As Autosport launches the latest episode in its Race of My Life podcast series, we take a look back at three-time grand prix winner Thierry Boutsen’s choice as the race of his life – the 1986 Spa 1000km
Race: 1986 Spa 1000km, Spa-Francorchamps
Car: Brun Motorsport Porsche 956
The Spa 1000km in 1986 was a very good race; it was a race that I wanted to win because I was leading the year before with Stefan Bellof when he had the [fatal] accident.
I enjoyed doing sportscars at that time because I didn’t have a good drive in Formula 1. The Arrows A9 was not the most competitive car, and I had plenty of time left to go racing in Group C because I didn’t do any testing. It was good for me to compare myself at the time with other good drivers like Bellof, like Hans Stuck, like Jacky Ickx. They were at the top of the sport and I was beginning in F1, and not having a good car I couldn’t really judge myself, so it was quite good for me.
We had a very good season with Brun Motorpsort, and in fact we won the [Teams’] world championship that year. The Porsche was a very nice car to drive. It was good everywhere, but was probably not the most competitive car. But we could do whatever we wanted with it. It had a lot of downforce, but the fuel consumption was a bit heavy in those days. If you didn’t have the latest developments in electronics, you were nowhere.
The Brun team was not the works team at all. We had to buy the parts from the factory. We couldn’t use the good engines the factory had at the time because we would have been too competitive, and we would have beaten them. It was like that all the time, it’s normal. You have a works team and they develop a lot of things, and then they start selling pieces when they are out of use in the works team.
I remember I got pole position at Spa, pole position in the wet and in the dry. I’d also been on pole with the Fitzpatrick car in 1984, and to get pole position in Spa is quite exciting…
The Michelin tyres usually didn’t work very well. They were good for four or five laps, and then the times were dropping by a second and a half, two seconds. It was a bit difficult. It was very wet in the warm-up, and it was damp in the beginning of the race. I started in the lead, and kept the lead until the last stint with a very, very small margin. It was the only place where the Michelin tyres had worked well in the whole championship.
The fantastic thing was that we calculated on the fuel consumption for us to be out of fuel 100 metres before the finish. And it happened. I finally ran out of fuel in the [Bus Stop] chicane!
My team-mate Frank Jelinski was still new to Group C. He was a bit slower than me, but he was a very good driver and I knew him for a long time from F3 and F2. I was very surprised at how well he drove, and how intelligently he drove. He didn’t make a mistake, he was not suffering in his head from the difference in lap times. His times were good enough for us to win the race, because by being in the car he was saving fuel so I could try a little bit harder and use a little bit more boost in my stints.
We led all the way, except for the pitstops, when we were coming in for fuel and going out again, but we were still in visual reach of the leader all the time. It was probably the only race when everything went absolutely right from the beginning to the end.
The car was very good and the team went very well in the pitstops. But the thing was that we were very marginal on fuel consumption. I was very frightened on the last lap. In the Porsche, you have to press on the reserve tank, so you run out of fuel once, and then you have a reserve of five or six litres. And I had to press the reserve, one and a half laps before the end of the race. I knew that it was going to be marginal.
At that time Derek Warwick in the Jaguar was six seconds behind me or something. So I backed off, and turned the boost completely down to the minimum and used half throttle on the straights. I could see how far he was behind me at the start of the last lap and it was about three seconds. But I had backed off a lot, so I could turn the boost up again for the last lap.
The fantastic thing was that we calculated on the fuel consumption for us to be out of fuel 100 metres before the finish. And it happened. I finally ran out of fuel in the [Bus Stop] chicane, the last corner before the [La Source] hairpin!
I was a bit scared, as Derek was right with me, but I knew I could finish the race, as normally it cut once and then cut twice, and you could still do a quarter of a lap. And there was a little bit of fuel, just enough to push me into the hairpin, and then I just cruised down to the finish. I knew I was OK; he was behind me, and I turned in in front of him. Even if I’d run out of fuel again, I would have blocked him!
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Warwick was 0.8s behind, and I finished with 0.2 litres of fuel in the car. It was a race that was very, very marginal, but we calculated everything right and everything worked well.
It was a fantastic win, for lots of reasons, because it was in Belgium of course, and because I had a very bad time in F1 at that time. And it was good to win at Spa because of the year before and the accident with Stefan. It was a race I wanted to win just because of that, just to give Stefan back the fact that we should have won the race that year.
It was very emotional, the whole weekend had been a bit dramatic, with the atmosphere of the year before. This win had a story, a good story, behind it. It was something very emotional, much more than anything else I’ve been through in racing.
Interview by Adam Cooper, first published in Autosport magazine, 13 September 1990