Paul McLean left Spa-Francorchamps with two wins, the second sharing his 993 GT2 with Peter Fairbairn, but it was Paul Winter who claimed the 2009 Porsche Carrera Cup prize drive on offer to the most consistent driver over the season, a win and a second good enough to see him clear of McLean in the points. The Open’s visit to the famous Belgian circuit saw two contrasting races, Sunday’s taking place in appalling conditions on a soaking track.
Mike Johnson was quickest in the wet 45-minute qualifying session on Friday afternoon, the Yorkshireman making his Spa debut and coming out on top of the timesheets. Andrew Tate was second quickest, heading the 997 GT3 of Tommy Dreelan. Unusually McLean was slowest of the Class One cars after a timing transponder issue.
“It’s a brilliant circuit,” said Johnson, “but going out for the first time in the rain was a bit like going in at the deep end. Every corner here is amazing, it was a case of not being too brave, softening the car a little and then I got my foot down.”
The Winter and Tim Speed GT3 was pipped in Class Two by the 996 GT3 qualified by Jim O’Reilly and Paul Grey, while Mark Chilton’s 928 headed up Class Three.
Both Johnson and Tate got wheelspin off the front row on the drying circuit, Dreelan getting alongside Tate and behind Johnson, but Tate was determined through Eau Rouge and claimed second as they climbed up from the exit. The car on the move was the 993 GT2 of McLean, which was second at the end of lap one from sixth on the grid and just a second and a half behind Johnson.
A lap later McLean was ahead and a second clear as they crossed the line, Johnson in turn clear of Tate. From then on McLean eased clear lap by lap, his GT2 well suited to the high-speed Spa circuit, taking the win ahead of Johnson and Tate.
“I love Spa,” said McLean, “it is my favourite track, it is very much a GT car circuit and the car works on the long straight here and through Blanchimont and Pouhon. I saw the start line was narrow and knew I had to sit tight and get a good run on the guys down the straight, I kept a couple of lengths back so I could get a good exit and power past them. I got past Mike on the lap two round the outside into Blanchimont.”
“I got some wheelspin at the start, and Andrew did as well,” said Johnson. “When Paul came tearing through I could hold him back by forcing him to use the dry line, but as the track dried in different places he got past and that was that. I am enjoying learning the circuit, there are corners you are taking flat in sixth gear, a lovely flowing circuit.”
“There was a damp patch at the star and I got a bit sideways,” said Tate. “Tommy got past me but I had to get him back through Eau Rouge. That was great fun, I am hoping for rain tomorrow now as my car goes really well in the wet – third was the best I could hope for today.
“I got a good start,” said Dreelan, “got alongside Andrew, but Mike was in front and in the way, and I didn’t want to make contact through the first corner.”
Winter took Class Two, well clear of the pursuing 996 GT3s of Tom Hallissey and Jim O’Reilly. Class Three went to Chilton, who just stayed clear of Marcus Fothergill’s 968 CS.
“I got a good start,” said Winter, “but the grid here is quite tight and there wasn’t a lot of room at first. I got up behind Tommy and had a fantastic race with him, I just tried to stick on his tail as much as possible. I thoroughly enjoyed it.”
“I had a 968 behind me,” said Chilton, “but didn’t realised at first it was an Open car, I let him past then had to work to get back in the clear lead again. It was hard work but good fun”
Conditions for Sunday’s race were very different, the officials electing to start the race behind a Safety Car to give the drivers two laps to get the feel of the rain-lashed circuit. Once released, McLean again showed his pace, easing away as he exited La Source and making the most of spray vision to lead the field.
It was Dreelan in second at the end of lap one, Johnson suffering a misted up windscreen in the humid conditions and slipping down to fifth. McLean was lapping quickly, and by the end of the second racing lap was accelerating down the hill from La Source before Dreelan had reached the start / finish line.
On lap six Jim O’Reilly went past Dreelan to take second, with McLean over 20 seconds clear when he pitted on lap nine to hand over to Peter Fairbairn, Dreelan and Johnson electing to pit on the same lap. O’Reilly pitted from the lead on lap 11, which left Fairbairn well clear of Dreelan, and the recovering Johnson closing on O’Reilly in third.
“I had no spray at the start, but still had no visibility,” said McLean. “We haven’t really run the car in these conditions and I was constantly having to wipe the screen with the back of my glove just to see where I was going. The car was good, but the rain was so heavy it was hard to see even with the wipers on, two wins is a good end to the season.”
“It was tricky in those conditions,” said Fairbairn, “once I was out on the track there was no visibility, the windscreen had misted up, but two wins in two days is good.”
Fairbairn survived the conditions to round off the season with another win, Dreelan, rapid in the final laps, taking second. Able to see ahead again, Johnson took third from O’Reilly with two laps to go.
“It was good, I enjoyed it,” said Dreelan. “The spray was bad for us, it must have been terrible further back, there was a lot of water lying on the circuit, a few hairy moments but I am smiling now!”
“I couldn’t see a thing early on,” said Johnson, “the car steamed up on the start line, I put the blowers on and it got worse! I would have been happy with the spray if I could have seen out my own windscreen – it got better in the last ten minutes and I could push on a bit.”
In Class Two, Winter led initially, but an early stop from Clive Bate, more used to racing in the Far East than a cold and rain-lashed autumnal Spa, proved to be a shrewd tactical move and he claimed the class and fifth overall. Speed, sharing with Winter, came sixth, but second in class confirmed Winter as the winner of the Carrera Cup VIP drive award for leading Porsche Open driver.
“That was damp,” said Bate, “it was cold for us, we are used to track temperatures of fifty degrees! We made our stop early and see if we could get past people, and that seemed to work well. I’m hoping to more Porsche races.”
“It wasn’t nice out there,” said Winter, “and our wet tyres were four years old and had no grip. If you hit standing water the whole car was out of shape, and I collected a 944 like that on the start – finish straight. I think we have done enough to win the prize drive, and we have done what we need to. A Carrera Cup outing will be fantastic.”
“Conditions were grim,” said Speed, “poor visibility, lots of standing water, but I brought the car back safe.”
Dave Bennet claimed Class Three, with Paul Follett second and Chilton only third.
Porsche Open Race One: 1 Paul McLean (993 GT2 Evo) 12 laps in 31m08.875s (100.600mph); 2 Mike Johnson (996 GT3 R) +55.564s; 3 Andrew Tate (997 GT3 RSR); 4 Tommy Dreelan (997 GT3 Cup); 5 Paul Winter (996 GT3 Cup); 6 Tom Hallissey (996 GT3 Cup); 7 Jim O’Reilly (996 GT3 Cup); 8 Mark Gilmartin (997 GT3); 9 Clive Bate (911 RSR); 10 Mark Chilton (928 GTS). Class Winners: McLean, Winter, Chilton. Pole Position: Johnson 2m58.065s (141.602kmh). Fastest Lap: McLean, 2m34.806s (101.207mph).
Race Two: 1 McLean / Peter Fairbairn 15 laps in 52m18.791s (74.873mph); 2 Dreelan +20.440s; 3 Johnson; 4 O’Reilly / Paul Grey; 5 Bate; 6 Winter / Tim Speed; 7 Dave Bennet (968 CS); 8 Paul Follett (968 CS); 9 Mark Chilton (928 GTS); 10 Brian Corbett (911 Carrera 2.7). Class Winners: McLean / Fairbairn; Bate; Bennet. Fastest Lap: Johnson 3m01.948s (86.109mph).