There are a few major endurance races around the world that roll off the tongue quite easily and quickly, such as Le Mans, Daytona, Sebring and of course the Spa 24 Hours. It is perhaps an injustice that the Spa 24 Hours has over the years not received the coverage of the other major endurance races, but I sense that this is an imbalance that will be rectified in the very near future. This is thanks to the growth in other 24 hour and long-distance races around the world in recent years. It is therefore not before time, that David Blumlein put pen to paper (no really!) and compiled this fine publication, The Spa 24 Hours – A History, the first English publication on this race.
It is not a well-known fact that the Spa 24 Hour race is but one year younger than the much-publicised Le Mans 24 Hours, the French race being run first in 1923, while the Spa 24 Hours had its first race in 1924. In the beginning, the Spa race was created to rival the great French race. But over the decades the Spa event has undergone several make-overs, initially catering for Le Mans type sports cars, then Touring cars and more recently, GT cars. To my shame, I must confess to only having attended this superb endurance race on one occasion, and that was back in 2008 – that will change in the future.
The circuit too, has undergone many changes, with the circuit length differing very little in the first 57 years (1921 – 14.982 km; 1978 – 14.1 km). In the early days, the Morris Minors and F.N.s seemed to run on what amounted to little more than bicycle wheels. Over the years, the variety of entries seemed to run from family sedans at the back of the field to the likes of Peugeot, Alfa Romeo, Maserati and Jaguar, all-out sports racing cars at the front of the field. But this variety led to the endurance race becoming a favourite with both locals and manufacturers alike.
The author has truly gone to great lengths to research these early years which must have been a huge task in itself. The images throughout the book have been carefully selected, and show the different eras of the race superbly, from the early years that show cars whose names have long been forgotten, right up to the sophisticated machines that raced in 2014. Having attended events similar to this and others on many occasions, the battle is always not what to include, but what to leave out because you just want to show so much. But the author has resisted producing a picture-heavy book, and has created the right balance between words and photos. Captioning is another area that can pose some difficulties, and here the author has been consistently precise and informative.
At the end of each chapter is a section entitled, Further Facts 1948-1949 (for instance). Instead of leaving it out, the author has included additional facts and details in a shortened format that would otherwise prove too cumbersome in the chapter text. Here the reader will find useful and interesting information about the cars and drivers for that period.
Moving forward, the author shows the plethora of Touring cars through the 1960s, cars that you and I would have driven on the road at that time. These included Mercedes-Benz saloons, Volkswagen, BMW, Ford Cortina, Alfa-Romeo, Mini, Volvo and so many more. There were also the Mustangs, Porsches, Mazdas, Lancias, Ford Capris and so many more familiar makes. These models made the Spa 24 Hour come alive for so many spectators, as they could identify these cars on track with cars they saw on the road, or even drove themselves.
In 1979, the new circuit layout was brought into play, and the length of a lap dropped from around 14 km to 6.9 km. This meant too that the spectators would see each car twice as often as before, which was no bad thing for heightened excitement. Just as at the Le Mans 24 Hours, Spa too has held its pre-race scrutineering in the city centre. This is a clever tradition, because besides giving those who were unable to make it to the race a close-up view, it also attracts many visitors which helps to boost the local coffers of the cafes and restaurants.
The race write-ups for each year are informative, well written and entertaining. Far from being dry accounts of each race, the author has maintained a light and entertaining tone throughout, and this will keep the reader engaged from beginning to end. One image is bound to bring a smile to the face of most readers, this is the photo of the Peugeot 806 People Carrier participating in the 1995 24 hour race, as it rounds La Source.
2001 marked the beginning of the GT era, and so this period serves to add to the rich tapestry of race car quality and variety that this race has seen in the 90 years covered by this book. Who can forget the Gillet Vertigo of the noughties, or the heated battles between the Vipers, Corvettes, TVRs, Porsches, Saleens, Maseratis, Aston Martins, Listers and Spykers – these were magic times indeed.
Towards the back of the book are a number of Appendices, including: In Memoriam; Some Pilotes Belges; Results; Overall Winners; and, Coupe de Roi Winners – all extremely useful sources of reference material. Forewords are by François Cornélis (President of the Royal Automobile Club of Belgium), Stéphane Ratel (Founder & CEO of SRO Motorsports Group), Pierre Dieudonné (three-times winner of the Spa 24 Hours), and Eric van de Poele (five-times winner of the Spa 24 Hours). This list is a further indication of the quality and depth of the research undertaken of the accounts contained within these pages.
It is not a vast, heavy or large dimension book, it is easy to handle and to read or just refer to if you need that certain, illusive fact. If you are an endurance racing enthusiast, or if you have a particular penchant for one marque, this is a very important and valuable book to have on your bookshelf. Although this book has been out for a while, search it out and especially at this price get a copy, you won’t be sorry!
The Spa 24 Hours – A History
Various (see above)
Transport Bookman Ltd
235 x 285 mm, Hardback with dust jacket
Approx. 200 B&W and colour images
£19.99 special price (from Chaters)
Written by: Glen Smale
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