Tony Gilham
Team Hard

Gilham enjoys hot Spa

Gilham enjoys hot Spa

The maiden visit of the APR Volkswagen Racing Cup to an overseas Grand Prix circuit paid dividends for Team HARD with two superb races at the Belgian circuit of Spa-Francorchamps.

It all began at the garage in Dartford on the afternoon of Tuesday 3rd July and Wednesday 4th as both the truck and van were loaded up in readiness for the 300 plus miles to Belgium. Our truck driver Martin and new Work Experience youngster, Toby set off for the ferry at Dover closely followed by Phil & Andy who were off to catch the Eurotunnel train from Folkestone.
However, both missed their scheduled departure times, although it didn’t stop Andy & Phil having a night out in the local town of Stavelot. After driving to the circuit to drop off Nikhil’s race car and pick up Lucy who had travelled to the circuit with Richard, his daughter Daisy, her partner Mike and baby son Leo, they all tucked in to some juicy steaks and the local brew.

Richard and his crew were first to arrive on site, so begun to mark out our territory in readiness for the truck’s arrival. Because the truck didn’t get to the circuit until 00:20, they weren’t allowed into the paddock until the morning, so they parked up and got some kip.

Thursday 5th July

Gary, Tony, Howard, Andy and one of Andy’s mates left the garage at 4am in order to catch their train crossing at Folkestone at 05:28. They arrived at the circuit just 35 minutes before the first test session to very hot and humid conditions.

By 14:30 both test sessions were over, so it was time to set up and have lunch. We then had to have a quick tidy up and turn the music off as we had a visit from a German TV crew who wanted to do some filming and interviews.

At 18:00 the 21-strong field were invited to take part in a closed-road run into the nearby town of Stavelot for a town square display of their machinery. Daisy, Richard & Leo joined the procession, Richard & Gary stayed to prepare dinner, whilst the rest of the group joined Choppy for a few beers in one of the circuit bars to celebrate his birthday.
Within a few minutes the heavens opened and there was a down pour of torrential rain that lasted around 30 minutes which meant the time in the bar was extended! Within about 30 minutes of the rain ending, the sun came out and dried everything out.

Andy was experiencing problems with his car earlier in the day, so it meant a late night. With the light starting to fade, Howard and Richard got the ladders out in order to erect the lights. At just after midnight, we packed up for the night and headed off to our hotel some 20 minutes away. When we arrived, it was all locked up and after making a few phone calls, we managed to find the keys in the hotel post box somewhere near the entrance. With no air conditioning in the rooms it was a rather uncomfortable night’s sleep.

Friday 6th July

We awoke at 8am to light rain in readiness to leave at 8:30 as we had scrutineering between 8-11am. However, on the way to the circuit, Martin called to say that the German scrutineers were banging on the truck as they wanted to get started. Everything was ok apart from a problem with two of our seats which we quickly rectified.

Following a cooked breakfast in the team awning it was time for the drivers to sign on. All was ok except for Tony who had brought the wrong licence to Belgium. So, after making a few phone calls all was now in order, but every other car was now out on track as it was the qualifying session. In the hot and humid conditions he then had a 2 minute run to the team’s awning to change into his race gear and get into his car. Because of the delay, he only managed to do 5 laps of the famous circuit whilst most others did 8. However, he still managed to qualify in 3rd place in a time of 2:51.446 which was just a second off pole.

After the session, Andy spent some time teaching Toby how to clean the tyres, whilst Howard took ownership of getting Tony’s Scholarship car ready by giving it a good clean and adding the stickers.

Race 1 of the weekend was at 17:35, so plenty of time to get ready, or so we thought!

We were called about 40 minutes early, so we had to get a move on, but got there in the end.
With Tony starting on P3, round 7 soon became a four-way battle for victory, three different race leaders and a race which went undecided until the final corner.

Pole man Walker led off the line but he relinquished control to Neuhoff even before the first corner, La Source – Walker slipped to third behind Aaron Mason, but seized second back on the run down to Double Gauche.

Neuhoff crossed the line at the end of the opening lap with half a second in hand over Walker, with Mason third from Lines and Gilham.

Gilham, having got the better of his fight with Lines and Wilson, was by now right with the leaders and gunning for glory and in doing so set the fastest lap of the race. The BTCC man managed to unseat Walker from second but Neuhoff remained ahead at the chequered flag.

Gilham was delighted with his second place, not least because he had missed much of qualifying after a mix-up over his race licence. “I was still signing on when the rest of them were out on the track. We did it the HARD. way; I lost the clutch and most of the brakes by mid-distance. I should have settled really, but I’m a racing driver and I wanted to push on and I nicked second. I’m in the Scholarship car, and it proves that we can build a good, competitive car.”

Andy Wilmot, Richard Kingsnorth and Nikhil Chopra finished in line astern (Chopra’s 17th place a personal best for the 17-year-old rookie.

After the race it was time to prepare for another team BBQ. With plenty of food, alcohol and music, everyone was in good spirits. Again we left the circuit just after midnight.

Saturday 7th July

Up again at 8am and left at 8:30, but had to stop off on the way to find a petrol station. Not as easy as it sounds! The sat nav kept taking us to places that used to be petrol stations so we were just hoping that we would find one in time.

Again it was a very hot & sunny day. A continental breakfast for all teams courtesy of Volkswagen was a good way to start the day as we still had a little prepping to do, particularly on Richard’s car. Whilst Phil was doing this, others were starting to dismantle the awning and began packing away.

Race 2 and round 8 of this season’s championship proved that the 2007 Volkswagen Racing Cup Champion had lost none of his old race-winning skills by claiming victory, pipping points leader James Walker to the win by less than a second after seven hard-fought laps around Spa.

Just as close and tense as Friday’s race, the Spa finale saw three different men out in front and multiple changes of the lead. Lines led the way initially, out-dragging pole-sitter Wyhinny off the line to lead into La Source. Wyhinny clung to Lines’s tailgate on the opening lap but was demoted to fourth on lap two by both Walker and Gilham, who started P4 and P5 respectively.

Walker and Gilham saw to Lines on lap three to establish a 1-2, with the BTCC man making full use of the awesome Eau Rouge to pass his rival for the lead next time around. Walker battled back to the front only to be passed once more by Gilham, again through Eau Rouge. Tony, who was playing his points-doubling Joker card, was 0.878s clear of his rival at the flag.

Added Gilham: “I felt I could possibly have got the win in race one but for being held up a bit, so I wanted to finish the second race on a high. It’s good to get the win and good to be back in the championship. It was a tough race. There’s room for two through Eau Rouge, so long as you are both committed and both sensible. We got through there twice side-by-side, and that’s quite an achievement in itself.”

Unfortunately, the other 3 cars in the team had to retire. Andy Wilmot (power steering failure), Nikhil Chopra (driveshaft) and Richard Kingsnorth (lap one spin). Wilmot had been on for a top 10 finish and Chopra was 13th going into the final lap.

Whilst Tony’s car was in scrutineering, the remaining equipment and cars were loaded up as we had the Volkswagen BBQ & presentation to attend. The team all enjoyed the VW hospitality as there was plenty of food & drink and there was a lot of banter and conversations amongst the teams and officials. Everyone seemed to get on really well, which is always nice.

We then took some time out in the sun to watch a bit of the fun cup, before heading out of the circuit to our hotel for the final time. A good few days away in the sun with some great results. Two podiums, two fastest laps and a new championship lap record as well After a brief summer break the championship resumes at Snetterton in Norfolk on 5 August.

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Tony Gilham

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