Designed in 1920 the original triangle-shaped course used public roads between the Belgian towns of Spa, Malmedy and Stavelot. The first car race was held at the circuit in 1922, and two years later saw the first running of the now famous 24 Hours of Francorchamps race and the circuit was first used for Grand Prix racing in 1925.
The old Spa circuit was essentially a speed course with drivers managing much higher average speeds than on other race tracks - a factor that made Spa very popular from its inception. Back then, the Belgians took pride in having a very fast circuit, and to improve average speeds, the former slow uphill U-turn at the bottom of the Eau Rouge creek valley was cut short with a faster sweep straight up the hill, called the Raidillon. Until 2000, it was possible to travel over the race track when it was still a public road.
Like the Nürburgring, Spa became notorious for fatal accidents, as there were many deaths each year at the ultra-fast track. The Ardennes Forest had very unpredictable weather and there were parts where it was raining and the track was wet, and other parts where the sun was shining and the track was completely dry. This factor was a common factor on long circuits, but the weather at Spa was always more unpredictable than other long circuits.
So let’s talk about racing!
It does appear that I seem to be blessed with good weather when I go to Spa especially in September for the Spa 6 hour race event.
However, and having mentioned the weather, for the rest of the weekend my luck ran out!
As you are all aware by now, from my various episodes and dramas this season from:
1. Breaking a half-shaft at the Brands GP Festival on the last lap,
2. Rolling the car at Donington, and
3. PLEASE READ ON………………………for Spa Francorchamps.
They do say that things come in three’s, so I am desperately hoping that this is true and my ‘Annus Horribilis’ is over with this last race of the season.
Now to the ‘EXPLANATION’!
We arrived on Wednesday evening and duly decanted to the Woodcote Trophy Lower Paddock near the Blanchimont Entrance. Together with seven other cars from the ‘CKL Stable’, it was quite a spectacle.
On Thursday we ‘Signed On’ and organised the FREE Practice for Thursday afternoon. I then found the Scrutineers, usually Phillipe and the rest of the Belgian Professionals. To my surprise, both John Hopwood (Woodcote Trophy Eligibility Scrutineer) and Jim Lowry (MSA Eligibility Registrar) had been granted ‘Honoroury Scrutineerships’ for the weekend, so I was pleased to see familiar faces. (I’ll leave out the OLD bit Jim HA HA!!).
The car looked good after my ‘ROLLING’ expedition at Donington and no-one noticed any difference.
I carried out my usual ‘Pre-Flight’ checks on the car and prepared her for the 3pm one hour open practice session.
NOTE: Since the car’s re-build, I hadn’t had an opportunity to take the XK to a circuit to shake her down, so this was to be her first time out for a shake-down. This, as it turned out was a very high risk and expensive strategy.
As usual, I took the car out first, so that hopefully there are no surprises by the time I hand over the reigns to Mel.
The first couple of laps, I planned to take it rather gingerly, as I needed to check out my own cofidence levels having rolled the car. As it happened, and by the time I had taken Les Combes, my confidence was restored and then ‘To Business’, i.e. was the car going to perform???
From a slow lap time of 3mins 40secs, I started putting in a 3mins 35 secs then a 3mins 32secs and finally a 3min 28secs.
However, during my stint I started to notice a crescendo of what I believed to be engine noise, but I put this down to a noisy silencer. But it got worse. However, there were no other tell-tale signs to indicate was about to happen.
Back in the Pit Lane, I changed over with Mel and explained to him about the noise, and off he went.
On replaying the Video, I could hear the noise getting worse while Mel was at the wheel. But there were no other contraindications.
By Mel’s Lap 5, he was driving up the Kemmel Straight in 4th Gear and just before entering the Le Combes complex he changed down to 3rd with a corresponding crunch and a crack and the clutch refused to allow the change of gear. But Mel persevered and managed to get the 3rd gear selected.
By this time, he new something was dreadfully amiss and continued to limp around in 3rd gear until he returned to the F1 Pit lane. We discussed the problem and tried all sorts of things to engage gear, but the only thing we could do was to start the car in gear and Mel got the car back to our Paddock Area.
So, up on the jack, we looked for any tell-tale signs of failure, but there was none. The clutch was adjusted from max. to min. play in the pedal and over-throw of the clutch. The irony was that the clutch pedal had an absolutely normal pressure. A number of other Jaguar XK experts passed by, but no-one had a solution.
In summary, our race weekend was over before it started and we won’t know what the problem is until the car returns to Keith Martin and we take the engine and gearbox out and drop the Bell Housing to inspect the clutch properly.
The question was, what would I do for the rest of the weekend and, in such a depressed state of mind.
The answer came of it’s own accord. It took me a couple of hours to rise from the ‘Slough of Despond’, in John Bunyan’s ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ terminology.
Twas thus that I set up as a virtual Race Retro Stand and with chairs and table and brochures to hand, I set about entertaining both Customers and ‘Customers-to-be’.
I could not believe the level of interest in wheels, tyres, hubs for all makes of cars, from Alvis to Jaguar, and early Aston Martins and the MWS brochures literally flew off both Stands etc.
So, all’s well that ends well! It’s a pity about the racing, as this was my first DNS (Did Not Start) in over eleven years.
The three in a row situation is now over and I have already started putting together my Winter Project Plan which will commence next week.
This was our last event of the season!
I hope you have enjoyed my reporting through the year and I look forward to seeing you somewhere in the UK or Europe in 2013.
FINAL NOTE: If you have any questions for me, or my racing etc, you can contact me via the MWS office.
Have a great end to your year!
John D R