Spa 2006: Van de Poele claims last gasp win
30 July 2006
Maserati sensationally denied Aston Martin their first 24 Hour victory in the Proximus 24 Hours of Spa after a tremendous final stint by Eric Van de Poele helped them vault past their rivals in the final hour of racing.
The Phoenix Aston Martin squad of Andrea Piccini, Jean-Denis Deletraz, Stephane Lemeret and Marcel Fassler had led from the off and with just a few hours to go looked to be on course for Aston Martin's first round the clock triumph when they pulled out a lead of over a lap on their Maserati counterparts, made up of Van de Poele, Michael Bartels and Andrea Bertolini.
However, it was home favourite Van de Poele who proved the difference between first and second for Maserati, stepping into the MC12 for the final stint over the last couple of hours and reducing a deficit of almost two minutes with stunning lap times that were over two seconds faster than anyone else on the circuit.
Before long, Maserati could smell victory and as Phoenix came into their final pit stop, Van de Poele moved into the lead for the first time since the seventh hour and duly held on for a famous victory on home soil.
It was cruel luck for Phoenix after they had led almost all of the way, with the team suffering no mechanical dramas throughout their relative domination. However, they had no answer to Maserati's late race pace and with one pit stop more than their ever closing rivals, the four-man squad had to watch as they claimed second best in a race they had led for a total of 22 hours.
Third place fell to the Belgian GLPK Corvette team, which at one point did not even look as though it would see the chequered flag when a problem saw the team forced to take on more than 100 litres of oil throughout the race to keep it running. They finished nine laps off the lead.
Luckily for them, their nearest rival for the final podium slot, the Zakspeed Saleen of Sascha Bert, Jarek Janis, Andrea Montermini and Jan Charouz hit problems soon after GLPK and slipped back to an eventual eighth place. The BMS Aston Martin and the PSI Corvette put their early problems behind them for a strong fourth and fifth place finish.
While the GT1 class went down to the wire, there were no such dramas in the GT2 class with AF Corse dominating to the finish line, the team's two Ferrari 430GTs crossing the line three laps apart in sixth and seventh overall. Rui Aguas, Timo Scheider and Mika Salo took the honours with a flawless display of reliability and pace.
Scuderia Ecosse made it a superb day for Ferrari, with Nathan Kinch, Andrew Kirkaldy and Mario Franchitti coming home third in class and ninth overall. Spyker broke the Ferrari dominance in fourth place, with the sole C8 Spyder of Jeroen Bleekemolen, Jonny Kane and Donny Crevels coming home tenth overall. The Felbermayr-Proton 911 was the highest placed Porsche in fifth.
However, while Ferrari got the better of them in the GT2 class, Porsche showed what is in store for the Italian team with a dominant performance with their new 997 911 GT3 in the G2 class.
Set to compete in the GT2 class from next year, the Spa race heralded the debut of the long awaited new car, although regulations stipulated it must compete in G2 for this race. It was a race they duly dominated, although they still spent plenty of time in the pit lane on the way to 14th and 15th - a result that would have given them seventh and eighth in the GT2 class.
Competing under the Manthey Racing banner, the two Porsches swapped the lead several times over the course of the race, but eventually it was the Lucas Luhr, Sascha Maassen and Marcel Thiemann 911 that prevailed. Timo Bernhard, Pedro Lamy and Marc Lieb followed six laps back, although even they were some 14 laps up on the nearest G2 competitor.
Having been annexed by Porsche in the early stages, the G3 class eventually fell to the Signa Racing Dodge Viper, driven by team-owner Patrick Chaillet, Loic Deman, Laurent Nef and Christophe Geoffroy.
The Belgian team finished a clear seven laps up on the Prospeed 911 that included World Rally driver Francois Duval, the former Citroen driver making a successful endurance racing debut on the way to second place. Third went to the Pouchelon Viper that had already completed a further two of racing thanks to their participation in the GT3 Championship earlier in the weekend.