I visited Spa Francorchamps in October 2005, arguably the most famous racing circuit in the world, with the Caterham Graduates for the 2005 Spa Festival.
I built this page while waiting for a media card I'd left behind and the aim is a quick history of the circuit and show you some in-game footage from two PC games; Grand Prix Legends and GTR.

I've been playing Grand Prix Legends since 1998 and have logged many hundreds of laps at the old Spa Francorchamps circuit, a fearsome 9 miles in length. GPL was the closest thing to driving a real car on the PC for years until the FIA approved game GTR came along which models the pre-2002 layout extremely accurately.

History
The original circuit, a fearsome 9.31 miles down narrow Belgian roads, was first used in 1921 and the first Spa 24 Hrs took place in 1924. It was changed to 9.236 miles for the 1930-33 races, and a tightening of the Malmedy right hander for 1934 changed the distance to 9.29 miles. In 1939 the Ancienne Douanne hairpin (now the road up behind Eau Rouge) was bypassed with the very steep sweep upwards from Eau Rouge (9.01 miles). For a number of years the circuit remained unchanged, although it was revised to 8.774 miles in 1956. Incremental change occured over the following years, corners gradually being eased, and a chicane was installed before Malmedy. The track distance remained unofficially unchanged.

Unfortunately the old circuit was considered dangerous and the new circuit opened in 1979 at 4.317 miles. Fears that the new circuit would be a shadow of its former self were unfounded, but during 1979/80 the Bus Stop chicane was built to slow the cars into La Source (4.3179 miles). The circuit length was officially revised in 1986 by the RACB to 4.312 miles. This temporarily changed in 1994 when a chicane was installed in Eau Rouge after Alex Zanardi's huge accident the year before. The Belgian government purchased the land surrounding the track, moved back the barriers, installing a gravel trap, and for 1995 the race was held on the 1993 layout.

Further work was undertaken for 2002. The gravel traps around the Eau Rouge corner were removed, being replaced with high-grip tarmac. Tarmac was also placed around the outside of Blanchimont, and the Bus Stop exit corner was eased to make it possible to accelerate through without clattering over the kerbing. The F1 pit entry was also moved from before the Bus Stop entry corner to just before the Bus Stop exit, a seemingly more dangerous place for it given the pre-occupation with safety at the time.

It may be the best circuit on the F1 calendar but it is not an easy place to visit. The traffic system is like Silverstone and it changes from day to day depending on who is in charge on the day. The facilities are basic and the organisation is sketchy on occasion (I had problems obtaining my media pass).

The old circuit
A highlight of my visit was the old circuit. Now a public road that leads to the Stavelot entrance, it shows just how dangerous the old track was. Coming off the E42 at junction 11 you join the N62 which has already curved its way around from the Burneville corner and you are back on the old track (if you were to go down Remmel straight and carry on without turning into Stavelot the track turned left then right into Burneville). I recognised the old railway line which runs alongside the flat out straight all the way down to the fearsome Masta kink. There is something evil-sounding about the name and, arriving there and threading between the houses, you realise why the place had such a reputation. And then it is flat all the way down to the slightly-banked Stavelot Corner which fans of the film "Grand Prix" will recognise as the corner at which Jean-Pierre Sarti crashed his Ferrari killing two small boys. Then over a bridge I recognised and joining the N640 just after a petrol station the old track blasted up through the woods to rejoin the new track at the new Stavelot corner. You can see the width of the track was much wider than the public road is now, only the centre section has been re-laid with tarmac and painted. Fantastic stuff!


Movies!


Spa, 1967, in the Ferrari 312 (11.8Mb)
(right-click the picture, choose "Save As")

Spa, dry, in a GTR car (13.5Mb)
(right-click the picture, choose "Save As")
Spa, very wet, Lotus Elise (17.5Mb)
(right-click the picture, choose "Save As")

If these video's won't play, you will need DivX (a small and free download from here)


 


Pouhon panorama


Stavelot panorama