Spa Franchorchamps Ardennes Challenge
The format for this event is a 100 minute race around the famous 4.3 mile Spa circuit, the entry list this year consisting of 57 cars ranging from 7 litre Ram Cobra's and Mustangs, Porsche 911 RS, Ason Martin's, Jaguar D and E types, to Alfa Romeo's, Zakspeed Escorts and Capri's, Mini Coopers and 6 Crossle's.
Mark Hobbs (2009 SRGT Champion) invited Jez Clark to join his Rapid Racking Race Team driving the Crossle 9S once again in an attempt to not only beat last years victors, the Swiss team of Crossles, but also to attempt to beat the hugely powerful and impressive Ram Cobra owned by Cheng Lim with ex TVR racer Phil James co driving.
Friday was set aside for testing which was a ten lap affair with Jez running for 3 laps and Mark for 7 as the two re acquainted themselves with this exciting circuit, qualifying took place later in the day at 4pm, but with an ambient temperature of 35' and a track temperature of 51' it would place considerable strain on the car and driver.
Jez took 4 laps of qualifying, surprising many by setting a pole position time on only his 3rd lap and with the car still relatively heavy on fuel. Mark drove the next 6 or 7 laps not quite managing to match the time set by his co driver. he Ram cobra was 2nd on the grid with 3rd grid spot being taken by Arnie Black (Crossle driver and managing director) and Gwyn Pollard. Many were concerned at the high temperatures being reached by both engines and tyres and so most teams set about working on how to keep their cars cool for tomorrows race.
At 2.45pm and with the race scheduled to start at 4pm, a huge thunderstorm and soaked the waiting competitors and forced many into a panic as they desperately re planned their race strategy with both fuel and the choice of tyres to be re considered.
Team Rapid Racking judged that with such previously high temperatures and the fact that the downpour had ceased, that the circuit would dry very quickly and so decided to stay on dry settings and dry tyres, which may be tricky in the first few laps but would benefit later on.
As it turned out, the circuit did dry very quickly and most competitors switched back to dry settings, before the start of the race.
The rolling start took place at 4pm and Clark held his nerve making sure that the Crossle was in the optimum gear and revs to keep the lead into the first corner, which was successful, but heading out of La Source onto the steep downhill straight the Cobra shot past using all its power heading down into the famous Eau Rouge complex. Jez left his braking as late as possible and was hustling the Crossle through at unabated speed in an effort to put pressure on the Cobra.
Within 3 laps the top three cars (Arnie Black in the 2nd Crossle having joined the fray), came up against the slower cars and started lapping them at very high speed and with little room given.
After 6 laps of extreme pressure (often taking the lead only to be re passed on the straights) Jez could see that the tyres were starting to show signs of overheating on the Cobra, the driver missing the apexes as it started to slide more and more, this was going to plan. Then, out of the blue, as Jeremy crossed the start finish line, this time in front of the Cobra, he spotted a warning board from the gantry showing that he had been given a 'drive through' penalty (it later transpired this was for an alleged overtake under a yellow flag, which none of the other competitors in the top three saw occur).
Feeling sure that this was a mistake but knowing the consequences of not taking the penalty, Jez angrily and disappointingly entered the pitlane to serve the penalty, exiting back on circuit some 75 seconds later due to the nature of the extended pitlane at Spa.
Not wanting to give up and feeling responsible for the team, Jez set off in pursuit of the leaders who were by now far off in the distance.
In his race to get back to the front, Jez set a new fastest lap lap after lap, some 2 seconds quicker than his qualifying time (set with a relatively low fuel load), and took no prisoners, overtaking cars without any hesitation such was his desire to make up for the lost time, this created quite a spectacle as it included overtaking in the middle of Eau Rouge and on the outside of the famous Blanchimont where he eventually caught and passed the second placed car of Arnie Black.
After 20 flat out laps Jez came in for the refuelling and driver change over , which took place with Rapid Racking pit crew Mick Martinadding just 20 litres of fuel to get Mark to the finish.
In all the confusion of so many pit stops it was difficult to know where the team were placed, and so Marks orders from the pit wall were 'GFI' (go for it'), and soon Mark's pace was electric as he scythed through the field in pursuit of the win.
Despite two safety car issues, and nursing seriously worn tyres Mark drove the socks off the car and eventually crossed the finish line a comfortable 33 seconds ahead of the second place Crossle of Gwynn Pollard who had chased hard, with Chen Lim just over 3 seconds behind in third place, the long awaited threat from the professional Swiss Crossle teams failing to materialise as they suffered engine problems.