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09 October 2011

As good as it gets Spa Racing and Trackday weekend 2011

After 10 long years, I finally get to race at Spa. And not only to race, I get TVR Pole, lead the race for several laps and in my own Tuscan Challenge car! More than I had hoped for.

As most of you know, I have been to Spa many times, running and driving Trackdays. It’s every drivers favourite circuit with its combination of history, speed, elevation and amazing corner combinations. How many circuits have a particularlay memorable corner? Spa has 4! How many circuits have a top out straight? Spa has one of the best. And how many have a scarey elevation? Spa has the biggest. So if I had a choice to race anywhere in the world, Spa-Francorchamps was No1 on my list.

Graham Walden of had arranged a 1 hour Sports & GTs endurance race this year and had been kind enough to invite us. I jumped at the chance and went straight on the list, looking forward to it all year. The date coincided with our usual late Spa-Ring run so the weather was likely to be good and gave Dulford Automotive and TVRmonster the chance to combine the Racing with customer Trackdays. With 23 cars on the list, it promised to be a great weekend.

Qually went well, with my track knowledge helping immensely. I went out and did some sighting laps to bed in the brakes and hubs, all of which had been replaced. The track felt good but the car had a massive vibration at the front. The guys checked the car and were happy that it was pick up (rubber) or possibly a lost wheel weight. So I went out for a hot one. Two crisp laps in the bag and I came back in to see how I was doing. “TVR Pole behind the Radical…” Big Col told me “…and he only just snuck past you on the last lap” How cool is that, front row seats on my first Spa Race. The vibration turned out to be a buckled wheel so the replacements went on ready for the morning. Time for some beers and a steak!

A word or two about the other racers here. We had been joined on the track by the other Dulford Tuscan (Team mate Perry Waddams using his RV8 car for this race) Dean Cook and Jamie Golby (Deano having just purchased the GpA car from Jamie and sharing the drive) Tim Davis (who has just bought Keith Vaughan-Williams RV8 Tuscan 2 weeks prior) and finally event organiser Graham Walden in his RV8 Tuscan. With a total of 2 trackdays at Spa between the lots of them and little seat time in their new cars, I had hoped to do well but they all put in stunning laps. {erry was on well as was Tim and Graham. Only Dean and Jamie were off the pace, but that’s not unusal for these two. They come good in the Race when the BS stops. I would need to be away quickly to make the most of my advantage.

It was a long night. We all went up to the Race Hotel in Francorchamps, where the Dulford crew were. We were staying on circuit with the motorhomes crowd, Graham, Jamie and Graham, so after vaulting the Spa Fencing we returned to more beers at 12.00 and finally retired around 1.30am. In the morning I was glad I had taken it easy. It was cold and damp with the morning mist only clearing for our out lap. The sun shone through as we formed up on the grid behind the safety car.

The Race! After a holding period of 5 mins or so, the safety car led us away in formation. My first rolling start would be on a mixed grid and at Spa. Best get this right. The temperature meant the tyres were still very cold, I was next to a Radical and had 20 guys chomping at the bit behind me. We held good formation, the safety car peeling off to the pit lane and we were watching the lights. 2nd gear…hold position…we crossed the Start line…and as the lights went out well all hit the gas. The car hooked up well and the Radical and I eased awat towards La Source hairpin both no doubt wondering where the grip would be. I went in tight and deep to take the lead knowing that I had the “Kimi” line to save me if I got it wrong.

For those who don’t know, The “Kimi line” is named after Kimi Raikenen who, when the new high grip tarmac was laid on the outer edge of La Souce in around 2009, used it to great effect to hook up the car and bullet down into Eau Rouge when the normal inside line was full of slow moving F1 cars. The high grip safety tarmac gave him superb traction and enable him to leapfrog several cars from back on the 4th row. Remebering this I kept my foot well in and kept the lead and line into Eau Rouge and up the Kemmel straight. Weaving to stop draughting I checked behind for a late breaking move into Les Combe. Sure enough, the Europa lunged deep on his fantastic breaks just making the corner. On the cut back, I clipped his rear, punting him through the corner and putting me into a slide. I held it to keep the Radical behind me and still on the tail of the Lotus.

Back on it in Rivage hairpin, I gained on the Lotus. This meant he wasn’t that experienced at Spa as his brakes were good. This gave me confidence, so taling him into the corner with no name, I sent up for a punchy move into Pouhon. I have around 80bhp on him, so the clean exit saw me past before the corner, so I got my head down and pushed as much as I dared. The circuit was still very green and with a lot of moisture around and low morning temperatures, it was a hairy ride. It took 2-3 laps to make the break on the Lotus but the gap came and I looked to save my tyres and fuel. It would be a long race for a Tuscan.

Six or so laps in Deano turned up in my mirrors. Maybe I’d gone to easy? For those that don’t know, Dean Cook is a Tuscan Champ and in always right at the front of the GpA runners. Everywhere. Quick to learn and brave too, he only Achilles heel is Qualifying. Once racing however, he’s hard to stop and he was on it now. He followed me for a couple of laps watching my lines, then used his 400bhp and sequential box to power past easily on the main straight. I knew this was likely to happen. Dean was sharing the drive with Jamie who wouldn’t quite have his pace, so as long as I could stay within sight of Deano to the mandatory pitstops and in front of the others…my chances of a win were very good. Two laps later and I pitted on 2 secs behind him, with the Radical slipping through too. All looked good on our strategy…I fuelled and headed out a happy guy.

But here it went pear shaped. An accident on the exit of Rivage at athe top of the circuit called out the safety car and pulled out right into the back of it. That lost me ½ a lap. Spa is very big and has hidden sections so they use two safety cars. Having neutralised the race they the release the 2nd group to catch the first…then to release again and race. However, when released they guy in front would not catch the other car. We lost lap after lap and my race was done. The Race was the red flagged and it was all over.

Still, front row, leading the race,Dulfords Team mate Perry taking the win…it was a great weekend all round. I never expected to do that well and as usual the TVR paddock excelled. What a weekend. To add to the excitement, Mike Saunders won his GT Cup race 1 and was leading Race 2 to the last lap when a tyre blew out. TVRs were dominating everything they raced in. The only exception being Danny Winstanley who had and engine problem in his Sagaris, followed by a duff radiator in his Lotus 211. Having repaired that his gearbox let go on the trackday !!! A weekend he’ll want to forget.

More beer and pizza later it was Trackdays for us, so it was up to the F1 paddock for a some fun. I had promised several hot lap rides as a thank you to some Dulford customers and friends of TVRmonster so it was on with some old slicks and a once over by race mechanic Big Col Apps. A clean bill of health and of we went, picking up the front when and sliding through the corners on the red knuckle rides. The Tuscan proved popular (being the only one that stayed) and I even lat my son Sean drive along with TVR Challenge Media guru Mal Gwynne. Mal (Mal 4 on our pics) runs the hospitality for the DTEC race series and is also the Series photographer so I thought as a thank you for the sterling work he’s done after the last few months a Tuscan drive round Spa would be good. I then took him out and scared the sh1t out of him.

What a weekend…does it really get any better than that?
Can’t for the life of me think how!

You can see my race here
Perrys first lap here
And the Radicals laps here.    Look out for my exhaust flames!

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