This is Spa Francorchamps, the fabulous palace of speed in the Ardennes Mountains of Belgium, nestled among the pine forests. The seven kilometers of this track are a spectacle of speed, more than anything else, to paraphrase sports car racing commentator/narrator Brian Kreisky. Once a year, drivers and spectators rekindle their love affair with this amazing speedway. Racing a ground effects Group C sports car around this place, is a test for both man and machine, drivers’ bodies taking everything the track dishes out, just as much as the bodies of their racing machines they are steering.
Yours truly, with the assistance of the #16 Rothmans Porsche camera car in the hands of Johnny Dumfries and Richard Lloyd, will take you on a guided tour in words, of the circuit. We start at the Bus Stop chicane, which is actually a bus stop in daily life. This corner has been re-profiled massively in the years since the Group C cars raced here. Now, slam on the brakes for the slowest corner on the circuit, the La Source hairpin. But, watch out! If you don’t hit the binders heavily enough, you’ll do a complete 180, spinning the car, and facing the wrong way up the road.
Sorry, chaps. That was no guided tour. Only part of the fabulous road was described. You move down and up through fabulous corners. La Source, Eau Rouge, Raidillon, Stavelot, Fangnes, Malmedy (also known as the Piff Paff), and many more. The cat could be put among the pigeons here, as the customer based Porsche 956s have their best chance of dethroning the Rothmans machines here at Spa. Canon, Skoal Bandit, Joest, Kremer, and Brun, all are in with a shout. Again, the Canon team is owned by Richard Lloyd, and the Skoal Bandit team by John Fitzpatrick.
This is the sixth round for the manufacturers cup in Group C and the seventh for drivers. Some may think, oh, 1,000 kilometers will be easy. Not so here at Spa. This one might just be as tough on some of the equipment as we saw earlier this year at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The privately entered Porsche’s are running additional front wings for downforce that we do not see on the factory Rothmans cars, and Thierry Boutsen was the chap to earn pole here.
Boutsen is running a new motor, from Porsche. We normally associate the 956 with the 2.6 liter turbocharged flat six motor. Boutsen and co-driver David Hobbs are using for this race, a new, bored out version of that engine, with a displacement of 3.0 liters. Boutsen says “we were given a wing that was too big. We have to live with oversteer on the car.” On the upside, he says, “I’m not complaining. We can be at the sharp end of this race, and try to win, or get into the top three.”
Boutsen also says “these times are good for Group C. Everyone is competitive no matter what combination they’re running. Times are good for Group C.” Boutsen and Hobbs’ team mates Rupert Keegan and Franz Konrad, have a smaller front wing on their #55 Skoal Bandit Porsche, and qualified eighth fastest. Also, unlike the Bousten/Hobbs entry, the Keegan/Konrad car is using the smaller displacement Porsche flat six. Konrad would go on to a very successful sports car career. Here, in ’84 at Spa, he is a newbie, after winning the 1983 German Formula 3 championship.
We do see the team that started the whole front nose wing craze with the 956. It’s the #14 Canon Porsche owned by Richard Lloyd, and driven by our old pals Jan Lammers and Johnny Palmer. The Canon car, unlike it’s rival Porsche’s has a honeycomb chassis. The front wings provide downforce and advertising space. The factory team remains aloof. They hope, like the hula hoop, this craze will pass. Jacky Ickx is the man here, who is looking for the hat trick. He wants to win his home race three years in a row.
Jacky Ickx will co-drive as always with Jochen Mass and he will line up alongside countryman Thierry Boutsen at the start of the race. Stefan Bellof put in some flying laps, until a clutch exploded on his Rothmans Porsche #2, he’s sharing with Derek Bell. Despite the clutch issues, Bellof and Bell still turned in the third fastest time in qualifying. The third factory Rothmans Porsche in this race, car #3, has Vern Schuppan, teaming up with Northern Irishman and former Formula 1 veteran, John Watson. Watson raced for Group 44 Jaguar at Le Mans in June, earlier this year. Watson says he’s always dreamt of driving a Porsche, since his childhood. So, he’s going to go for it here at Spa. There is a fourth Rothmans liveried Porsche in this motor race, too.
Richard Lloyd, and the young Scottish Earl, Johnny Dumfries will team up to drive another 956, car #16. This is Johnny Dumfries’ first sports car race. We’ll see how he gets on. Dumfries is the current Formula 3 points leader, in 1984. Despite good driving from Jan Lammers and Jonathan Palmer, the suspension system on the GTi Engineering Canon Porsche is proving difficult for the mechanics to dial in. The car does have potential, however. Another small wing is seen on the #9 Jagermeister Porsche 956 as team owner Walter Brun teams up on the driver’s strength with German’s Hans Stuck and Harald Grohs, two rapid Porsche drivers indeed.
In sixth place, it is the #20 Gaggia Porsche of Oscar Larrauri and Massimo Sigala, the Argentinian and the Italian. Seventh quickest is the New Man Porsche 956 #7 for Joest Racing in the hands of Henri Pescarolo of France, later to be known as “Le Grand Pesca”, and Stefan Johansson of Sweden. They are joined by German sports car veteran, Hans Heyer, a man who we’ve seen race for Lancia. It remains to be seen. Will Lancia reappear in 1984? Breaking the Porsche monopoly here at Spa is the Cheetah. This pretty little Group C number has a thundering 5.3 liter Aston Martin Tickford V8 under the bonnet. Belgium’s Bernard De Dryver and Britain’s Ray Mallock are on the driver’s strength.
The motor in the Cheetah may be heavy, but the car is only 870 kilograms, twenty above the 850 kilogram limit. So, in American measurements, this car weighs 1,914 pounds compared to the others at 1,870, a difference of around 44 pounds. The mechanic sprays the ether into the carburetors to fire the lump, and the brutish Aston Martin V8 roars to life like a lion. The Cheetah Aston Martin was finished just before qualifying, and the team spends most of Saturday doing a shakedown on this new Group C racer.
Ray Mallock, normally associated with the Nimrod cars powered by the same behemoth Aston Martin V8, is impressed with the car, and goes impressively in it to boot. In the C2 class, at the top of the time sheets, is the #70 Wasp Eze sponsored Spice Tiga Ford Cosworth of Gordon Spice, Ray Bellm, and Neil Crang. The main competition to Tiga will come in the form of the two Alba’s we’ve seen throughout the ’84 season to date. The green #80 machine, and the white, black, and gold #81 car.
Gebhardt has two cars in C2, but just one will start the motor race. The #73 Gebhardt Ford, the Frank Jelinski, Gunter Gebhardt, and George Schwarz entry (two Germans and a Canadian), busted a water pump, and so the car is a non-starter with an engine that has gone ka-blammo. No water pump = no engine cooling, = engine goes boom. The Jolly Club cars are on the starting grid, though.
Sunshine bathes one of the most picturesque racing vistas in the world, Spa Francorchamps, the famous and wonderful track, which had its most recent facelift, five years prior to this season, in 1979. 144 laps make up the 1,000 kilometer/625 mile distance in this race. Now, here’s a strange pre-race ceremony for you. Have you ever seen a marching band, on bicycles? Hmmm. That’s peculiar. The parachutists also fly in for the race. Now, we’re ready to get down to business of serious racing.
No “gentleman start your engines!” in Europe. At Spa, a bell, like that on a church steeple, chimes, to give the start engines signal. We can see in the video, the cars starting to warm up their tires as we go onboard the camera car, the #16 GTi Engineering Porsche 956 with Johnny Dumfries at the wheel of it, to start, before he hands over the driving chores to co-driver and car owner, Richard Lloyd. The colorful field of prototypes and GT’s weaves it’s way through Eau Rouge on the reconnaissance lap. The G forces are highest on this track, through Eau Rouge, and the drivers will get a workout in today’s race.
We have a massive traffic jam of Group C sports cars, ready to start at Spa, squeezing into La Source hairpin. Into the pits goes the safety car. The hometown crowd has Jacky Ickx and Thierry Boutsen, two of their natives sons to cheer for. It’s green flag, and away we go! Jacky Ickx leads into Eau Rouge for the first time. Thierry Boutsen runs second. Third place belongs to Stefan Bellof. Hans Stuck is fourth in the orange Jagermeister liveried Porsche 956. So, it’s Rothmans, Skoal, Rothmans, Jagermeister, the top four, all Porsche 956s.
Johnny Dumfries is getting his first taste of Group C here at Spa and is in good old scrap for position right now. Ickx and Bellof battle for first, and eventually, Bellof is the bloke to take the lead and leave Jacky Ickx to become the hare, chasing the sister car. It seems Rothmans is letting the boys race, and doing some kind of tortoise and hare strategy. Will that work? Ickx is now being harried by Thierry Boutsen in the #33 Skoal Bandit Porsche. Something must be going right. Bellof is whistling off into the distance, while Ickx has his hands full with Boutsen.
Boutsen out brakes his countryman into La Source. In the meantime, Johnny Dumfries in the camera car, he spins at La Source. No harm, no foul. He continues on his way. Boutsen, meanwhile, he gets crossed up coming out of the Bus Stop, running off the road and into a tire barrier. Some damage on the #33. We have the same order we’ve seen for a bit. It’s Stefan Bellof followed by Derek Bell and Hans Stuck. Hans Stuck is giving his Porsche 956 all it can handle, tossing it about as if it were, well, a saloon car. Pit stop time for Stefan Bellof. Fuel, tires, and a driver change, to Derek Bell.
After their off, David Hobbs and Thierry Boutsen, have managed to recover back to second overall. Bell and Bellof lead a Rothmans 1-2 and in second, the #1 car in the hands of Jacky Ickx and Jochen Mass. There is a third factory Rothmans Porsche also in the race, for Vern Schuppan of South Africa, and Norther Irishman, John Watson, a veteran of F1, just now getting his feet wet in endurance racing. At the moment, Schuppan and Watson’s race isn’t going to their liking, and they are outside the top six.
Again, the other new car to appear was the honeycomb chassis Porsche 956 which was a T car, a test car. The C2 division is now being led by a familiar suspect, the #70 Tiga Ford of the trio of Gordon Spice, Ray Bellm, and Neil Crang. Thierry Boutsen makes his way onto the same lap with Derek Bell and is closing on the lead, while the Ickx/Mass #1 Rothmans Porsche holds down third overall. Oscar Larrauri, meanwhile is pitting to replace a punctured left front tire. Off the with the badly shredded Dunlop Denlok, and on with a new one. The tire change is complete, and the Stuck/Grohs/Brun Porsche remains fourth. Larrauri of course, shares the sister Brun car with Massimo Sigala, the car that just pitted for a new tire.
Boutsen in the #33 Porsche is still closing on the leaders, and fast. Stefan Bellof takes over car #2 on their pit stop, and likewise John Watson is handed the controls of #3, from Vern Schuppan. The Schuppan/Watson duo would come back and finish sixth overall in this motor race. In the closing phases of the race, it was game over for the #33 car, as Hobbs and Boutsen were forced to retire with a blown motor. The C2 class was being led easily by the #70 Tiga Ford of Gordon Spice, Ray Bellm, and Neil Crang. John Fitzpatrick has had both of his Skoal Bandit liveried Porsche 956’s retire from the motor race, as early, it was game over for the sister #55 entry in the hands of Franz Konrad and Rupert Keegan. But, Stefan Bellof is on a Sunday drive.
The BMW M1 Group B cars were also having things all their own way in that class. Helmut Gall of Germany will take his car to the class victory sharing with fellow German Edgar Doren, and Belgian Michel Maillien, ahead of the ever present #101 BMW M1 for Jens Winther’s team. Brun Motorpsort will finish third and fourth. But, in the race’s closing minutes, there is a plot twist. Tire trouble for Porsche #2 of Bell and Bellof, and the sister car, #1 of Jacky Ickx and Jochen Mass unlaps itself and looks to be in contention for a race victory here.
Bellof and Bell are back on track as the #1 car is out of La Source and #2 is in Eau Rouge. Bellof and Bell hold on to win! Here are the results.
- #2 Bellof/Bell Porsche 956 Rothmans Porsche
- #1 Ickx/Mass Porsche 956 Rothmans Porsche
- #9 Stuck/Grohs/Brun Porsche 956 Brun Motorsport
- #20 Larrauri/Sigala Porsche 956 Brun Motorsport
- #18 Lassig/Regout/Martin Porsche 956 Obermaier Racing
- #3 Schuppan/Watson Porsche 956 Rothmans Porsche
Again, your winners in C2
#70 Spice/Bellm/Crang Tiga GC84 Ford Spice Tiga Racing
The points battle, after Spa is getting intense. Jochen Mass leads Stefan Bellof by ten points, 89-79. Jacky Ickx is just five markers behind on 74 points, in third. Derek Bell is next on 71 points, and further behind, not in contention for the title are both Henri Pescarolo in fifth on 53 points, and David Hobbs on 51 points. Next up, a race at the Autodromo Enzo E Dino Ferrari, in Imola, Italy.