduring endless understeer and mid corner twitches Richard and I were permanently in each other’s mirrors. The first lap of all 3 races was just a wall of spray from the cars in front but seeing a car and its headlights in your rear view mirror provided pleasant relief that you were actually not alone in the mist!

Class 1 cars inevitably found that even when the Safety Car was deployed we could continue at full speed just trying to catch up the snake of wet tyre shod cars ahead, the marshals’ oblivious to our efforts from inside the cockpit! I took the Class 1 honours from Richard in race 1 but then found a box full of neutrals in race 2 and trundled down the hill to Eau Rouge falling to the back of the entire grid and even behind the emergency car shoring up the tail end. Eventually I found 4th gear only and immediately thought I should not try to find anything else and so drove the whole race in 4th gear which is somewhat tricky around the Bus-Stop chicane and La Source. Despite catching and overtaking other Class 1 cars through the race I couldn’t catch Richard who took the Class 1 win. With my gear selectors re-aligned that win enabled Richard to start ahead of me on the grid for the very wet race 3 and despite my best efforts I simply could not find a safe way to pass him during the race. I locked up into La Source halfway through the race and decided that with both the worsening visibility and my worsening judgement to settle for the runner up slot.

The warmth with which the trophy presentations were celebrated by all the drivers and teams just showed what camaraderie had developed over the weekend. Although the Germans brought (much!) bigger trophies to the meeting it was the British Class 1 and 2 drivers that deserve medals for getting through the meeting on treaded tyres and car control alone!!

And finally. Photographs were hard to come by but thank you to Johann who I met in the café and gave me CD of all his photos and to Christopher Gosch, particularly for his great photo of the start of the first race.


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