As part of our build up to the opening round of the FIA World Endurance Championship, we take a look at the famous Spa Francorchamps circuit in Belgium.
Designed in 1920 by Jules de Thier and Henri Langlois Van Ophem, the original triangle-shaped course used public roads between the Belgian towns of Francorchamps, Malmedy, and Stavelot. The track was intended to have hosted its inaugural race in August 1921, however this event had to be cancelled as there was only one entrant. The first car race was held at the circuit in 1922, and two years later saw the first running of the now famous 24 Hours of Francorchamps race.
The circuit was first used for Grand Prix racing in 1925 and started hosting the 1000kms endurance race in 1966, but, due to safety problems over the long and fast 14km track, which then was mainly public roads, the race stopped being hosted there in 1975. The 1000kms race resumed in 1982 after the track had been shortened to 7kms and made much safer. Since 2012 the FIA WEC race has been held at the circuit, now in the format of a 6hr race.
Spa is located in the Ardennes countryside in east Belgium. The old circuit was made up of everyday public roads and consisted of the usual obstacles such as houses, trees, electric poles, barnyards and fields. Before 1970, there were no safety modifications of any kind done to the circuit and the conditions of the circuit were, aside from a few straw bales, virtually identical to everyday civilian use. Former Formula One racing driver and team owner Jackie Oliver was quoted as saying "if you went off the road, you didn't know what you were going to hit"
In 1979 the old 14km circuit was sent into the pages of history and the shorter circuit was adopted. There have been various changes to the “shorter” circuit including, in 1981, moving the start – finish point to before the La Source Hairpin and various different configurations of the “Bus Stop” chicane.
The most iconic part of the circuit, known the world over, is “Eau Rouge”. Having negotiated the La Source hairpin, drivers race down a straight to the point where the track crosses the Eau Rouge stream for the first time, before being launched steeply uphill into a sweeping left-right-left collection of corners with a blind summit. Properly speaking, the Eau Rouge corner is only the left-hander at the bottom. The following right-hander that leads steeply uphill, this is called "Raidillon". The corner requires an amount of skill from the driver to negotiate it well and the long “Kennel” straight ahead produces good overtaking opportunities for drivers at the following "Les Combes" corner.
For fans the Eau Rouge section is a spectacular viewing point, with its bar at the top – this is well placed - gradient is 17% and an elevation change of some 134 feet (40.8 meters) means a beer and frites at the top are well deserved!! With most of the circuit accessible to fans why not take your walking boots and go exploring this fantastic circuit during the TOTAL 6 Hours of Spa!!