Youngtimer Festival Spa 2019

Ardennes Invasion

Germans have a passion for touring cars and, with the help of its automotive industry, have been dominating in them for decades.  No wonder, therefore, that the German-based Youngtimer Trophy has become so popular in the last 20 years and can boast bumper grids that run into three digits.  But the Youngtimer Festival at Spa-Francorchamps was about so much more than that.  Some 450 different cars passed under starter’s orders during the weekend of August 3-4.  The lure of Spa brought in quite a number of French, Belgian, Swiss and Dutch drivers as well.  The Festival wasn’t strictly a historic meeting either.  The ‘Cup und Tourenwagen Trophy’, which is run by the Youngtimer Trophy organisation, and the ‘Rundstrecken Challenge Nürburgring’ were mainly made up of recent one-make Cup Clios, Cupras, Minis and VLN cars.  More than just a historic race meeting, the weekend was a celebration of continental club racing. 

The 100-car Youngtimer  eld was split into two grids covering more than two dozen different classes.  Photos Gina-Maria/Stefan Eckhardt

The Youngtimer Trophy itself shared top billing with the Rundstrecken Challenge, and action was non-stop from Friday evening onwards.  Historic racing kicked off with the first of four single-seater races for historic F3, Formula Opel, FF2000, S2000 and FF1600/Zetec machinery.  As on three other occasions this season, the Spa rounds counted towards both the German and French championships, thus providing a staggering grid of some 40+ cars for each race.  Differences in driver ambition as well as ability quickly became apparent in such a large and disparate field.  Not unexpectedly, this produced quite a number of yellow, and even one red, flags.  Swiss Pascal Monbaron won both Formula Ford races in his Van Diemen RF00 Zetec.

The FHR organisation ran both a sprint race and an endurance race for historic touring cars and GTs (HTGT) from the ‘60s and early ‘70s, dovetailing nicely with the Youngtimer Trophy’s 1966-1988 age group.  Running a group 2 Escort RS 1600 Mk1, Heinz Schmersal and Mike Sturberg notched up their weekend’s first win in the one-hour, pit-stop sprint race.  They were only 13 seconds ahead of the Group 4 Porsche 914 of Michael Wittke and Markus Diederich, these cars the only two to lap below 3 minutes.  The two-hour endurance race saw the GT40 of Pedro and Luco Sanchez crush the opposition, almost putting Belgian runners-up Marc and Regis Devis a lap down in their Shelby Cobra. 

The 100-car Youngtimer field was, as usual, split into two grids covering more than two dozen different classes.  “The objective is to give everyone a chance to win,” says organiser Stefan Eckhardt.  “You get points according to the number of cars in your class that you have beaten.”  This means that winning in a class running only three cars brings you fewer points than finishing third in a class with fifteen cars.  That Schmersal and Sturberg won the first (small capacity) race in their generation 2 Escort RS 1800 group 2 was therefore fairly irrelevant, a fact lost to all but the most initiated.  More important was that third-placed Michael Noltke won class 31 for Group 2 cars of 1300cc-2000cc capacity in his Kadett GTE, propelling him into second place in the championship.  Equally confusing was that Stefan Oberdörster won the race for bigger cars in his Porsche 934/5 but this got him no higher than 18th place in the championship.  “We run a grass-roots series that is targeted at the competitors, not the spectators,” Eckhardt says, but Volkswagen Golf runner Gideon Menn has doubts about the system’s added value.  “I don’t care about the points.  If I’m careful I can do an entire season for €10,000, so for me it’s all about value-for-money.”

That Heinz Schmersal and Mike Sturberg won the  rst (small capacity) race in their generation 2 Escort RS 1800 Group 2 was fairly irrelevant for the championship

The sheer size of the grids seems to justify Eckhardt’s line of thinking, but he refuses to be complacent.  “Grass-roots racing is becoming more and more difficult to promote,” he says. “We try to keep the entry fees as low as possible, but some competitors throw more and more money at their cars, which scares off true amateurs.  Add to this the fact that circuit rental has been going up spectacularly due to increased safety standards and you can see that it is getting harder to cover costs.  We’re lucky we do not depend on it to earn a living.”  The fledgling GTRS series for older GT3 cars is evidence that not everything touched by Eckhardt turns to gold.  Heinz Schmersal is one of the prime movers, owning an early-model Audi R8 LMS Ultra.  “We’re disappointed by the 5-car turnout but keep hoping more will show up in the future.”

For a fuller report and results see our September 2019 issue.

Tags: Features and Reports September 2019

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