On the road to Spa Classic !
A pilgrimage to Spa Classic must start with a nice road trip. You leave Paris in direction of Reims, and have a stop near the Grand Stands of Reims-Gueux ex-Grand Prix track. Then, you take the way of the Belgian Ardennes, via Charleville Mezieres and cross the border at Bouillon.
Thenceforth, you start 1 hour of road across a tall fir forest. It smells like freshly cut hood. Straight lines follow long curves, there is no traffic cameras, you share the space with only few cars. Arriving near Trois-Ponts, you exit the highway and join secondary roads. The last 20 kilometers look like a hill climb. You finally reach the little town of Francorchamps.
There, on the corner of the main street, your friends are waiting for you, sitted on the terrasse of a pizzeria. On the wall of the main room as on the toilets, the’re plenty of Formula One and 24H pictures. Did I say 24 Hours? For once, this word does not refer to Le Mans. With Daytona, the 24H of Spa are probably on the podium of most iconic endurance events.
In the restaurant, I recognize known faces. Some are mechanics, others are pilots, photographers, friends or cars relations. You feel at home. It has a taste of holidays, you now that it’s the beginning of three wonderful days. It’s Thursday noon, and after lunch, you finally get into the circuit. There, the competition has already started for the different teams.
Installation in Spa Classic’s paddock
Some cars are under their tents yet while others are still sleeping in the truck. I always found really romantic the way team crews unload their bolides. They appear progressively from the upper level of the trailer, pushed by the mechanics by hands. Then it is stopped on the hydraulic ramps which are on the back. The car is moved down little by little and finally touches the floor. It is pushed again on few meters in order to leave the ramps. Eventually, the engine is started, in a complete din.
If the process is nearly similar for every car, the scene can defer, depending on the importance of the team. Despite most of the entrants are gentleman drivers, the means employed can be considerable. Few lorries arrive with 6-7 cars, and sometimes one truck is not enough. This is the case of big team support such as Equipe Europe. On the contrary, it is common to see two friends driving a van, towing their own racing car. They will be alternatively pilots and mechanics during the journey.
The big mews are mostly present on the Group C class, gathering roofed prototypes which use to compete in FIA championships between 1982 and 1993. Known models are Jaguar XJRs, Peugeot 905, Porsche 962. They are installed in the Formula 1 pits, it means on the upper side of the paddock, a bit further away than the other classes. If on the track, they will produce an mad show, unfortunately the back doors of the stands are usually closed, so you cannot see them parked. I believe it’s normal, the level is really high and the concentration of the mechanics must be at its maximum.
Scrutineerings and last adjustment
On the Thursday, as everything is not really organized yet, the atmosphere is kind of special, and I enjoy seeing the work of who we can call the engineers. Computers are connected, last settings are adjusted in order to adapt the machine to the specificities of Spa-Francorchamps. It is also the moment to process to the scrutineerings.
Officers check that the car complies with its FIA papers. In other words, the car must comply to the original version which use to race back in the days. Some safety devices are installed on the car, such a fire extinguisher, harness and roll cage. Scrutineering is always a cool moment, looking like a procession: the competitors and their bolides follow on to the other in front of the steward’s table.
This is the right moment to have a look on Classic Endurance Racing grid. Cars engaged there belong to an era when endurance was at the top of motorsport world. They participated to the World Sports Cars Championship, on the greatest circuits, between 1966 and 1974 (1971 for protos) concerning the CER 1; 1974 and 1981 for CER 2. Some amazing beasts take part to the event such as Lola T70s, Chevron B8s and B16s, Porsche 935s. In the middle of the mechanical feast figures an ex-Le Mans Porsche 917. Just mad.
The night is coming over the Ardennes, and it’s time for me to leave the place for few hours. I drive in direction of the main city, Spa, where some friends are waiting for me. There, the race week end has already started, with sports cars parked everywhere, and teams having beers in the different pubs of the town center.
Wet track, slippery track at Spa Classic
A Spa classic without at least a bit of rain is not a proper Spa Classic. And this year again, it rained. The water arrived right on time for the private practices. The festivities started with HTC category, which stands for Heritage Touring Trophy.
Then came the turn of the sixties endurance. This is, in my opinion, one of the emblematic series of Peter Auto. Because it’s one of the oldest, one which gathers the most of pilots and one of the most disputed race, despite the cars present can be really different. Of course, AC Cobras are generally taking the lead thanks to their 289 Cubic inch. (4,7 Liters if you do not speak weird technical english language). If you are in the endurance stands, provided no other cars are around, you can listen then from the F1 pits until Kemmel straight, the long line following Raidillon curve, giving you chills at each lap.
However, it’s not rare to see some good E type drivers fighting for the podium, enjoying a more accurate chassis. The Top 10 classification is not often a surprise and you get more excitement to watch competitors come to blows for the 10th to the 30th place with Lotus Elans and 11s, Alfa Romeos Giulias, TVRs, Morgan SLR, Corvette C2… This bolides have diverse specifications and it’s particularly funny to see their different reactions in the lines and curves, especially on the wet.
The Greatest Trophy for the Greatest Cars of Spa Classic
After 40 minutes of tremendous competition between the competitors of the sixties, the masterpieces of the Greatest trophy made their apparition. They represent the best of the best. The most gorgeous, rare (and expensive) bolides that you can find on the paddock. Formerly called the Nostro Rosso grid, its name has changed in order to reflect wider eligibility conditions for 2 years.
Not that the organization accepts less astonishing cars. But they not only concentrate themselves on Italians anymore. If you own a DB 4 GT Zagato, a Porsche 550 or a DB HBR, you can now 1° call me in order to fix a testing rendez-vous with RoadRugCars. 2°, participate to this competition and race against 250 GTO (not authentic, I’m afraid) 250 GT SWB, Alfa Romeo TZ I and II, or Bizzarrini 5300 GTs… Woooouah ! And wouah again if you look the time sheet and consider that the cars present on the podium are quicker on a lap than most E-types of the Sixties endurance. Taking into account their value, this is just mad, and a big chance for us to see them in action at Spa Classic.
Monotype categories offer the best racing scenes
My day finishes with less exciting cars (according to David). I mean the 2.0 Liters cup, which has one main rule: you have to bring a 2.0L 911 pre-1966 in order to participate. Some of you might say that there is no point to watch a monotype race.
So, why do you watch formula 1 each week-ends? (That was easy, I know). I believe this category deserves a better argument at it is more tremendous than current grand prix… The 2.0L cup worth your time because cars are really similar the one to the others, which make the contest really tight. Gaps are close and each place won required a lot of engagement from the pilot. I love monotype races, because if you are leading, there is a reason for it. And if you are last, as well. And you cannot blame your ride.
This is certainly why some excellent drivers took part in the competition this year again. The fact the cars are racing with Avon CR6 ZZ or Dunlop CR65, tyres with treaded pattern all over the width is an important point, because if they offer a good grip, you still have to slide into the curves in order to be quick, even on the top of Raidillon or at Blanchiment. You cannot imagine how it feels to see bolides qualifying under the sunset, on the Friday night… this is just sensational.
Heritage Touring Cup as last (great) souvenir of Spa Classic
I could write pages and pages about Spa Classic and its extraordinary ambiance… I’ve spent three wonderful days in the paddock of one of the greatest track in the world. I’ve probably missed a lot of things, and this is why I go back nearly every year.
However, forgetting to talk about the Heritage Touring Cup wouldn’t be an oversight but a strong fault from my side, as this competition refers to the most glorious years of endurance at Spa Classic, when the touring cars use to reign over endurance series.
The grid reunites BMW 3.0 CSL, Ford Capris and Escorts, Alfa Romeos 1750 GTAM. And of course, both the qualifications and the first race happens at night. In order to remember the wonderful nights those cars offered to the spectators who use to come by thousands to see tough battles until the dawn.
If we can be disappointed by the small diversity of the car, as drivers retain the most performant models, the drivers’ commitment is at the top. And the circuit enlightened by the headlights at night offers a particular flavor to the racing scenes. Waiting in the pits during the changing of pilot sends you directly back to the good old days. Definitely, you have to come to Spa Classic to live those incredible moments.
Special thanks to Thomas Capiaux for his wonderful pictures.