Spa-Francorchamps – one of the most iconic motorsport venues not only in Europe, but in the World. It’s certainly a favourite of both fans and drivers alike, with it’s picturesque backdrop and it’s famous turns such as Eau Rouge, Radillion and Pouhon to name just a few, all combining to provide an intense challenge for anybody brave enough to tackle the demands of this pulsating circuit.
What a perfect setting for the penultimate round of the Simsport Racing GT4 Championship Season 3.
Following the drama of Silverstone and Kieron Vidago’s stunning victory, the race for the Championship Title was heating up and still wide open with just two races left to stake a claim. Karolis Sipavicius held the top spot just five points clear of Stephen Haley, with Aiden Browe a further point back in third. Charlie Crossland, despite being in the Championship picture was missing from the grid as a result of a Race ban following a number of infringements throughout the course of the season.
The reverse grid saw reigning Champion Stephen Haley starting from Pole Position in his KTM alongside Lukas Zenatalis’ Porsche. There were also strong starting positions for Mark Raddenbury and Ranjiv Kalsi in fourth and fifth respectively, while eyes would be trained on the impending battle between title contenders Browe and Sipavicius who began the race in tenth and eleventh. Others to watch out for would be Keiron Vidago following his race winning exploits at Silverstone, Jannik Moller and Adam Isailovic who were somewhat out of place on the grid given their pace throughout the Championship so far.
With the race about to begin, the conditions were certainly going to be tricky and I’m sure many of the drivers would have groaned at seeing the rain falling hard and low track temperatures filling some with dread, whilst others would have sensed an opportunity. Spa in the rain, a reverse grid and a Championship title on the line, this certainly had all the ingredients of a cracking race.
With the light’s going green, it was Haley who made a stunning start from Pole, using all of his experience and guile in such conditions to pull out an incredible three second lead as the cars crossed the line to complete the first lap. It was a clean and tidy start by the whole field and they often battled three abreast as they jostled for position and took measure of the wet weather skills of the competitors around them. There was a good battle between Raddenbury and Haffenden, with the latter making a clean, decisive move on the outside of Stavelot.
Haley was making the conditions look easy, pulling away at the front by often two or three seconds a lap at times as others settled into an order behind. Fellow title contenders Browe and Sipavicius had made up a couple of places in the early running, but by the end of the first 15 minutes of racing, Browe had worked his way through the field into an all-important second position, while Sipavicius followed him through and was running in fourth, but right on the bumper of Haffenden’s Porsche.
Raddenbury was doing a stirling job to hold onto sixth place but was being challenged by Kieron Vidago and further down the grid, Adam Isailovic was making up places with ease and was running inside the top 20. The two Maserati’s of Hedges and Mitchell were doing a good job in the difficult conditions given their lack of ABS and traction control, with Hedges rounding out the top 10 and Mitchell sitting behind in 11th.
By the half hour point, Haley had continued to hammer in the laps at the front and was 17 seconds clear of Browe in second. Sipavicius was sitting pretty in third, with Jannik Moller getting a good handle of the conditions after a slow start to the race and making his way into seventh. There was an unfortunate spell for Mark Raddenbury however, with a number of spins and trips into the wall curtailing what had been a stern, consistent start for the Dunn Motorsport driver. More drama was not too far away, with Reece Wiggin unfortunate in tagging the back of Schilstra as they passed Raddenbury’s beleaguered Porsche, with Angus Martin also getting caught up in the incident and resulting in losing a number of places going into the final third of this entertaining race so far.
As the closing stages approached, a battle had began to develop between Vidago and Moller for fifth, with Vidago somehow able to manage to keep control of the car and hold his position after Moller had made the slightest of contacts going into Stavelot which threatened to spin Vidago out of the race had it not been for some impressive driving skills. It was a battle that continued to run until a mistake by Vidago going into the Bus Stop chicane caused him to run wide and released Moller into fifth position and clean air in front.
With Haley’s lead out front now sitting at 20 seconds, attention turned for the fight for second between the two Title protagonists Browe and Sipavicius, with both cars running in very close proximity and both knowing that finishing in second position could be vital going into the final round of the Championship. Browe proved his defensive credentials, fighting off huge pressure from his rival who tried to use all the tools in his armoury to get past the stubborn Audi, all to no avail. It was a battle that went down to the line, with Browe holding his position and taking the all-important second position with Sipavicius completing the podium and frustrated to see all of his efforts to get past thwarted.
All the plaudits have to go to the race winner however in Stephen Haley, who dominated from lights to flag in a thoroughly imperious and dominating drive in his unfancied KTM to become the fifth different winner in five races so far. It was a drive which showed all of his skill, experience and prowess and another demonstration of why he is the current reigning Champion.
Credit must also go to Michael Haffenden who ran a quiet, textbook race to come home in fourth, whilst Richard Pixsley did a great job to round out the top 10 having started in 22nd. There is also a deserved mention to Adam Isailovic who made up an impressive 21 places to finish in 13th. The Maserati’s also did a great job, with Mitchell bringing his car home in 11th and his team mate Dave Hedges crossing the line in fifteenth and thus taking Pole Position for the finale at Brands Hatch.
With the Championship finale just around the corner and just 8 points separating the top three, Stephen Haley leaves Spa holding the advantage having regained the lead from Sipavicius who now sits level on points with Browe on 164.
Brands Hatch will certainly be a race you will not want to miss with the Championship on a knife edge and the slightest of margins having the potential to be decisive as the Title Race heads to an intriguing conclusion. Stephen Haley will certainly have to get through the pack quickly if he is to regain his crown, but with guaranteed twists and turns to come, nothing is certain and for the three drivers in with a shout, everything is on the line!