I don’t imagine too many of you will be going to the Spa Six Hours historic meeting this year and I don’t blame you. Every year and without exception in my recent recollection, it has taken place the weekend after the Goodwood Revival; given that few will have time and means to attend both and since you’re reading this on Goodwood’s own website, my guess is that of the two, you’re rather more likely to show up in West Sussex than the Ardennes next month.
Even so, if you ever do make it to an overseas historic race meeting, can I recommend you make it this one? Spa is not only incredibly close, awash with motor-racing history and one of best circuits in the world, it is also a wonderful place to watch cars race, thanks to its huge elevation changes, wide open spaces and many access points around the track. Every year I make a point of just going and standing on the bank that goes right around the outside of Pouhon. Here you’ll see every kind of driver from the inch perfect race jockey who can get his car simply to shimmer through the corner to those who make a small mistake on the way and have to watch as it amplifies, turning from drama to crisis as the corner unfolds. As a place to spot talent (or a lack thereof), it’s in a different class to Eau Rouge.
But I digress. The real reason you should go to the Spa Six Hours this or any other September is that it is always such a friendly meeting. An end of term atmosphere pervades the entire place, full of demob-happy amateur pedallers who know that whatever goes wrong, they’ve got six months to put it right. Cars and drivers push themselves harder here not just because it’s Spa but because for most it’s the last race of the season and they want to extract the most from every minute of track time before the winter sets in and the toys get put away. It perhaps also explains what I have always thought a rather high accident quotient too. And then there’s always good old Spa weather, never more fickle than in the autumn and as reliably unreliable as you could wish. At one stage last year if you’d hooked yourself up to the back of a Land Rover and strapped some planks to your feet, you could have water-skied down the old pit lane. And I exaggerate not one bit. The grids are fabulous too, with this year two races for Grand Prix machinery, including F1 cars from the ‘70s and ‘80s. And if you’ve not seen a load of those trying to negotiate their way through Eau Rouge at the same time, your motoring education is incomplete.
And then there is the Six Hours race itself. I love endurance racing at night, at a circuit like this with an entry of no fewer that 128 historic cars, it offers a stunning experience for spectators and drivers alike. For this, as I have for many years, I shall swap the delicate, priceless jewel that is the Ferrari 750 Monza that I shall be driving at the Revival for a huge, blundering bus of a Ford Falcon. All they have in common is an engine in the front, driven wheels at the back and the fact that neither belongs to me.
We used to do this race in old Alfas but, despite the fact none ever let us down, the thinking was that what we really needed was something with massive power, unbustable mechanics which would also provide a better than evens chance of emerging in the right number of pieces should one of us roll it into a ball. Great in theory, rubbish in reality.
In the first year I took the second stint and drove a perfectly healthy Falcon up to Les Combes whereupon a wheel fell off and that was that. The second year an apparently perfectly healthy Falcon came down the pit-lane, but by the time I’d strapped myself in, it had broken a reasonable number of rockers and that was that too. In year three a perfectly healthy Falcon came down the pitlane and then decided to weld its clutch to the transmission before I could do a yard. So, last year I asked if I could go first. And as soon as I’d realised we’d lucked into an improbably brilliant wet set up, I had a wonderful time slithering around in the rain, two hours flying by as if they were ten minutes. My brother then had an equally great drive and by the time he got out and handed over to fellow GRR man Chris Harris for the final stint, we really did think we might have cracked it. Two laps later Chris came down the pit lane complaining that the brakes weren’t great and the back of the car was on fire. These two symptoms proved not unrelated, so once we’d sealed off the rear brakes entirely, we sent Chris back into the race and for the first time in four attempts, actually got the thing across the finishing line, albeit so delayed as to figure nowhere on the results.
So of course we’re going back this year with the same car. As I went first last time, I expect I’ll get the night shift this time which actually means I’ll pace about the garage eating frites and mayonnaise until the car disassembles itself again, after which we’ll all go to the pub. I should care, but I don’t: like the Revival, just to be at Spa for the Six Hours is more than reason enough to go – if I happen to get a run round the track as too, that’ll be a nice bonus. But I’m not counting on it.