Report and photos by Matt White
The Spa Classic 2017 was staged 19-21 May on the 4.352 mile, 20-turn Spa-Francorchamps track in Belgium. The seventh running of the Spa Classic in the Ardennes region grows from strength to strength with each year. One of the highlights of the European classic racing scene, the extensive grids and exciting atmosphere continue to draw large crowds. Organized by Peter Auto, the Spa Classic 2017 saw over 20,000 spectators flocking to the prestigious circuit, eager with anticipation for three days of exciting action both on and off the track.
With Friday hosting over a half a day of practice and qualifying sessions, Saturday saw over 15 hours of track time, with the GT1 Sports Club opening proceedings with a 30-minute track demo early in the morning, followed by the remaining qualifying session. The first race of the day was the Trofeo Nastro Rosso. Open to pre-1966 Sports and GT cars with Italian heritage with a few notable machines on invitation, this evocative class was the perfect way to commence proceedings. The race was won by Vincent Gaye in the Ferrari 275 GTB/C, leading the Bizzarrini 5300 GT and Maserati Tipo 61 in the other podium positions.
Newly added for this year, the Euro F2 class provided an exciting and closely fought race, with Martin Stretton winning both races over the weekend by a margin of only three seconds in his March 782 from Matthew Watts in the March 772. The first single-seater series organised by Peter Auto, for cars that made the reputation of the European Championship between 1967 and 1978, was the proving ground for many a Formula One driver, and on the basis of this close and exciting racing over the weekend, one can certainly see why.
One of the marquee events on the Peter Auto calendar, is that of the Group C racing. Widely considered as one of the most legendary periods of racing, this golden era of endurance racing gave rise to some of the most recognisable and fondly remembered cars. Race 1 saw the Sauber Mercedes C11 on pole, at the hands of Nicolas Minassian in the first of two 45-minute races over the weekend. An onslaught of sight and sound ensued, as these thunderous Group C beasts took about the 7-km circuit. Steve Tandy in the Spice SE90 led the field home after a spirited drive, with the Mercedes C11 claiming second, ahead of the Spice SE89 piloted by Mike Wrigley. The second race saw the Spice of Tandy claiming the second win of the weekend, with a fantastic drive by Michael Lyons in the Gebhardt C91 to place second, ahead of the Mercedes C11.
Late afternoon and evening on Saturday saw a feast of classic endurance racing, with a two-hour race into the night for the Sixties Endurance grid, featuring a quality field that consisted of the top pre-63 sports cars and pre-66 GTs that raced in the World Endurance Championship of the time. Racing into the fading light of evening, as the temperatures dropped in the dark Belgian forest, was an evocative reminder of the essence of classic endurance racing. As one might have expected, the Shelby Cobras filled the top positions, ahead of Jaguar E-Types, Porsche 911 2.0-litres, Shelby Mustang GT350s, and Lister Knobblys, to name but a few. The two hours of racing went right down to the wire, with a winning margin of only 0.6 seconds separating the leading Cobras, Philipp Oetli taking the honours, ahead of Andrew Beverley and Mike Humphreys.
Two races for the Heritage Touring Cup on Saturday evening saw hotly contested racing, pitting the Touring Car greats of yesteryear in two enthralling races. The Ford Capri 2600 RS of Yves Scemama winning both times, ahead of the exciting battle for second place in Race 1, between the BMW 3.0 CSL of Eric Mestdagh and Pierre-Alain Thibaut and the Volvo 240 Turbo of Andrew Beverley. Race 2, which raced long into the evening, finishing just after midnight, saw a Ford Escort 1600 RS and Ford Capri 2600 RS taking second and third steps on the podium, respectively.
This year marks the 14th season of the ever-popular Classic Endurance Racing. Split into two tiers, one for GT cars from 1966-74 and Prototypes from 1966-71, and the other for later cars, namely GT cars from 1975-81 and Prototypes from 1972-1981, the series has enjoyed great success throughout Europe and the atmosphere of these races takes you back to the glorious days of the Sports Car World Championship. With extensive and varied grids in both tiers, the two races on Sunday proved to be the highlight of the day, and helped to waken those spectators left sleepy from the previous night’s racing. Plateau 1 saw the Chevrons and Lolas leading the field, with the Chevron B19 of Philipp Bruehwiler taking the overall win, whilst Michel Lecourt and Raymond Narac took a class win in their striking Porsche 911 Carrera RSR 3.0-Litre. Plateau 2, amid flaming exhausts and thunderous noise, saw Yves Scemama take the honours in the striking Warsteiner livery of his TOJ SC 304 and the unforgettable Lancia Beta Montecarlo of Franco Meiners winning the GT Class.
The Spa Classic is one of the most authentic ways to experience the glory days of endurance racing. The undulating circuit, weaving its way through the forest of the Ardennes seems perfectly suited to these beasts of yesteryear. To stand and behold these varied and extensive grids, with drivers ready to do battle on the Belgian tarmac is an experience that is hard to match in the current era.
Similar to 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016, Sports Car Digest also documented the 2017 Spa Classic, with Matt White offering the following excellent photo gallery that show the diverse field of entrants battling the famed Spa circuit.
Spa Classic 2017 – Photo Gallery (photos: Matt White)
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[Source: Matt White]