Eau Rouge is 12 storeys from its bottom to the apex of Radillon. That’s what stuck in my head from all of the F1 telecast just over a week before I was due to visit and drive Spa Francorchamps myself. When you approach on the paddock access road, it’s the first thing you see. Eau Rouge/Radillon in all its glory. Like the ‘ring, the lens stretches Eau Rouge out. The steepness I was expecting, the sheer height of it, well it’s at this point ’12 storeys’ actually starts to take on some meaning and some context.
How I drove Spa (and how you can too)
I booked my Spa Francorchamps track day with RSR. They run several “Premium Trackdays” throughout the year. You can turn up with your own car if you like but since my Skyline didn’t fit in my hand luggage, I rented one of the RSR fleet – a BMW M135i. RSR offers track day rentals from a modest Volkswagen Scirocco, all the way up to a McLaren MP4 12C or Porsche 911 GT3RS. With a relative price increase of course. For the 3 pedal inclined, they have Renault Megane Sports aplenty in both left and right hand drive.
The Premium Trackday experience is one I’m going to miss. It’s a fully inclusive day, with bistro lunch and catering facility with drinks and snacks available all day in the pit garages. I was also spoiled by having the rental car. A garage of technicians was on hand to make sure the car was in top shape. Need a tyre pressure check? Just stop by the garage after a session while the temps are hot and it gets taken care of. I didn’t even have to get my hands dirty!
Turn it up to 11
This was the first time I’d driven on a current F1 circuit. Our F1 track in Australia is only temporary, so the best track we have to do track days on is the Phillip Island MotoGP circuit. Spa is actually similar in character to the Island with its undulations and fast corners, but where the Island is volume level 3, Spa is the full Spinal Tap level 11. Carrying speed through turn 1 at the Island has nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing on nailing the apex at Blanchimont at 190kph. In a road car.
Like the ‘ring, I already knew where Spa went from years of video gaming. It still blew me away. I tried to convey my reactions to the track on my first lap (I may have overdone it) – you can ride along in the video below;
Eau Rouge is very impressive as you dive downhill towards it. It is so high. Way higher than it looks on TV. First time through, though, I was disappointed. It certainly doesn’t have the hard compression like the Fuchsröhre of the Norschliefe for instance. After a couple of laps, the respect builds as you realise that when you want to start pushing through the corner it is a massive challenge to get right.
You need to take a lot of kerb on the left at Eau Rouge before turning in to the right hander and taking the apex much later than you initially think. The apex at Radillon is completely blind. At this point you have to set a trajectory for where you think it is, while getting back on the power yet being careful not to over-indulge as the car goes light over the crest. More than once I got it completely wrong and took the Fernando Alonso line in the inside of the apex of Radillon.
Pouhon is tighter in real life than it is in games and on TV. The line through it is pretty much what you expect and you’re constantly balancing the car with the steering and the throttle to tweak the trajectory just right. The lateral force across the car is awesome. In F1 this year the drivers were taking Pouhon with just a little lift. Fernando Alonso went through it flat out in qualifying, which caused the electronics on his McLaren great confusion. Thinking about how fast those guys go through there and the amount of braking I was doing before the turn in to the first section? Beyond belief.
The Luckiest Day of My Life
There are a lot of photos already of the M135i but the header image and the subsequent media on this page features an R35 GT-R. I started my morning sessions with my booked M135i and had a great time. Carved up a few Porches and plenty of ‘proper’ M cars.
However I was suffering from a severe vibration under braking. Quite probably caused by the vibration, a smell of petrol started to permeate the cabin. The mechanics set about changing the front brake rotors and would look into the fuel issue over the lunch break, however it was too much to do on the day. The 6th of September event was RSR’s biggest of the year, so all the other rental cars had been fully booked. Except one.
“We’re giving you an upgrade” was the response when I checked on the health of the 1er. We’ll honour the rest of your 320km package (250km to go), would you be OK with this GT-R? Yes. Yes is always the answer to that question.
The R35 was mega. I plan to write a separate review of it in the coming days, as the new MY17 model I drove was orders of magnitude better than the MY09 model I drove a few years ago. It’s also in many ways very similar yet quite different to my R33.
It’s well known that you can go to the Nürburgring as a regular punter and do a lap. I think its less well known that Spa, while not as accessible, is also a viable destination for motorsport tourists. The Spa day did cost me more than the ‘ring, however this was a full day, catered vs a couple of hours in the evening. Were I to have an equal experience at both, the cost would have been similar.
To choose one experience over the other? Totally impossible to say. Both tracks are so different to each other. One, an epic throwback that has stood the test of time, the other an old-school track that has evolved with modern racing and safety standards. If I had to choose just one, it would probably be the ‘ring, however they’re only 100km apart – why not do both?
On track images by Frozenspeed