crankandpiston hits the legendary Spa-Francorchamps for the Spa Classic historic racing. And get rained on. A lot.[Not a valid template]
With what little summer we seem to get in Europe, the schedule for racing events is packed tight. Almost every weekend has something to offer. Located in the heart of motor racing heaven, a stone’s throw from the likes of the Nurburgring, Spa-Franchorchamps and Hockenheim, I have a busy few months ahead if I am to get my fix of petrol fumes, screaming engines and wheel-to-wheel action before the winter sets in and the tracks are quickly covered with snow.
In my opinion there is nothing better than historic and classic racing to get this type of adrenaline. Historic racing allows its fans to get up-close and personal – a stark contrast to banner events like Formula 1 – with the cars and drivers and offer a massive line up of diverse events.
The little known Spa Classic is just one of those fantastic events. It doesn’t have the following of the Spa 6 Hours – coverage of which from the 2012 event you can read HERE – or the Le Mans Classic, but with multiple types of race cars running through the weekend the fans are wowed with racing from all eras. For me the headliner was one of my childhood obsessions, the mighty Group C endurance racers from the late 1980s.
The Spa Classic is just one of the stops that the Group C Classic Endurance championship makes during its busy summer tour. So believe me when I say I was a bit giddy driving towards Spa to catch a glimpse of these amazing machines in action. Luckily the unrestricted autobahn and the keys to a new Ford Focus ST got me there with some haste. To make matters even better, the sun shining off the beautiful landscape as the Group C monsters fired into life brought new life to my images as each completed their qualifying runs.
The speed and grip of a Group C car is just staggering. To put this into perspective, this year’s polesitter was just two seconds slower than the fastest lap time recorded by the new Audi R18 e-tron at the second round of the World Endurance Championship. It was even a few kilometres faster down the main straight. Naturally I was eager to see how they would battle it out when it came time on race day. Like I said earlier though, a massive line-up of diverse events dragged my attention temporarily away from Group C.
Other delights on day one included the Porsche jubilee race, an event devoted solely to the 50th anniversary of the iconic 911. I am not sure I would have the guts to throw a classic Porsche around like the guys on-track did, but I sure wouldn’t mind giving it a go one day. As night closed in, the endurance racing started, a two-part event covering classic touring cars from Jaguar E-Types to Alfa GTVs. With the sun setting and my legs aching I jumped back in my autobahn time machine and headed home for some rest, a cup of tea and quick download of my photos.
As my alarm sounded early Sunday morning, it became clear that summer had once again forgotten Europe. Steady rain and very cold temperatures had swept in overnight and it was time to dig out the thermal underwear and emergency cagoule. Without doubting for a minute that the racing would be called off or postponed (this is classic racing not Nascar), I headed trackwards. That is the magic – or curse depending how you look at it – of Spa Franchorchamps. Given its location in the hills you never know what the weather might bring, though this can sometimes prove a blessing in disguise: slipping and sliding, spinning and bumping, and general entertainment. The fans had plenty to take their minds off their soaked bottoms and frozen fingers.
Taking refuge from the rain I found my self taking a closer look at the paddocks and the pits. Classic racing has a certain class about it, each of the drivers keen to share stories and histories about their cars. No one is telling you to “get out the way”, or “don’t stand there”. It is about enjoying the cars up close. Watching the driver suit up in classic attire and squeeze himself into the driver’s seat, an action usually followed by the glorious sound of a vintage racecar firing to life. The smell of racing fuel and the rough idle of the highly tuned engine up close that stick in your memory forever.
Having captured the Group C monsters flying through Eau Rouge during qualifying, I thought I would stay close to the pits to capture the frantic action come the race itself. So as the cars lined up on the grid and set off for their warm-up lap, I headed to the first hairpin: it’s about as close to a racing car as you can get. The photographers line the corner, often hanging over the wall in an attempt to get a clean shot of the cars as they hurtle towards them with screeching brakes and shooting frames. The cars are so close to your camera lens that you can see the driver’s eyes through the viewfinder.
As I stood there, I remembered as a kid reading my dad’s classic car magazines and wondering what the racing must have been like when he was growing up. Historic racing takes you back to these halcyon days, to the battles you read about in the paper on Monday or watched as highlights on the evening news. I used to think that historics was for older gentlemen wanting to re-live their childhood dreams, but it’s more than that: it spans entire generations. Of course, the fact that I have now become an older gentleman – I do have the odd grey hair coming through – makes it easier to appreciate the action. Idols and Poster cars have become classics, and nothing from my childhood excites me more than Group C Endurance racing. Suddenly I was a boy again.
Soon the lights went green and a packed grid of 1980s race cars charged towards me, shooting huge flumes of water out of the back owing to their insane aerodynamic ground effects as they barreled into La Source.
This is worth the rain. It always will be.