The Spa Six Hours 2023: a top edition for the 30th anniversary

The Spa Six Hours race for classic cars is a topper on the Belgian motorsport calendar every year. It can certainly compete for the trophy of the best motorsport race in Belgium.

Unfortunately, no trophy will be awarded that way yet. And to be clear, we are covering the competition and not the overall event here because they both bear the same name.

Classic motorsport is still on the rise and after the covid years, this race too is back to its normal momentum. We had already seen it right back in August when the list of participants appeared: this is going to be a memorable race with a completely sold-out starting field and even a reserve list of additional contenders.

The celebrities, of course, are first and foremost the cars themselves: GTs and touring cars up to 1965. And the contrast could not be greater this year with the almost unbeatable Ford GT40s at the front and a tiny Fiat Abarth 1000 at the very back.

Ford supplied the most cars: besides the 15 GT40s, 9 examples of the Mustang were also present. Of these 9, there were some Shelby 350 GTs. On top of that, there were 3 Falcon’s and even a Galaxie of the “sailboat” type.

Competition comes mainly from Jaguar and the Shelby Cobras with their E-Types and Cobra coupes and roadsters.

Aston Martin is also at the start with two units of their DB4. One in the coupé version and the second is the famous DB4 GT “DP 214”. The little Lotus Elan’s are also on post every year and further we find exotics like a Marcos, Ginetta and some TVRs. Classic MGs and Austin Healy’s complete the field.

And a race without a Porsche 911 is almost unthinkable. And so there are a number of them driving along as the very oldest 911 models get admission to these Six Hours of Spa.

And there were still celebrities this year. In addition to the cars, we also welcomed some very well-known drivers. Top entry was undoubtedly the Ford GT nr 32 in which three-time Indy 500 winner Dario Franchitti shared the wheel with his brother Marino ( Sebring winner ) and seven-time Nascar champion Jimmie Johnson. The latter is all about classic car racing after a visit, last year, to the Goodwood Revival. He was back at the start at Goodwood a few weeks back and is even now coming to Spa especially for it. And anyone who thinks Nascar drivers can only do laps on ovals is wrong. Johnson can very well turn a wheel and handle classic racing cars.

But these are not the only celebrities. At the wheel of a Jaguar E Type sits, five-time Le Mans winner, Emanuelle Pirro which he shares Katarina Kyvalova.

A few weeks after his victory in the RAC Tourist Trophy at Goodwood, three-time WTCC world champion Andy Priaulx is also at the start. He shares the wheel of the No 14 Ford GT with three-time BTCC champion Gordon Sheddon and Miles Griffth.

Audi factory driver, and two-time winner of the Nürburgring 24 hours, Frank Stippler, shares the No 65 Cobra with Alexander Kolb.

From the BTCC championship we find both current and ex-drivers with Rory Butcher, Sam Tordoff and Andrew Jordan and with Alex Brundle ( son of ) and Nicolas Minassian there are ex Formula 3000 and WEC drivers.

And our Vanina Ickx is once again at the wheel of the No 100 Ford Falcon along with Manfredo Rossi di Montelera and Bernd Georgi.

Besides these well-known “heads”, there are of course the regulars from the classic race world. Father and son Hart are defending their title from last year and others include: Hancock, Meins, Pastorelli, Lynn, Hall, Halusa, Bryant, Cottingham, Lyons, Hadfield, Minshaw, O’ Connell, Kubota, Stretton, Gaye and Ward. Names that recur regularly in various classic events and who have all come over for this race.

Among the competitors nevertheless, quite a few local Belgian competitors and even some Japanese. From the Netherlands came Adrian Van Hooydonk, the top man of BMW’s design department. Adrian did sit a the wheel of a Ford Mustang.

Qualifying for the race took place on Friday at dusk in true Spa conditions. During the afternoon it had started to rain. At certain moments the water fell from the sky in buckets. And the qualifying for the Six Hours did not escape the Spa water either.

In this water ballet, Count Oeynhausen’s Ford GT, sharing the wheel with Nico Verdonck, is the fastest. In fact, they drive just over two seconds faster than their colleagues Bryant and Cottingham. Ditting and Hancock finish third at more than three seconds ahead of father and son Hart who take almost five seconds more over a lap of Spa. The first eight places are all for drivers with a Ford GT. The Jaguar of Minshaw and Keen comes, perhaps somewhat unexpectedly, to disrupt the Ford party somewhat with place eight.

The wet conditions of this qualifying session naturally caused many incidents and interruptions.

At the very back we find, and this literally, the biggest and smallest car of the race. A giant Ford Galaxie and a Fiat 1000 TC were together on the last starting row.

The rain has disappeared on Saturday and it is a beautiful and sunny day for the 30th anniversary of this 6-hour race. Under a beautiful late summer sun, just before 4pm, more than 90 participants take the start of the race. And 90 participants that is a serious mob even for the circuit one Spa-Francorchamps.

Oeyhausen’s Ford GT is the quickest off and, even before storming up the Raidillon, is able to succeed immediately in striking a gap with the rest of the field who are battling each other. In fact, after just one lap of the race, the No 30 Ford already has a hefty lead. The Ford driver even realises, after his fifth pass, the fastest lap of the race.

Slowly the other Ford GTs are able to close the gap and after half an hour of racing we even get a new leader with the No 14 of Priaulx, Shedden and Griffith. But it remains exciting and a few minutes later, order is restored again and after one hour of racing, it is Oeynhausen who has the lead with 4 seconds ahead of Priaulx. Meanwhile, the situation is as before and we find 14 Ford GTs in the first 14 places. The vedette team with the Franchittis and Johnson is touring around on P5 with just 13 seconds behind the leader.

After an hour of racing, refuelling naturally begins. And in the Six Hours, this is done at a normal filling station in the paddock. You can read all about this in our 2021 article.

And for this, you either have to have a very good strategist or be very, very lucky. Because with 90 cars on the track and two petrol pumps, there can be long queues.

Because of these refuelling and pit stops, there are quite a few fluctuations in the standings but the differences at the front remain small. Thus, former winners Bryant and Cottingham emerge and they are in the lead after two hours of racing, 1.3 sec ahead of Oeynhausen and Verdonck.

Franchitti brothers and Johnsson are also continuously running at the front of the standings. For victory it might be difficult but a podium finish is certainly possible. However, some smoke does come out of the exhaust of the Ford GT40 fairly early in the race. Up front, the Fords still continue to dominate but the race leader does have to throw in the towel. Bryant and Cottingham disappear with technical problems.

Halfway through the race, six Ford GTs were still touring at the front. In places seven and eight, though, two Lotus Elan’s already appear, driving as much as 10 to 15 seconds slower per lap but moving up in the standings due to their regularity.

Former winners, father and son Hart, also disappear from the race. Their GT is not really in form this year with an engine that sputters frequently.

The Spa-Francorchamps circuit provides a stunning backdrop. In this post-summer period, the most beautiful GT cars from the 1960s race at dusk on one of the most beautiful race tracks in the world. This provides lots of great moments and a very nice atmosphere.

But slowly the Indian summer sun is disappearing and the competitors start the final hours of the race on a dark track. At the front, the Fords of Priaulx, Verdonck and Johnson are still fighting for the podium. The latter does lose a few places afterwards due to technical problems. What is it with the Fords this year? Maybe the still quite high temperatures are the problem?

With one hour to go, even the Lotus Elan of ex BTCC drivers Jordan and Tordoff comes squeaking into third place. And this with just one lap behind! And it gets even better as the Ford of Verdonck and Oeyhausen has to cut the pace with brake problems and the Lotus actually ends up on P2.

The GT of Priaulx, Shedden and Griffths knew no problems and deservedly won this anniversary race of the Spa Six Hours. And a three-time world champion is very much on the honour roll of the Spa Six Hours! The Elan of Jordan/Tordoff and Dorlin provides the biggest surprise by finishing second. A great performance for this little Lotus against surely much “fatter” and stronger cars. In the very last lap, the Ford GT of Wood/Nuthall and Lyons can still get past that of Verdonck and Oeynhausen, who cross the finish line almost without braking. The vedelet trio with brothers Franchitti and Johnsons ticks off on P7 with three laps behind. Still, a fine performance for “rookies” and a car that was perhaps not exactly top notch.

In the touring car class, though, it’s all Ford that runs the clock and the entire podium is for cars from Detroit. The Mustang of Meeuwissen/Meeuwissen wins ahead of the Falcon of Ickx/Georgi and Rossi di Montelera.

And the little Fiat Abarth also wins its class. Not really difficult as there was only one competitor in this series but the Tessaro brothers still finish in a nice fifty-seventh place in the overall standings out of more than 90 competitors and even nine places ahead of his comrades with their giant Ford Galaxie.

The Six Hours of Spa was also the last race of the weekend organised by Roadbook in which the race portion was handled on Saturday night this time.

En een wedstrijd met GT’s uit de jaren 60 blijft een unieke beleving. De mooie modellen van toen die dan nog voor een geluid zorgen dat je vandaag bijna niet meer hoort en dan nog eens dwars door de meeste bochten schuiven……..  het blijft een unieke ervaring. Ook de duur van de wedstrijd zorgt voor extra uitdagingen voor de machines en piloten. En wie dit nog nooit heeft gezien moet dat volgend jaar zeker eens uitproberen. Reserveer alvast het laatste weekend van september in uw agenda!

The general report on the Spa-Six Hours weekend can be found here.