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Spa Francorchamps 2017

It was that time of year again and for the third time, we were off to Belgium to the iconic Spa Francorchamps circuit but after spending the last 2 years on the other side of the globe, this was Dave’s first time. Seeing as it’s quite a journey, we borrowed Ryan’s Dad’s van, loaded it up with extra spares and set off on the Wednesday morning, the aim to arrive during the evening in plenty of time for the Thursday test day. It was swelteringly hot on the journey down and it was shaping up to continue throughout the weekend.

After the customary stop at a famous supermarket for food and supplies, we made it down to the circuit around 7pm local time. We dropped the car in the paddock, the trailer in the trailer park and headed over to a lovely spot, overlooking the double left hander of Pouhon and set up camp.

Thursday was test day and we made the decision to get on an early session, in case we felt the need to go out again later on in the day. We had decided to move to the Yokohama A050 tyres, ending our 4 year relationship with the Dunlop DZ03’s. The reasoning behind this was that we understood the Yoko’s were a softer, grippier compound and despite the fact that we expected them to not last quite as long, they were cheaper! For the test session, we made no changes to setup and took the car out to see the difference.

Immediately, you could feel the tyres got up to temperature a little quicker and the balance in the first few laps was good. As the tyres (particularly the rears) got up to full temperature however, the car began to understeer a little, very noticeable through the long right hand hairpin of Rivage. Additionally, after putting minimal fuel in the car, we found fuel surge was occurring towards the end of the session, so much so that many a number of seconds were being dropped. With these things in mind, no fast laps were recorded, but the car still felt strong.

After the session, which took place around 11am, we set about assessing the car and to make adjustments. Before we were able to get under the car, the rain came and it boy was it heavy. Many of our fellow competitors were out on track at the time and many crawled back to the pits to get out of it. We huddled under the gazebo, grabbed a bite of lunch and waited it out.

Once the rain had finally stopped, we took a closer look at the car and we noticed that we were still using the outer edge of all 4 tyres, so we set about changing the camber. We increased negative camber as well as bringing the front toe back to +/- 0mm after measuring that it was toeing in a little. Tomorrow’s qualifying session would tell us what difference those changes had made. The sun was back out now and the temperature was back in the 30s. Now it’s time to settle in, fire up the barbeque and have a few beers.

Morning broke on Friday and another lovely day was ahead of us. We had some time to kill before our afternoon session, so we headed out to the supermarket and got some food and more beers (for after the driving of course). Dave was first out in qualifying and after a couple of laps getting the car up to temperature, he just broke the 3 minute barrier and recorded a 2:59.710 putting us 33rd overall and 8th in Tin Tops. Ryan went out to try and better that time, but traffic got in the way. The changes we’d made to the setup were clearly making a difference. Whilst there were still cars out on track, we took the opportunity to head around the outskirts and get a bit of a spectator perspective on the track, Eau Rouge is very steep! During the evening, the club were kind enough to put on a barbeque for all the competitors and so, not long after qualifying had finished, we were back at it again, beer and burger.

Saturday came around and the weather was still treating us well, so no need to make any more changes, we were racing late morning, so after watching some of the early races from the campsite, we got ourselves ready to go in the paddock. For Race 1, Dave was starting and seeing as the grid was so large, with 5 races in one, it was a rolling start. As you know, we don’t have the most powerful engine and with other bigger cars around us from other series, this was made more apparent at the start, the Sierra Cosworth right in front of us pulling a few car lengths just on the short run to La Source. Once the car was up to speed though, the car was beginning to fly, the changes made the other day made the car feel well balanced and corner speeds were high. Dave spent the majority of his stint following said Sierra as it pulled away on the straights and he caught up in the corners, receiving a constant spraying of unburnt fuel as he followed very closely.

As Dave entered the pits, having jumped passed a few other Tin Top competitors, 3 of which had retired, we saw ourselves in a net 4th place in Tin Tops, still chasing our arch rival Tom Mensley in the other Clio. Ryan headed out of the pits and got straight on it, setting a few fastest laps as he tried to close the gap to Tom. The gap stayed constant for many laps but he was still only 12 seconds behind heading on to the final lap.

On the final lap however, Tom suffered a fuelling issue and as the team waited for both Clios to appear, only one did and we had snatched a podium finish in Tin Tops on the very last lap. We would be 20th overall in the CSCC Inter Series race and this would be our starting position for tomorrow’s 2nd race. So, on Dave’s first visit to Spa, the boys found themselves spraying champagne.

Our last day at Spa and another late morning race. We had woken up to the spatter of rain and the first few races of the day certainly required different tyres. We got ourselves ready once again in the paddock with wet tyres on hand to make the decision as late as we dare. The rain stopped around an hour before our race and the race before ours was doing a very good job of drying the track, so we kept the car as it was and proceeded to the assembly area.

Yesterday’s race had been without incident and there was barely a yellow flag throughout, but today’s race would be a little different. As mentioned before, we would start 20th on the grid and 3rd in Tin Tops and for the first few laps Ryan would be battling with Danny Cassar and Reece Jones in the Integra and Civic respectively for the lead in Tin Tops. Paul Mensley wasn’t too far behind though and was making his way through the pack after starting way back. As the midway point approached and we prepared to swap drivers, many of the other teams had already done their pit stops, so we were leading the Tin Tops. Then, after a few too many cars found themselves stranded on track with marshals struggling to recover them, the safety car was deployed.

After what felt like forever, Ryan followed the safety car in to the pits as the race got back under way and we were obligated to swap drivers. Dave got in to the car, convinced that our race had been ruined, but pushed on through Eau Rouge ready to catch back up to the back of the pack. Unfortunately, Eau Rouge was the only corner he would drive through at race pace. There had been a very big shunt at the Les Combes complex and a BMW had collided with a Porsche that had span and was facing the wrong way.

At this point in the race, we had nearly reached three quarters race distance, so if the race was to stop, that would be it. Sure enough, the race was red flagged immediately, the driver’s safety of course the utmost concern. Thankfully, after being knocked unconscious, the Porsche driver suffered a few cracked ribs and some bruising, but is recovering well now.

Dave only caught the back of the pack as he entered the pits on a very steady cool down lap, convinced still that we had finished at the back of the pack. Ryan and Rob had also assumed the same and made their way back to the paddock. As all the cars were ushered back to the paddock, a number were pulled aside for the podium and this included Dave! He was joined by Paul Mensley and Danny Cassar, who had been battling the lap before the safety was deployed. We still didn’t know who had been awarded the win.

Dave reached the podium to find that Paul would be in 3rd, Danny in 2nd and we had somehow pulled off our first ever win! Some champagne was sprayed once again and Dave headed back to the paddock to hand the trophy over to Ryan, who had put all the hard work in during the first stint to put us in that position. A wild end to a great few days in Belgium.

After the prize giving at the club tent we got straight out of there to try and make it back in time for the ferry we had booked later that evening. After a long and tiring journey, we finally got back to our beds in the midlands around 2am, totally and utterly shattered. A great time was had by all and we look forward to doing it again next year.

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