TestaVeloce on Track: Spa Francorchamps and Zolder
Ever driven around one of the most iconic race tracks in the world ? If you have then you will know what an experience it it, if not then let us take you around a lap of the legendary Spa Fancorchamps and Zolder.
There’s something magical about arriving at Spa Francorchamps. You approach through the old town and its quiet countryside, all very unassuming but there are clues as to what awaits in the street furniture. Signs for a paddock, directions for race teams, and pointers to various grandstands.
For cars, the entrance tunnel is a very narrow 1-way affair which takes you under the straight between the madly slow La Source and devilishly fast Eau Rouge. If you look to your left you get your first glimpse of that almighty corner and, for the first time, appreciate its immense gradient.
The track went green at 9:00am. Helmets on, sport plus('s) engaged in preparation for reacquaintance with an old friend. Pulling out of the garage and into the pit lane, edging towards the track. Once you cross that line, and with a quick glance to your left, you can let the car breath. Steadily at first whilst you get your bearings and then with increasing ferocity as they tyres come up to temperature and your confidence returns.
The lap of Spa Francorchamps.
Cross the start line at over 125mph and brake hard at about 75m for a late, smooth apex on La Source taken at a meagre 39mph. Unwind the wheel and apply all the power as you hurtle down the hill to Eau Rouge. Graze the brakes and be greedy with the entrance curb on the left (you’ll know it’s right as you hear a double rumble), feel the compression and then remember to apex high on the right so you can exit cleanly on the left allowing your right foot to meet the mat once more with a good exit speed of around 116mph.
Foot firmly on the gas as you blast down Kemmel Straight with eyes peeled for the 100m marker. Hard on the brakes from 160mph scrubbing off 100mph to take Les Combes and easing on the power again to navigate Malmedy being sure to use all the exit curb. Then comes a short downhill stomp of gas to Bruxelles (otherwise know as "Patience Corner"). It’s a very late apex and off camber. As soon as you see your exit hit the throttle and move to the right hand side to complete the Bruxelles complex.
More power as you make your way down the hill to Pouhon. The braking point is the start of the right hand rumble and it requires a gentle squeeze to bleed off some speed from 120mph to 85mph. Roll the car in early and use the whole width of the track to balance your G-force inspired journey though the double left. By the time you exit you’re doing in excess of 120mph and are looking ahead to the gantry which marks the braking point to the left/right combination which is Les Fagnes. Smoothly does it through here as you must get a good entrance into Campus which leads to the all important Stavelot.
Having ridden the rumble between Campus and Stavelot you’ll feel the car settle and that’s the point to make your turn. Medium power at first and then give it all she has on the way up the hill (Courbe Paul Frere). It’s basically one long, smooth and very fast corner where you want to be placing the car parallel to the Armco on the right hand side as you gather your courage to keep your foot planted for the blind left hand approach to Blanchimont at over 140mph. No sooner have you said to yourself that you couldn’t believe you just did that, you have to apply a reasonable dab of brakes and then roll into the late apex of the corner itself exiting around 120mph. As soon as you see the exit, it’s foot to the floor, but not for long because the 36mph Bus Stop looms large. It’s anchors down to hook up the first apex, angling back on yourself slightly to open up the left hand apex and enable you to power on as early as possible for the dash to the finish line.
After several repetitions of the above and several EUR in petrol the day draws to a close and the usual pre track banter and beers commences. Not for long however as this trip is not yet over for tomorrow the circus rolls on to Belgiums other premium racetrack, Zolder.
As you arrive at Zolder there’s almost a stadium feel to the place with grand signage and directions to everywhere. It’s not until you are making your way to the pit garage that you start to get a feel for the history of the place. Stepping out onto the pit wall you can see the main grandstand on the opposite side of the track with its multitude of concrete steps to seat the thousands of fans. Of course, this is a track day and the stands are empty, but that just adds to the sense of nostalgia.
The lap of Zolder.
You cross the start line at about 125mph with eyeballs peeled for the 100m marker. This is no easy task as the start/finish straight is awash with similar looking signs almost tempting you fall into the massive gravel trap at Earste. It’s a very late, heavy braking zone to make that left hander which is also off camber. Catch a late apex and balance the car on the throttle as you position yourself for the Sterrewachtbocht, Kanaalbocht double right hand complex. The two corners flow into each other beautifully and if everything’s gone according to plan you will be approaching Lucien Bianchibocht at over 100mph. This is a committed right hand turn with brakes applied just enough to set up the car for an early exit where you need to use all the exit curb.
Hard on the power once more whilst searching your peripheral vision for the braking marker, which is the end of one of the Armco barriers on the right. Brake hard. You’re going from 135mph to just 55mph to make the left, right Kleine Chicane & you need to get power down early to meet the uphill gradient of the following Sacramentshelling and then gather your courage to keep your foot planted over the blind crest of Butte which is taken at close to 110mph. All the while the track drops away from you to the left and you have to be both skilful and brave on the brakes to make the Villeneuve Chicane.
As soon as you’ve made your exit you need to begin with a balanced throttle and some patience as you take Terlamenbocht which is an uphill, tightening right hander. Let the car run all the way out on the exit, increasing power as you go and then quickly move over the to the centre left of the track for the jump (approached at about 120mph) at the Bolderbergbocht complex which ends in another hard braking zone for the Jochen Rindtbocht chicane. The entrance is very slow at just 37mph, but the exit is a straight line.
You seize the opportunity to floor it as you make your way to the next heavy braking zone, the Jacky Ickxbocht chicane. As before your peripheral vision is seeking out your braking point which is just before the 100m marker and scrub speed from 124mph to just 40mph. Remember to look through the corner at the far exit rumble to ensure you take it and get a great exit to power down the home straight and across the line.
With that said the two day track extravaganza comes to a close, the team return the cars to their road settings and quietly sett off for the journey home.