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Racing Report

Spa Francorchamps, Belgium - June 9 - 11th 2000
Circuit Length: 4.35 miles

Driver : Denise Manderscheid, Car No: 21
Comment : Started 20th out of 27 Mini Se7en starters - DNF

Qualifying: Forty seven Mini's (20 Miglia's and 27 Se7en's) had made it across the English Channel from Dover to either Calais or Ostend and then a 3 hour drive to the circuit in the heart of the Belgium countryside. Weather forecast for the weekend was mixed as usual - it is not unusual for torrential rain to sweep down through the valley in which the circuit lies.

Friday June 9th -

The first 30 minute qualifying practice for the Mini's was not until 5pm - just as well. There was hardly a breath of breeze to cool the temperature down - it just seemed to get hotter and more humid as the day went on. For the driver's briefing at 4pm we were all normally in our race suits but not this day - shorts and tee shirts were the only way to go.

Following the briefing it was time to change and get down to the holding area. We had a ten minute wait lined up two by two. To save both fuel and the engine overheating we all switched our engines off. When the time came for us to start up again mine refused! I was right at the front of the queue with only half a dozen Miglia's in front of me. With my arm stuck out of the now open door and held as high as possible - I managed to attract the attention of my mechanic Terry who came running up to give me a push-start!

The push button starter is on the centre console right below the switch to turn the power on. While I was trying to attract the attention of my mechanic for a push start I must have accidentally flicked the switch off ! Suddenly my door flew open Terry shot across in front of me and switched it back on! And on the second push she started……… And off I went up Eau Rouge muttering under my breath leaving Terry at the bottom most probably muttering about bloody racing drivers with no brains! Doesn't everybody know you take your brain out before you go on the circuit! Well maybe not…..

For me the whole of the session was a steady stream of laps learning the circuit and trying to get a tow off another car to make up a faster lap time. Despite several cars that retired and the occasional yellow flag, this first session was a relatively calm affair. A good opportunity to re-learn the circuit.

Despite the heat of the day my car stayed running at normal temperatures - I however, was really beginning to feel the heat. Towards the end of the session, flat out through Blanchimont down to the Bustop Chicane my car suddenly started pulling back and losing power. I've had this before at Spa - my fuel tank holds 20 litres which is more than adequate for most race circuits but at Spa where the circuit is just over 4.3 miles in length it is marginal. Being fairly close to the Paddock entrance I decided to try to keep her going through the chicane down past the F1 pit lane entrance to La Source, the hairpin and from there I nipped into the pitlane entrance and on up to the paddock.

On the way back to the paddock I suddenly realised just how hot I was! My feet especially felt like they had flames licking at them. As soon as I was parked up it was straight out the car and out of the gear - boots came off first; I could almost hear my feet sizzling! Not normally bothered by the heat I was quite surprised at my reaction.

Meanwhile Terry was delighted I had brought the car back in one piece, a novelty this year! And my times showed I was 17th out of 29 in my class. But there was another qualifying session tomorrow.

The following day it was raining lightly in the morning. We all expected to have a wet qualifying - however by late morning the sun began to peek out behind clouds and the track was drying fast. At 2pm when our session started the air temperature was much cooler than the day before and track conditions were very good indeed. Yes time to get some good laps in.

Entering the track from the bottom of Eau Rouge meant a slow ascent to the top where you join a long Kemel Straight down to Les Combes the right/left chicane followed by Malmedy, a fast right-hander down to the the hairpin at Rivage. Rivage can be nasty cos if you go in too fast and get off line you're all messed up for the following left hander down to Pouhon which is a very fast but graduating left hander leading onto a sweeping right then left through Des Fagnes to Stavelot yet another long right-hander. Stavelot requires a controlled entry so as not to lose any speed on the exit. Once out of Stavelot it is flat out in top gear all the way down through Blanchimont to the Bus Stop Chicane, then onto La Source the hairpin leading to the pit straight downhill to the bottom of Eau rouge once more.

Testing went superbly for me. After warming up the tyres on the first couple of laps I came round La Source in first gear ready to go, flat out down past the pits to the base of Eau Rouge, and with the throttle still flat to the floor, on up to the top where the car goes very light as you crest the top of Eau Rouge.

The whole session went very smoothly and despite my lap timer failing to work I just new I had done very much better. Terry had tried to hang out the pit board for me but as I was coming in so close to the pit wall on my way down to Eau Rouge he was concerned car and pit board would connect! So I only caught glimpses of my times - no worries I could feel I finally had things together.

Back in the Paddock my lap times confirmed what I already knew - best lap time was 3 min 23.22 seconds a full 3.3 seconds faster than the previous day. My team mate Jonathan had also done better than the previous day but was still 2.4 seconds slower than me. I was on a high and really ready for the race the next day. Despite improving I was to start 20th on the grid………………

The Main Race: The next morning dawned with clear blue skies - we did not have long to wait as we were second race of the day at 10.30.

We were to form up in the F1 pit lane which is just before La Source and I let Terry drive her up there while I walked - a good move as no sooner had I got there, put my helmet on and strapped in when we were brought out onto the grid. With a total of 47 cars on the grid in a two by two formation we stretched almost the whole length of the pit straight up to but not quite around La Source - it must have been quite a sight.

The green flag lap enabled us all to check out the track and sure enough it was bone dry and in good condition - the race was going to be a good one……………

We came round to form up on the grid to await the lights - it wasn't long before the lights went to red then green. Mark Sims on the grid beside me made an excellent start. I meant to do the same and tuck in behind him but I failed. It was then a case of fight my way through the pack down to the base of Eau Rouge attempting to get on the right line for a quick run up the hill. I fought my way through and made it to the Kemel Straight with another Mini on my right hand side just slightly ahead of me. I kept in close to him and as I crept up alongside another Mini did the same to me on my left hand side. So there we were all three abreast foot to the floor heading down the straight to the chicane. I wasn't giving way and neither was anyone else.

To make it more interesting my team mate Jonathan had caught me up and was trying to get past all three of us but of course no one would give way. And so Jonathon sat on my rear bumper - we must have looked a site going flat out down the straight in T formation! Coming up to the chicane I was thinking "I wonder who's going to give way first - not me".

But I did give way to the mini on my right -I followed him though the chicane and on to Malmedy where he suddenly lost control on the oil. Unfortunately I did the same but managed to stay on the tarmac, just but was almost facing the wrong way. I was about to pick her up and get going again when my team mate Jonathon came hammering around Malmedy, took one look at me on the edge of the gravel trap and slammed his brakes on, locked up on the oil and came straight at me - "This is going to hurt thinks I." And it did.

Jonathon slammed into my driver's side door with his driver's side wing. The door, frame, rear panel and door-sill were pushed in and up towards me. I felt the heavy impact as the side of my head hit the left had side of my seat - My racing seat has protective wings, which encompass the side as well as the back of my head. The seat together with my Arai helmet went a long way to saving me from more serious injury. My right arm must have hit the side of the seat judging by the size of the bruise extending upwards from my elbow! A few more bruises were apparent afterwards.

Unable to open the driver's side door I was forced to crawl out through the passenger side - thank goodness for a removable steering wheel. Not a graceful exit but at least I walked away as did Jonathan.

Both Jonathan and I spent the remainder of the race stood by the side of Malmedy as the Mini's continued to race. Their numbers seemed to be dwindling and then we suddenly seemed to lose the two front runners! The oil that had tripped both of us up had been spread during the first couple of laps by a Miglia - Malmedy was not the only place to have oil down, Pouhon also was apparently treacherous.

In the paddock following the race there were many bent and broken mini's. Ranging from just minor body work damage to a windscreen peppered with stone hits from the Eau Rouge gravel trap to front ends demolished by tyre walls and then towards the end of the race the two front runners had had a coming together just prior to Les Combe chicane. Both had ended up in the wall,; at least one was a right off. Fortunately both drivers were okay.

What a race - enjoyed by many but hurtful to the wallet! Pitstop, my team from Brize Norton, Oxfordshire had brought over our cars in excellent shape - Jonathan and mine had little more than prep work done all weekend. The return journey was a very different story…….And so now the race is on to get the cars repaired for the next race at Mallory Park on Sunday June 25th. We'll make it.

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