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Spa Francorchamps race report – June ’16

For the second time, the team crossed the channel and headed over to Belgium for the Spa Summer Classic. This time, we left in good time to make it down for a practice session on the Thursday, setting up camp just on the inside of the track overlooking the iconic Eau Rouge. The practice session helped get us prepared for Qualifying.

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Qualifying was on the Friday, with 2 races, one on Saturday and another on Sunday to follow. A strong qualifying would see Ryan post a time of 2:58.880 to sit 3rd in the Tin Tops class and 19th overall. 1st in class Tom Mensley was only a second ahead and just 4 places, so it was all to play for.

Prior to the first race it had rained a little, the track was damp and it was threatening to rain some more, so we made the decision to soften off the dampers and go with our wet set up. It started to pay off straight away and Ryan was passing cars, 5 on the back straight alone. He held a good position for the first half of the race, sitting 1st in class prior to the driver change. Then, just as he was approaching the end of his stint, a Porsche broke down out on track. So just as Ryan had entered the pits, the safety car was deployed and this resulted in the pit lane being closed – we were trapped.

Rob was the first in the queue of cars sitting at the end of the pit lane and he stayed there for over 4 minutes. This put us a lap down and no hope of getting that back with such little time remaining. Rob brought the car over the line, well down in 26th place. The Tin Tops class win went to Carl Chambers in the Peugeot who finished 5th overall, just 1.6 seconds ahead of Tom Mensley.

Another day, another race and after the strong pace we showed in Race 1, we were feeling confident we could get a good result. This time, Rob would start the race. The first lap was not without incident as a number of retirements, including a spinning Porsche at Blanchimont would bring out the safety car.

As the safety car went in, Rob was sitting just behind a few cars that would provide him with quite a nice slipstream down the Kemmel straight and he subsequently broke through 130mph for the first time in the car’s history sitting in behind an old Jag. The next part of the lap was also successful; Rob was making good progress passing a Civic and a Boxster.

On the pit wall, Ryan, along with Rob’s parents, was waiting for him to come past the start-finish line. With some minor French language skills, Ryan was able to translate the track side announcement; “Clio pirouette at Blanchimont”. It didn’t sound particularly promising. Our very useful assistant Mike made his way to the opposite end of the pit lane to get a line of sight of Blanchimont corner. Rob was out of the car and standing nearby, at least he was safe, the extent of the damage was not yet known.

The marshals brought the car back to the pits as Rob went to the medical centre for a check-up. He was soon back with the team, a few aches and pains from the impact but he was okay. The car hadn’t faired so well, to be frank, it was a total mess. Almost every panel on the car had been damaged, but fortunately, we built a strong car and the roll cage had kept Rob safe during the impact.

To add insult to injury, the cameras had somehow been disconnected from the power and had not recorded the impact. So, after some searching around, we found some footage from a few cars that had been following closely. We did have some data to look at and it helped us to piece together what exactly had happened.

Approaching the fast left hander of Blanchimont Rob was travelling at 120mph when he began to turn in. He had turned in a little later than desirable and was running just off the racing line, not usually a problem. However, as is the way with Spa, it had been raining the day before and off line, the track was not quite as grippy. The back end started to step out, so Rob applied opposite lock and throttle, the car came round, but it was too much and the car speared to the right and straight in to the barrier.

The shell is a total write off, every body panel has a dent or worse and 3 of the 4 fibreglass panels were totally destroyed. The car was rotating clockwise as it hit the barrier, hence all of the damage as it swung round. Fortunately, the engine looks relatively undamaged and so do a lot of the chassis components. Now it’s time for Rob to lick his wounds and for us all to put a plan together of what we do next.

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