Hartley survives the conditions to win first FIA Masters Historic Formula One race at Spa

Steve Hartley braved the fickle Ardennes weather to win the weekend’s first FIA Masters Historic Formula One race of the Spa Six Hours meeting. In a wet race blighted by safety cars, Hartley’s McLaren MP4/1 hit the front in a final-lap dash to the line, beating Mike Cantillon’s Williams FW07C, who had claimed the lead from pole-sitter Christophe d’Ansembourg’s FW07C on the opening green lap.

“Going into Pouhon, Mike just lost it”, said Hartley. “All my places were casualties, really. But when you’re driving in the wet that’s what happens!”

“I didn’t realise it was the final lap”, said a rueful Cantillon. “It was just so slippery at Pouhon. I slid wide, and Steve slipped past on the inside. I thought I had it!”

“It started really well”, said d’Ansembourg, “but then I spun stupidly and lost a few places. You could say it was a fast safety-car race – I never drove so hard to catch up with the safety car!”

Also moving past d’Ansembourg along the way, Kyle Tilley finished a strong third overall to win the pre-78 class in the Ensign N177, ahead of James Hagan’s Hesketh 308 in fifth overall and Jason Wright’s Shadow DN8 in seventh.

“It was lots of fun”, said Tilley. “We had the pace to win it overall but I just didn’t get the opportunities. It would be nice to have a dry race, though. All my races in the Ensign have been wet!”

“I enjoyed it”, said Hagan. “I enjoy driving in the rain. It was too long behind the safety car but we all survived, no cars damaged, and that’s the main thing.”

“It was hard just to stay on the track!” said Wright about the conditions.

After Friday qualifying that to everyone’s surprise took place in sunny conditions, Saturday’s first F1 race of the weekend was declared very much a wet race. A safety-car start ensured that everyone was properly acquainted with the soaking track but into lap 2, the field was set free. Everyone bar Charlie Nearburg, that is, as the Texan’s Williams FW07C was a non-starter.

On the opening green lap, Mike Cantillon’s FW07C took charge, overtaking the pole-sitting other FW07C of Christophe d’Ansembourg, while Steve Hartley (McLaren MP4/1) and Kyle Tilley in the pre-78-class-leading Ensign N177 moved past Antoine d’Ansembourg’s Brabham BT49C to be third and fourth into lap 3. James Hagan’s pre-78 Hesketh 308 had passed Joaquin Folch’s BT49 for sixth, with Mark Hazell’s Williams FW08 up next in the first of the post-83 cars, and Jason Wright in the Shadow DN8 placed third in the pre-78 class.

On lap 3, Hartley and Tilley both swept past d’Ansembourg Sr when the Belgian spun, before more family trouble occurred with d’Ansembourg Jr stopping out on track to bring out the safety car. At the end of lap 6, the field was released for a final dash to the flag. As soon as the green flag was waved, Cantillon was on it. The Irishman’s strong first sector looked to have put the issue beyond doubt, but going wide into Pouhon allowed Hartley to hit the front and steal the win.

Tilley took third overall and another pre-78 win after his triumph at Zandvoort, leading home d’Ansembourg Sr, Hagan, Folch and Wright – as Hagan and Wright took the remaining pre-78 podium spots. Vincent Rivet’s March 811 took a strong eighth while local driver Alain Crefcoeur ended up a fine ninth overall in his pre-71 ex-Jackie Stewart March 701, ahead of Paul Tattersall’s Ensign N179.