With the car finally back in the pits, Topcats could finally get there hands on it. The core plug had blown out and all the water along with it. They didn’t have one for that engine and there wasn’t one in the paddock. It looked bad. Just then an official told us we were black flagged for outside assistance anyway and we were out. Bummer.
We thought that was it but Warren had other ideas. Did anyone but you touch the car? He asked. No.
Did anyone give you anything for the car? No.
The Marshals gave me some water (small bottle as I was fncking hot) and I put some in the header to see where it was leaking from. That’ll be it, he said legging it off to race control…you guys fix the car.
We were all scratching our heads on how we were to make a core plug that would seal at 15psi, when Tom sussed it. He made one from a washer, a bolt and a length if bar. I kid you not.
20 mins later and the car was holding water. Unfortunately it ran like a bag if spanners. The head gasket had gone. Again! Not surprising since it had got fncking hot! The gasket was changed and Warren returned with the news that he had pointed out the error of the clerk of the course ( not easy at the biggest sports car classic of the year) and we were back in.
Rob Wilson was up next. His stint had been lost by the breakdown so owner Neil shared his. Rob would do the twilight into darkness run.
We saw him off the sat down for a cup of tea. 3 minutes later he turned up again. No water temp which was quickly diagnosed as a duff gauge broken by the earlier high temps. Off again.
Twenty minutes later and back in again. This time the alternator had gone, probably killed by the water that blew out of the block earlier on. We had a spare so in it went and off he went again. 15 minutes out there and no more probs. rob ran well and made back some slots we’d lost.
Finally Neil Huggins go. All that prep, all that agro, all that money! And finally Neil was getting his drive. 45 minutes to the flag. Could it make it?
Well in a word…yes! From there on in the car ran beautifully and was quick enough to pull back a few more places. Neil kept his pace solid and just kept banging the laps in. We had gone from literally last place to 92nd out of 123, not back for a 50 year old TVR that was out of the race 30 mins in.
Mega thanks to Neil and Owen for the opportunity to drive in the biggest and best Sports car race in Europe. Thanks also to Rob who was, like me, there for the experience, and finally thanks to the Topcats guys who kept us in it. Warren, Brian, Paul and Tom.
What a buzz, what a weekend! What a great little car!!!
So, the Topcats guys had worked hard to get the car back in shape after the head gasket went. There was some deliberation over whether the head and compression were right and so a spare head was used. No track time available so we’d have to wait and see!
And off we went. I would run the first stint, Rob Wilson (Topcats Marcos driver) would go into the night, and owner Neil Huggins would do the night shift. I was held on the grid for ages as they sorted the 113 classics into position. Mindful of temp, I shut down the car at 100 degrees. As they called for me she wouldn’t start. I must have tried it 50 times before the Marshals pushed me back into pit lane. I couldn’t believe it, back to the pits before the start! As I rolled down the pit lane I thought I’d try again. Blow me she started! I cruised down to the other cars who would also start at the back. We were last. BUT RUNNING.
We were released as the last car cleared Eau Rouge. I was behind the fabulous McInnery Tuscan which basically disappeared. I did a couple of steady laps checking temps and making sure the freshly rebuilt but partially cooked 1800cc engine was ok. It pulled very well. I built the revs and speed and after only 2 laps I saw my first blue flag at the Fagne chicane. Only 2.5 laps in the leaders were coming through.
Jesus it was fast…and so low I could look clear over the roof as it flew by. Then the chasing pack. Another GT40, a Cobra, the leightweight LeMans E-Type… The best part of 7 Million pounds worth of original classic had just flashed by. It was scarey stuff.
As the laps started to pass I settled in. The lap times weren’t brilliant as I was running 100L of fuel and I was jumping out of the way of the £Million Ferraris etc but even so we picked up a couple of MGBs and even a Mustang! Just when I thought I could bag my first 911 the car feinted and I noticed a smoke trail in the mirrors.
I’d missed the pit entrance in traffic so I backed of and tried to limp round. No go. Heavy smoke at the Kemmel Kurve so I pulled in on front of a stranded £2M Ferrari.
Neil ran up and as the car cooled we discussed what to do. If it started I’d try and get if back. Amazingly it did so I limped it out amongst the 180mph super cars. EEK!
On the hard standing as much as possible I got as far as Blachement where it lurched to a halt again. Surely this was it? And within sight of home.
This time the Topcats guys came for a chat. Again they could not touch the car but with a bit of help a blown core plug was diagnosed along with a likely head gasket…but it hadn’t seized.
Again it wouldn’t start. Not surprising really, the poor girl had been through quite a lot! I tried and tried. Then tried again, and then again. It wouldn’t go. The turning over slowed as the battery drained but still she wouldn’t fire. I left her to dry out for 5 mins, reprimed, turned it over again for what must have been the final time. Bigger me it Started!!! I pulled a gear and shot out from behind the safety barrier, along the high grip and back onto the track. Home and technical assistance was near.
I made it back to the pits and jumped out of the car. Topcats were waiting and the little TVR was in bits before I had my helmet off. There was 3 hours left of the Race and they wanted it out there. Could they fix it? Did they have the bits? Was it toast?
… with all those big bad V8s/V12s and a few 4s. A bit different to the F1s!
This is Neil heading off to do the last stint and bring it home. Pulled some good times too for a car that had been through all that agro.
Whetting your whistles for the main report later.
I’m knackered, off to bed.
What a weekend. Video to follow too.
I have come to the Spa Classic several times but never once thought I would actually be in it!
The classic is just that. One of Spas top weekends when all the best period (pre ’65) FIA logged race cars come to the best GP circuit in the world to race.
On the book today we have 50s sports cars, pre 80s classics, F1 cars the lot.
We are driving a ’63 TVR Grantura and are up against MGBs, 911s, Marcos’s, and another Grantura.
Also on the race however are GT40s, Cobras, Griffith 400s, Falcons, Mustangs…allsorts. And all Bona-Fide FIA classics.
The new engine suffered a head gasket failure during Qually, but Topcats Racing who are now running the car have diagnosed the problem and causing factors, and now have the car ready for the race. Neil Higgins (car owner with Owen O’Neil) put up a pretty good Qually time as the head gasket went – not caused by his driving I should add – so we aren’t too miss placed but the important thing is that we are on the Grid and ready to go.
Anyway, I’m off to watch some more £1M race cars dicing at Spa!
Life can be good!
2 Seater AJP Challenge Car available
Very original car looked after extremely well by specialists.
Race AJP engine (rare) box and diff all original TCC and still fresh after recent rebuild
C/w spare set of wheels and decent trailer
Call me if interested
Andy 07966 464620