Flux-sponsored Sarah Bennett-Baggs achieved an incredible podium finish in the Spa Six Hour. Here she tells the story of the race.
Twelve GT40s lined up for the 2015 Spa Six Hour event and behind them 96 other pre-1965 classic racers including 19 Mustangs, 10 Jaguar E-Types, a handful of Falcons, Galaxies, Lotus, Porsche – you name it!
I was joined by Mike Thorne and John Todd, racing one of two 1954 Healey 100s on the grid in the pre-62 class (two of the oldest cars out there). Our strategy was to achieving 95 laps in six hours based on a steady dry and wet average lap time.
Of course, best laid plans don’t always follow. Qualifying on the Friday night was crisp with clear conditions, but a disaster for us. The car having run well in testing, did four laps before the gearbox main shaft snapped, putting us out altogether. Mike had however managed to put in a flying lap of 3.09 qualifying us in 64th position. Our pit-box companions Matthews-Rattenbury in their open top Healey-100 qualified 78th with no issues.
The top eight positions on the grid were unsurprisingly all filled with GT40s, with the German pair Graf-Funke on pole, Wills-Littlejohn in 2nd position, Hadfield-Voyazides in 3rd and Woods-Stretton in 4th. The first car behind the GT40s was Jaguar E-Type of O’Connell-Kirkaldy, then the Thomas-Greensall-Harris E-Type with the super fast TVR Griffith of the McInerney’s rounding up the top 10.
The first all-girl team of Kyvalova-Carr-Bradfield in a Healey 3000 were suffering gearbox troubles in testing but they still managed to qualify by double-de-clutching on every change.
Come 4pm on Saturday, the weather was a different story, a downpour before the start had left the track conditions wet and greasy. Having fitted a spare road gearbox through the night we were holding our breath watching the first few laps as 108-strong pack thundered past the old pits all racing side by side, fuel heavy and tank slapping all the way up Eau Rouge! It was scary to watch, more terrifying to drive.
Thorne took the start of our Healey 100, surviving the first stint unscathed despite a few bites from a poorly driven red Porsche 911. He came in well up the order to hand over to me in 44th.
The second stint is less of a bun fight as drivers settle into an endurance pace, but it is also when daylight fades to dark and when lights seem to have no effect. This is one race where you need your wits about you, the speed differentials are immense and when you are leaning on those wire-spoked wheels absolutely flat through Blanchimont the last thing you need is a tap from a passing GT40 or Mustang.
I had a few laps of drizzle before it cleared, but then I enjoyed power sliding around the circuit on the Avons. Meanwhile our fellow Healey 100 competitors were battling with battery issues but they were still in the running. I came in 25 laps later at 7.30pm when we were now up into P32 .
Todd was next out and with darkness now descended, so also arrived a torrential downpour. Not quite on the biblical proportions of 2014, but enough to send cars off in all parts of the circuit, including a heavy shunt into the pit wall by a bright orange Shelby Mustang, effectively blocking the old pit straight and sending the safety car train through the old pits.
We advanced our last driver change under this rather bizarre safety car period which lasted several laps still in heavy rain; effectively a free stop. By now we had just one hour to go and we were up running just behind the Aston Martin DB4 of Miller-Goble for a class lead.
Thorne took the last hour in difficult conditions. The rain continued to fall and in very dark conditions we could see the Healey pass the pit straight with just one headlight left working out of the four fitted! The class leading Aston Martin had to make a final stop after us, which is the moment we picked up the class lead. They rejoined but were also struggling with misting up and bad visibility. The last half hour we were holding our breath, the previous year the Healey blew a head gasket around 8.30pm, this year we were all reporting that the gearbox had been crunching metal bits since the start! But by some miracle it made it to the end, despite a gearbox full of iron filings and just one head-light. Mike’s quick last stint was by far the hardest.
“To be honest, I quite enjoyed the wet night drive, we were going well in the wet until my lights failed. Out there it’s blacker than black and you are constantly blinded by the macho boys with their spots on full blare in the mirrors. We’d have reeled in a couple more had we had some vision – more carrots next year!”
Back at the sharp end of the grid, first across the flag was the #34 GT40 of Wills-Littlejohn, followed by the German pairing Graf-Funke, a super fast Shelby Cobra from the Netherlands, with the Walker-Jordan-Griffiths GT40 in fourth. First of the Jaguar E-Types to finish was Minshaw-Keen completing the top five.
Spa Six Hour is a superbly organised endurance race where restraint matters more than anything else; the attrition rate is high as either cars or drivers struggle to last the distance. The top prize is fiercely contested, with recreation cars and pro-drivers all allowed to contest alongside original classics, gentleman drivers and enthusiasts. A team with three hot-shoe drivers can quickly become a battle of egos rather than working as a team. Hats off to the all-girl team of Kyvalova-Carr-Bradfield, who not only made history, but did well to finish in the top 50, and joined us on the podium for 3rd place in the Pre-62 category. There were in fact a number of women drivers on the grid this year, with Pia Bianchi finishing in P22 in her MGB team. We were elated with our result, and we finished the evening off spraying champagne on the top step of the podium.
We had barely thought a podium result even possible in a ’54 Healey 100 – no recreations, no pro-drivers or egos in this team just some good planning, great teamwork and a united desire to finish at all costs. And what a finish we had!