Spa 21/22 July 2018 - Ginetta GT5 Challenge
Spa-Francorchamps – the iconic Grand prix circuit in the Ardennes, in Belgium. Seven kilometres in length and an amazing 97 metres difference in elevation across the circuit. We thought Knockhill was hilly, but Spa is something else
We managed to get booked onto a track day on the Wednesday in order to learn the circuit, although Geri had been up to Speedworks on the Monday to work on the Sim with Tom Ingram and was fairly confident he knew where to go. Track days mean a lot of traffic and despite the relative lack of straight line speed, the Ginetta GT5 was still one of the quicker cars on the circuit so there was a lot of overtaking going on, and a lack of ability to get a clear lap
There was another 40 minute test session set up for the Friday morning, the UK heatwave was just as present and correct in deepest Belgium. With the G40 Cup cars again running in the same race, there were 55 cars out on track so despite this now being a test session, it was still going to be a challenge to get in a clear lap. Air temperatures, even early in the morning were already running around 24 degrees but track temps were running above 40!
All photos on this page courtesy of Jakob Ebrey Photography
But Geri was going well, 4 laps in and he was in third place behind Evans and Toth-Jones and starting to throw purple sectors. Next lap Geri was purple again in sector 2 and closing in on Evans. By lap 8, Geri moved up to second, but now the order was Grady, Geri, Evans – Stoney still not showing that high up and Kellett had elected not to run in the session.
Late in the session, Evans went quickest leaving Grady second and Geri third from Toth-Jones, Digby and O’Brien. Stoney was back in 10th. More promising, Geri was quickest of everyone through sectors 1 and 2, and just needed to find some time (0.9s and 11th quickest) in sector 3, the run from Stavelot, through Blanchimont and Bus Stop to the finish line. We could approach afternoon qualifying with optimism. There was the small concern at being 7th, 7th and 11th through the speed traps, a couple of mph off the pace but always hard to tell who got a tow and where.
Qualifying – Friday
Qualifying was late on Friday afternoon, so probably missed on the highest temperatures of the day, although the sun could be low in places on the circuit. And now there was the full entry of 59 cars!
A short qualifying session would mean probably 7 laps and the first of those was the outlap, so not much chance to get in a decent time. Geri started cautiously, then lost the second lap – admittedly 7 seconds off the pace – for exceeding track limits in avoidance, before getting on with it. Geri was running about 3 seconds behind Stoney on the track, the next lap they flashed across the line, first and second, alas in Stoney’s favour by 0.378s! Neither were able to improve, but later in the session Digby and Grady went faster than Geri, dropping him to 4th. Kellett was surprisingly far back in 9th – maybe this would be a chance to gain some points? Geri was certainly feeling confident he could take the race to Stoney.
Race 1 – Saturday
The grid lined up for the late morning race – Stoney, Digby, Grady, Geri, Ward, Maxted, Toth-Jones, O’Brien, Kellett. The cars were much closer than usual, the grid was only marked for the staggered start used in F1, so the cars alongside had to "guess" where to be – Geri had a proper grid slot, not that the drivers can see them from the car anyway. Being so close would make the run to La Source a bit hairy, but equally negated much of the effect of starting behind the front row. Geri won from 4th at Thruxton and felt a repeat performance could be possible.
A lightning start, and Geri was already moving inside Digby while Grady got off the line well too, the three of them ran together towards the hairpin, Geri looking like he could get squeezed out, but he kept his foot in and emerged ahead, just behind Stoney as they ran into La Source. Coming out and running up the hill, Geri was giving chase.
Stoney had a better exit but a bit of a tow at Hummel meant they were bumper to bumper by Les Coombes. This would continue round the circuit, Stoney ending the first lap just 3/10ths ahead of Geri with Digby a second back from Stoney in third. Lap two was more of the same, Stoney pulled a couple of tenths further ahead and Geri was now a second clear of third place – now Grady as Digby had fallen off. Already the race was looking a two car battle between Stoney and Geri.
And then came the pile up near the back of the pack, cars went off and the safety car was deployed. They might have used a McLaren, but we were now treated to three super slow laps, the first two taking more than twice as long as the race laps had taken. The upshot of this would be that the race would be a two lap sprint to the finish, and the gap Geri had back to third was gone.
And the race carried on in the same pattern, with one lap to go, Stoney led Geri by 3/10ths, Grady was 6/10ths further back and holding on gamely. It would be all down to the last lap. Stoney and Geri now upped the pace and took two seconds off their previous best laps, but Stoney would be 2/100ths faster to claim both fastest lap, and the win by 3/10ths from Geri with Grady taking his first GT5 podium behind. Kellett had been stuck behind O’Brien all race but found a way past on the final lap to finish 5th – his lowest finish of the season. So we gained 10 points on Kellett but lost 7 to Stoney!
Race 2 – Sunday
Sunday’s race would be the first session on the track, and there had been some overnight rain, although the track itself was bone dry. Geri was starting alongside Stoney on the front row, with Grady, Maxted, Kellett and O’Brien behind. Geri inched ahead from the start but Stoney didn’t fluff his lines and arrived first at La Source and on the inside to cover off Geri. But Geri was in hot pursuit and got a decent run up Hummel and into Les Coombes. There was the smallest of gaps coming out of Les Coombes, and Geri dived inside Stoney on the run to Bruxelles, taking the lead. A good run down to Pouhon saw Geri having to defend, but he had clear space by Fagnes and on to Campus. Geri rounded the flat Paul Frere and blasted down towards Blanchimont only to see Stoney simply drive past – that straight line top end biting hard.
Worse still was that Kellett had made short work of Maxted and Grady and was now third and chasing down Geri. Lap one ended with Stoney half a second clear, and Kellett just three tenths behind Geri. Lap two was predictable, Kellett simply drove past Geri going up Hummel, Geri unable to do anything about it. A mistake by Geri towards Pouhon where he ran wide and got into a big tank-slapper cost him time, he ended lap 2 a second adrift of Kellett who in turn was 8/10ths behind Stoney. Grady and Bird were next up behind Geri, with gaps of half a second going backwards.
And then it happened again, another multi-car pile-up near the back of the grid caused another safety car deployment. The safety car did not get out quick enough to pick up Stoney, so the first lap was at Stoney’s pace, approx.. 1 minute slower than race pace, before the McLaren came out and slowed things right down again, for the next two laps.
And so Sunday’s race turned into a 2 lap sprint to the finish again, an awfully long way to travel for a pair of two lap races. Once again the drivers were all scrunched up, Geri aimed to take advantage. The long run up Hummel saw Geri staying in touch with Stoney and Kellett, at Bruxelles Geri went round the outside as both Stoney and Kellett went inside. The move may have worked, but Geri ran wide onto the Astroturf outside the corner – which was wet and resulted in a complete lack of grip. Geri had to lift, not only could he not complete the pass on Kellett, he also lost two places to Grady and Bird.
It was all to play for on the final lap, the 5 front runners had crossed the line spread out by just one second. Bird made a very late lunge inside Grady at La Source, Geri stayed out wide and went for the cut back. The three exited La Source three abreast and raced towards Eau Rouge. Geri was right over against the wall but wasn’t backing out, he was inching forwards and as they reached Eau Rouge, Bird in the middle found himself squeezed out, Geri took third and Grady 4th.
Geri had to lift for Eau Rouge, his entry line was all wrong, so while he consolidated third place, he fell back slightly from the lead pair. Stoney and Kellett were squabbling for the lead, and there were yellow flags out everywhere. Geri moved back a little closer but finished in third place, almost a second off the lead but 1.5 ahead of Grady in fourth. Stoney went into Bus Stop too deep and Kellett was able to muscle through on the inside and take the win by 5/100ths!
So Kellett took back the 10 points lost to Geri in race 1, while Stoney pulled another 5 points clear. We are now 78 points behind Kellett and 39 behind Stoney, but we are 86 points clear of Toth-Jones and Bird (equal 4th) with just the Knockhill and Donington Park rounds remaining. The bad news is we have found that the lost race from Oulton Park cannot be rescheduled, so we have just 5 races left – and there are no dropped scores to help us get back into the title fight.
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See full timing details from TSL here.
See the full standings here.
Next time out is Knockhill on 25/26 August.