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Endurance revival
2021 Spa Six Hours report

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Who?

Oliver Bryant/James Cottingham

What?

Ford GT40

Where?

Spa

When?

2021 Spa Six Hours (October 2, 2019)

Oliver Bryant/James Cottingham, Ford GT40, 2021 Spa Six Hours
Why?

After a year’s absence, the Spa Six Hours made a jubilant return to the historic calendar, as competitors and spectators alike cherished the revival of the blue-riband endurance event. ‘Post-covid’ was too much of moniker, since it was impossible to pass through the gates without showing a clean bill of health, but once inside the atmosphere was just as in the old days – an overcrowded pitlane, hour-long queues for the ‘frites’, a touch of rain (but not much this time – on the day of the main event at least) and a anorak’s dream collection of beautiful and noisy cars from motorsport’s glorious past.

The drivers, team members, staff and those attending that looked more closely, though, could still see the difference – and we are not talking mandatory facemasks in the interior spaces here. The Six Hours entry was bigger than many expected, but a driver would still notice that some 25 of the usual 110 cars were missing on the track. Large parts of the paddock were empty, visible proof to the visitor that the support races had in some cases been able to drum up no more than half of its regular Spa standard.

Tony Wood/Miles Griffiths, Ford GT40, 2021 Spa Six Hours

Miles Griffiths jumping into the Martin Stretton-run GT40 for a Thursday test spin. (photo 8W)

Pretty much no-one cared, though. The return of the event felt like a victory to everyone involved, especially since for three days everyone did what they loved most in circumstances that made them completely forget what had almost stopped the world for about 18 months. Handshakes and hugs were exchanged liberally, and social distancing was done away with, both as a concept and in practice.

All that remained was brilliant racing, such as in the main event. The qualifying overture had seen Frank Stippler break the 2.40 barrier to claim a dominant pole in Gotcha’s GT40 that he shared with Marcus Graf von Oeynhausen, which meant that part one of the Count’s Spa mission had been completed successfully. Having already won with Nico Verdonck, a victory in the race wasn’t on von Oeynhausen’s bucketlist per se, but given his ‘no efforts spared’ approach it was certainly one to tick from his list of ‘nice to haves’. It wasn’t to be, though, and instead a driver pairing that was still to win the Six Hours after many years of trying finally did succeed. In fact, with both James Cottingham and Oliver Bryant having been victorious at the Goodwood Revival two weeks earlier – with especially Bryant getting his RAC TT reward after being thwarted on numerous occasions – the winners extended a period of absolute bliss, since following up a Goodwood win with victory at Spa is well up there when it comes to achievements in historic motorsport.

Sam Hancock/Niko Ditting, Nicky Pastorelli/Olivier Hart, Ford GT40, 2021 Spa Six Hours

Sam Hancock and Nicky Pastorelli did the early running. (photo 8W)

In contrast, the pole-sitting GT40 was out within 20 minutes, Stippler having already dropped down the order as fuel came gushing into the interior. It was all over once it reached the glowing left-front brake disc, and when the German came to a halt in the pits to bail out, the car went ablaze almost immediately. Only the quick actions of a spectator thinking on his feet and grabbing the nearest fire extinguisher prevented worse. An hour later, another rapid GT40 disappeared from the scene, as the DHG Racing entry got stuck in reverse at the fuel station. Moments before, Nicky Pastorelli was chasing Sam Hancock for the lead that he had possessed for almost the entire first hour of the race.

After that, the pendulum swung three more times, first when the Bryant/Cottingham GT40 usurped the Hancock/Ditting example, before the Martin Stretton-run Tony Wood/Miles Griffiths car surged into the lead at around mid-distance. By virtue of making fewer stops, Bryant reclaimed the front with an hour and a half to go to win by a lap – not from the Wood/Griffiths car, as Griffiths agonisingly crashed out in the final 15 minutes, but from the two red GT40s of Craig Davies/Mike Jordan/Andy Newall and Richard Meins/Chris Lillingston-Price/Andrew Bentley. It hadn’t all gone to plan with the winning car, however. 20 minutes into race, Bryant lost fourth gear and subsequently feared all race that the notoriously fragile ZF ‘box would fail before the car saw the finish. In fact, the gearbox locked solid when the team wanted to move the car from underneath the podium to its garage, so it had to be jacked up to be transported there.

2021 Spa Six Hours

As usual, the sting was in the tail. (photo 8W)

Those final 15 minutes proved costly in two more classes, in each case handing the win to the car that had been chasing the likely winners. The Dutch Mustang of Erwin van Lieshout/Jac Meeuwissen/Bas Jansen had led for hours and a runaway CT10 touring-car victory was on the cards but then CRC played its joker card with Nigel Greensall getting into the Mustang he shared with Christiaen van Lanschot and Chris Milner. Greensall first swooped past the second-place Mustang of Luke Wos and Andy Yool before setting after Jansen in the lead pony. The final quarter hour had already started when Jansen gave up and came in for a splash-and-dash, leaving Greensall and his teammates to inherit victory. The Dutch team had failed at the last hurdle, but with Van Lanschot a Dutchman still climbed the top step of the podium. In the lightweight GTS10 sportscar class the Elan of Simon Evans/James Littlejohn similarly lost out in the dying moments, and to their surprise and joy Andrew Haddon and the father-and-son combo of Shaun and Max Lynn prevailed in the end.

Racking up a dominant GTS12 class win, the Gipimotor Cobra of local heroes Christophe Van Riet and Fred Bouvy notched up sixth overall to split the healthy GT40s while in their Porsche 911, Christian Coll and Seb Perez ruled the roost in the GTS11 class. The small-capacity GTP class proved easy prey for the Elva GT160 of Gareth Burnett/Richard Bradley/Nic Minassian, its superstrong line-up adding to what was probably a car advantage already, as the Elva managed to also claim an increadible eighth overall.

Mike Cantillon, Williams FW07C, 2021 Spa Six Hours

Mike Cantillon bounced back from defeat on Saturday to win a rain-soaked second Masters Historic Formula One race the next day. (photo 8W)

15 more races formed the main event’s support programme, and headlining those were the pair of Masters Historic Formula One races. The wins were shared between Jamie Constable (Tyrrell 011) and Mike Cantillon (Williams FW07C), with Constable inheriting victory after Cantillon and his Williams FW07C teammate Christophe d’Ansembourg hit trouble from their front-row starts. Cantillon hit back the next day, spinning twice to still win a rain-hit race all the way from the back. Nick Padmore (Lotus 77) and Lukas Halusa (McLaren M23) took a pre-78 class victory apiece but the crowd was robbed of the chance of seeing the two go head-to-head. Halusa failed to start Saturday’s race after his engine sounded coarse on the warm-up, leaving Padmore to take second overall behind Cantillon. Meanwhile, Halusa’s mechanics worked all the way through their stints as drivers in the Six Hours to complete an engine change that allowed the Austrian to also claim his second place overall on Sunday, on the back of Padmore’s early exit from the lead caused by a broken throttle cable.

The combined Stirling Moss Trophy and Woodcote Trophy was Saturday afternoon’s highlight, with victory going to the James Cottingham/Harvey Stanley Tojeiro-Jaguar. The Ecurie Ecosse car took over the lead on lap 2 to present Cottingham with his second win of the weekend – even though at the moment he was still to find out that it would be his second. In the second part of the race, Michael Gans (Lotus 15) charged through into second place, pushing down the Nicky Pastorelli/Hans Hugenholtz Lister ‘Costin’ into third. The early demise of Gregor Fisken’s HWM-Jaguar led to a mano-a-mano between the Fred Wakeman/Patrick Blakeney-Edwards Cooper-Jaguar T33 and the Steve Brooks/Martin O’Connell Jaguar D-type, with PBE taking it by a single second. Wakeman and Blakeney-Edwards added another win when their Frazer Nash Le Mans Replica beat Ben Maeers’ GN-Curtiss by a mere three tenths in the Pre-War Sportscar race.

Fred Wakeman/Patrick Blakeney-Edwards, Frazer Nash Le Mans Replica, 2021 Spa Six Hours

PBE storming off to the closest of win over the aero-engined GN of Ben Maeers. (photo 8W)

Bryant, meanwhile, could have copied his Six Hours-winning teammate’s victory tally over the weekend by converting his Masters Historic Sports Car pole into triumph but it wasn’t to be. Tom Bradshaw’s Chevron B19 had long claimed the lead from Bryant when his Lola T70 Mk3B was forced to retire with an electrical issue. Ultimately though, Bradshaw wasn’t the one to profit from Bryant’s mishap, as the Chevron B19’s engine began to cut up two laps from the end. A rapidly closing Manfredo Rossi seized the opportunity in his trusty Abarth-Osella PA1. Rossi took his second win of the weekend in the final race, as he guided his Lotus 22 to glory on a very wet Spa circuit, leaving the first Formula Junior race winner of the weekend, Alex Ames in the Brabham BT6, trailing by over ten seconds.

In the third pair of single-seater races of the meeting, Will Nuthall’s Cooper T53 won from the front in Saturday’s HGPCA race for pre-66 Grand Prix cars, with Phil Keen scything through the field to claim the runner-up spot. Starting from the front row on Sunday, Keen’s Lotus 18 over from Nuthall on lap 2 to take victory by some 11 seconds. Rüdi Friedrichs cornered a pair of thirds in his T53 while Steve Hart (Maserati 250F) and Richard Wilson (Ferrari 246 Dino) battled hard to split the front-engined class wins. Keen was the man on the move in the 90-minute Masters Gentlemen Drivers race as well. The Cobra Daytona Coupé of Andrew Jordan/Roy Alderslade proved untouchable as it won by one minute and a half but Keen surged through the pack to take a last-gasp second place from Andrew Haddon’s Elan which had just passed the other Cobra Daytona Coupé of Sam Hancock/Niko Ditting.

Andrew Jordan/Roy Alderslade, Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupé, 2021 Spa Six Hours

Andrew Jordan and Roy Alderslade were in a class of their own in Masters Gent Drivers. (photo 8W)

The fastest cars on track all weekend were the Masters Endurance Legends, with Christophe d’Ansembourg completing a 2.10 lap on his way to pole position. His Lola-Aston Martin DBR1-2 spinning in the early laps of race 1, though, meant that both races would be all Shaun Lynn’s in his Peugeot 908. Son Max followed him home on Saturday in one of the BR Engineering BR01 LMP2 cars, with Portuguese pro driver Rui Aguas carrying the BR torch in a very wet Sunday race. Marcus Graf von Oeynhausen made up for his Six Hours disappointment to take victory twice in the GT section, his Audi R8 LMS Ultra GT3 heading his countryman Oliver Mathai in the Aston Martin Vantage V12, another very recent GT3 car.

The Masters Pre-66 Touring Car race lacked somewhat in depth, with just 14 cars making the race, but the top four fought hard to decide the order at the chequered flag. Ultimately, long-time leader Alex Furiani in an Alfa Romeo Giulia GTA was vanquished by a pair of Lotus Cortinas, Richard Dutton’s example being passed and then re-taking the similar car of Marcus Jewell/Ben Clucas to win.

Rui Aguas, BR Engineering BR01, 2021 Spa Six Hours

As a pro driver forced to make a longer mandatory pitstop, Rui Aguas was fighting with one hand behind his back but still took second place on Sunday. (photo 8W)

Japanese muscle proved to be the centrepiece of both Historic Touring Car Challenge races, even though the Paul Mensley/Matthew Ellis Ford Sierra Cosworth didn’t fall over lightly. On Saturday it took the efforts of BTCC title pretender Jake Hill to move the quickest of the Nissan Skyline R32s up front, but when that failed on Sunday while on course for a second win on the trot, the Simon Garrad-pedalled Godzilla duly took over for a second Nissan win in the books.

More pictures of the Spa Six Hours weekend