2006 24 Hours Of Spa Race - Strike Force

A Platoon Of Battle-Seasoned Vettes Invades Spa-Francorchamps

Walt Thurn Jan 24, 2007 0 Comment(s)
Vemp_0701_08_z 2006_24_hours_of_spa_race Starting_grid 1/11

This shot of the Race Two starting grid shows the variety of the GT3 field. The No. 19 Riverside Z06.R (front row) was the second-fastest qualifier. All six Corvettes can be seen in this photo.

The Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps also played host to the fifth and sixth rounds of the FIA's new GT3 racing series. Six Carsport/Callaway Z06.Rs were entered, and team manager Ernst Woehr announced that John Heinricy would return to drive the No. 18 car with Jurgen von Gartzen. Heinricy had never driven at Spa, but the experienced racer seemed to have little trouble getting acclimated to the tricky course, driving No. 18 to the seventh-quickest qualifying time in the first race. For Race Two, Team Riverside driver James Ruffier qualified his No. 19 Z06.R second, while von Gartzen qualified twelfth.

Thirty minutes before the start of the first race, it began raining heavily on the back part of the course, forcing all the teams to start out on rain tires. Von Gartzen got off to a good start, moving into second place by lap eight. When a crash brought out the safety car, the leaders pitted, and Heinricy replaced von Gartzen.

Four minutes before the end of the race, an Aston Martin crashed heavily and brought out the red flag, ending the session. The Heinricy/von Gartzen car finished Third, behind a Viper and a Porsche 911. The other two Carsport/Callaway entries finished Seventh and Tenth, while Team Riverside took Eleventh and Thirtieth. While Heinricy and von Gartzen stood proudly on the winner's podium, the Riverside crew began a long night of removing engines to replace faulty throw-out bearings.

Race Two got off to an auspicious start when the No. 19 Riverside Z06.R quickly pulled away to take a commanding lead over the second-place Viper. But while Heinricy was working his way to the front on the first lap, several cars came into contact at the end of the Kemmel Straight. Heinricy spun, damaging his steering nd forcing him to rejoin in the middle of the pack.

By Lap 10, the No. 19 Riverside car was holding down second, while the No. 16 Corvette of Klaus Ludwig and the No. 20 Vette of Marc Sourd had also moved into the top 10. Heinricy, meanwhile, experienced more misfortune on Lap 11 when he tried to push his steering-impaired car around the No. 17 Corvette of Paulo Bonifacio. The cars came into heavy contact with one another but were able to continue.

Vemp_0701_10_z 2006_24_hours_of_spa_race Chevrolet_corvette_c5R 5/11

The Renstal Excelsior C5-R is pushed into its parking space in the square in downtown Spa.

Jurgen von Gartzen took over for Heinricy during the mandatory pit stops and struggled to bring the damaged No. 18 car home in 20th position. Twenty-one minutes before the end of the race, a Viper and an Ascari had a major accident, which again brought out the safety car. During the ensuing caution, a Viper held first, and the No. 19 Corvette was second. But when the green flag fell with only three minutes remaining, four cars passed the Corvette, pushing it all the way down into Sixth.

Things got even worse for the No. 19 team when a post-race inspection revealed that the car's rear wing was in the wrong position. This ruling disqualified the car from Race Two, making the No. 20 Team Riverside car of Marc Sourd and Benjamin Dessange the highest-finishing Corvette entry at Ninth.

After three rounds of the GT3 series, it's clear the Z06.R is fully competitive with its class rivals. As soon as one of the teams can put together an error-and-accident-free race, look out.

Vemp_0701_09_z 2006_24_hours_of_spa_race GLPK_chevrolet_corvette_c6R 6/11

The GLPK C6.R led the parade and sits at the front of the display area. The ex-Pratt & Miller Corvette would go on to finish Third in the 24-hour GT race.

Each year the city of Spa and the Royal Automobile Club of Belgium invite the race teams to display their cars in the center of town. The twist? The racers don't tow their cars into the city; they drive them. The display lasts from one in the afternoon until seven at night, during which time thousands of race fans throng the square to check out the cars, chat with team members, and cadge autographs from the drivers. It's a spectacle unlike any other in racing, and one we thoroughly enjoyed being a part of. At the appointed hour, the cars are restarted and lined up in pairs for the short drive back to the track. After an announcer delivers a brief commentary on each entry, the fans queue up beside the road to cheer them on their way. At Spa, the cars are the real stars of the show.

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