Group C monsters thundering down the track - When dinosaurs ruled the world
The Spa Track offers a unique background to one of the world best classic car series, the Spa Classics is as immersive as it gets.
I spent another memorable day in Spa (not a wellness centre, but Spa Francorchamps, one of the greatest racetracks in the world), admiring the legendary classic cars of the Peter Auto Series preparing in the pits and racing down the track. I am not entirely new to this kind of automotive indulgence, I visited two years ago, and I already wrote on Egzostive about the experience.
I keep equally great memories of last year’s event, and in that article, I explained the various classes of the racing series (not much has changed this year).
This year I took another trip to catch up with the Group C cars that entered this year as a racing class. Originally, the organisers added this exciting category already as a show element, this year, it is part of the racing classes.
For those who follow only contemporary racing, the Group C regulations were in force between 1982 and 1993, and can be considered as the true predecessors of today’s WEC endurance cars. In the early days, Porsche 956s dominated the field, with the arrival of Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz, Toyota, Nissan and Mazda the upgraded Porsche 962s faced more intense competition. The field at Spa was also dominated by Porsches (I could even witness a 917 in Gulf livery that BTW celebrates its birthday this year),
...but in addition to Jaguars and other brands, participants include a number of race cars from small racing manufacturers.
This year I followed a similar strategy as in 2018, arriving a bit late on Saturday missing out on the Greatest Trophy, crashing on the classic 911 cup, and just in time to see the Group C legends preparing for their track time.
At Spa Classics, visitors get unrivalled access to the pits (where the doors were not closed, this seems the unwritten rule of politeness).
I could see incredible pieces of machinery, being prepared for the next session, in the main pits where mortals would never be allowed during an F1 weekend.
My personal favourites were the highly successfoul Porsche 962s, the beautifoul Peugeot and the elegant Jaguars.
The 962c piloted by Belgian entrepreneur Nicolas Dieteren was put pretty well put together by the time I got there. This model was developed as a replacement for the 956 to compete in IMSA series, although it also fared well in the European Group C series with notable success and remained competitive until the mid-1990s, with almost 100 cars built for factory and private teams, and even a street legal versions.
The 1993 Peugeot 905 EV1B is another rare sight, although one can bump into 905s from time to time, when looking at the right place, like the Autoworld Museum last year, or the Peugeot Museum (straight from the source, right? :) ).
There weren’t many cars built, but the factory team took the entire podium that year. This car was actually in pieces when I arrived, which gave a good view of the mechanics, and the crew even made ways to take a few photos. The Group C car's cockpit is undoubtedly not the cosiest place on the planet, that I know by now…
There are also three Jaguars in the field, a 1987 XJR8, a 1989 XJR11 and a 1990 XJR9.
The Group C cars are quite a spectacle when they thunder down the Eau Rouge and Radillon combo, even if it would be too much to expect excessive racing action from 40-year-old race cars worth over a (few) million each.
Spa Francorchamps really aims to please photographers offering great sights with superb spots for photography within a 15-minute walking range.
During a single 45 minute race, I could see the cars at the start, got quite near in the hairpin of La Source, and finally to shoot them by the Eau Rouge (this is a new spot for non-professional photographers) and by the long straight.