0-60 in Four Years!

By the nature of motor racing, the Jaguar team gathers the major share of the publicity for exploits in the World Sports-Prototype Championship, but statistically Spice Engineering Ltd has achieved even more success in the Group C2 division.

Chairman Gordon Spice has dominated the C2 Drivers Championship since midway through the 1984 season, having won 22 races from 35 starts, plus six second places. His cars have failed to finish on only four occasions, which is quite remarkable in a category somewhat notorious for its high retirement rate!

The growth of his company, based in three units at Silverstone’s industrial estate, has gone hand-in-hand with these successes. An organisation which started from scratch in 1984 now has a total of 60 employees, 20 of whom are based in Atlanta, Georgia, under the management of Julian Randles.

With a major contract from the Pontiac division of General Motors, Spice Engineering has extended its interest in the IMSA Camel GT Championship fro Lights to the main Prototype category, and naturally has the ambition to move into Group C1 at the earliest opportunity.

“We’d have liked to be in C1 this year”, says managing director Jeff Hazell, “but we’ll only move up with the support of a manufacturer. We could want to be at the front, naturally, but you need to have a manufacturer behind you. . . we’re working on it for next year.”

Much depends on the World Championship regulations for 1989, for two seemingly-firm proposals have gone back into discussion. There will be “stock blocks” (probably limited to six litres), there will be turbocharged engines for the next two years at least, and there will be 3.5-litre racing engines, but forms of restriction on sheer power have yet to be firmly established.

Pontiac’s 5-litre V8 would stretch to 6 litres and would certainly produce more than 600 horsepower, but the GM company would have to take a major decision to become involved in the world series before that line of logic could be taken any further.

In the space of four years Spice Engineering has become easily the biggest company at Silverstone, going beyond the “cottage industry” stage. For comparison, when Williams Grand Prix team employs 120 people at Didcot and works on a budget of £10-million per year; Spice’s turnover is not public property but Hazell reckons that it needs £300,000 to run a C2 car properly for a season, and for two cars something over £500,000. “We are fully sponsored,” he points out. “Our C2 programme has always had to stand on its own”.

Gordon Spice has been professional since his days in Minis, refusing to spend any of his own money on racing, and has an enviable portfolio of sponsors for his two cars in 1988; BP Oils, Lucas Micos, GM Eurosport, Migralift migraine relief, Bobadilla 103 Brandy, Minolta Copiers, the Den Bla Avis newspaper, Cannon car mats and Dana Ford are the leading names assembled by Spice and fellow drivers Ray Bellm, Thorkild Thyrring and Almo Copelli.

Shareholders in Spice Engineering Ltd are Gordon Spice plc (Spice’s own company, built from scratch over the past 20 years and specialising in trade-sales of car and garden equipment), Ray Bellm’s Charwell Group, Jeff Hazell, and chief designer Graham Humphreys.

The moving force behind the organisation is, clearly, Spice himself, though he gives major credit for all the successes to Hazell. Having progressed from Minis in the late 1960s Spice, who celebrated his 48th birthday in April, moved on to Formula 5000 (he won the Oulton Park Gold Cup in 1975) and Ford Capris. He won the Spa 24-Hour race with Teddy Pilette in 1978, and drove with Jean Rondeau at Le Mans between 1980 and 1982.

He believed, in 1982, that he had a contract to develop the Ford C100, but Stuart Turner summarily cancelled the whole project early in 1983. Spice’s manager Keith Greene joined Fitzpatrick Racing, and Gordon Spice Racing was disbanded.

One era ended, another started. In 1983 Spice competed in a Tiga-Chevrolet owned by Neil Crang, and they earned honourable finishes at Brands Hatch and Mugello. Spice then had the car converted to take the Ford Cosworth DFV engine, and although the 1984 season began badly with non-finishes at Silverstone and Le Mans, it picked up markedly after the 24-Hour race when Hazell was employed as team manager. Martino Finotto’s Giannini-Alba FF team was put to flight as Spice and Crang won the races at the Nürburgring, Brands Hatch, Spa and Imola.

Spice Engineering Limited was formed at the end of 1984, Hazell reckoning that to be successful the team needed more o an engineering flavour. Even as a successful customer it was not getting preferential treatment from Howden Ganley’s Tiga Cars, and was doing more of its own development work.

The key to the operation was Graham Humphrys, a talented designer who had previously worked for Hesketh, March, Theodore. . . and even played a major role in developing the Ecurie Ecosse C2 car which was Spice’s worthiest rival! The original Tiga GC83 (itself developed from the ill-fated Mirage which non-started at Le Mans in 1982) was sold to Tim Lee-Davey.

For 1985 Humphrys and Hazell designed a lookalike successor to the Tiga, which they called a Spice – although Ganley frequently invited onlookers to point out the differences. Hazell insists that it was a development, and Spice and Bellm were supremely successful in claiming six C2 victories, a second place (to Ecosse, at Silverstone), and just on non-finish when a rear upright broke at Brands Hatch. Subsequently the car was sold to Kelmar Racing (which called it a Tiga) where it gave good service until Maurizio Gellini crashed it heavily at Jarama in March.

Early in 1985 Pontiac had become interested in what Spice was doing, and this was the lift-off point for the young company. “We heard a whisper that Pontiac was thinking of doing something,” says Hazell, “so I flew over to Detroit. We could hardly afford the air-fare! I met John Callies, and he came over to Le Mans to have a look. We won C2, and he seemed to be suitably impressed.”

What followed was an order for three cars, styled by Pontiac, which would take part in IMSA’s new Camel Lights division; Jim Downing’s Mazda-Argo was going too well for the liking of domestic manufacturers! Spice Engineering was asked to build the cars from scratch, to test and refine the styled bodywork in a wind tunnel, and to supply three cars in time for the 1986 season.

Since this would delay spice’s own plant to build a car for C2, permission was given for him to run a near-identical car himself, called the spice Pontiac. That confused a lot of people, since it was powered by the ubiquitous Cosworth V8 engine, tuned by John Nicholson.

The car was very attractive, a departure from the contemporary school of sportscar design, and wore its Pontiac Fiero emblem well. Throughout the season Spice and Bellm duelled with Ecurie Ecosse, and although the former shared the Drivers Championship for the second time, the Scots took the Teams Championship with a better result at Fuji.

Successes continued in 1987, although Ray Bellm took a year’s sabbatical. With Fermin Velez as his new co-driver, Spice won the Drivers Championship for the third year in succession, with seven victories, two second places to Ecurie Ecosse, and one non-finish.

Spice Engineering has prepared two identical cars for 1988, spice and Bellm sharing No 111 as usual, Thorkild Thyrring and Almo Copelli No 103. If any rivals believed the team would be any less effective they have now been sadly disillusioned, for Spice/Bellm took maximum points from the first three races while Thorkild Thyring/Almo Coppelli finished third in class at Jarama and second at Monza.

Although the Camel Lights division is more keenly contested, the Spice-built Pontiac Fieros have enjoyed considerable success. In 1986 Bob earl took seven pole positions and three victories, usually with Spice or Bellm co-driving, to finish fifth in the Drivers Championship.

Last year Julian Randles ran two or three cars on behalf of Pontiac, for Jeff Kline/Don Bell and Jim Rothbarth/Charles Morgan, with the third on occasions for guest drivers. In a sense they were too successful, for although they won the Manufacturers Championship, the main objective, they shared their victories so evenly that Jim Downing slipped through to win the Drivers Championship in his Mazda/Argo, despite winning only one race, Altogether the Pontiacs gathered 13 pole positions, 10 victories and 12 fastest laps from 16 starts.

The American programme was even heavier than it appeared, for in time for the 1987 season Spice Engineering also developed the “production” Pontiac Fiero for the GTO class (with a 4.5-litre V6) and a near identical car for the GTU class (with a 3-litre “four”).

Randles ran all three programmes for Pontiac, earning the go-ahead to move up to GTP in the current season. The Pontiac V6 Firebird made its debut at the Daytona 24-Hours, where it finished eighth in the hands of Steve Durst/Mike Brockman/Bob Earl/Gary Belcher, and the 5-litre V8 Firebird made its debut at Miami. The car was too new to make an impression there, but at Road Atlanta on April 10 it qualified sixth in the hands of Kline/Earl, and finished sixth overall.

In Grand Prix racing a team manager rates driver skills and bravado above all else, expecting maturity to follow, but in endurance racing maturity is the most important asset – if the driver is quick, all the better! Gordon Spice and Ray Bellm have consistently shown the sort of compatibility that Derek Bell and Jacky Ickx used to enjoy, the ability to finish races with the car in a condition to start again!

With an excellent design from Humphrys and impressive preparation from Hazell’s team – including John Nicholson’s engines – it is hard to see how they could lose the C2 championship this year. MLC