Antoine d’Ansembourg delivers shock Masters Endurance Legends win in front of home crowd at Spa
Antoine d’Ansembourg brought home a very popular debut win in the second Masters Endurance Legends race at Spa when the youngster cheekily passed race 1 winner Stuart Wiltshire’s Peugeot 90X on the opening lap and managed to keep the older open-top Dallara SP1 ahead for the entire race, until Wiltshire’s Peugeot expired three laps from the end.
“New tyres, it felt very natural, it worked”, d’Ansembourg explained. “Then for some reason I got in front and I was like, OK, I need to push as hard as I can in the first few laps because my weakness is exhaustion. So if I fight him for 40 minutes I'm not going to make it. I tried to gain as much distance as I could in those first few laps and then I don't know, it kept going, it kept working!”
In a fight of their own, Steve Tandy vaulted Keith Frieser’s Zytek 09S at the stops to keep his Lola-Judd B12/60 ahead for second place, nine seconds down on the winner, while Michael Birch hauled his P2 class-winning Ligier-Gibson JSP2-17 up to fourth from a lowly starting position.
“We got him in the pit stop”, said Tandy. “I just held on and they told on the radio what the game was, so I just stayed constant. I’m a bit rusty, it's the first race I've done for a while…”
“The race was really good”, said Frieser. “I had a little problem in the pit stop getting the car going – I had left it on the pit limiter, so the car didn’t want to get going. So Steve jumped me. The first half of the race he chased me very hard, and the second half of the race I chased him very hard. But we were so close, it was difficult. But you know what? These guys are all good clean racers.”
Jon Minshaw in the Ligier JSP3 and Claude Bovet/David McDonald in the Aston Martin Vantage GT3 doubled up on respective class wins in P3 and GTs, Minshaw finishing a strong sixth overall while the Aston claimed eighth overall to once again beat the GT2 Chrysler Viper GTS-R of Christophe Van Riet/Eric Mestdagh. The Paul Whight/Rob Fenn Aston Martin Vantage GT2 took third in class.
“Yeah it was a lot of fun”, said McDonald. “The track surface was quite tricky out there so that made it a little bit interesting. I started the race yesterday and I finished the race today so it was nice to do a start and finish. Claude did a great job in his stints, so a lot of fun.”
“I couldn't fire up the front tyres at the start, I was just not getting the grip in the front”, said Bovet. “So the Viper did a wonderful pass at Pouhon way on the inside, I didn't think he was really going to go that far, so it was a good pass. I think he fired up his tyres and got them at the right temps a lot quicker than us, so yeah it turned out to be a really fun race.”
“For the last four laps I had a problem”, Mestdagh explained. “I didn't have third and fourth gear, so I had to finish with fifth and sixth gear!”
“We swapped this time”, said Fenn.”Paul went first, I went second, I was on my own for a lot of it but in the last two laps I saw the Viper, so that was exciting. I'm sweaty so I've worked hard, so I'm relatively happy.”
Saturday lunchtime was approaching when the Masters Endurance Legends grid went out for their second race of the weekend. With Steve Brooks’ Peugeot 90X still damaged from its crash in the first race, Friday’s winner Stuart Wiltshire’s was the only Peugeot left to head the field as the green flag was waved. Wiltshire duly led away but young Antoine d’Ansembourg was on it in the Dallara-Judd SP1 and used the car’s top speed to storm up into second place ahead over Olivier Galant in the HPD-Honda ARX-03a. And then, most dauntingly, the Dallara stole the lead going into the second lap!
Behind the leading trio, Keith Frieser’s Zytek 09S and Steve Tandy’s Lola-Judd B12/60 were fourth and fifth, with Jon Minshaw in the leading P3 Ligier in sixth ahead of Tim Joosen’s invitational Norma M20FC. The CN car was chased by the two GT leaders, Claude Bovet in the Aston Martin Vantage GT3 ahead of Christophe Van Riet in the Chrysler Viper GTS-R, as they were followed by two more Ligier JSP3s, Alasdair McCaig ahead of Craig Davies.
Using his home track knowledge, d’Ansembourg set fastest lap of the race on lap 2, but Wiltshire was hanging on, on tyres now properly heated up. Still, the young Belgian continued to lead on lap 3 and 4. Further back, Van Riet had passed Bovet for the GT class lead, while Michael Birch was moving places as well in the Ligier-Gibson JSP2-17, coming from the back in the delayed P2 car, now up into sixth place.
As the pit window approached ever nearer, d’Ansembourg continued to demonstrate his surprising form, leading Wiltshire by 3.4 seconds on lap 5, the older Dallara proving especially quick in the fast first and third sections of the circuit. On lap 6, though, Wiltshire punched in a fastest lap of the race of his own, albeit by a mere tenth, as Galant pitted from third as the first of the leaders. P3 class leader Minshaw followed him in, as did Van Riet who handed the Chrysler to Eric Mestdagh. Meanwhile, Wiltshire bested his fastest lap time to inch ever nearer to d’Ansembourg.
After a third fastest lap in succession, Wiltshire saw his Belgian nemesis head into the pits while the Peugeot continued for another tour, as Frieser and Tandy hung on, having a great fight for third themselves, 11 seconds down on the leader. Along with d’Ansembourg, GT class leader Bovet came in to hand the Vantage to David McDonald, while Olivier Galant was in for a second time in the HPD, a puncture taking care of his hopes for a top placing. On lap 9, Wiltshire was in, immediately followed by Frieser, Tandy, McCaig (handing over to Brad Hoyt) and Davies (handing over to Ron Maydon). Tim Joosen was the last to come in, with Luc De Cock taking the wheel of the Norma.
After all the stops had cycled through, a mere 1.2 seconds now separated d’Ansembourg and Wiltshire – the fight was on for the win. Behind them, Frieser lost out to Tandy at the stops, as the Zytek was slow out of the pits, with Birch in the P2 Ligier now up into fifth – albeit a distant fifth. In P3, Maydon, Hoyt and Minshaw were tied to a string, 1 minute and 37 seconds behind the leader, while David McDonald led Mestdagh in GT, well ahead of Marcus von Oeynhausen’s Audi R8 LMS Ultra.
11 laps had gone, and now Wiltshire had truly closed up on the local hero, but on the next lap, d’Ansembourg once again eased away in a finely poised duel, as the Peugeot was seen trailing smoke in various places on the track... 16 seconds further down the road, Frieser had closed up on Tandy, and so, equally, the battle for third place was all but decided yet. With Birch in a safe fifth, the P3s were now done fighting, as Minshaw had opened up a gap to Maydon and Hoyt, while Galant was on his way back up, but now a lap down in eighth.
And then on lap 14, the race was decided ahead of the actual chequered flag when Wiltshire was seen trailing into the pits with engine problems. And so, d’Ansembourg rattled off the remaining laps to take a popular home win, as Tandy held on to claim second from Frieser, with Birch in fourth as the P2 class winner. On the final lap, Galant salvaged fifth ahead of P3 class winner Minshaw and the second-placed P3 car of Davies/Maydon. In eighth overall, Bovet and McDonald doubled up on GT wins, while in ninth James Hagan and Chris Atkinson completed a late surge to take third in P3 in their ORECA-GM FLM09. The Belgian Norma was tenth ahead of the McCaig/Hoyt Ligier, while Mestdagh held off the Paul Whight/Rob Fenn Aston Martin Vantage GT3 for second in the GT class.
An hour after the finish, however, Tandy’s Lola failed the stall test in post-race scrutineering. As a result, Frieser and Birch moved up to second and third.
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