Featured: The Spa 6 Hours Is A Perfect Model For Historic Endurance Racing

The Spa 6 Hours Is A Perfect Model For Historic Endurance Racing

Jayson Fong By Jayson Fong
September 19, 2016
3 comments

Photography by Jayson Fong

Although there are many historic endurance events that attempt to revive the original spirit of their glory days, not many require cars to be pushed to the limit for a full-length endurance event. However, towards the end of the historic racing season, more than 100 classic cars descend on the iconic Spa-Francorchamps for the Spa Six Hours: one of the year’s most beautiful and thrilling race weekends.

Split across both pit facilities, the grid is made up of roaring Ford GT40s, lightweight Jaguar E-Types, Shelby Cobras, Lotus Elans, MGBs, a Ferrari 250 SWB, Ford Mustangs, Falcons—and Porsche 911s, among many others. Though there are a handful of large teams with the access to state of the art equipment, a large majority of the competition is made up of small privately-funded “gentlemen drivers” with nothing more than a set of tyres, a few spares, and many spanners.

Together with an infield entertainment area that feels closer to an auto-jumble than the retail outlets often seen at historic race meetings, the cross section of sports cars and teams brings with it a refreshing air of authenticity that sets the stage for an exciting spectacle against one of the world’s most iconic motor racing circuits.

Standing atop the rise at Raidillon, there’s a feeling of anticipation comparable to the 24 Hours of Le Mans as the 105 car grid gets the green light on the other side of the circuit, accompanied by an eruption of racing music. They make their way down towards Eau Rouge, past the packed grandstands, the top five GT40s split by less than a second in qualifying hurtle towards the Kemmel straight, followed by what seems like a neverending grid trailing behind.

However, wherever the cars go, the drama of endurance racing closely follows. Within the hour of race start, the pole-sitting GT40 driven by Gerhard Berger, Richard Meaden, and Paolo Barilla encounters a mechanical failure, ending their hopes for a podium finish. Prior to the start, I also encountered a Triumph TR4 undergoing the final stages of a complete engine rebuild and towards the end, the lone 250 SWB Ferrari engulfed in flames.

The constant stream of cars never seems to stop around the 7 km circuit, and as sun begins to set, the atmosphere is completely transformed. A change from the flat out, neck and neck racing during the hours of light, the darkness is extraordinarily peaceful. As they pass by one by one, sometimes in pairs, lighting up the night in front of them, red brake discs glowing, you can’t help but begin to the appreciate small details that you never noticed during the day.

From the beauty of a backfiring GT40, flaming Mustangs, the slight glow of dashboard lights, and flashes of light from reflective visors—watching historic endurance cars racing at night is one of the most spectacular spectating experiences.

However, before long, the Six Hours of Spa comes to a close, and as the surviving cars return to pits, teams ecstatic, champagne flowing, there is a realisation that this is not just a race against each other but a test of abilities between both man and historic machine. Classic cars can be fragile machines at the best of times, but the event proves that they can still go the distance.

Without a doubt, the Spa Six Hours weekend is one for racing enthusiasts not fussed with anything else but racing. Apart from providing spectators with a chance to see the cars in action, it provides drivers with the opportunity to take the cars out to do what they were meant to. Now a permanent fixture in my yearly calendar, there is no better way to bring the season to a close.

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Nicolas Moss
Nicolas Moss

Wow, every time you really bring it home Jayson! My favorite (oh so hard to pick) has to be the white Mustang where you caught the fire coming out of both sidepipes.

Sam N
Sam N

Love the photos. Thanks for sharing.

Paul Fowler
Paul Fowler

Brilliant photos as always and good journalism to boot