Events of the Month

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Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium
Spa 1000Kms

Peugeot took home the silverware on the first competitive meeting of its second-generation 908 and arch rival Audi’s new R18 coupe in the Spa 1000Kms. But did it claim the bragging rights ahead of the Le Mans 24 Hours on June 11/12?

The answer to that question is not as clear-cut as the result of round two of the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup in early May might suggest. Alex Wurz, Anthony Davidson and Marc Gene led home an easy-looking Peugeot 1-2, with the best of the German cars a lap back in third. That was because all three R18 TDIs failed to come through the six-hour event cleanly. Each lost time as a result of on-track dramas.

There is evidence that one or more of the Audis would have been in with a sniff of victory but for those incidents, which ranged from off-track excursions, body damage and, most bizarrely in the case of Rinaldo Capello, knocking on the pitlane speed limiter out on track. Tom Kristensen, who shared his Audi with Allan McNish and Capello as usual, was closing on the second-placed Peugeot driven by Nicolas Minassian just ahead of the five-hour mark.

The eight-time Le Mans winner was just 14 seconds in arrears and due to save on a couple of lap’s worth of fuel at his final stop when a slow puncture halted his charge. The Joest team opted to change damaged rear bodywork in the unscheduled stop, which also meant the car would need a late splash-and-dash, which is why it finished off the lead lap.

The Audi may have been a match for the Peugeots at this point in the race, but it wasn’t consistently so through the event.

Peugeot Sport technical director Bruno Famin suggested that the 908 looked after its tyres better than the R18.

“It seems that our car was faster over the second part of the second stint on the tyres,” he explained. “It’s not really a surprise, because it is one of the key points of the car.”

Kristensen reckoned Audi’s problems might have been “temperaturerelated”. “We had the pace at times,” he said, “but we were not truly competitive over the full race.”

Capello, for instance, struggled initially, only to pick up pace at the end of his double stint on the same set of Michelins. “I could not get any bite from the front,” he said. “What was really odd was in the last 10 laps of my stint I got back the front grip.”

The Peugeot drivers appeared to be able to exploit the full performance of the 908 no matter what. A case in point was Wurz’s charge from 12th on the grid (the result of a red flag in qualifying) and into the lead in the space of 20 laps.

Gene reckoned the events of Spa still point to a tight race come June.

“They have pace, but for whatever reason they weren’t able to turn it into lap times today,” he said. “It looks like one of the closest Le Mans of the past four or five years. Someone has always had an advantage in the past, but I don’t see that this year.” Gary Watkins

*

Silverstone, Northamptonshire
VSCC Spring Start

The vintage sports-car club could not have had a better start to its season than the annual Spring Start meeting at Silverstone. Packed grids, close racing, a bumper crowd and glorious weather delivered all that is wonderful about the VSCC’s unique style of racing.

For Mark Gillies, on a rare outing in ERA R3A this year, there was a sixth win in seven years of the Patrick Lindsay Trophy. But during the oversubscribed Lindsay and Rothschild Trophies race, Gillies had to counter a spirited challenge from Michael Steele in his toothpaste tube Connaught C-Type.

Gillies drifted R3A spectacularly through Copse. But Steele was a worthy adversary, despite struggling for vision due to the methanol spray coming from R3A. Steele even led briefly into Brooklands for the final time, only to run wide and watch Gillies motor past. “It’s the best car in the world to race, beautifully balanced and forgiving” said Gillies of the ex-Raymond Mays machine.

Finishes seldom come closer than in the Fox and Nicholl Trophy when Sam Stretton urged his Alta alongside Richard Pilkington’s Talbot T26 on the dash to the flag. The verdict went to Stretton by 0.05 seconds as he denied Pilkington a hat-trick of Fox and Nicholl wins. It was almost as close in the Silverstone Trophy when Justin Maeers got his Parker-GN to the line 0.25sec ahead of David Pryke’s Riley.

As has become tradition, the meeting opened the Historic Grand Prix Car Association’s season, and a fine Pre-66 grid added further appeal. Mark Piercy wailed his ex-John Surtees V8 Lola Mk4 into an early lead. However on a track where power tells, Peter Horsman forged ahead in his Lotus 18/21. But he was penalised for a jump-start and fell behind John Harper’s Brabham BT4 in the final results. Paul Lawrence

*

Donington Park, Leicestershire
Donington Historic Festival

The Inaugural Donington Historic Festival, brainchild of circuit owner Kevin Wheatcroft and Duncan Wiltshire, proved the venue is back in business.

Action was exciting and varied, with Formula Junior to F2 and Pre-War Sports to Group C topping the card. For many, however the resuscitation of Frank Sytner (who crashed his Lola T70 Mk3B having suffered a heart attack during the Pre-72 prototype enduro) was reason enough to celebrate.

Second to Matthew Watts (MarchBMW 772) in the earlier F2 race, Frank was pursuing 011ie Bryant’s T70 Mk3 when his car hit the tyre wall between Starkey’s Bridge and Schwantz Curve.

A colourful F2 pack was redolent of Donington’s European Championship rounds of the ’70s. Martin Shelton fell trying to repel Waifs on day one, but ruled Sunday’s leg in his March 742/762. Andy Smith thrashed fellow March 79B pilot Ian Ashley in the Atlantic sub-class.

The FIA Lurani Trophy Formula Junior round was marred by dangerous driving up front as Edwin Jowsey and Callum McLeod locked horns. Having spun out on Saturday, Jowsey’s Lotus 22 ran over Piero Tonetti’s Brabham BT6 at Coppice on Sunday, causing a melee from which John Fyda had no escape. He returned to Scotland with broken ankles. McLeod won again.

Sub-minute poleman Bob Berridge and his Sauber-Mercedes C11 were too strong even for Andy Meyrick (Spice 5E89C) in Group C. Similarly, Carlo Vogele (Ferrari 330GT0) had no Pre-63 GT opposition once Jon Minshaw retired his Jaguar E-type.

Simon Hadfield/Irvine Laidlaw won the RAC Woodcote Trophy on the debut of the laffer’s ex-Ecurie Ecosse Jaguar D-type, while Bobby VerdonRoe (Ferrari 246S) outpaced Richard Attwood (Aston DBR1) to win the Sir Stirling Moss Trophy. In the ‘Mad Jack’ Pre-War race, marking Richard Shuffleworh’s 1935 Donington GP win, Alex Ames and Sam Stretton looked set for an Alta 1-2 when Streffon spun, lifting Simon Hope (Alfa Romeo Monza) to second. Marcus Rye

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