Kick-started by last year's Le Mans 1000 km, four 1000 km races were held this year in the LeMans Endurance Series (LMES). After the season opener in Monza, the Series visited the Nurburging and Silverstone tracks. Spa Francorchamps was the fitting finale of the season. One of the Series' strong points is the action-packed support program, consisting of a number of single seater races, a sportscar race and a one hour endurance race for historic racers.
Although we visited and reported on the Le Mans 1000 km race, we were unable to visit the previous three LMES races, but we made absolutely sure not to miss the race at one of the world's finest tracks. As always rain was expected for the weekend, which was set to add to the excitement. The event's proceedings are described indepth in the following report and the rain, slides, sparks and glowing discs are captured in a 200 shot slideshow
All of the weekend's races had one thing in common; they were action packed and full of safety car interventions. First up on Saturday was the Formula X Sports Series race; a one make series with single seater sportscar bodied racers. Fitted in the 455 kg Van Diemen monocoque chassis is a 200 bhp engine. A two heat race weekend sets the drivers back less than €9000, which makes it an excellent entry into motorsports.
Another one-model series was up next, the Formula Palmer Audi. Powered by a 300 bhp 1.8 litre Audi engine, these 'mini-F1s' provided the crowd with some excellent racing. Crashes, spins and collisions dominated both races. Oil in the high speed Blanchimont took out four cars in the Sunday race. Sam Edwards took his first victory of the season on Saturday and Rob Jenkinson finished first in the final race of the year on Sunday. Jonathan Kennard scored enough points to claim the championship.
Many of today's Formula 1 racers, including Michael Schumacher, once fought for the top honours in Formula 3. The British F3 Championship visited the Belgian track for the penultimate race weekend of the season. Former F1 Champion Nelson Piquet's son, Nelson Piquet Jr., was on top of the leaderbord before the start of the weekend. He continued to show good form in the qualification, by taking the pole position. After a spin in the first race, the young Brazilian spent the the rest of the two races fighting back to the top, finishing sixth in the first and fourth in the second race. Victory in both races was had by Adam Carroll, who is now 26 points behind Piquet in the standings.
Classic Endurance Racing
The highlight of Saturday's events was the one hour race for endurance racers from between 1966 and 1973. Close to thirty historic racers lined up for the sixty minute race. Juan Barazi's purple and green Porsche 917K was an immediate favourite of the public and press. Both surviving examples of Ford's ill-fated F3L were present, although d'Ansembourg's white nosed example failed on the warm-up lap. Father and son Brunn were back with their all-white Porsche 908, which failed to take the victory in the Silverstone race after having to retire from the lead with an empty fuel tank.
American Michael Jankowski secured the pole-position with his Ligier JS3, followed by the Brunn's in the 908, Barazi in the 917K and McAllister in the Gulf Mirage M6. Multiple DTM champion Klaus Ludwig was fifth in a Porsche 911 RSR 3.0. After the start, Jankowksi took the lead, followed by McAllister and Barazi. Brunn quickly fought back to second, but lost valuable time halfway through the race. McAllister and Barazi fought out a fierce battle for second, which would later prove to be for the victory, after Jankowski was hit by the now traditional last lap mishap. Although he did not finish the race, he was still qualified sixth. Like in the 1970 and 1971 Spa 1000 km races, the Porsche 917K took a very well deserved victory.
Spa 1000 km
The three previous races of the season were won by one of the Audi Sport UK / Veloqx entered Audi R8s. The number 8 car took two victories and the 88 car the other. Team Goh's Le Mans winning R8 was the third of three Audis entered. Sixty races after the four-time Le Mans winning R8 made its debut, the car's fiftieth victory could be scored this weekend. So either a victory or a loss would make it a historic race for the R8.
The Silverstone pole sitting Zytek team was not present, but Creation Autosportif entered a similar car, which took over their 'best of the rest' spot perfectly by securing the pole position with the DBA 03S. After qualifying driver Jamie Campbell Walker excitingly remarked: "I actually overtook an Audi R8". In the LMP2 class, the Paul Belmondo Racing Courage C65 again proved to be top of the class. The all new Judd powered Lucchini XV made an impressive debut with a second in class qualification position.
The battle for LM GTS honours was limited to Saleen and Ferrari. Fastest time was clocked by the Vitaphone Racing Saleen S7R, but after engine problems in the second qualification run it was forced to start at the back of the grid. A lot of work was required by the Barron Connor team to get the #62 Ferrari 575 GTC ready for the race after a heavy crash in the new bus-stop chicane in the first qualifying. In the sister car, #61, American racer Danny Sullivan took part in the last international race of his long career. TVRs, Ferraris and Porsches made up the GT-class field. The Freisinger / Yukos 911 GT3 RSR Porsche was the fastest in qualifying, closely followed by the Cirtek Motorsport Ferrari 360 GT. The first TVR T400R was found in fifth position.
At exactly 1 PM the 144 laps (or six hours) race started. Hopes for a non Audi victory were crushed in the first corner when the Creation Autosportif DBA was hit from behind by one of the Audis and was forced to limp back to the pits with a punctured rear tire. It returned to the track a lap behind the leaders. A heavy crash of the Pescarolo Courage C60 in corner nine resulted in the first safety car period, just an hour into the race. Team Goh's R8 lead the race, closely followed by the #8 Veloqx Audi. The Vitaphone S7R fought its way back up the pack and was leading the Ferraris in the GTS class.
Bad luck and a TVR struck the #8 Audi from behind, resulting in a big fire and the retirement of both cars. This paved the way for the Johnny Herbert and Jamie Davis driven #88 R8 to take make up for the four point deficit in the championship. The first rain of the weekend added much to the excitement of the race, resulting in many small run-offs. Team Nasamax was looking good for a podium finish when the driver's shoe stuck on the throttle, sending the bio-ethanol fueled prototype into the tire barrier.
Audi's fiftieth victory was scored by the Herbert/Davies driven R8, the team's fourth victory of the season. Moral winner was the Creation Autosportif DBA, which was driven hard to a third place and 'best of the rest' finish. Judging from the race pace, it was highly unlikely that they would have been in real contention for the win, but it was very unfortunate that the challenge ended just a few hundred metres into the race. In the race the Lucchini Judd was not able to take on the two Courages who claimed first and second place in the LMP2 class.
Vitaphone's Saleen appeared to be the fastest GTS car, but as usual technical problems struck them back down the grid, the GTS podium was left for the Ferraris. Larbre Competition's two 550 Maranellos took the first two places, with Barron Connor's 575 GTC in third. The GT-class also saw a whitewash of the podium, with three Porsches filling all steps of the rostrum.
Most of the predicted rain fortunately missed the Spa Francorchamps track, making it a very enjoyable weekend for the large number of spectators filling the grandstands. All racing classes provided exciting races and the unique mix of old and new racers added to the excitement.
The feature race, the Spa 1000 KM, underlined the fact that domination by one manufacturer does not create boring racing per definition, but a win by someone else would have been very welcome. Victories of one of the greatest racers of the past, the Porsche 917, and of one the most successful of all time, the Audi R8, are a good reflection of the LMES weekend's quality!