Spa Francorchamps - September 2018

Spa Francorchamps – 14th – 16th September 2018

Set in the Ardennes Forest just as the leaves are starting to turn golden, the legendary historic circuit of Spa Francorchamps hosted the annual Spa Six Hour Endurance weekend, the focal point of which was the Six Hour race on the Saturday evening.

Two Morgans and four drivers with their support crews travelled from the UK to compete in the pre-war Sports Car race on Friday evening.

We’ve got words, a few photos and the results right here.

From Sue Darbyshire:

Many of you will know that Gary Caroline hasn’t raced a great deal over the last five years, so when I heard that Motor Racing Legends were putting on a pre war sports car race at Spa again for the first time in 9 years it was done deal to ask him to drive my black car with me. We had completed the first ever one hour race for a Morgan three wheeler ten years previously in 2008 at the same venue so it was very fitting to return with the same team.

Spa is one of those tracks that just gives you goose bumps. When you arrive in the paddock at look at the track La Source and Eau Rouge are right there in your face and so big and steep and quick!! They look truly daunting. The circuit measures 7km in length and we use the same course as the F1 cars. It is actually the longest circuit length used in F1, and the elevation change between adjacent corners  Eau Rouge and Radillon is 102m, which, to put it in perspective, is higher than Big Ben.

We made the whole trip a lot more difficult for ourselves by deciding to build a new engine for the black car as we felt that we had become less competitive against the Bentley boys over the last couple of years as they had moved on in their engine tuning and we had not. As with most things this took far longer and was much more difficult that we had possibly imagined, even with the massive and unstinting support of Ewan Cameron, and on the day before departure George and Gary were still driving the car up and down outside our house trying to get it running right.

We took the old engine just in case and arrived at Spa in the sunshine on Wednesday afternoon. On Thursday we managed to book a very expensive practice session and whilst fending off GT40s and historic Formula 1 cars we attempted to fine tune the Morgan. It is truly amazing how quick some of those cars were….but maybe not much quicker than us on the slow bends….in my dreams!

To our utter amazement the car ran beautifully through two practice sessions and race qualifying on Friday morning and we qualified in 11th place on the grid of 35 cars. Iain Stewart was making his Spa debut with young gun Harry Painter as co-driver and they made it through qualification with some float chamber issues, which persisted to the race unfortunately. Our qualification was slightly late starting as the nervous driver (no names but male!) forgot to turn on the fuel, so Barbara and I waited anxiously on the pit lane, which is quite some distance from the assembly area, whilst cars started coming round on their second lap and still no sign of our Morgan. Big relief when it finally hove into view.

The race was started at 5.30pm on Friday afternoon, by which time we were all wound as tight as could be. I thought no-one could be more nervous than George but Gary might just have been. We made a good start, luckily due to the rolling start format rather than standing start, as this favours our high bottom geared 2 speeder, and Gary had a great battle with a couple of Bentleys, a Nash and an Aston Martin before the pit stop. Barbara claimed to have shown Gary the pit board in practice so that he would know where we were on the pit lane and he gave her the thumbs up…I said that’s great news but that was Iain you showed it to! The Nash contrived to pass us in the pit stop somehow and I realised when I went out that in order to win the 1500cc class I needed to catch and pass it before the end of the race. I could see it up ahead and the new engine came into its own, catching the Nash on straight line speed for once instead of having to make desperate lunges on slow corners!

We held on for an overall 7th place finish and won the 1500cc class. Phew…what a result…so much work by so many people, but Ewan and George…thank you, you are both magic.

From Iain Stewart:

It is very rare to get a chance to race our old cars at Spa-Francorchamps. So a lot of work had gone into my Morgan in preparation for this Motor Racing Legends race on 14th September 2018.

To maximise reliability, I had lowered the compression to 9/1. Weeks of testing over many miles all indicated that good reliability was to be expected.

My Co-Driver was a young 20 year old (Harry Painter), who successfully races a 1934 supercharged MG with the VSCC and MGCC. But due to a busy life – he had only managed to drive my Morgan a couple of times (to the VSCC pub meeting) in the dark!

This was our first visit to Spa and it is a beautiful place. We were also blessed with sunshine most of the weekend. The track was brilliant in every way, although possibly more fun in a “muscle car”. Quite daunting for Harry as this was his first time on a circuit driving a Morgan 3 Wheeler.

Near the end of the Qualifying session – one of my float chambers fractured and fell off. A spare was fitted in the paddock before the race and all tests looked good.

At the start of the Race, Approaching the grid at the end of the sighting lap – The engine suddenly went onto one cylinder. The carburettor float had stuck and fuel was pouring out. I pulled into the pits and the malfunctioning float chamber had to be dismantled and rebuilt a few times before it became fixed. I joined the race 2 laps down, to rapturous applause from some spectators. They had never seen a car successfully repaired, using a big hammer before.

The kink at Eau Rouge was taken at 95mph (only once), as the car became extremely squirrely and unstable. Being 2 laps down already – I decided to ease off a bit and enjoy some dicing with the Bentleys. My co-driver Harry then took over. He was impressed with the way these tricycles handled and was really having fun. Sadly, the engine cried “enough” and it packed in on his second lap. Both pistons had seized and one of them was heavily ventilated. Remnants of piston rings had even found their way into the timing chest.

Some interesting points:

  • This MRL Pre War Sports Car race was the only race over the weekend which did not require the use of a “safety car”.
  • The Belgian Spa Officials said they were very impressed with the high standard of driving in our race.
  • Nearly all the Spa Officials, Marshals and Spectators were amazed at the high speeds of the “Pre War” cars.
  • To see the driver (exposed) “at work” is very unusual for them and they found it very entertaining. They normally only see the top of a crash hat.

Hopefully the above points will help us to be invited there again.

The rest of the weekend was spent watching some entertaining racing. The 6 hour evening endurance race looked absolutely terrifying. There were over 120 cars on the track. Most of them were travelling around 150 mph (in the darkness).

Anyone planning to go there – must make the effort. The scenery is fantastic and the Belgian cuisine exceeded all expectations.