Nestled among sand dunes to the north of Amsterdam, Circuit Park Zandvoort would provide a very different challenge for the Group C Racing teams to that so far experienced this season. Gone were the long, fast straights of Spa, Le Mans and Silverstone, to be replaced by a series of tricky corners; and with this being the first ever visit to the circuit by Group C cars, previous data was unavailable.
As things turned out, this would be a dramatic and memorable weekend for the series, with proceedings being witnessed by an enthusiastic Dutch crowd numbering in excess of 50,000 people.
The first of two 45-minute qualifying sessions for the two races on Sunday began on time at 17:45 on the Friday, on a dry but windy track. Prior to this, the only opportunity for the drivers to familiarise themselves with the tight and twisty 4.3km circuit had come the previous day, when roadcar laps (of no more than 80kmh) had been allowed; and Stefano Rosina was the first to be caught out when he went off at the Tarzan hairpin in the #84 Nissan NPTi90. Happily, no damage was incurred and the Italian was able to rejoin the session and complete a dozen laps.
It was actually quite an incident-free session, with only minor issues raising their heads and with no red flags. Christophe D’Ansembourg – reverting to his Jägermeister Porsche after his Jaguar adventures at Silverstone – failed to set a time due to an ignition problem on the 962, and Richard Eyre’s #3 Jaguar XJR16 stopped on track with apparent fuel-starvation gremlins, but that was as dramatic as it got.
The fastest time of the session went to the nimble #29 Class 3 Gebhardt C91 – Michael Lyons setting a 1:38.515 on his fifth lap – with Gareth Evans second quickest on 1:38.628 in the #31 Class 1 Mercedes C11 and Michael Donovan third quickest on 1:40.340 in the #111 Class 2 Spice SE88.
It transpired that Evans was rather under the weather and had not really enjoyed his session; “I could only managed one lap at a time before feeling very nauseous and sick,” he explained. “Four times I said I was coming in after a qualy lap and was convinced I was about to throw up in my helmet – although I was smart enough to put Bob’s race suit on just in case! Then, near the end of the session, I was okay halfway around on a slow lap and did one more, which was when I did my fastest time.” Donovan, meanwhile, had been summoned to the naughty step for failing to slow down under yellows.
Both Michael Lyons and Christophe D’Ansembourg had a second driver with them – Frank Lyons and Hervé Regout respectively – as did Peter Harburg, who had noticed that Bob Berridge was underemployed for the weekend and had invited him to join him in the #5 Porsche 962.
The second session on Saturday morning was a much livelier affair; largely due to a cold North Sea wind blowing across what had become a damp track surface, which led to several spins. Mike Donovan had a quick rotation at Turn 5 early in the session, as did the D’Ansembourg/Regout 962; neither of which had consequences. Shortly afterwards, however, there was a sharp intake of breath from onlookers as Peter Garrod was caught out and spun the#72 Class 3 Intrepid RM1 right in front of Rosina’s Nissan. Somehow contact was avoided and both cars were able to continue, although the #84 would later encounter throttle issues.
Henrik Lindberg’s second qualifying lasted just four laps before the Dane headed to the pits with non-spin-related maladies, while Mike Donovan’s Spice suffered another spin; again, without incurring damage.
But it was again the red and yellow Gebhardt that was turning heads, with Mike Lyons lowering the car’s time to 1:36.712 to secure both Class 3 and overall pole.
The #17 Porsche and #111 Spice both improved their times to secure Class 1 and Class 2 poles and to line up second and third on the grid respectively. Gareth Evans had been unable to improve his time in the second session due to his ongoing illness, but would start fourth due to his Q1 time, while a 1:39.189 from Bob Berridge was enough to put the Jägermeister-liveried #5 Porsche on the third row of the grid alongside the Jaguar of Richard Eyre.
Mischa Strijder, meanwhile, would start his first Group C race from the sixth row in his #99 Class 3 Porsche 962.
It would be an early start for the Group C field on the Sunday, with the first of the day’s two races beginning at the decidedly early time of 09:00. But bleary eyes wasn’t the main issue before the start. Heavy rain early on had left the surface very wet in places, although a strong wind suggested that it would begin to dry quickly. The Safety Car was sent out at 8am, with a couple of drivers also going out to have a look for themselves. It was far from clear how things would develop, however, and at 8.30 the race was declared wet; leaving the teams to decide whether wets or slicks were the best way to go.
Because of the conditions, the race would start with two laps behind the Safety Car, but even that didn’t prevent Peter Harburg from exiting the race. The Australian driver had elected to start his slick-shod #5 Porsche from the back of the grid as a precaution, but was caught out on the outlap and went over one of the higher kerbs causing damage to the front of the car – not a good omen for the other cars that had chosen uncut rubber.
The race clock began to tick down at the start of the second lap behind the Safety Car and the green light was illuminated just under four minutes later. Frank Lyons decided against any heroics at the tight first right-hander and the Gebhardt driver allowed Mike Donovan the space to go through and take the lead.
Stefano Rosina emerged from the sort-out that was taking place behind the top two in third (from sixth) in the #84 Nissan, while Tommy Dreelan did even better in taking the #14 Leyton House Porsche 962 from eighth to fourth on the first racing lap. Hervé Regout had slipped to fifth in the #17 Porsche and Richard Eyre was down to sixth in the Jaguar.
Things didn’t go so well for two cars on that lap, however, with Erik Rickenbacher dropping to the back of the field in the #60 Cheetah G606 following a spin at Hans Ernst Corner, and with Mischa Strijder pitting the #99 Trust Porsche after hitting the barriers at Turn 11. It was at first thought that the damage to the 962 was only cosmetic, but a closer inspection revealed suspension damage and it was game over for the Dutch driver.
Disaster also struck Frank Lyons on Lap 3 when the electrical gremlins that had ended a fine run at Silverstone returned to strand the Gebhardt out on track. Frank was able to restart the car and get to the pits, where the team performed a quick check before sending the car back into the race on a new set of slicks.
Rosina was now second and lapping several seconds quicker than Donovan, and the change for the lead came on Lap 4. Dreelan was now third and pulling away from Eyre, while Peter Garrod in the Intrepid had performed the seemingly unlikely task of taking sixth from the Mercedes C31 of Gareth Evans. Although feeling slightly better by now, the Mercedes’ driver was still a long way from 100% and his efforts were not helped by his car’s struggles on its slick rubber.
As the race continued, the track began to dry noticeably and the advantage began to swing towards those cars that were running on slicks. The #84 Nissan continued to pull away from the field at a healthy rate of knots, but things were starting to close up in the fight behind.
Mike Donovan’s pace had settled around the 1:58/1:59 range, while Tommy Dreelan’s was starting to dip below the two-minute barrier. Behind these two, though, both Richard Eyre’s and Hervé Regout’s pace was increasing rapidly as their slicks came in and by Lap 10 we had a three-way fight for third. With about eight minutes remaining, the Irish racer found himself to no longer able to resist and he dropped to fourth; the #17 Porsche taking second from the Jaguar at the same time.
Regout’s next target was the Rexona Spice and the 962 was by now considerably quicker than the Class 2 car. The gap was rapidly closed and with six minutes remaining, the Belgian made his move…..with disastrous consequences, as the two cars came together at the fastest part of the track. The Spice hit the barriers at high speed and the resulting debris led to the race being red-flagged. Happily, Mike was uninjured, but his car was not so lucky and would be taking no further part in the meeting. The Porsche, meanwhile, suffered nothing more than a few scratches.
The results were declared as at the end of Lap 12, which meant a very happy Stefano Rosina took his first win in Group C, while Hervé Regout was second and Richard Eyre third (first in Class 3).
Tommy Dreelan was delighted with third in Class 1, fourth overall, while a decidedly less-delighted Mike Donovan was classified fifth overall. Peter Garrod kept the Mercedes behind him to finish sixth overall and second in Class 3. Frank Lyons, meanwhile, completed the Class 3 podium with tenth overall in the delayed Gebhardt.
The early morning dramas had resulted in the loss of three cars for the afternoon’s race. In addition to Mike Donovan’s Spice, neither Mischa Strijder’s Class 3 Porsche nor Peter Harburg’s Class 1 962 (which was due to be raced by Bob Berridge) were repairable in the available time and would have to stay in the garages. Michael Lyons would thus be starting from pole in the Gebhardt, but would be joined on the front row by the Porsche of Christophe D’Ansembourg. The second row, meanwhile, would be occupied by the Mercedes of Gareth Evans and the Jaguar of Richard Eyre.
Although conditions were dry and windy by the 14:10 start time, intermittent rain throughout the morning meant that tyre-choice still wasn’t clear cut. In the end, however, all runners opted for slicks.
This time, the Gebhardt stayed in front as the field rounded Tarzan and the Group C runners behaved themselves on the opening lap; the only position change being for ninth as Peter Garrod took his Intrepid past the #40 Class 1 Spice SE90C of Richard Bateman.
Lap 2, however, was a very different story, as D’Ansembourg spun his Porsche down to seventh; damaging the front corner in the process but being able to continue. Less fortunate was Race 1 winner Stefano Rosina, who spun his Nissan out of the race with front and rear damage. More alarming for the surviving field, however, was the sight of the brake down truck emerging from the pitlane just as they arrived at that point of the track. Fortunately, there were no consequences, although it was certainly a hair-raising moment.
Once the Nissan had been recovered, Lyons found himself with a clear track ahead and put his foot down; the younger half of the family-pairing making the most of a circuit that suited his car perfectly. From Lap 5, he completed ten consecutive laps in the 1:38s and pulled clear of his pursuers in the process.
As Evans and Eyre kept up their efforts in pursuit of the Gebhardt, D’Ansembourg was beginning to recover from his spin and was back up to fourth on Lap 7 after passing the Cheetah of Erik Rickenbacher.
Further back, Richard Bateman had regained the place earlier lost to the Intrepid.
In sixth was Tommy Dreelan, and he now had the familiar sight of Henrik Lindberg’s Tic Tac Porsche in his mirrors. The two were trading times, but the Celtic Speed-run Porsche had an advantage of several seconds.
But the Gebhardt was simply unstoppable this afternoon and even the electrical gremlins were powerless to intervene as the minutes ticked away. Michael eased his pace slightly over the last couple of laps, but even so his advantage was more than 40 seconds as the flag flew after 18 laps; the young driver’s delight being matched by his parents, team and a watching Fritz Gebhardt, the car’s designer.
“I’m ecstatic to win in our first season in Group C, especially this weekend under the watchful eye of the project founder Fritz Gebhardt,” said Michael. “We knew coming into the weekend that Zandvoort would be our strongest chance, with the technical track playing to the strengths of our car. I was also very happy to see Dad’s pace in the tricky conditions of Race 1. He was very quick and I think he was genuinely in strong contention for the overall podium had we not lost time with an electrical drama.
“I would also like to say a big thanks to our guys for all the hard work and hopefully this will help with motivation over the winter when we hope to be fielding another car, in the C2 class this time, to add to our continued effort next year!”
Gareth Evans took the Class 1 win in the Mercedes, while Richard Eyre finished third overall and second in Class 3. Christophe D’Ansembourg took fourth, while third in Class 1 was as good as a win for Erik Rickenbacher and his small band of Swiss enthusiasts after a difficult year in the Cheetah.
“The combination of track, not being 100% and a faster Michael Lyons meant second overall was the best I was going to achieve,” admitted Gareth, who hadn’t eaten anything since the Thursday. “My fastest race lap showed we could be on the pace, but the rest wasn’t really. Michael drove very well and I didn’t really see him after a lap or two. I had a good race with Richard for a few laps as well.
“However, I was very happy to see the Merc back in the truck in one piece after all the offs and damage that resulted through the weekend.”
Tommy Dreelan held on to take sixth by seven seconds from Henrik Lindberg, while Richard Bateman finished eighth. Peter Garrod ended his weekend in unfortunate style by hitting the barriers at Tarzan on the final lap.
So ended a dramatic Group C weekend which, despite all the dramas, was deemed to be a great success by the drivers. We had seen two new winners, including the first ever overall race win for the Gebhardt C91, and great entertainment had been provided by the three classes; and both Stefano Rosina and Michael Lyons went home sporting commemorative Chopard watches as a result of their wins.
Just one meeting remains in the 2014 season, at Paul Ricard on October 3rd-5th. Will the Mercedes C11 resume its domination, or are there still some surprises in the Group C bag this year?
All images ©Group C Racing/Charlie Wooding Photography