In summary; One of the most amazing experiences I’ll possibly ever have. Spa absolutely exceeded expectations. Flat out through the famous Raidillon / Eau Rouge is very memorable, to say the least.
The journey to Spa could have been easier. Road closures in the UK and channel crossing disruptions added extra pressure to the trip. It was my first time on the Channel Tunnel and it’s definitely the way to go. I had a short rest in the camper van on the way over and finished the washing up on the way back. There’s similar amounts of waiting at the terminals when comparing it to a ferry, but the crossing is much faster and disembarkation seems quicker and smoother.
French roads were a delight. Travelling at speeds up to 130kph in a motorhome with a trailer on smooth motorways eases journey time. I took the more scenic & toll free E42 route as opposed to the E40 that sat nav suggests. The final part of the journey involved collecting passes from the hotel at La Source, an obligatory selfie by the Spa Francorchamps track sign and then driving down to the truck entrance on a steep road. The road was a bit of a roller coaster and got me thinking about how challenging the course was going to be. Just driving a perimeter road in the motorhome was giving me butterflies.
The paddock officials were keen to enquire about what I was doing – but then amusingly struggled to help with final instructions, even scratching their heads over which way up the map should be held. Driving a motorhome with a Ginetta race car on a trailer at the entrance to a race circuit is usually a big enough clue to an official what you’re hoping to achieve when you drive up to a gate. After unloading the car, and then ditching the trailer at a trailer carpark I tucked myself into a lovely level pitch, just behind another camper van, ready for the weekend. I tethered the awning, just in time for the rain to fall. An official did ask me to move later that evening as I was just outside the official camping bit. But I managed to forget about this and stayed there all weekend. Camping in the paddock was fab.
Watching the teams set up and work in the evenings was great. Had some good conversations and made a few more friends.
On the Saturday night, after our racing had finished, I stayed at the circuit to watch the VW Fun Cup 25 hour race. I caught up with an old friend and spent some time on the Torque Racing pitfall with Clive and the crew from York. They brought home a well deserved third in their class. Spa VW Fun Cup is basically a 25 hour endurance race in regulated cars; 95 cars on the track and 500 drivers. The times the cars were doing were very similar to the Ginetta G40R that I’m racing. It was a shame that the roof-top bar closed at 11pm. I think we’d have stayed up quite late watching the cars whizz round in darkness if the bars and festivities hadn’t closed for the evening.
Practice on the Thursday started with a quick tyre change. It had rained over night, the track was damp. I was about to go out on slicks and then somebody mentioned, ‘even the GT5 guys are going out on wets.’ So I sacrificed some testing time for a tyre change. I used the first session to familiarise myself with the track. The time I’d spent on Project Cars and iRacing at home meant the track felt familiar. I just wasn’t used to the terrain, cambers and g-forces. My times in subsequent test session dropped, after some informal coaching from Ben at Want2Race. Final time from testing was 3:12 with and ideal of 3:11 on the Avon ZZR tyres.
Qualifying went well for me. A warm track and a confident start gave me a good set of results, placing me ahead of my peers. A time of 3:12 placed me P10 out of 15 for Race 1. My plan for staying out of traffic during qualifying had worked.
Race 1 was interesting. At Spa we started with a formation lap from the assembly area which was almost a full lap, then a green flag lap and then the race started. I think everybody added more fuel for Race 2 and 3 after experiencing this extra lap. My strategy for Spa was always hang back at the start on La Source and Raidillon as this is historically where there’s been some contact between cars. The start was smooth and I stayed with the back of the pack. I felt I had reasonable pace and there was some good racing between us. I had a good run, flat out from La Source, on Lap 5 and sailed past John Wall on Kemmel. I’ve never overtaken John before – so that put me under pressure. That pressure saw me brake too late at Les Combes, missing the first apex and then gently spinning over some grass into the barrier. I could see the rear wing was bent, obscuring my rear view, so I took it easy for the rest of the race as I didn’t know how much damage I’d sustained. I needed a new rear wing and will need some fibreglass patching up on the boot at some point soon. My pride was clearly dented.
Race 2 and 3 were slow. I’d lost my mojo in the spin at Les Combes and remained off the pace on Saturday. Two enjoyable sessions where, once the pack broke away, I just focused on not coming last. In one of the races I felt I had an opportunity to catch up with the GRDC+ pack but a yellow flag on Raidillon forced me to lift as I couldn’t see the issue, so I kept it safe. Spa has strips of astro turf on some track boundaries to encourage you to stick to track limits. The strip at the top of Eau Rouge was very intimidating for me. There was some contact at the front of the field in GRDC+ in Race 3, which elevated my placing at the close. I had an interesting encounter with a GT5 car that before lapping me at the end of race 2, decided to nudge me, on a corner, leaving some paint on my rear. The driver was spoken to by an official and our encounter on Race 3 was clean, both parties this time, driving on separate sides of the track.
So what makes Spa so special? Maybe:
- Eau Rouge / Raidillon is as epic as everybody promises. The application of ‘Balls and kerbs’ makes this section hairy and memorable. My top speed here was 113mph at the first of the three important kerbs.
- It’s a stunning tree lined course in the hills.
- There are cats and dogs in the paddocks.
- Undulating paddocks on the side of a hill, utilising every inch of ground.
- Amazing views of the track from the viewing areas.
- Camper vans and caravans so tightly packed together in the paddock.
- Driving flat out, down hill from Campus corner through to Bus Stop.
- Pushing hard at Bus Stop whilst trying not to spin in front of the crowds watching from the bar.
- The evening walks/cycle rides etc that take part on the course in the evening after racing.
The list is endless
I left Spa on the Sunday morning with a big grin. A week later, I’m still sporting the grin. I wished there were more photos from the event. I was hoping to see how much of the kerb I used at Raidillon; it felt like a lot!
So, on closing, I still feel that this is definitely one of the highlights of my life to date. I know that’s a pretty bold thing to say; but Spa is just that. Oh and one more thing…. my VBox data suggests an ideal lap time of 3:08 from somewhere over the weekend. That’s four seconds off my actual.
Maybe next year?
Most of the photos are by the lovely Jakob Ebrey and Craig Robertson.