Spa Francorchamps 24H Race Report

"Racing at Spa has been on my Bucket List for some six or seven years. I'm happy to be here with fellow Bastards! It’s gonna be a long weekend and with forecast rain on Saturday night, it should liven things up a little!"

Ash Patterson

Thursday Arrival and Friday Testing

It was a glorious evening when the Bastards arrived at the circuit on the Thursday night. Eau Rouge was basking in the sunlight and with our photographer for the trip, a few sneaky snaps was the order of the day. It has to be said that other than Lewis and Patterson who had driven the circuit on previous track days, none of the other drivers nor Sarah had been to Spa before. Spa has that special appeal for all race drivers and motorsport fanatics of one form or another.

Eau Rouge
Lowe checks his email while driver Cox polishes the windscreen.
Into La Source
Sunny Start Finish straight

After a good night’s sleep, it was an early and cold start to the day as clear overnight skies and low horizon sunrise cast brilliant shadows over the autumnal trees. The car was being prepared whilst the drivers decided on testing session rota and potential qualification strategy. The problem was that there were only two 1h45m testing sessions and as Lowe, Cox and Bucknell had never driven on the circuit before, it was felt they should try and get the lion’s share with Bucknell’s session split over the morning and afternoon. All was well and lap times seemed to be within the 3m40s area, but we were hearing that other teams were putting in quicker laps. Unfortunately the VBOX was not working and hence over lunch, it was team talk and diagrams that suggested possible quicker lines.

The afternoon session seemed quite surreal. Both testing sessions for Lewis and Patterson were truncated as for some bizarre reason, pit lane marshals seemed to be limiting the number of cars on the circuit at any one time. Of Lewis’s planned 40m session, 25 of those were spent in the pit lane waiting for a green light to enter the circuit. We couldn’t figure why testing car numbers would be limited to less than the 121 cars entered into the race?


Breakfast of Champions.
Early sunrise over the circuit.

We learned from Rockingham that we had to enter the qualification session with minimal fuel. Scrutineering times earlier in the day suggested that the afternoon testing session would allow the tank to be run down. For readers who are unaware, at time of scrutineering the drivers and car are weighed, at which time the fuel tank must be brimmed full. With a full tank lasting three hours and the qualification period 1h50m, we needed to lose some fuel weight.

The plan was that all drivers would make an out, flying and in lap to attain the minimal qualification, allowing the faster driver from testing to target multiple laps with minimal fuel. As per norm, that didn’t work to plan as there were multiple red flag stoppages that shortened the qualification session. Driver Lowe placed the fastest lap and with qualification done, the Bastards were placed position 31 cars of 43 cars in our class and 88 of 121 cars on the grid. With the race starting at 16.30pm local later that day, strategy was that Cox would start the race, followed by a first driver change to Patterson at 19.15pm, Lewis at 22.00pm, Lowe at 00.45am and Bucknell at 03.30am. We would see Cox back at 06.15am on Sunday morning.

"It's a gorgeous day here in Spa. The sun’s out and the sky is blue. We thoroughly enjoyed qualifying and are looking forward to the race start this afternoon."

Humphrey Bucknell

And We're Racing

Spectators on the circuit with just two minutes to the start.
UK C1 cars positioned on the F1 grid waiting to start.

With a total of 121 cars, the grid was initially split into different car makes with the UK C1 grid behind the 2CVs at the back. Critique between drivers noted that there’s going to be a lot of action at the end of the Kemmel Straight and through Les Combes as 43 UK C1s would be mixed up in all sorts of tangles with the 2CVs. Luckily the organisers had second thoughts and stated that the UK C1 grid would start 30 seconds later behind the European grid and behind a second safety car.

And we are racing. Cox starts the race from a rolling start.

Although we were originally 88th of 121 cars, being the 2CVs we bumped ahead on the grid, we ended up further back. Placed 31st of 43UK C1s which are now at the back of the grid behind the 2CVs, that placed Cox 109th on the total grid of 121 cars.The UK C1’s were positioned on the new F1 grid while the Europeans were positioned on the old grid near Eau Rouge and with just two minutes to the race start, there were still hundreds of spectators at La Source, scuttling back from the European grid.

Through The Night

The Bastards are P52 during the overnight stints.

Following Cox, Patterson took the wheel to take the dusk stint followed by Lewis and then Lowe. Just as Lewis passed the baton to Lowe around 01.15am, the forecasted rain pelted down. Lowe was driving in torrential rain, thunder and lightning. The safety car was on the circuit as Lewis left for the hotel. Next to take the seat would be Bucknell around 03.15am. The Bastards were placed 52 of 121 cars on the grid and 20 of 43 cars in class, having started 88th and 31st respectively. A massive achievement.

Miss Fire was handling well. All drivers were complementary to the car’s rigidity.

"Endurance racing is a tough old game. Who would have thought that the car your Grandmother drives to the shops would take such abuse!"

Mark Cox

As Dawn Broke

As dawn broke, it was evident that all drivers were suffering for one reason or another. Although having a good sleep, Lewis was still complaining of splitting headaches and Lowe too. Cox and Bucknell looked very tired and by 10.00am with Patterson at the wheel, it was just two remaining stints of Lewis and Lowe until the end of the race.

"My problem was that the European cars had their headlights high on their bonnets. As the faster cars approached from behind or as we would pass a slower 2CV, one's retina would be burned. It didn't help that we had an additional Longacre mirror that was cracked, reflecting one source of light into multiple dazzling beams."

Mark Lewis

Unfortunately too, there were some incidents overnight that gave Miss Fire her first real battle scars of the 2018 Citroen C1 Challenge. The team knew that Spa would be an issue with a multi-make grid, the prospect of rain and the sheer number of cars on the grid at the same time could be an issue. Anyone having done a track day will know that closing speeds between cars can be excessive and there was no difference here. Some 20MPH, 30MPH or 40MPH maybe? One moment your road ahead is clear and next, there is an obstacle.  

"I was side-by-side with a fellow C1 as we entered the bottom of Eau Rouge. As we reached the crest near Raidillon, there were two 2CVs right there. It was if they were motionless. That's not a pretty place to be in the dark of night."

Mark Cox
The original bumper is now off with missing spot lights too.
The replacement bumper and nearside door scraping.
Ash had to limp the car back as the wheel has simply split with the stress of cornering.
The driver door will not open. Drivers will now have to enter and exit via the passenger door.

The night drivers of Lowe, Bucknell and Cox did encounter difficulty over the dark, wet and greasy stints. With such close racing and slippery surfaces, such battle scars were to be expected, but not to this extent. Lewis was informed that of the three incidents, two included car-to-car contact with a t-bone to one driver, mandating a safety concern that the driver could only egress via the passenger door. All overnight drivers were adamant that driving standards were good, it was just bad luck that our car-to-car contact was evident.  

"When I got in the car at around 3:15am it was working well, but there was a distinct rumble through right hand corners, after a couple of laps in the rain I considered pulling into the pits to get the car checked over but elected to stay out and press on when the lap times started tumbling. It later turned out that the front left tyre was missing chunks of its shoulder, hence the rumble."

Humphrey Bucknell

"It was just pretty shit out there sometimes. I would leave an apex gap for the faster car to come through, but they would just slide into the side of the car."

Mat Lowe

"At one point, I thought I had an offside rear puncture and after three unstable passes of Bruxelles and Pouhon, I stopped at the pit. The mechanics stated the suspension, tyre and pressure were fine. The next lap I opted to corner off the racing line and all was fine. There must have been oil or other fluid on the circuit which I could not see in the dark."

Mark Lewis

The mechanics pointed out that the driver door issue may not be repairable as they thought the chassis may have been compromised. They were jubilant however in that the replacement bumper was fixed within fifteen minutes.

Final Stages

"Update from Bastard HQ this morning. Various parts litter the pit after various encounters overnight by drivers. Miss Fire is still running, but the likelihood is that Spa will be her final resting place. Chassis damage will probably make her beyond economical repair. Currently running 64th on the grid and 32nd in class. Objective to keep running and finish the race in one form or another. All drivers are tired and some suffering headaches from blinding night driving. Lowe, Bucknell and Lewis will now split the last two sessions to allow Bucknell a second stint and Lewis to finish the race."

Mat Lowe

Patterson was still on the circuit and with some five race hours remaining, the team had dropped to around P32. This was not about grid position or beating another team any more, this was all about bringing the car home safety and completing the race with heads held high with Bucket Lists achievements. The idea was that Lewis and Bucknell would be share Lewis’s next stint, though maybe split the last two stints between Lowe, Bucknell and Lewis. Not only would this give Bucknell a second stint, but reduce fatigue of the three drivers. All was agreed and with a change in that Lewis would end the race, Lowe would be out next. That’s where it all went pear shaped.

It would not be fair to comment and/or speculate as to the lead up to the Blanchimont incident that prematurely ended the race for us. We are bitterly disappointed that we did not finish the race. We are saddened that we arrived home with albeit fond memories of the C1 Challenge this year, we no longer have a car for the 2019 Challenge.

In Closing

In closing this race report, we’ll leave you with some pictures of the damaged Miss Fire. We would like to thank all the guys at SPY Motorsport for their support and guidance over the season, especially Ollie and Chris. Thank you too to Sarah, who joined us in Spa as team photographer. We look forward to seeing the album and hope you will join us again one day next year too. Thanks to the C1 Club Board of Directors who backed our use of the Inglorious Bastards team name from those early races. And finally, all the circuit marshals for whom without giving up their weekends, there would be no motorsport. Thank you all!