2008 FIA GT Spa Race - Belgian Barbecue

The Corvette Contingent Heats Up--Literally--at Spa

Walt Thurn Mar 1, 2009 0 Comment(s)
Vemp_0903_01_z 2008_FIA_GT_spa_race Corvettes 1/16

Corvette Europe is providing several C6 and Z06 pace cars for the '08 FIA GT series. Here, one of the Zs poses at Spa with the three ex-Pratt & Miller C6.Rs.

In 2007 a Phoenix Carsport C6.R won the 24 Hours of Spa by a little over one minute, giving the Corvette its first overall victory in a 24-hour race since the '01 event at Daytona. This year, Phoenix decided to up its chances of success by bringing two C6.Rs to the race, both ex-Pratt & Miller cars.

The FIA GT season comprises nine two-hour races and the 24 Hours of Spa. The two-hour races require two drivers per car. In the case of Phoenix Carsport, Marcel Fssler and Jean-Denis Deletraz drive the No. 5 Corvette, and Mike Hezemans and Fabrizio Gollin drive No. 6. The team has done well this season, including notching First and Third Place finishes at Adria. Hezemans and Gollin came to Spa only two points behind driver-championship leaders Andrea Bertolini and Michael Bartels in the Vitaphone Maserati MC12.

Vemp_0903_02_z 2008_FIA_GT_spa_race Corvette 2/16

Spa is a demanding 7-kilometer (4.38-mile) circuit located three hours east of Antwerp, Belgium. In the GT1 class, an additional driver pairing is employed on each car to help cope with the physical requirements of the race. For Phoenix, that meant C6.R No. 6 would be driven by Hezemans, Gollin, Fssler and Deletraz. Meanwhile, No. 5 would be piloted by Uwe Alzen, Jos Menton, Alex Margaritis, and Robert Schlnssen.

A third highly competitive ex-P&M C6.R was entered by SRT (Selleslagh Racing Team). Regular drivers Christophe Bouchut and Xavier Maassen came to Spa tied for second place in the driver's championship, thanks in large part to their victory at Monza. Maxime Soulet and Christophe Pillon joined the SRT team for Spa. SRT had a major setback one week before the race, when French driver Soheil Ayari lost control of the car during a qualifying run for an FFSA (Federation Francaise du Sport Automobile) race. The car was badly damaged, requiring the SRT crew to work around the clock to repair it. It succeeded, and the Corvette showed up at Spa looking fit for the race.

Vemp_0903_03_z 2008_FIA_GT_spa_race Crashed_corvette 3/16

Shortly after exiting La Source, Christophe Bouchut lost control at nearly 170 mph. The crash almost destroyed the Corvette, and Bouchut was airlifted to the hospital.

Forty-one cars were entered, including 11 in GT1. These included three Corvettes, three Maserati MC12s, two Saleen S7Rs, two Aston Martins DBR9s, and one Lamborghini Murcielago R-GT. Qualifying was held on Thursday, and the French Larbre Competition Saleen took the pole with a 2:13.923. Hezemans was next with a 2:14.246, Bouchut was third with a 2:14.775, and Margaritis was fifth with a 2:15.148. Near the end of qualifying, Bouchut was pushing hard to make up time when he hit a curb and spun into the barriers. The front and rear of the Corvette were severely damaged, and Bouchut was airlifted to the hospital with possible neck and back injuries. Although reports soon came back that Bouchut's injuries were not serious, he would need to spend the night in the hospital for precautionary reasons.

Or so everyone thought. At around 1 a.m., just as the SRT crew was packing up the car's wreckage for the return trip to the shop, Bouchut strolled into the team's box wearing his hospital gown and booties. He reported that because he felt fine, he had checked himself out of the hospital and taken a cab back to the track. This energized the crew to such a degree that they decided to fix the car. With the help of the other Corvette teams, the SRT team gathered enough parts to fix the stricken C6.R. It worked around the clock until Saturday morning, when driver Xavier Maassen started the black-and-white Corvette to huge cheers from the fans. The car-and Bouchut-were declared fit to race.

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