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With several empty spots in the paddocks, the 2023 Spa Six Hours at times felt subdued, especially for a 30-year-anniversary edition – but the event came alive through the fantastic racing and the friendly atmosphere.  Beforehand, opinions were divided about the new timetable, with the Six Hour race itself now the final race on Saturday night and Sunday reserved for a party of car clubs.  Would it work or not?

Mattijs Diepraam Reports…

Although there is much to be said for an event that ends on a high, the practical consequences of the decision soon emerged.  People were slow to appear on Wednesday’s test day, with many only turning up on Friday in order to qualify for the main race.  The support programme took the biggest hit – Motor Racing Legends gave their RAC Woodcote & Stirling Moss Trophies a rest for a year, while FHR cancelled their Can-Am & Sportscars slot at the last minute, leaving the organisers with a programme that only started after 10am on the first two days.  Entry numbers were well down, too. 

Richard McAlpine (McLaren M1B) won the Masters Sports Car Legends pre-‘65 Hulme class, while Diogo Ferrão in the Lola T292 (no. 65) hit the front on lap 4 to hand co-driver Martin Stretton a handsome lead that was slashed to nought when the safety car was dispatched with less than ten minutes remaining

Those staying home confessed that travelling on Tuesday meant taking almost a full week’s leave from work, while those with pre-‘66 GTs and touring cars were given a tough choice, as the Masters Gent Drivers and Pre-‘66 Touring Car races were now scheduled ahead of the Six Hours instead of the day after.  Most preferred not to risk their cars before the Six Hours, and those with multiple cars split their efforts.  The result was that in the first full post-COVID season the Six Hours entry dipped below the 100 mark, while Masters were forced to combine their usually healthy GT and touring-car grids into a single 35-car field, thereby further compressing the timetable.  And with all the support paddocks leaving early, the largely emptied garages of the F1 pit building made for a soulless sight during the Six Hours highlight.  It remains to be seen if this experiment warrants a repeat.

Photo Eric Sawyer & Peter Heil

The main race

Although a torrential downpour hit the track on Friday afternoon, turning the qualifying session into a wet affair, the Six Hours race took place on a bone-dry track.  It proved to be a baptism of fire for some of the star newcomers who had never raced at Spa before.  This applied to NASCAR legend Jimmie Johnson but many had a hard time believing that his teammate, Dario Franchitti, was a Spa first-timer as well.  Johnson was thrown in at the deep end with five extremely wet practice laps on Friday before needing to relearn the track all over again in the first laps of his dry race stint – in an old-school GT40 in a crowded field.  Having to refuel his own race car was another fresh experience, the American said.

NASCAR legend and Spa debuntant Jimmie Johnson was thrown in at the deep end with five extremely wet practice laps on Friday. Having to refuel his own race car was another fresh experience, the American said

As usual, a huge number of GT40s were entered, and due to the searing pace in the dry race many broke down.  Former winners Olly Bryant and James Cottingham hit the front with four hours to go, only to retire with a sticking carburettor; the Craig Davies/Andy Newall/Chris Ward example was hit by a split brake pipe early on while the David Hart/Olivier Hart/Nicky Pastorelli machine dropped out from second place with a broken driveshaft halfway into the race. 

n Saturday’s HGPCA race Michael Gans’ Cooper T79 was harried all the way by Justin Maeer’s T53

This left the Hi-Tech car of Miles Griffiths/Andy Priaulx/Gordon Shedden well in command, but towards the end Shedden had to fight off a strong recovery from the pole-sitting Gotcha GT40 of Count Marcus von Oeynhausen and Nico Verdonck that had lost major time at one of its refuelling stops.  However, it was all over when the German-run car was forced to pit with less than half an hour remaining, its brakes having gone completely.  Losing two laps and finishing the race at a slower pace, Verdonck was not only caught by the Lotus Elan of Andrew Jordan/Sam Tordoff/James Dorlin claiming a sensational second place overall, but pushed off the podium by the Tony Wood/Will Nuthall/Michael Lyons GT40 on the final lap…

“It was just a matter of staying out of trouble and having a mechanically faultless run,” said a modest James Dorlin of his team’s 2nd place after climbing from the feisty little Lotus Elan

In sixth and eighth overall respectively, Simon Evans/James Littlejohn and James Claridge/James Denty/Gonçalo Gomes made it three Elans in the top-ten, all finishing in front of class-winning Jon Minshaw/Phil Keen in the fastest of the E-types – now everyone will want one for next year!  It was just a matter of staying out of trouble and having a mechanically faultless run, said Dorlin, moments after climbing from the feisty little machine. 

Ross Keeling/Calum Lockie (Delahaye 135) won the MRL Pre-War Sportscar race

Meanwhile, the touring car class was emphatically won by Dutch Mustang trio Jac Meeuwissen/Bas Jansen/Ties Meeuwissen, helped by the brakeless Falcon of Chris Milner and UK-based Dutchmen Karsten Le Blanc and Christiaen van Lanschot dropping out in those decisive final 30 minutes.  In class GTS 11 Simon Orebi-Gann, Rick Bourne and Calum Lockie brought their Morgan +4 SS home ahead of all the MGB and Porsche 911 opposition.

To read a full report of all the races at the meeting, see our November 2023 issue…

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