Total 24 hours of Spa Quarter distance report Rain, Shine, Rain, Shine, Rain, Shine, was the general pattern of the weather keeping race directors busy second guessing the weather that saw heavy rain showers in the Paddock and sun shining on a dry track at Les Combes. Similarly, we saw rain showers over Rivage 1 & 2 whilst the sun had dried the track at the start-finish straight and we saw a rainbow out of the press room window. The universal response to a look at the sky seems to be a Gallic Shrug (of the shoulders) and the remark “C’est Spa” as in that is the way it is here sonny and that’s the way we like it. It’s makes for great racing in any case.
The first hour saw a 1-2-3 of the 2 AF Corse Ferrari F430, and the two BMW Motorsport M3s 79 and 78, followed by a host of Porsche 911s. It also saw the first three cars into the pit never to return; au revoir Excelsior Porsche 70 pitting after hitting the wall hard.
The second hour saw it starting to rain and saw the first driver changes as the more Gentlemanly Driver having taken the start swapped seats with some of the Young Guns. Michael Waltrip gave way to Robert Kaufmann in the 1 AF Corse Ferrari F430 running 19th and David Ashburn swapped for Carl Rosenblad in the 7 Trackspeed Porsche running 16th after starting 26th on the grid. Up front there was the 79 BMW of ‘The Three Dirks” heading the 78 BMW of Jorg Muller and Pedro Lamy after the 2 Ferrari was hit by the 85 Gulf Lamborghini and demoted to 8th place.
By the end of the third hour we had had more rain and sunshine, then some more rain, and a Safety Car after Greg Franchi’s 72 WRT Audi R8 caught fire and stopped in La Source (Turn 1). The restart saw the 13 Prospeed Competition Porsche of Brit Richard Westbrook inherit the lead before one of ‘The Three Dirks’ hunted it down and re-took the prime spot. There was a further Porsche, the 23 BMS entry, in front of the 2nd BMW and the 16 IMSA Performance 911 headed the 2 Ferrari now up to 6th from 8th after it had made friends with the Lamborghini earlier. Following in 7th was the lead GT3 of Anthony Kumpen’s 50 Audi R8.
Hour four saw the first ‘real’ rain, as the locals call it when as a pedestrian you cannot see across the next corner for spray, and a rash of pit stops for wet tires or another set of slicks hoping that it would dry out again, as it did. After almost 100 laps the BMW dominance continued with them sitting one-two ahead of the 23 BMS Scuderia Italia 911 with Romain Dumas at the wheel. There was a notable casualty when the 84 Reiter Lambo’s engine let go and the right rear wheel fell off of the 56 Alpina B6 half-way around.
Zak Brown (68 United Autosports Audi R8 LMS) was heard to remark his stint was “Tiring but good. It was pretty tricky in the half-dry half-wet conditions, I was moaning on the radio and they said it’ll probably clear-up, but it was raining. But I’d like to know who was in that BMW ahead of me.”
Zak, it’s a good bet that he’s called Dirk.
Unfortunately, the fifth hour saw the end of the delicious exhaust note of the 58 VDS Adventures Mustang. It added a bass-note crunch to its repertoire as Kharim Al-Azhari whapped the tire wall in Turn 10.
It also saw more rain, as it began to set in for the evening, and more of the same at the front with the two BMWs leading a trio of Porsches and a Ferrari, followed by the lead GT3 Audi. Of note was Marc Goosens bid for the Nerves of Steel Award as he elected to stay on slicks in the steadily falling rain. He dropped to fifth, losing 15 seconds a lap, as his gamble didn’t pay even though he did keep it on the track. Meanwhile the Jota Aston led GT4 and the 7 Trackspeed Porsche made it into the top ten for the first time running 10th by electing to stay out, not taking tires as sensible driving and the colder conditions proved kind to the Avons.
Sixth hour and still it rains steadily in places and fierce rain showers elsewhere as night falls. An engine issue disrupted the front pair as the 78 BMW of Muller and Lamy developed an engine problem, losing 2 laps and dropping to 7th as a result.
Nevertheless, The Three Dirks could be counted upon to fly the BMW banner at the head of the field and to hold off the Porsche trio arranged in alphabetical order; BMS, IMSA Performance, Prospeed; ahead of the GT3 Audi and the Ferrari. The sixth hour saw no racing incidents but it did see the return of Sebastien Vale in the GT4 Aston Martin, giving his team mate somebody in class to race against at last. Nathan Heywood reporting from Spa