MONDAY 10 MAY 2010
1000KM OF SPA: THE CRAZIEST LE MANS SERIES RACE EVER
Thinking of travelling to the pretty Spa Franchorchamps circuit, in the Ardennes? Well pack your winter woollies as you can be certain of one thing – highly inclement weather.

When Allan Simonsen arrived at dinner time on Thursday, it was snowing lightly! And we're only a few weeks away from the start of summer. What is going on these days with the weather?

Friday morning dawned cold and wet but it's the same for everyone. Allan once again teamed up with his regular German team mate, Dominik Farnbacher in the Team Farnbacher Hankook Ferrari 430 GT2, for its swan song at the famous track. For 2011, anyone who wished to be competitive will start running the new Ferrari 458 GT2, the direct replacement, with the 430 filtering down to less professional championships.

The first practice session saw Simonsen take to the track on wets, for a couple of laps to feel out the grip level. He then changed to intermediates and rose up through the times to top the session. And not just GT2, but GT1 as well, which now included several Ford GT's, a Saleen, Aston Martin and Corvette. Impressive stuff and a great indication of how effective the Hankook intermediate tyres really were.

Practice session two and Allan was back in, to evaluate two different sets of tyres and concentrate on car setup, since it was the first opportunity to drive Spa in the dry. He'd be 5th fastest, out a field of 16 in GT2.

It should be pointed out that a huge field of cars (50) had entered the Spa race (P1: 10, P2: 11, GT1: 7, GT2: 16 and 6 in Formula Le Mans (LMPC in ALMS).

This would be the last opportunity for teams to race prior to the 24 Hours of Le Mans, following the temporary abolishment of the official test day, typically two weeks priors to the French Classic. So, for some teams, it was a 1000km test session.

Saturday morning was just as cold and Allan and Dominik shared duties for the final 1 hour practice session – Allan focussing on qualifying setup, whilst Dominik did long distance simulation running.


As practice closed for the final time, they held down 7th fastest time (2.21.2).

It was Allan's turn for qualifying at Spa, since they rotated duties at each event. Qualifying is once again a short twenty minute session. Taking into account the time to do an 'out' lap its critical to get a clean run in Q. Hey, its the same for everyone and the holy grail is a clear track. Remember you only have one set of tyres for Q, you can't refuel AND you must start the race on the same tyres. That requires a good strategy!

Allan was now on the final sector of his second flying lap, when suddenly the session was red flagged, at Blanchimont.

From the data it was clear the team would have gained 3rd place. When restarted with 6 minutes to go, he was just about to complete anothere flying lap that would have been good enough for 4th palce but the car coughed, from lack of fuel at Blanchimont, settling for 14th. The curse of Blanchimont?

At last the weather had turned for the better. Sunday morning was crisp and cold, but clear.

With only a twenty minute warm up at 9am to ensure all systems are good for the race, time is precious.

Dominik was quickly out and instantly set fastest time. He'd hold it right up until the final moments, finishing 3rd. Whilst it was a positive start to the day there was no way to get around the fact that they were still starting 14th.

The grid was cleared at 11am and then the drizzle came at 11.10. The worst posible scenario! At 11.25 the field took off behind the safety car and at 11.30 the lights went green – whilst the prototypes were coming across the start line, most of the GT2 field was still back at Blanchimont, illsustrating how large and cautious everyone had been at the start.

It was very tricky for the first half hour and many of the top runners, including Audi and Oreca Peugeut came to grief, damaging body work - the Audi R15 Plus limped home to pit for repair but the 908 of Olivier Panis was out on the spot after making heavy contact with the tyre barrier at Raidillion, after being squeezed by on of the Rebellion Lola P1. Unhappy faces in the Oreca pit and obviously the 1996 Monaco F1 GP winner, Mr Panis.

Simonsen had taken the start and simply kept out of everyone elses way, moving up to 10th, after a battle with the GT1 Corvette. It was a sensible drive handing over to Dominik at the 55 minute mark, perfectly timed to a safety car.

Dominik was now in the car, but found pitlane closed even though the pack was at Blanchimont. A highly incosistent call from the organisers. Once the pitlane opened the rain vanished, but so had the advantage the Hankooks appeared to have provided in the damp conditions.

At the end of the second hour one of the most bizzare situations in motorsport occurred. A huge power failure engulfed not only the Spa circuit but the neighbouring towns as well. After twenty minutes of blackout, with the timing system running on a battery reserve, the race was red flagged. Picture all cars sitting on pit straight, nose to tail. An unearthly silence befell the circuit and did so for best part of half an hour.

Dominik was then forced to park up on pit straight, opposite the garage – he was due in that lap but when the red flag was shown at Blanchimont, pitlane entry was closed. That should never have happened – it should have remained open. On the restart, the field was forced to trundle around for half a lap under the Safety Car (there are two SC's at Spa, Le Mans and Paul Ricard, due to the length of the circuit, split by half the circuit length), until the other SC peeled into the pits. Dominik then pitted. Allan, with fuel and Korean rubber added, set off, only to be stopped again at pit exit, losing yet another lap! A very unlucky sequence of events.

Soon Simonsen was in battle with one of the Schnitzer BMW M3's. As he was coming into Les Combes, the BMW offered no room - they touched with the Schnitzer ending in the gravel. Directly behind was the second BMW, who, seeing the ensuing melee in front, took advantage of the delayed Ferrari, to move ahead. One BMW gone and another reappears! Ferrari sandwich.

Back to Dominik and a titantic battle ensued with the Prospeed Porsche GT3 RSR of Richard Westbrook. It would gain excellent TV coverage – The battle of Michelin vs Hankook for all to see.

The final hour, with Allan in the car, saw more frantic pitwork and tyre gambles - one that was a bold call, but didn't pay off.

With 28 minutes left of the 2010 1000km of Spa, the rain started falling at the highest part of the track, catching several drivers off guard. A call for inters was made but no sooner had they been added, the drizzle abaited, and lap times fell away.

It could have worked but it didn't, with the Dane, struggling to hold on for a 10th place finish as the spent inters groaned in disgust at the suddenly dry track.

Not the deserving result the team deserved, but the car was undamaged an no mechanical woes showed their head. Perhaps a great sign for the 24 Hours of Nürburgring, next weekend? Let's hope so.