Bryant dominates wet FIA Masters Historic Sports Car race at Spa

Oliver Bryant produced a stunning wet-weather display by trouncing the opposition in the FIA Masters Historic Sports Car race at Spa. In his Lola T70 Mk3B, Bryant dropped his rivals by a minute to complete a dominant display and repeat his previous FIA MHSSC wins at this event.

“The McLaren [of Andrew and Max Banks] is so fast in the dry, so I knew my chance was in the wet. Being out in the Lotus 15 in the Motor Racing Legends race and the Ford GT40 in the Six Hours earlier really helped me practice my wet lines”, was how Bryant explained his advantage.

Leading the chasing pack were Jason Wright and Andy Wolfe in another T70 Mk3B, Wolfe hunting down and passing Max Banks for second on lap 16. Max’ brother Andrew had started the race from pole but their McLaren M6B was soon usurped by the unstoppable Bryant. Pedro Macedo Silva’s T70 Mk3B took a lonely fourth ahead of the Diogo Ferrão/Manfredo Rossi Lola T292 and Michael Gans in the Lola T290.

“Andy was on fire!” said Jason Wright about his team mate’s drive. “The car was too edgy for me, but he was brilliant. And I’m happy about beating the McLaren!”

“Not today, not in the wet”, said Andrew Banks about failing to convert pole into a win. “It was a job to keep it on the island, frankly, the car was just too nervous today.”

In tenth overall, Julian Thomas and Calum Lockie (Chevron B8) won the Bonnier from the front, despite strong challenges from the Till Bechtolsheimer/Damien Faulker and Mark Owen/Nick Padmore B8s. James Bates jumped brother Mark right at the end for the Pescarolo class win in his Porsche 911 RSR while Steve Hodges (Chevron B16) cornered the Siffert class win. In a class struggle full of twists and turns, Richard McAlpine’s McLaren M1B came out on top in the pre-66 Hulme class, leading home the Mark Shaw/Chris Drake M1B and the Keith Ahlers/Billy Bellinger Cooper Monaco King Cobra.

“I think I came in a lap too late, but I’m not sure”, said a surprised McAlpine before learning that his penalty for missing the pit window was rescinded.

“It was great, good fun, but very slippery”, said Chris Drake, who was happy to have been fighting McAlpine. “Usually in the second stint it’s just a numbers game but this time I had a good dice with Richard.”

“Out of the pits I went up Eau Rouge and just clipped the kerb”, said Bellinger about dropping down to third place in class. “That sent me into the world’s longest 360…”

On a soaking wet track, the race was started from behind the safety car, and when the green flag was waved, the order soon changed around, as the drivers adjusted to the circumstances in varying paces. While Andrew Banks kept the McLaren M6B in the lead, Olly Bryant had got ahead of Jason Wright in the other T70 Mk3B to take second. Michael Gans was fourth in the Lola T290, ahead of Christophe van Riet’s T70 Mk3B and Henry Fletcher in the Chevron B19. In 13th overall, Mark Shaw’s McLaren M1B led Keith Ahlers’ Cooper Monaco King Cobra in the pre-66 Hulme class.

The opening lap wasn’t over and done with before the safety car made a brief return, but on lap 2 the cars were set free again. At the front, Bryant had the bit between his teeth to storm past Banks with fastest lap of the race by four seconds, as Van Riet made it past Wright for third. Pedro Macedo Silva in a non-B T70 Mk3 was now fifth ahead of Gans and Fletcher, with Diogo Ferrão in the Lola T292 hunting both down. In the Bonnier class, Julian Thomas had swept ahead of Mark Owen’s similar Chevron B8, with Siffert-class leader John Sheldon in the Chevron B16 just behind. In the Pescarolo class for GT cars, Mark Bates was relishing the rain as he had hauled his Porsche 911 RSR up to 14th overall. Shaw maintained a four-second lead over Ahlers in the Hulme class.

Fifteen minutes into the race, Bryant’s lead over Banks (A.) had increased to almost seven seconds, and 8.4 seconds on the next lap, as Bryant kept pounding in the fastest laps. The two Lola T70 Mk3s of Van Riet and Macedo Silva were third and fourth, 11 and 17 seconds in arrears of Bryant respectively. Meanwhile in the Bonnier class, Till Bechtolsheimer and Charles Allison had moved their B8s in front of Owen as well. Greg Thornton, however, was a retirement from the class on lap 5. The Gonçalo Gomes/James Claridge Lola T212 had earlier been the race’s first casualty.

At the end of lap 6, Van Riet dropped out of fourth as the Belgian came into the pits to retire. This elevated Wright back up into fourth place, trailing Macedo Silva by 11 seconds and leading Fletcher by 14 ticks. Fletcher, meanwhile, was still fighting Gans and Ferrão, with Eric Mestdagh’s T70 Mk3B also joining the battle for fifth. Robert Beebee was ninth in another Mk3B while Thomas in the Bonnier-class-leading Chevron B8 had made it up into the overall top-ten. In 11th, Mark Bates continued his rise up the order in the sideways RSR. As the pit window opened, he led Sheldon, Shaw, Bechtolsheimer, Graham Wilson’s invitational Chevron B8 and his brother James’ other RSR, also on the rise, leaving class rival Klaus Horn in the Martini-liveried RSR to fight Hulme-class runners Keith Ahlers and Richard McAlpine (McLaren M1B).

Beebee and Fletcher were the first to pit, the former handing over to son Josh. Andrew Banks followed in on the next lap to hand over to brother Max, as Bechtolsheimer handed the wheel to Damien Faulkner, Ahlers changed places with Billy Bellinger, and Nick Padmore stepped into Mark Owen’s seat. Next up in the pits were Wright (with Andy Wolfe getting in), Macedo Silva and the leader. Mark Shaw came in to hand over to Chris Drake, while Gans, Ferrão (Manfredo Rossi taking over), Mestdagh, Thomas (Lockie getting in the seat) and Sheldon were the last of the frontrunners to pit.

The pitstops having taken their course, Bryant now held a massive 40-second lead over Banks (M.), with Macedo Silva over a minute down in third. The Portuguese driver would soon be swamped by a flying Wolfe, though. Further back, Lockie, Bates, Sheldon and Drake stayed on as class leaders. Despite being chased by rapid pedallers Faulkner and Padmore, Lockie held his own in 10th overall, while Mark Bates had half a minute in hand over brother James. Sheldon, meanwhile, was 15 seconds in front Steve Hodges’ Chevron B16. The pre-66 fight had turned into an intra-McLaren M1B battle between Drake and McAlpine, as Bellinger had dropped down to third in class with a huge moment at the top of the Raidillon.

Going into the final quarter, Bryant’s lead over the McLaren M6B was up to almost a minute. In second, Max Banks was all but safe and dry, as Wolfe closed in at a rapid rate. Macedo Silva was an increasingly lonely fourth while two minutes down the road Gans, Rossi, Mestdagh and Fletcher kept on warring over fifth. In the Siffert class, a second stop by Sheldon dropped him back behind Hodges. In the Hulme class, the order has changed as well, McAlpine edging past Drake and dropping him with two seconds a lap.

On lap 16, with five minutes still to go, Wolfe caught and passed Banks, while Rossi overtook Gans for fifth. Bryant having slowed his pace allowed Wolfe to close to just over a minute but remained the dominant winner ahead of Wright/Wolfe and Banks/Banks. Macedo Silva took a distant fourth ahead of Ferrão/Rossi, Gans, Mestdagh, Beebee/Beebee and Fletcher, with Bonnier-class winners Thomas/Lockie rounding out the top-ten. On the penultimate lap, James Bates pipped his brother Mark for the Pescarolo class win, while Steve Hodges cornered the Siffert class win. In the pre-66 Hulme class, McAlpine seemed to have lost the class win because of a penalty for missing the pit window, but when that was rescinded he was handed back the top spot.