Red Camel-Jordans.nl makes history by becoming the event's first race winner Burton Racing and DG Sport Compétition give the 'endurance' Peugeot 308 TCR an impressive maiden showing. And the all-Malaysian Viper Niza Racing withstands pressure from a former touring car World Champion.
If the opening to the first ever TCR SPA 500 was characterized by an extraordinary, five-way battle for the lead (see our earlier ‘EIGHT talking points’ feature HERE), then its closing stages were equally as notable for the deluge that struck the home of the Belgian Grand Prix during the final two hours. Vast swathes of the track were quickly submerged, despite excellent drainage, and even Eau Rouge / Raidillon was hit with the red and yellow ‘slippery’ as aquaplaning became a genuine concern. Several fell foul of the treacherous conditions (see ‘AM’) while others weathered the storm to reward their hardworking pit crews in style.
There may ‘only’ have been 17 entrants, but after 23 hours of uninterrupted racing, the inaugural TCR SPA 500 had made a definite impact.
Overall Top 5
PRO – Commanding win for Red Camel; what if for Bas Koeten
“I think we did a perfect job, and honestly, I can’t think of anything we could have done better,” explained Rik Breukers post-race. “I’m so proud of everyone!”
Only a couple of blips marred the rightfully praised “perfect” run of Red Camel-Jordans.nl (#101). First was a last minute re-alignment of the rear-sub frame, which cost the Dutch team the opening 10 minutes of qualifying, though the younger Breukers ultimately outpaced all but Jaap van Lagen in the NKPP Racing by Bas Koeten Racing CUPRA (#175) to secure a front row start.
The other occurred inside the final three hours by which point the team was five laps ahead. Troubled by obstinate traction control, Ivo Breukers stopped the #101 CUPRA at Eau Rouge during the event’s 11th and penultimate Code 60 period in an attempt to reset the system. Hearts in the Red Camel garage immediately jumped into throats as the team principal momentarily lost all gears at the steepest part of the circuit, Tom Coronel’s words from earlier in the day resonated, hard: “at the moment, we can only throw this away.”
Fortunately the #101 CUPRA managed to continue unscathed, going on to take the first ever win at the TCR SPA 500 in commanding fashion. We’re guessing the inaugural EXO TCR Nations’ Trophy – collected on behalf of The Netherlands by the Breukers father and son, World Touring Car Championship legend Coronel and TCR International Series race winner, Pepe Oriola – was just reward for the heart attacks Breukers had caused in pit box 7.
Six laps back, DG Sport Compétition (#308) finished its first competitive run with the ‘endurance-spec’ Peugeot 308 TCR in commanding fashion with a 2nd place finish. A front-runner from the get-go courtesy of strong runs from 2017 TCR Trophy Europe champion Aurélien Comte, and ’17 and ’18 Peugeot 308 Racing Cup titleholders Julien Briché and Teddy Clairet, the Pug remained a podium contender throughout the event, save a couple of hours early on when an early pit stop and some unfortunately timed Code 60s dropped Il Lione out of the top 10. That, plus the Peugeot’s focus on tyre wear and more frequent fuel stops meant a true assault for the win was always going to be difficult, but it was an impressive maiden run for the World Rally Championship and TCR Europe regulars nonetheless.
“Our nearest rivals, at home in this type of competition, perfectly negotiated the first five neutralisations via Code 60,” explained DG Sport Compétition’s Lionel Hansen. “From our side we delivered a perfect and neat performance, with drivers avoiding all mistakes, even under the downpours, filling everyone with delight.”
A TCE winner last time out at the Hankook 24H BARCELONA, TOPCAR sport by Bas Koeten Racing (#131) was reasonably satisfied with 3rd in both the PRO class and overall, especially since the CUPRA had been forced to pull itself back into contention from outside the top 10. A frustrated Bas Koeten could only lament the fuel pump failure that cost the team 10 laps – its exact deficit to the leading Red Camel CUPRA at the flag – but the Dutch 24H SERIES stalwarts had once again proven themselves the epitome of endurance racing professionals.
PRO Top 3
PRO/AM – Viper strikes as V-Max, NKPP and Wimmer crash out
A team seemingly out of contention during the opening hour, Viper Niza Racing (#65) completed an impressive run through the field at the TCR SPA 500 to collect 4th overall and the PRO/AM class win on its CREVENTIC debut.
Mixed conditions in qualifying meant the all-Malaysian crew set the 16th fastest time from 17 runners, and team boss Douglas Khoo’s solid rather than rapid pace during the opening hour meant the #65 CUPRA TCR went into the first round of pit stops already one lap adrift. Pace that, admittedly, picked up significantly – 15s per lap, to be precise – when Khoo swapped seats with Fariqe Hairuma, clean running thereafter and some well-timed extended stints from Dominic Ang meaning Viper Niza was soon into the top 10, and even ran as high as 3rd at half-distance.
Devoid of problems, aside from the cold temperatures and a couple of ‘relaxed’ driver changes, the Malaysian entry had already pulled three laps clear of AC Motorsport (#8) when morning broke. With the Belgian team suffering greater than anticipated understeer in the colder temperatures and running a different Audi RS3 LMS to their usual endurance charger (courtesy of Teamwork Huff Motorsport), neither Vincent Radermecker nor Mathieu Detry could mount a “perfect challenge” through the night and early morning. Still, given his recent accident and convalescence, a class podium for Stéphane Perrin was richly deserved. Ditto Stewart Lines, whose Maximum Motorsport team has run a partial TCR UK program this year.
Teamwork Huff Motorsport meanwhile (#852) completed a successful endurance racing event at the TCR SPA 500 with 7th overall and 3rd on the PRO/AM podium. One brief trip into the Stavelot gravel trip aside (Code 60 number eight, and check out ‘EIGHT talking points’ HERE), it was a largely trouble-free run for the #852 Audi RS3 LMS and its all-Chinese driver line-up.
The sister #22 entry meanwhile endured a more troubled run to 9th overall. Despite qualifying ahead of the #852 and running as high as 4th come the third hour, the Audi suffered a trip into the gravel of its own, ironically, having just completed its scheduled brake service. Cue Code 60 number nine.
The effects of another on-track clash during the night took longer to remedy – over 45 minutes – and heading into the closing stages, 2016 TCR Asia champion Andy Yan looked set to complete an astonishing FOUR hour stint at the wheel only to have the Audi grind to a halt in the closing 10 minutes. Still, 9th overall and 4th in PRO/AM was still assured, and team principal Rob Huff – cloth cap suitably affixed – was still very pleased with the team’s efforts.
"It's been a fantastic weekend for the team, I'm really proud of what we've achieved,” explained the 2012 World Touring Car Champion. “The Teamwork guys themselves did the [Hankook] 24H DUBAI earlier this year, but Spa is another challenge entirely, and of course the rain came and made it all the more challenging, but it wouldn't be a endurance race at Spa without it. I will only ever speak highly of this event.”
One of the most popular entries for the TCR SPA 500 – V-Max Engineering (#85) – unfortunately met its end during the night, despite the Opel Astra TCR having contended for the overall lead in the early going. A full engine change cost the German team nearly four hours in the garage, and while running 14th, Charles Espenlaub later made contact with an unsighted Eric Lo in the Bas Koeten Racing Audi at Eau Rouge. Code 60 was called immediately, and both the American former 24H GT SERIES champion and Lo received time penalties for their “irresponsible” accident.
That, ironically, was not the end of V-Max’s troubles. Espenlaub, attempting to get the Opel back to pit road, drove above the posted 60kph speed limit to put out a fire under the engine bay, receiving another time penalty when he got back to the number 18 pit box. Regrettably, the Astra TCR couldn’t be salvaged.
Were that not bad enough for Bas Koeten Racing, 160 laps earlier, the team’s ‘NKPP Racing’ entry (#175) had already retired following a massive shunt for Harry Hilders at Raidillon. It was a collision eerily reminiscent of the accident that eliminated Hilders’ teammate Gijs Bessem at Barcelona [‘What Happened Barcelona, TCE’] and was not how the Dutch team saw the TCR SPA 500 going after starting from pole position.
Accident damage also brought the curtain down on Wimmer Werk Motorsport’s race (#33) when Peter Gross lost the CUPRA TCR on the exit of Les Combes during the night. Running 12th at the time, Gross unfortunately had also been involved in the team’s earlier drama when the Audi had to be recovered – from the same spot, ironically – with a broken wheel at hour five.
PRO/AM Top 3
AM – Burton takes first endurance win; last-minute DNF for Lestrup
Across in ‘AM’, Burton Racing (#46) completed a highly impressive run at Spa-Francorchamps to collect 6th on the road and the AM-class win on its endurance racing debut.
The rallying specialists admitted that mistakes had been made throughout their maiden 23-hour race – “pit stops and Code 60s are something we’ll have to work on” – and turbocharger issues shortly before the formation lap proved an unwanted delay, but seemed confident of a return to the TCR SPA 500 next year. Of particular note were the near 60-lap stints of Olivier Meurens and 2016 TCR Trophy Europe champion Pierre-Yves Corthals during the night that launched the all-Belgian Peugeot 308 TCR as high as 4th at one stage.
Behind the class winner though, ‘AM’ experienced the lion’s share of the event’s attrition rate, with two of the category’s frontrunners retiring inside the final 15 minutes.
Arguably the more dramatic was the late-race exit of the Lestrup Racing Volkswagen (#110). 10 laps into his final stint, Peter Fahlström, caught out by the continuing downpour, disappeared into the gravel trap at Stavelot, bringing out the 12th and last Code 60 caution. Brutally, the Swedish team had no time to repair the damage to the Volkswagen, losing 7th place overall in the dying moments. 2nd place on the ‘AM’ podium was at least secured though, and Fahlström, Stefan Nilsson, Mats Olsson and Marcus Fluch successfully lifted the Seniors’ Trophy.
63 laps further back, and in bittersweet fashion, the Bas Koeten Racing Audi RS3 LMS (#125) completed the ‘AM’ category podium in 10th after a tough race. After losing drive on the grid and being shunted off-track during the night (again, ‘EIGHT talking points’ HERE, Eric Lo later received a more colossal whack from the V-Max Engineering Opel. The Audi’s race eventually came to a – merciful? – end when Alex Au made contact with the barriers at Blanchimont.
GDL Team Australia meanwhile (#9) managed to complete a troubled run to 11th, but any hope of podium contention was gone when the Audi RS3 LMS lost four hours in the pits, first to a broken water pump and then later to a failed turbocharger. All the more ironic given that the silver Audi actually led the event outright for the first six laps until Rory Pentinnen lost all front-end grip.
Particularly brutal was the retirement of the Holmgaard Motorsport family team (#2). Kim Holmgaard’s eponymous outfit – which ran his sons Magnus and Jonas alongside Roy Edland and Rowan Shepherd at Spa-Francorchamps – had climbed to a staggering 2nd overall in the early going after going extreme with its fuel strategy. Unfortunately the team’s hard work was undone shortly after dawn while running inside the overall top three and in the AM class lead: an engine oil issue later led to cooling issues, which ultimately fried the engine. After a superb run, the Danish team was out with just a few hours to go.
Ferda Autosport By QSR Racing (#54) endured a combative run to complete 127 laps, the Audi first missing all of Night Practice with an electrical issue before losing time in the race to a right front puncture and, later, suspected suspension damage. A hefty crash for Lance Bergstein was all she wrote after 127 laps. Ironically, despite its troubles, Ferda Autosport managed to run up front during the early going, Jon Miller even leading a lap outright before making his first pit stop.
Further back, Macau PS Racing (#853) was also enjoying a decent run on the fringes of the top 10 until Kelvin Wong hit the barriers hard at Blanchimont shortly before hour four. The Macau crew insisted the extensive damage could be repaired, and after 6.5hrs in the garage, Louis Ng even took the Audi RS3 LMS out for an exploratory nine-lap run. Ultimately though, questionable handling led to the white flag being flown shortly before sun-up
AM Top 3
*Be sure to check out the full results from the TCR SPA 500 HERE