Story and photo by Vickie Miller

A lap around Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps involves 20 turns, is 4.352 miles (7.004 km) in length and despite its name; the circuit is not in Spa but lies in the vicinity of the town of Francorchamps completely within the boundaries of the municipality of Stavelot. (From Wikipedia)

According to Vikipedia, Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps “Spa” can be described as “a race circuit having sharp turns, changing elevations nestled between houses, winding through hillsides, offering fans creative ways to watch the action.”

Heading into the weekend, I tried to figure out what clothes to pack. Yes, the weather at Spa and the countryside in general, can be at best unpredictable. I arrived Thursday to rain, cold, and wind, and I was ready with coat, hat, gloves, umbrella, and boots. But nothing prepares your heart to see the track sign announcing you have arrived! As my friend Michael would say, it’s “Spa baby Spa!”

I attend the 2nd FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) race of the season. The race weekend also included two Porsche series: Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Benelux and Porsche Carrera Cup GB.

Unfortunately my research on both series proved futile and after contacting Porsche Carrera Cup GB with no reply and I was unable to find entry list information to go on the hunt to meet drivers. Oh well.

The paddock at Spa is set up much like Silverstone with the team haulers backed directly in front of the team garage so drivers are able to quickly hop between the two and rarely seen. For this reason, I ended my WEC race streak of selfie with Mark Webber. I did not see him all weekend.

If a fan wants to meet a WEC driver, my experience is to go to the Circuit of the Americas race where there is a wide area in the paddock between the garages and the haulers where the fan has more room to snag a driver or two.

With all my travels and as big as the world gets, people everywhere are basically the same. No matter what the track (or even at the airport) I see people order food/drinks, go to a picnic table or public seating area, and when done eating, get up and leave their trash. Would someone please this behavior to me?!

Granted the food containers left behind change from hot dogs wrappers at Long Beach to empty frites and mayo (yes that’s a track favorite!) paper cones. I hope none of my readers are guilty of this behavior.

Apparently it’s my job to pick up others trash. While enjoying a stroll through the WEC pit walk, I was stopped upon hearing the sound of a plastic bottle dropping to the ground. Three youths standing near the yellow bottle (which was Cecemel, chocolate milk) were holding the same product. In an extremely loud and determined voice a man wearing a fire suit and “official” bib, pointed to me ordering me “You, pick it up!” To which I replied, “It’s not mine.” He returned with, “I told you to pick it up and throw away!” was bellowed next.

Due to his appearance, threating gestures and authority level provided by a thin material vest, I did not feel I had a choice. Fearing being escorted from the pit walk, I obliged while chuckling “#Vickieisinnocent “. While this incident made me “boos” (Dutch for angry), I carried on and was not about to let it ruin my wonderful Spa weekend.

That being sad, if you have not experienced a WEC race weekend, I encourage you to start planning now. The venues are world famous, the racing spectacular, but there is truly something for everyone in the WEC fan village- from a playground for kids, to carnival type rides, and big huge screens to keep track of the action.

At Spa there was a tall crane lifting a “basket” of 24 people 60 meters or 196.85 feet above ground to get a bird’s eye view. I waited in line for a free (yes, free) ride. While a couple of kids tried to get the basket rocking, it was not happening. The basket was extremely sturdy with everyone belted into their own seat. The photo used for this article was taken from the basket and here is a website with more description.

Now onto the good stuff….I decided not to interview a driver but instead to sort of “interview” a car part! Call me odd, but for some time, I have been fascinated with gearboxes. At Spa, I met with Noel “Porridge” Flannery, a member of the engineering crew for the Extreme Speed Motorsports (ESM)

Tequila Patron team racing in the LMP2 class with #30 and #31 Ligier JS Honda HPD. I want to thank a fellow Scot, Ryan Dalziel for the introduction. Porridge was a wee bit busy so as the Scots say, “Heid doon arse up!” (Roughly translated, “Get on with it!”)

The gearbox is an equal opportunity pesky part. It doesn’t seem to matter the race track, race series, make or model of race car; no team is immune to possible issues. Here are just some reports of race cars impacted from gearbox problems.

April 25, 2015 at Barber Motorsports Park, during the Pirelli World Challenge (PWC) race, driver Jack Baldwin was out of the race when his #73 Porsche Cayman suffered a gearbox failure. Jack stated on Twitter “@GTSport73 Gearbox again today. A bit bummed because I think I could have given Kris a run for it. Car was great otherwise!”

April 12, 2015 during WEC race at Silverstone Circuit, even one of the most powerful teams in all motorsports was not immune. Porsche driver, Mark Webber, posted this comment on Facebook: “6 Hours of Silverstone: #‎porsche919hybrid‬‬ no 17: gearbox issue unfortunately cannot be repaired in time. Car is retired and it’s over for Mark, Timo and Brendon”

April 4, 2015 headed into the Formula E race at Long Beach, Virgin Racing driver Sam Bird posted on Twitter, “@sambirdracing Good news. Found the gearbox issue :) Should be better for the race”

March 20, 2015 at Sebring International Raceway, #93 HART Racing Honda Civic was retired after 30 laps into the Continental Tire Sportscar Challenge (CTSC) race. Driver, Kuno Wittmer posted on Twitter, “@KunoWittmer Tough day at track, with gearbox failure. We were on a very good strategy. Off to the next one!! @IMSALive @HARTracingteam @HondaRacing_HPD”

In the same Sebring race, #158 Multimatic Racing Ford Mustang Boss 302R did get farthest finishing one lap down in the CTSC race, driver Austin Cindric posted on Twitter, “@AustinCindric P11 for @buforjm and I. Unfortunately the gearbox issue held us back, had a top 5 car. Thanks @MultimaticRace @FordPerformance #CTSCC”

January 29, 2015 Sportscar365 website reported, “DeltaWing Racing Cars and EMCO Gears are attempting to work through a gearbox solution following the 53rd Rolex 24 at Daytona, as DeltaWing managing partner Don Panoz outlined Wednesday. Panoz and EMCO have had a long-term relationship with various Panoz racing cars, but are seeking a solution after the gearbox failure took the team out of the race.”

January 22, 2015 at Daytona International Speedway, Ferrari of Ontario driver, Marc Muzzo, racing the in Ferrari Challenge series, tweeted, “M&M‏@mmuzzo Tough qualify for race 1. Gearbox issues. Guys working hard to fix for race tomorrow.” Marc qualified 12th and finished the race 7th in his class.

May 4, 2014 Michael Shank Racing website noted “The second round of Michael Shank Racing with Curb/Agajanian’s California swing produced disappointment on Sunday after the Columbus, Ohio based team suffered a gearbox issue that kept the team from finishing the Continental Tire Grand Prix at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca for Round 4 of the IMSA TUDOR United SportsCar Championship.” Not even my favorite team is immune to gearbox gremlins.

According to the FIA WEC regulations:

1.9 During the race, on pain of exclusion of the car, it is prohibited to change: – The engine or any of its components, i.e. the cylinder head(s), the cylinder head gasket(s), the oil pan and engine block, components that are fixed to one another by means of seals,

– The main gearbox and differential housings,
– The chassis or the monocoque structure.

(Yes, I had to look up monocoque….according to Wikipedia: Monocoque is a structural approach whereby loads are supported through an object’s external skin, similar to an egg shell. The technique may also be called structural skin. The word monocoque is a French term for “single shell” or (of boats) “single hull”.)
Here is the link to the full regulations:

I understand not changing the gearbox (or any major part) during the short duration of a PWC race, but why does FIA WEC prohibit the changing of a gearbox when the regular series races are 6 hours in length? Is the gearbox situated in the car making it too difficult to reach and replace? Does the gearbox require complicated electronic connections which must be precisely matched thus making it too tedious to replace during a race? I wanted to know the mysterious reason! Actually the answer is much simpler….bottom line, it boils down to cost.

Here are a few gearbox facts from Noel, followed by a YouTube where Noel describes the history on why the gearbox is not replaced during a WEC race event. Enjoy!

Since ESM took delivery of the Ligier JS Honda HPD car only 3 days before the start of the WEC Spa weekend event, Noel did not have his normal stock pile of parts including gearboxes, but he was ready if needed. During a race weekend, the gearbox can be replaced, within approx. 45 minutes. The gearbox is prepared with connections to the suspension already in place. Noel described the very efficient process and I was impressed, and no, I won’t share.

What is the usage ratio, does ESM go through one gear box per car per race or can it be used for multiple races? Of course this depends on the track (amount of shifting) and the driver style. The gear box itself is comprised of an exterior box and interior box. The exterior box could be used for a whole season, while the gears and guts of the interior box are replaced as needed.

With Noel’s consent, I recorded this video.

I encourage all race fans to learn more about ESM Extreme Speed Motorsports at the website
Follow along on Twitter @PatronESM LIKE on Facebook Tequila Patron ESM
Learn more about the historic circuit at the website
Learn more about the FIA WEC series and find a race near you!

I want to thank the ESM team and Noel for making me feel welcome in the garage and taking the time to chat. Big thank you for all my friends who made my Spa weekend a magical one which I will never forget.

Thank you all for reading and I welcome your comments. I have no affiliation with FIA WEC, Porsche, Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, ESM, etc. just a fan. There are many blogs and websites where you will find statistics, results, and scoring from the race; this is “just the way I see it”. Got a response? Follow and tweet me @viclovesracing