Driving away from Zolder on Sunday evening it was easy to feel a sense of disappointment that more competitors did not come over to Belgium for what turned out to be a really enjoyable weekend on an interesting circuit for club racing with plenty of atmosphere.
This goes back to the days when it was the venue for the Belgian Grand Prix between 1973 and 1984. Sadly, the place will always be associated with the death of Gilles Villeneuve in 1982 but the names of several world champions are on the winners list there including Jackie Stewart, Niki Lauda, Mario Andretti and Jody Scheckter. Since 1984 there have been changes and improvements with new pits and grandstands plus a number of chicanes that drivers accept these days even if they are unwelcome. What was impressive was how well used the facilities appeared to be with cycle races, BMX, karting and slid pans with families turning up to wander round and watch what was going on. Entry was free, so that makes a difference!
I know that the reasons were many and varied why only 12 of our registered competitors had entered (eight of which were in the supportive Bianco camp) but it did not show the Championship in its best light. Happily, we did have an one additional invitation entry in the shape of Herbert Burgmayr’s 75 3 litre, plus his friendly dog Pinocchio, bringing the grid to 13. From the Twin Spark Cup point of view, though, 11 cars were still more than capable of providing us with some very competitive racing and it was going to be interesting to see how the points table looked after the two scheduled races, both of them on Sunday with qualifying on Saturday afternoon. Would Tom Hill extend his points advantage? Or would others shine and limit the points gap?
So, who did enter? Leading the way were the Power Trophy 147 GTA of Ray Foley and the 75 3 litre of Herbert Burgmayr, the latter in the Invitation class. We last saw Herbert when he competed at Thruxton and Silverstone in 2013. Tom Hill, Simon Creswell, Andy Hancock, Steve Potts, Jeremy Chilton and Dave Messenger have already raced their 156s this year but this was to be Paul Plant’s first appearance. Of considerable interest was Richard Ford’s arrival with the Bianco renta’ 156 instead of his own 146 Ti. How would he perform in a known quantity? It was also good to see Andy Inman whose 156 had been brought over by Bianco but was being looked after by Graham, Angie and Anna Fletcher. A welcome reappearance was being made by Jon Billingsley in a very smart, pristine white 147, joining the similar car of Stacey Dennis which, for this meeting, was enjoying sponsorship from Godfrey Auto Repairs. In amongst the Bianco camp it was good to see James Browning, Joshua Lambert and Gethin Llewellyn helping out, although I am quite sure they would have preferred to be out there sampling the track. Scrutineering, with the additional requirements of the RACB/FIA had been an initial worry but in the end passed off without problems.
Several drivers enjoyed Friday and Saturday morning testing – not always straightforward as Ray Foley found with several niggling issues, happily put right by the time we reached qualifying on Saturday afternoon. There had been interesting banter the night before about Twin Spark lap times – around 2’ 02” seemed to be the level in testing but 2’01”s seemed as drivers had more seat time on the circuit.. Could anyone get into the 2’00”s although breaking the two minute barrier was generally thought unlikely. The start of the session saw Tom Hill, first out as usual, and quickly on the pace with a 2’01.544” which he cut to a pole setting time of 2’00.630” on his fourth lap. A lap later, Paul Plant came close with 2’00.587” but neither he nor Tom improved in the last part of the twenty minutes (around 10 laps of the 4km track) allowed. A genuine surprise was the performance of Richard Ford who showed that once he had his hands on a known quantity he certainly had the speed. His 2’01.841” was quick enough for third fastest time. The next five drivers – Stephen Potts, Dave Messenger, Jon Billingsley. Simon Cresswell and Andy Hancock were all closely matched in the 2.02”s.
Simon might have ended up quicker had he not slid off into the Turn 1 gravel after 1 lap, losing time while a snatch crew pulled him out under the yellow flags. He never quite got back into the rhythm while Jon Billingsley was concerned about his water temperature. Stacey Dennis, Andy Inman and Jeremy Chilton completed the class, 3.69” covering all the TSC cars. Andy Hancock was a bit glum as he had hoped to be nearer the top of the times rather than 8th in class but hoped things would go better on Sunday. Ray Foley completed a full 10 laps and was eventually able to break the 2 minute barrier with 1’59.756”. But what of Herbert Burgmayr? He was stopped from going out initially as fuel was seen leaking from the boot of the 75. When the bootlid was opened, the floor was found to be awash with petrol from a loose union. It took a few minutes to sort this out and clear up the mess, but Herbert eventually managed 8 laps, with a best time of 1’57.742”, the glorious sound of the less stifled V6 engine reminding us how good it was to have more of these cars around.
As with so many circuits these days, find a place for photography without debris fencing in the way was not easy but I was pleased to see that Paul Stone had the luxury of a media vest. His eventual race 1 pictures at the end of the straight behind the paddock caught the atmosphere very well (and included the Yokohama pedestrian bridge). For my part I was able to make use of the extension to the pits balcony which enabled a clear view of Turn 1 and also the exit of the Lucien Bianchi corner after the Canal Turn. I had also popped in to see Brian Jones in the commentary box situated at the back of the grandstand as the plan was for me to commentate on both our races and I was intrigued to find a GPS screen in addition to the normal timing screens provided by timeservice.nl
Saturday evening saw many competitors enjoying a meal at the De Pits restaurant behind the grandstand while others were in nearby Hasselt or Lummen. Sunday morning dawned misty, damp and muggy after overnight rain and it was going to be touch and go weather the track had dried enough to prevent Herbert Burgmayr and Ray Foley having to resort to “wets”. In the end the track dried quite quickly as the temperature rose and the mist in the trees began to clear. There had been much discussion on the start procedure for this meeting in view of the lack of Modified and Power Trophy cars. It was eventually decided by Clerk of the Course, Bernard Cotterell, that the rules would apply as written for a situation with 4 or less Modified/Power Trophy starters and everyone would go when the red lights went out with no three row gap. This being the case both Ray Foley and Herbert Burgmayr opted to start at the back to avoid any problems at Turn 1. This meant, therefore, that the final front row of the grid would consist of Tom Hill and Paul Plant with Richard Ford and Steve Potts behind them on row 2.
A lap from the pits plus a green flag from the grid meant that there was plenty of opportunity for everyone to assess the track conditions. As the lights went out Paul Plant and Tom Hill both made good starts, as did Steve Potts from the second row resulting in a some contact at the first corner in which Richard Ford also found himself involved, the bodywork and suspension of the Bianco renta’ 156 being damaged enough to put Richard into limping mode. By the time the field sped under the Yokohama bridge and into the paddock chicane, Paul Plant had already established a healthy lead over Tom Hill and Steve Potts. Lap 1 though was a disaster for Steve whose engine failed and for Tom who stopped on the far side of the circuit when his radiator detached itself. As a result, it was Jon Billingsley who was chasing Paul Plant at the end of the lap with Dave Messenger a close 3rd. Simon Creswell and Andy Hancock were hanging on but Andy already knew that his chances of a good result might be over as he was suffering from the Twin Spark curse – an malfunctioning airflow meter. Herbert Burgmayr and Ray Foley were already up to 6th and 7th having just passed Stacey Dennis.
With Tom Hill out of the race, it looked as though Paul Plant was going to have a relatively comfortable win as Jon Billingsley couldn’t keep up the pressure from behind as he nursed his 147 a bit although still holding on to 2nd as Dave Messenger slid back before retiring on lap 5. By this time, Burgmayr’s 75 was up into 2nd place and closing on Paul Plant, taking over the race lead on lap 7. Jon Billingsley remained 3rd with Ray Foley closing in on him, the rest of the order at the half way stage being a battling group of Simon Cresswell, Stacey Dennis, Andy Inman, Andy Hancock with Jeremy Chilton bringing up the rear. Ray Foley was destined to pass Jon Billingsley on lap 8 but it looked as though he might not catch Paul Plant who was lapping consistently in the 2’00” bracket, much quicker than any pursuing Twin Spark.
Then just as we thought the result was settled, the GPS screen showed Paul Plant stopped at the far side of the circuit. Jon Billingsley came past the pits leading the Twin Spark Cup by some 8” from Simon Cresswell but a disappointed Stacey Dennis had now dropped behind Andy Inman and Andy Hancock. Most surprised by all this was certainly Andy Inman who found himself heading for a podium finish right on Simon Cresswell’s tail with Andy Hancock pushing him hard to the flag. Herbert Burgmayr and Ray Foley were happy to finish 1st and 2nd overall, having come from the back, but Jon Billingsley – winning first time out in his new car – Simon Cresswell, scoring points once again, and a grinning Andy Inman were all delighted at the outcome of the Twin Spark Cup. Although he didn’t cross the line, Paul Plant had still done enough laps to be classified as a finisher behind Jeremy Chilton who added another finish to his tally. The prize giving took place on the main podium with Anna Fletcher presenting the trophies to a happy group of drivers.
Race 1 Results
|Power Trophy||Ray Foley|
|Twin Spark Cup||Jon Billingsley|
Returning to the paddock, there was clearly work to do on several cars before the next race at 4 o’clock, in particular the 156s of Tom Hill, Paul Plant, Dave Messenger and Richard Ford. The Bianco crew, led by Harry White were soon taking Tom’s engine apart to rectify the aftermath of a total loss of coolant. Paul and Richard’s cars were more easily dealt with but Dave Messenger’s engine woes turned out to be terminal – later diagnosed as a big end bearing failure, bent conrod with associated damage. Steve Potts’ engine had also suffered a terminal demise. Tom Hill and his parents watched anxiously to see if his zero points, so far, weekend could be rescued and it was a great relief when the engine eventually fired up with time to spare. Herbert Burgmayr and Ray Foley had again decided to start from the back to see if they could repeat the morning’s success but this time it was Tom Hill, Richard Ford and Paul Plant they would have to deal with first. On the front row we had Jon Billingsley and Simon Cresswell, with Andy Inman and Andy Hancock on row 2, ahead of Stacey Dennis and Jeremy Chilton – 11 cars in all this time.
As the lights went out Jon Billingsley moved ahead while as Diana noted “Simon Cresswell and Andy Hancock” touched at the first corner but both managed it well”. Sadly, though, all was not well for Andy as he was soon finding difficulty selecting gears, could only find second and fourth, then only fourth – slowing on lap 2 just after the paddock chicane and motoring slowly back to the pits to retire. Meanwhile Paul Plant had wasted no time in rushing up to 3rd behind Jon and Simon, arriving at turn 1 at the start of lap 3 with Herbert Burgmayr for company while Ray Foley was challenging Richard Ford for 5th place. By the end of lap 3 Herbert Burgmayr was already ahead of Jon Billingsley but Ray Foley and Richard Ford had had a misunderstanding at the Jacky Ickx chicane which saw the Power Trophy 147 running into the back of the 156, Ray ending in the gravel and out of the race while Richard was able to continue with a dent in the boot. Paul Plant had got himself in front of Simon Cresswell but the latter was hanging on gamely, benefitting on lap 5 when a water hose blew off the engine of Jon Billingsley’s 147 and he was denied a second win. Further back Richard Ford, Andy Inman and Stacey Dennis made up the next trio but there was a long gap to Tom Hill who was just cruising around to get to the finish and score some valuable points.
Everything at the front changed again at the end of lap 7 when Herbert Burgmayr slowed and came into the pits with what turned out to be lack of fuel pressure or, as he admitted later, perhaps a lack of fuel! Paul Plant now led but his 156 was not able to set the lap times he had achieved in race 1 and with two laps to go Simon Cresswell saw his chance of a win, passing Paul with a lap to go. As he crossed the line (and even on the podium!) he had no idea he had won the race overall, not being aware that the modified 75 had retired. Paul finished 2.1” behind in second place with Richard Ford an excellent 3rd, 8.2” further back. Andy Inman couldn’t match the top three this time but was still a pleasing fourth ahead of Stacey Dennis, Tom Hill and Jeremy Chilton. It was another enthusiastic podium, Anna Fletcher presenting the trophies once again, although the Twin Spark drivers probably didn’t realise at the time that this was the first ever Twin Spark overall win, let alone a 1-2-3. Simon Cresswell was awarded the Grove & Dean “Driver of the Weekend” award to complete an excellent couple of days. In the paddock afterwards, Richard Ford wasted no time in apologising to Ray Foley for his part in their collision. Once in the gravel, Ray had wisely decided that, after being pulled out by a snatch truck, he would not continue.
Race 2 Results
|Power Trophy||No finishers|
|Twin Spark Cup||Simon Cresswell|
So now it was time to pack up and go home – or in our case to a campsite north of Brussels in the motorhome and a good meal nearby. Our thanks to all our friends in the BRSCC who were present at the meeting and looked after us so well – notably Dominic Ostrowski, Bernard Cotterell, Liz Goodrich, Sue Cook and Tom Dooley, not forgetting the very helpful RACB Steward, Georges Vandendriessche. Our eligibility scrutineer, Kevin Lewis was also there keeping an eye on things. My own personal appreciation goes to Brian Jones for relinquishing his seat in the commentary box to allow me to commentate on our two races. Also to Keith Ford and James Browning for helping in the paddock and at the prize givings.
Will we go abroad again? That will depend on so many factors and will undoubtedly be a topic of conversation as we digest events at Zolder and consider whether we can gather enough support in the future to make it viable. I hope we can as it adds immeasurably to what we have to offer. In the meantime, this year’s championship has hotted up a bit with Simon Cresswell, after a stellar weekend, having moved up to second place only 13 points behind Tom Hill . Andy Hancock scored enough points in race 1 to stay 3rd while James Browning dropped to fourth. However, it was good to see Andy Inman and Stacey Dennis move strongly up the points table to lie 6th and 8th overall respectively (5th and 6th in class).
Oulton Park is our next circuit to visit, with a one day, double header meeting on Saturday, June 25th. We certainly expect a good entry and to see the return of several drivers who missed Silverstone and Zolder. Let us also hope that reliability makes a reappearance after recent problems. See you there!