The iconic Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belgium hosts a six hour endurance race every year in September, so what better time for a first visit to the venue? I was completely blown away not just by the cars, but by the circuit itself and the people we met.
The weekend started with a variety of races involving classic GT and classic touring cars, through to screaming classic Formula 1. That was the first time I’ve ever donned a pair of ear plugs at a racing circuit. This being our first visit to the circuit, we weren’t quite prepared for seeing Eau Rouge up close for the first time as you walk through the entry gate.
What surprised us was how steep the bloody thing is (and by the end of the weekend we’d know full well how steep after walking up and down it countless times!). To be greeted by the sight of a classic F1 car drifting through the right curve and flicking over the crest was a dream come true.
Onwards to the paddock, and fantastic access throughout. Ford GT40s mixed up with MG Midgets, either being worked on or having their engines warmed up in the garages. There are so many entrants over the weekend, probably well in excess of 300 cars, that both pit lanes are used to full effect with many cars spilling out to the paddocks scattered around the infield. As I mentioned, access at classic events really does make other headline events quite embarrassing by comparison. On a standard pass we had full access to the main garages with classic Lotus F1 cars, priceless Maserati and Alfa Romeo examples, with the only restriction being from the very pleasant marshals stopping us getting run over in the pit lane itself.
At one point we found a Clan Crusader, which compared to the exotica in the pit lane you would be forgiven for walking past without giving a second thought. But having chatted to the owner we found out that not only was the car built in Washington, Co. Durham (where my parents are from) but that the chap had also just recovered from a hip operation and this was his first racing event since then to see how he got on. He did pretty well and had a decent scrap with what I think was an ageing Aston Martin.
The Clan itself was based off the Hillman Imp – not a thoroughbred racing car I’ll agree – but it was built by ex employees of Lotus so they certainly knew what they were doing. I love the quote from the Wiki page –
Handling was described as both agile and tenacious, and more power would not have proved a problem.
I’ve never driven a car with tenacious handling! Good luck to the chap though, it’s certainly rare to see one on the road, let alone racing.
For the six hour race itself, the grid formed up of 100+ cars, check out the video below shot on my shaky mobile – apologies for the sound quality but there’s only so much racing engine roar an ageing Samsung Galaxy can take:
It started at around 4.00pm and lasted well after sundown. If you’ve never experienced a racing circuit at night, I urge you to do so. It’s otherworldly and a completely different atmosphere. Without a tripod, photo opportunities are a little hard to come by but I found a fence to offer support with amazingly, sections cut out to help you get decent photos, and later on, a handily positioned rock!
The following day was back to normal racing, and although it was a bit damp, we saw some cracking duels up and down the field of cars. Our favourite moment was a multi car battle between Fiats, Alfas, Minis and giant Ford Galaxies that went right up to the final lap.
Visiting Spa was one of those “tick in the box” moments. The circuit is incredible and we’ll certainly be back in the future. If you do go, make sure to try and visit as much of the circuit as possible. It’s a long walk, but the route down to Double Gauche, and then back through the middle of the circuit is actually quite picturesque and enjoyable, especially with the background soundtrack of several V8 engines.