The deciding round of the Ferrari Challenge Trofeo Pirelli UK took place at the legendary Spa-Francorchamps as another scintillating season drew to a close. The Belgian circuit has been heralded as one of the most entertaining venues in motorsport for over 100 years, serving as the perfect place to crown two new champions of 2023.
Stretching over 7km in length, the high-speed, tree-lined circuit is the longest of the series and requires maximum concentration from flag to flag, as some of the quickest corners in world motorsport are separated by intricate, twisty sections of tarmac. With the championship wide open in both classes, the victors will be revealed in the final race.
The atmosphere around the rolling hills of Spa was nothing short of electric as the drivers took to the track for the fifth and final round, treated to perfect conditions under sunny skies and 27C. It was championship leader, Andrew Morrow (Charles Hurst, Belfast) of Trofeo Pirelli who took an emphatic pole with a 2:26:384. In Coppa Shell, Robert Rees (Dick Lovett, Swindon) was “on top of the world” after earning his first pole of the season with a 2:28:814, putting him in a great position for Race 1.
Trofeo Pirelli The Prancing Horses were released into the forest as Faisal al-Faisal (HR Owen, London) made an early lunge into La Source, getting the better of pole-sitter Morrow to snatch the lead out of the first hairpin. H.Sikkens (HR Owen, London) went wheel-to-wheel with Carl Cavers (Graypaul, Nottingham) in a frenetic bid for third on the exit, but ended up on the gravel after his cold tyres failed him to let John Dhillon (Graypaul, Nottingham) up into 4th. Al-Faisal led the 170+ mph climb into one of the world’s toughest corners as a whole pack of Ferrari 488 Challenge Evos pinned the throttle through Eau Rouge, as Morrow and Cavers fought for 2nd behind.
Morrow picked up some minor rear damage in the first few exchanges, as Cavers continued to harass him for track position and title honours. Meanwhile, Al-Faisal began to build up a comfortable gap after showing some exceptional pace in the practice sessions, but just 6 minutes into the race, his efforts proved to be in vain after a collision in Coppa Shell produced a Safety Car.
This minor halt to proceedings proved insignificant to the leader, as Al-Faisal pulled away quickest after the restart with renewed tenacity to tackle the final 18 minutes. Morrow and Cavers continued duelling for 2nd, with just 0.2 seconds between them. As tyres began to wear following several spirited laps from the Northern Irishman, Morrow briefly came alongside Al-Faisal through Les Combes, before the leader darted back in front at Blanchimont with a 135-mph twitch of the rear. Al-Faisal’s perseverance eventually paid off to take his first victory of the season, claiming fastest lap in the process. Morrow finished 2nd, with Cavers in 3rd, with only 11 points between the pair going into the final race of the season to decide the Championship title.
Coppa Shell After qualifying 6th in class, Paul Simmerson (Graypaul, Birmgingham) needed to make up some ground if he was to maintain his title lead. Pole-sitter Rees held his nerve into La Source as a heavy bunching of cars enveloped him. Multiple cars made light contact as the pack exited towards Eau Rouge, leaving Chris Smith (Graypaul, Birmingham) with some rear tyre damage, though he managed to get the better of Paul Rogers (JCT600, Leeds) for 2nd.
On the third lap, Paul Hogarth (Stratstone Manchester) set his sights on 4th, as he pulled alongside Stuart Marston (Maranello Sales, Egham) down the pit straight. Simultaneously, Marston was attempting a move of his own on Rogers into the hairpin, but failed to brake in time before colliding into the back of Rogers to unfortunately send both of them out of the race. One man’s misfortune was another’s opportunity, as Hogarth climbed two positions to join the podium. The Safety Car period removed Rees’ advantage at the front of the field.
Having refined his racecraft over the last few meetings, Rees maintained his position upon the restart. To Rees’ benefit, a battle for 2nd immediately broke out between the rookie, Smith, and Coppa Shell veteran Hogarth, which allowed Rees to regain his buffer and take his first win. The story of 2nd was far from over, as Hogarth tried every trick in the book to distract Smith from the task at hand, but was forced to settle for third to allow Smith’s third podium in as many races. Whilst the pair had been fighting nose to tail, Coppa Shell points leader, Simmerson, tumbled down the order after being forced to serve a drive through penalty for exceeding track limits, thereby promoting Hogarth back into the title lead at the end of the race with 1 more race to go in the season.
Spa, Sunday 17 September 2023
After two new winners emerged from Race 1 on Saturday, the title winner of each class was settled in the final race of the season. In Trofeo Pirelli, Andrew Morrow (Charles Hurst, Belfast) simply needed to finish the race to secure the title win, or finish 4th in the event that Carl Cavers (Graypaul, Nottingham) secured maximum points available – meaning also taking Pole and Fastest Lap as well as Race Win. In Coppa Shell, Paul Hogarth (Stratstone, Manchester) regained the title lead by just two points from Paul Simmerson (Graypaul, Birmingham) in 2nd, after the Manchester man’s podium in Race 1 made all the difference, leaving it all to be decided in the final race.
In the final qualifying session of the season, high drama ensued as a red flag disrupted proceedings before key contenders in the title race could set a lap time. A water pump failure in Morrow’s car leaked fluid onto the tarmac, sending Simmerson skidding off track into the barrier, as both drivers were looking to challenge for their respective class victories. When the lights went green again, it was Trofeo Pirelli title-chaser, Cavers, who took a fortuitous pole with 2:25:482, as Hogarth topped the Coppa Shell with a 2:29:463.
Trofeo Pirelli As Morrow started at the back of the grid after failing to set a lap time in Q2, it was all eyes on the frontman, Cavers, the title-chaser leading the field into the opening corner at La Source. H.Sikkens (HR Owen, London) was trying to go round the outside, as Faisal Al-Faisal (HR Owen, London) looked up the inside, but Cavers, confident and collected, shrugged them both off and held the position. With Eau Rouge looming ahead, Cavers showed no sign of lifting as he approached this fearsome corner, heading into Raidillon faster than Sikkens, who had dropped back into a squabble with Al-Faisal for 2nd . Within half a lap, Morrow had carved his way through the field, gaining five places in almost as many corners. Whilst Sikkens lost out to Al-Faisal through Malmedy for 2nd, a more important duel was happening behind. Morrow was on a mission to clinch the title, but a determined John Dhillon (Graypaul, Nottingham) stood in his path, defending brilliantly to hold off the aspiring champion.
With 20 minutes left to decide his fate, Morrow stepped up the pace and tried everything possible to gain the vital place for the title, but Dhillon closed off every attempt. The pair almost collided as Morrow left his braking far too late into the final chicane with brakes glowing and the rear sliding around. On the 6th lap, Morrow’s persistence proved too much for the man ahead to bear as he went the long way round through Malmedy and came out ahead and now in Championship position. With cheers filling the paddock, he just needed to maintain the position despite Cavers now being 8.5 seconds ahead at the front and setting fastest lap.
With 10 minutes left, a spin from Stuart Marston (Maranello Sales, Egham) into the gravel in Coppa Shell forced a Safety car to bring the field back together, reducing Cavers’ lead. Upon the restart, Al-Faisal nearly profited from a great run out of La Source, but couldn’t capitalise as the order remained unchanged. A miscalculation from Al-Faisal on the penultimate lap sent him careering into Cavers’ rear wheel through the Bus Stop Chicane, damaging the race-leader’s toe-link in the process to send them both out of the race. With only three Trofeo Pirelli drivers left on the grid, Sikkens, Morrow and Dhillon formed the podium as Morrow was crowned the Trofeo Pirelli Champion on his return.
Hogarth was crowned Coppa Shell champion of 2023 before Race 2 began, because fellow friend and title challenger, Simmerson, had to bow out of the competition following his unfortunate crash in Q2. However, there was still a race to be run, as Hogarth was determined to finish the season on a high, but Robert Rees (Dick Lovett, Swindon) made an early pass for the lead as a melee of cars exited Les Combes. Marston had significantly bettered his starting position from 7th place and found himself wheel-to-wheel with Hogarth through Eau Rouge, before taking 2nd place.
It wasn’t long before a slightly cautious Hogarth lost out to Chris Smith (Graypaul, Birmingham) as the rookie promoted himself into the 3rd podium spot. Marston managed an inspired overtake around the outside of Rees through the final chicane, as he sailed through in pursuit of his first win. Smith replicated the very same move on Rees just a few laps later, though barely kept it within the track limits, but the Race 1 winner did the gentlemanly thing to let him pass. Marston, in the lead, suddenly pushed a little too hard through Double Gauche before losing control and burying himself in the gravel, which brought out the Safety Car with 10 minutes remaining.
As a result of Marston’s mistake, Hogarth moved back into 3rd, but this wasn’t enough to satisfy the champion. Using his wealth of racing experience and confidence, Hogarth stole the show with a double overtake on rookies Smith and Rees on the final lap to take the race win. Despite each driver losing a place, it was all smiles between the three drivers who enjoyed the champagne for the final race of the Ferrari Challenge Trofeo Pirelli UK 2023 season.
Coppa Dealer Trophy
HR Owen, London, won the Coppa Dealer Trophy with 185 points after a stunning season. Charles Hurst, Belfast, came second in 135 points, with Stratstone, Manchester, narrowly in third on 134.
2024 UK Calendar is revealed
The 2024 season dates are as follows:
April 19-21 - Brands Hatch
May 10-11 - Oulton Park
June 8-9 - Snetterton
July 20-21 - Donington
Sep 13-15 – Silverstone