Photos by Jayson Fong
Chris Ward and Andrew Smith stole the honours for this year’s Spa Six Hour race, clocking up a debut win for JD Classics in their Ford GT40 after sprinting their way through the dark and stealing the lead from the pole- sitting German crew of Frank Stippler, Michael Funke and Georg Nolte by making their final driver change under the safety car.
This event and race remains THE biggest challenge of the annual classic racing calendar, and the only true long distance endurance race for classic cars. Summed up perfectly by one competitor “You don’t have to be the fastest driver, the Spa Six Hour is about the fuel and driver strategy, preparation, consistency, reliability, concentration and an element of luck. It is the challenge of combining all these skills which keeps competitors coming back year on year.” We spoke to Chris Ward about this win.
Chris Ward // Andrew Smith – car no: #55 Ford GT40
2017 was our second visit to the Spa Six Hour with the GT40. We learnt a great deal from our first attempt in 2016 and although we spent a considerable amount of time in the pits in 2016 due to a cracked oil union, we were able to continue and use the remainder of the race as a test for future years. We were all pleased with the performance, leading up to the oil union failure we were in the lead and post failure, we had fastest lap in the night.
Qualifying went well and as a team, we were happy with our performance. It would have been nice to qualify on pole position, but we were pleased with our pace.
When the race started. I sat behind the Nolte GT40 for the first lap, checked my mirrors and saw we had already gapped the remainder of the field. At this point I thought to myself is this pace too fast? Hence I eased back and chose to drive at a pace that I considered quick enough to keep the Nolte car in sight but slow enough to manage the wear and tear on the car. I maintained this pace for three to four laps and found myself closing on the Nolte GT40 and by lap twelve, I had taken the lead. I was pushed for the next ten laps, but still chose to maintain my pace and the gap was consistent at around five seconds.
I continued until lap 37 during which I built up a lead of just under three and a half minutes between myself and second place, at which point I handed over to Andrew. Andrew had a great drive and on the lap prior to his pit stop, he retook the lead. We knew at this point that our next stop had to be perfect in order for us to be in a position to challenge for the overall win.
Suddenly .. he was here, one of the boys pulled Andrew out, shoved me in, barely time to put the belts on and the door was closed and I was ushered out of the pit box and on my way the fuel station. We had a result in the fuel station queue and had a super pit stop enabling us to get back on track maintaining the lead.
From the pit board, I could see I was extending my lead in the initial laps so I continued to lap at the pace I had chosen and found myself behind the Nolte GT40 which I then overtook. Unbeknown to me the team were not best pleased as they had been asking me to slow down, the pit board had been obscured by the next garage. Eventually I got the message and eased my pace for the remainder of the race. But now we were a lap ahead of second place.
Then with three laps to go, the timing screen went blank, the team couldn’t believe it, I had gone, but fortunately there was a timing glitch for a minute or two and then there I was back on the screen.
The chequered flag. I could see the official on the gantry with the flag, but he did not wave as I went by; I was in a group of cars and I don’t think he saw me. With that in mind, just to be on the safe side I continued at race pace and there it was, the next time round out and being waved, we had in actual fact completed an extra lap, but better to be safe than sorry.
The emotions on the cool down lap were special, but nothing in comparison to what it felt like as I coasted down the pit lane. I could see the team in the distance, as I got closer it become more real, we had won the Six Hour. As I got out, the cheers from the team, their elation and expressions on each of their faces was amazing; what a feeling, true emotion. What a team effort, to win the Spa Six Hour!
This passage is an excerpt from a longer account of the JD Classic Spa Six Hour win in 2017 along with reports from a number of other competitors in the race.
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