The Spa Classic is the latest creation of 'Peter Auto', the French organisation that is also responsible for the Le Mans Classic, Tour Auto and Le Mans Series. The inaugural event featured a packed program with six races for sports cars from the late 1950s through to the early 1990s, and a single one for modern single seater machines from around the world. Each of the seven grids was well filled and all featured unusual and rare racing cars. In addition to the action on the track, the around 10,000 visitors were also treated to a variety of attractions in the paddock like well stocked shops, displays from around 500 clubs and the youngsters could sample mini replicas of classic sports racers in the 'Little Big Spa'. During the lunch-breaks, members of the clubs could take to the legendary Spa Francorchamps track in their own cars. Saturday's action was concluded by a soap-box race down the iconic Eau Rouge / Radillon section. The fastest example reached a staggering 104 km/h.
Our photographers ventured down to Spa for the second time in three weeks and enjoyed the variable weather Spa is famous for with rain on the first day and increasingly more sunshine during the next two. The result of their efforts is this exclusive 180-shot gallery
that covers all races of the 2011 Spa Classic.
Challenge ASAVE & Groupe 1
Established in 2004 by the French auto sport federation (FFSA), the 'Challenge ASAVE & Groupe 1' has quickly grown out to become one of the country's most popular historic racing championships. One of the main reasons is that the series caters to relatively affordable GTs (Challenge ASAVE) and standard Touring Cars (Groupe 1 from the 1970s. The result is a remarkably colourful and diverse field of cars that range from rumbling Camaros to the venerable Porsche 911 and more unlikely racers like the Fiat 131. Among the most unusual entries at Spa were a Diva and an Alfa Romeo Montreal. The race for the 55-car field was held first thing Sunday morning. During the 80-minute event a pit stop was mandatory and most entrants used this to swap drivers. Porsches dominated the race, with Christophe Terriou and Pierre Gray taking the victory in their Porsche 911 RSR. They were followed by the similar 911 of Christian Lange and Pierre-Alain Thibault, while the only other squad to finish on the same lap were Jean-Claude and Denis Allemang in their Ford Mustang.
The 'Big Open Single Seater Grand Prix' (BOSS GP) series, as the name suggests, caters to single seater machinery from the last two decades. These include the high-tech Formula 1 and Indy racers but also example from feeder series like F3000, GP2 and World Series by Nissan / Renault. Not all of the cars entered ran in the same configuration and livery as they did in period. A popular modification is a switch to the more affordable and easier to service Judd V10 engine in four litre configuration. Both Klaas Zwart and Marijn van Kalmthout used this V10 in their Benetton B197s to great effect, winning the first and second race respectively. Our eye was particularly caught by the cars that did sport the correct colours and livery. The most exotic of these was the Prost AP02 piloted by Fabien Giroix and fitted with the rare Peugeot V10 engine. Unfortunately, Giroix did not reach the finish in either of the two races, which underlines why some of his rivals switched to Judd power. Another interesting machine was the Cosworth V8-engined Lola T8900 driven by Belgian Alain DeBlandre; it was originally driven to 11th in the 1989 Indy 500 by Canadian John Jones. One of two T8900 owned by DeBlandre, it was exercised in its original 'Labbatt's Blue' livery.
Trofeo Nastro Rosso
Established by Peter Auto, the Trofeo Nastro Rosso (Red Ribbon Trophy) fills a part of the void left by the unfortunate demise of the Ferrari Historic Challenge. Celebrating 'La Dolce Vita', this race was open to Italian Grand Tourers and Sports Racers of up to 1966. The field was dominated by Ferraris varying from the first ever 250 GT to a choice of 250 GT SWBs and 275 GTBs. Completing the entry were two Isos, a Bizzarrini, various Alfa Romeos and a Maserati Tipo 'Birdcage'. The latter, in the hands of Max Werner, had set the fastest time in qualifying. At the start of the first race he was swamped by the more powerful eight and twelve cylinder rivals and soon after had to retire. Both races were won by Belgian Vincent Gaye, whose 250 GT SWB proved both faster and more reliable than the Bizzarrini 5300 GT and Iso A3/C that proved to be his greatest rivals. In the first of the two 45 minute races Alberto Francioni placed second in his Iso A3/C and David Franklin managed to pilot Dennis Singleton's Ferrari 275 GTB to third. Gaye was joined on the podium by Michael Erlich in his Bizzarrini and Jan Gijzen in another 275 GTB after the second race.
Ran on Saturday afternoon, this two-hour endurance race welcomed the fabulous Grand Tourers of the 1960s, which in period competed for the manufacturers' World Championship. A packed field of 41 entries, headed by Hans Hugenholtz in the Shelby Cobra he co-drove with fellow Dutchman David Hart, lined up for the start. He was usurped by another Cobra and Sean McInerney with a similarly engined TVR Griffith in the opening stages of the range. Hugenholtz eventually regained the lead and the even quicker Hart made no mistakes to take the victory ahead of the Sean and Michael McInerney piloted Griffith and the Cobra 'Daytona' piloted by Ludovic Caron. As was common in period, the organisers also kept an 'Index of Performance' for the most efficient car. This was won by Fabrice Mestrot and Philippe Louet in their lovely little Triumph TR2. The oldest car in the field, Miroslav Krejsa' 1948 Skoda placed an impressive second in the 'Index', followed by the much more modern Aston Martin DB4 GT shared by Dennis Singleton and David Franklin.
Undoubtedly one of the most popular of all sports car classes, the Group C event was certainly one of the weekend's highlights. The field consisting predominantly of Porsches and Spices was headlined by two works Nissan R90CKs and two Sauber-Mercedes C11s. The 'Silver Arrows' proved fastest of all with Bob Berridge pipping Christian Glaesel for pole with a very impressive 2:05.295, which would have been fast enough to place him on the second row of the grid at the recent 1000 km race for today's sports racers. In the race the two C11s took off, followed by the pair of Nissans. Unfortunately Berridge's Sauber did not manage to complete the one-hour race, handing victory to Glaesel in the sister car. Second was for Katsu Kubota in the Nissan R90CK and third for Ferdinand de Lesseps in the fastest of the Spices. Although not starring at the head of the field, one of the other entries of note was Rupert Cleverly's striking Lancia LC2. Surprisingly the only Jaguar entry this time was Don Miles' XJR-5, while in the past the series always featured more than one of the later TWR-built XJRs.
For many years the Classic Endurance Racing (CER) series was an integral part of the Le Mans Series events. During the last few seasons the field of 1960s and 1970s Sports and GT racers became so strong that the CER could easily headline a weekend on its own. Since then the field was also split into CER 1 and CER 2 with a one-hour race each. They feature the GT1 (Grand Touring 1966-1974) and P1 (Prototype 1966 - 1972), and the GT2 (Grand Touring 1975-1979) and P2 (Prototype 1973 - 1979) classes respectively. In a field dominated by Chevrons, Lolas and Porsches, there were several stand-out machines entered for the CER 1 race. Among them was Xavier Micheron's Howmet TX, which has recently been fitted with a new turbine engine. Others included one of just three Elva GT 160s built and the massive Plymouth Hemicuda entered by Christophe Schwartz. Another new addition to the field was the ex-DART Chevron B16, sporting its original livery.
Qualifying was dominated by the various Lola T70s entered with Bernard Thuner claiming pole ahead of David Hart. Setting the fifth fastest time, Olivier Cazalieres was the first non-T70 on the grid with his Mazda rotary-engined Chevron B16. Fastest in the GT1 class was Claude Nahum in his recently repainted GT40. During the race the tables were turned with Hart grabbing an early lead. Thuner did manage to regain the lead but eventually lost some ground and ultimately had to settle for third behind Hart and Pierre-Alain France in another Lola T70. Nahum did manage to convert his pole position into a race victory with a very solid drive in the light metallic green GT40. He fought off an early challenge of Chris Steel in a sister car but the latter was forced to retire. The other two podium places were filled by Dutchman John Bosch, who made a very impressive return to racing in a very rarely seen competition Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona, and Alfred Strebel in a Chevrolet Corvette.
The second CER race featured some particularly interesting entries. Making its maiden outing was the Porsche 935/78 'Moby Dick' that was only very recently completed by Freisinger Porsche, using the second of two chassis built by Porsche. Not used in period, the chassis was acquired during the 1980s by American Kerry Morse, who spent nearly two decades collecting parts to complete the car. A few years ago he sold the car to Freisinger, who managed to source an original four-valve engine and built up the car to the correct 1978 specifications. With no setup information available, the team spent most of the weekend getting the car sorted but pilot Stephane Ortelli did gradually get the most extreme 911-based racing car up to speed. He told us this was the first time he was behind the wheel of an 800 bhp racing car since he piloted the Audi R8 back in 2000. Another participant of note was the Mirage M3 Cosworth entered by Jacques Nicolet. As far as we know, this one-off prototype has not seen action on track for decades until this season.
Local driver Loic Deman took a surprise pole with his fire spitting Osella PA4, beating series regulars Patrice Lafargue and Michel Quiniou in their Lolas. The GT2 class was dominated by Michel Foveny in a 'regular' Porsche 935, followed by Ortelli and Christian Traber in a BMW M1. During the first laps of the final race of the weekend, Deman built up a comfortable lead while Nicolet sliced through the field in the Mirage behind him. Unfortunately the Osella expired after half an hour and twenty minutes later Nicolet was also forced to retire. This handed the victory to Paul Knapfield, who had worked his way up the field in the massive Ferrari 712 Can-Am racer after failing to set a competitive time in qualifying. He beat the, diminutive by comparison, Lola T298s of Lafargue and Frederic Da Rocha. The GT2 class saw an early retirement for Ortelli with the 'Moby Dick' due to a turbo failure. Porsche's day was saved by Marc de Siebenthal and Jean Michel Martin, who took the class victory with another Porsche 935. 'Mr John of B.' was second in a Ferrari 512 BBLM followed by Foveny in his 935.
Attracting a strong crowd during its first edition bodes well for the future of the Spa Classic. The visitors will certainly not have been disappointed by both the quality and quantity of the fields that lined up on the legendary track. If next year is too long a wait, the CER series will be back in action at Imola, Silverstone and Estoril later in the year and the next outing for the Group C cars is during the Brands Hatch Superprix in the first weekend of July. Of course, the quickest way to see these lovely cars in action is to explore our 180-shot gallery
of the event.