Following on from the short and technical nature of Brands Hatch’s Indy circuit four weeks ago, round four of Lotus Cup & Elise Trophy headed to Belgium for an altogether different challenge.
Spa-Francorchamps, up in the Ardennes forest region, is a worldwide driver’s favourite and couldn’t be any more different to any other track on the calendar. Returning to the combined format last seen at the Snetterton opener, both Lotus Cup & Elise Trophy ran together for two 30-minute contests preceded by a qualifying session of the same duration.
Boosting the grid further this weekend were three European competitors, two of them running in the Invitation category and one in Elise Trophy / Production. An Elise and Exige for Petr Kreji and Marek Fried respectively, along with Petr Mandelik with an Exige sponsored by DATASYS.
Some drivers tested on the Friday before the meeting but qualifying mid-morning on Saturday was the first opportunity for all 27 cars to head out under overcast skies but a very warm air temperature.
It didn’t take long for the first yellow flag to appear as Marcus Miller briefly ran off-track at Eau Rouge and continued in his Millers Bakery V6 Exige. With the long nature of Spa, a brief yellow at the start of the session wasn’t a problem as most hadn’t begun their first timed lap.
Points leader Adam Mackay was immediately on the pace and up front in his orange www.track-club.com Exige V6, heading to the top with a first effort of 2m37.828s.
An improvement next time round to a 2m37.255s put him just 0.148s ahead of Ryan Savage’s Perrys 2-Eleven, but that advantage was extended to over half a second shortly afterwards when Mackay put in his absolute best of 2m36.858s.
Ultimately that time stood for the remaining 20 minutes of the session and nobody else could break the 2m36s barrier, Savage’s best coming at a 2m37.403s for second.
Adam Knight just missed out on snatching that position away, coming up short by 0.013s in his smart black former championship winning Exige V6. Jason Baker’s Rob Boston Racing S2 Elise Honda was a further 1.2s behind but just three tenths ahead of Adam Balon, taking fifth in another www.track-club.com V6 Exige.
Sixth went to Steve Train (Leistung Auto 2-Eleven), despite a spin at the Bus Stop chicane in the closing stages. He was ahead of returnees Andrew Wright who missed Brands Hatch due to a clash (SpeedLogic Motorsport Elise S1) and another former champion Simon Deacon in the Datum Motorsport 2-Eleven.
Miller ended up ninth following his early-session moment ahead of another Bus Stop spinner Ian Fenwick, driving the Poolcare Leisure S1 Exige Honda.
Up next was the Production/Elise Trophy leader Adam Gore, another driver making a welcome return to the championship this weekend. Behind the wheel of the findmeagift.com S2 Elise, Gore’s best of 2m49.259s was set just before the halfway mark and put him well clear of erstwhile polesitter Freddie Hetherington (EMH Motorsport S1 Elise). Stuart Ratcliff was third in the www.track-club.com Elise Cup R.
Splitting Production leaders Gore and Hetherington were more Supersport competitors; Douglas Campbell (Exige V6) and David McNulty’s AbleCareGroup.com Exige V6 in 12th and 13th respectively.
The top Invitation runner was 16th overall, Petr Mandelik putting his DATASYS Exige ahead of class rival Marek Fried. John LaMaster/Luigi Mazza’s Datum Motorsport Elise S2 was fourth in Production/Elise Trophy ahead of Alex Ball’s S1 Elise.
Jason McInulty’s Elise Cup R completed the top 20 followed by Rob Boston Racing’s Mark Jessop, whose Elise Cup R stopped at Turn 7 with nine minutes of the session to go.
David Alexander (Densy Developments Ltd) was 22nd in his S1 Elise ahead of the SO Motorsport & Stratton Quickfit S2 Elise of Simon Oakley.
Seth Walpole’s www.plant-tech.co.uk Elise 111R, the Mission Motorsport S2 Elise of Matt Noakes/Russ Anderson and Petr Kreji completed the 27 cars who set a time.
Peter Mansfield was the only exception, failing to set a time in his Elise due to gearbox problems, Mark Jessop was later diagnosed with a similar issue and it was going to be busy in the Rob Boston awning!
Saturday afternoon’s first race of the weekend was preceded by a light shower and threatening skies, but the proper rain came just a few minutes after the chequered flag fell 30 minutes later…
It was the usual format as the Supersport competitors got underway with their rolling start just before the Production/Elise Trophy cars. From pole position Mackay held on through La Source for the first time and that was as close as anyone would get. Lap one ended with a 0.6s gap between the leader and second-place Savage, with Knight, Baker and Balon running in grid order behind.
The second lap saw Mackay increase his lead to 1.5s and so it would continue, lap after lap, with an eventual winning margin of just over nine seconds after 12 laps. At one stage it was 11.2s before Savage’s tyres ‘came back’ to life in the final two laps.
In turn, Savage ended up with a relatively comfortable six seconds in hand ahead of Knight, Balon and Wright. A notable absence from the top five was Baker, who stopped at La Source on the fifth tour with an engine problem on his Elise.
The 2-Eleven of Train was also in strife, retiring mid-race with brake gremlins from the top six – he wasn’t happy with the behaviour of the ABS system and ultimately asked the team for it to be stripped it out for the second race. In the end it was Deacon who took that position ahead of Fenwick, McNulty and the Invitation class winner Mandelik.
Completing the top ten was Production/Elise Trophy victor Gore, who led from pole and had pressure taken off him when Ratcliff and Mazza got embroiled in a battle for second.
Mazza managed to grab the position on lap nine before a time penalty for exceeding track limits- a common theme at Spa- swapped the pair back round again, so it was Ratcliff ahead of a resurgent Hetherington at the flag.
Hetherington had a slow start from second but managed to climb back up to fourth, which ended up being third after Mazza’s penalty. Ball was fourth ahead of the penalised Mazza, who still finished ahead of five other Production/Elise Trophy cars.
They were Oakley, Alexander, Walpole- who was also given a drive-through for exceeding track limits- and the Mission Motorsport Noakes/Anderson Elise. Completing the 23 finishers was Kreji in his Elise.
More woes befell Jessop, who was a non-starter following his issues in qualifying. Mansfield was an early retiree, suffering a spin exiting the Bus Stop in the process.
After a relatively straightforward first (dry) race, the second encounter on Sunday morning was always going to be a different story with overnight rain dampening the track.
The top-ten reversal saw Douglas Campbell promoted to pole with David McInulty alongside – both in Exige V6 Cup R’s – finishing 9th and 10th in Supersport in race 1 secured them the front row.
The track had dried rapidly before the start, helped in part by a busy 45 minute session beforehand creating a dry line in most places but a number of drivers gambled on it being wet at the back of the circuit and the rain coming back. On paper race one winner Mackay had a lot to do from tenth in what was the first non-dry running of the weekend.
After the lap to the grid Adam’s Knight and Balon, out on wet tyres, decided to start from the pit lane after changing to the dry weather Avon ZZR, such was the pace the track had dried.
Everybody else stayed out for the rolling start, which was once again clean through the opening hairpin at La Source and heading towards the legendary Eau Rouge & Radillon for the first time. Mackay was already flying and had passed the majority of those ahead of him, before taking the lead at the Bruxelles hairpin and ending the opening lap with a massive lead of over ten seconds- “I looked in my mirrors and couldn’t see anyone. I just drove as if it was dry.”
Savage had also quickly moved up to second in his 2-Eleven, despite a big moment attempting to pass the Exige V6 of McInulty which lost him so much time to Mackay. “I got on the grass and, because it was wet, spun a few times.”
Polesitter Campbell retained third for the remainder of the opening lap before dropping to seventh on the next tour, with McNulty, Wright and Deacon- who was under investigation for the start procedure- all moving ahead. Meanwhile Knight was taking advantage of his decision to stop for slicks before the start, and was already into the top ten.
However it was Balon who was making up remarkable ground, hitting the podium positions first as he moved into third on lap five, whilst Knight was still down in eighth- soon to become seventh when Wright spun his Exige from fourth at La Source.
Next time round Knight was fifth, helped partly by Deacon taking a drive-through for an incorrect start procedure, and then passing McNulty on the final lap secured a strong fourth from the back of the grid, whilst Balon held onto his final spot on the podium.
At the flag Mackay had just under ten seconds in hand over Savage, a gap which had come down slightly in the final few laps having been over 15s at one stage. Balon was a further 17s behind Savage, who in turn was ahead of Knight, McNulty and the recovering Deacon and Wright.
Invitation victor Marek Fried was eighth ahead of Phillip Britten and Petr Mandelik.
Train retired again with more problems with his 2-Eleven, Baker never made the start after his engine issues on Saturday and Ian Fenwick stopped at Campus on the penultimate lap.
It was an absolutely frantic Production/Elise Trophy race which ended with contact and a stewards decision after a hard-fought battle for the lead throughout with race one winner Gore and McInulty in their S2 and S3 Elise’s.
The reverse grid saw Walpole starting at the front alongside Noakes in the Mission Motorsport car. Just like in Supersport, the order changed remarkably quickly on the opening lap. Ball took the lead from fifth on the grid ahead of LaMaster and Ratcliff, with polesitter Walpole falling well down the order.
On the second lap Ratcliff moved ahead of LaMaster for second. All the while Gore was quickly working his way through the pack and was up to second on lap three, passing both LaMaster and Ratcliff in the process.
Also making good progress was Jessop, following his disastrous qualifying and race one in which his track time was limited. He was fourth briefly, before a charging Hetherington began to bring himself into play, having started eighth.
Hetherington grabbed third from Ratcliff and now set his sights on Gore up ahead- that was, until McNulty joined the battle having started down in ninth.
Gore took the lead away from Ball next time by but it was McNulty who was flying, taking third from Hetherington on lap six before dispatching Ball from second two laps later.
It was at this point the race turned on its head, with McNulty suddenly dropping back to fourth and Ball retaking the class lead ahead of Gore and Hetherington.
The position changes continued in quick succession, beginning to resemble a 10-lap Formula Ford heat as opposed to a 30-minute mini-enduro.
Gore and McNulty were able to move back into the top two ahead of Ball and Hetherington, with only a handful of minutes on the clock remaining, leaving time for two laps of Spa.
It was these two laps which saw one of the best battles of the season so far, with Gore and McInulty swapping positions too many times to count before contact on the penultimate lap at Les Combes.
The collision saw McInulty retain the lead ahead of Ball and Hetherington, whilst Gore came off worse and spun down to fourth, where he would finish.
McInulty took the flag first on the road but a post-race technical penalty saw him excluded from the race, handing Ball the win ahead of Hetherington and Gore.
Jessop was a strong fourth, ending his weekend on a more positive note, just ahead of Ratcliff, LaMaster and a spinning David Alexander, whose moment came at La Source early in the race.
Oakley, Kreji and Noakes rounded out the Production finishers, whilst Walpole was a late retiree. Peter Mansfield never really got going in his Elise and stopped on the first lap.
The championship returns to the UK in mid-July for a single day of running at Oulton Park in Cheshire, going back to the standard format of a one-hour race for Lotus Cup and two 20-minute sprints for Elise Trophy.