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Fan Discussion 2011 / Spa Francorchamps - Darren Langeveld

Darren Langeveld can be found going around in circles at or asleep at the roadside anywhere on the E40.

With the season beckoning I knew I had to nip over to Germany at some point, so when I heard that Mr Lindner and Mr Richter would be holding a ‘Fan Discussion’ on Feb 17th, answering questions in person, I thought I’d attend - if nothing else than to try to judge the general mood for myself.

Decided at quite short notice (according to the ever accommodating Mrs L) and prepared for a quick 2 day winter visit. In addition to the Mi16 (on 888’s - patently out of the question) we’ve got a couple of two litre turbocharged cars in the fleet, but the 123d wasn’t on the required winter tyres so I pulled away from the drive in our trusty old 206 Hdi. The joy.

Now those of you with young children and busy lives will have some empathy with me here, I wasn’t able to leave until quite late on Wednesday evening, so elected to dash to the coast, cross the channel and stop in France as opposed to getting up at silly o’clock in the morning and having an 18 hour day. I also save the toll at Dartford. Bonus.

Unfortunately for me – there are stupidly long and frequent 50mph road works on both the M1 and M25, so the quick run to the channel turned into an achingly slow boring drag. The happy upside was arriving at Ashford with an unusually high (for me) mpg.

Tunnel was unromantically efficient as usual,

so before long I was scanning the horizon looking for a hotel sign. Found one, parked up, negotiated in broken French and lay down to rest for a few hours.

Pulled back the curtains later that morning to sunshine, blue skies and, typical – an industrial estate. No matter, the hotel was cheap, close and available.

The title wasn't literal, so I checked out and headed east. Now, when I’d left Coventry the 206 was a quarter full and was running very low at this point. And, predictably, the warning light appeared just as I joined the autoroute. “No matter, there’s a fuel station soon” I told myself. I don’t know why I told myself that, because I should know full well that the first fuel station isn't until well into Belgium. A fraught few miles passed with the range prediction ominously beyond zero

before the services loomed out of the mist and I pulled in. 50 litres in a 45 litre tank? Must have been low. I grabbed a 'Shakur' for breakfast

and motored on.

I’d decided to go through Brussels instead of looping south, as the traffic should be ok mid morning, and so it proved to be but I was still nervous to a degree. I’ve decided recently to stop using Sat Nav on journeys as a default as I’m concerned we’re growing a younger generation of drivers who don’t actually know where anything is. The first few times I visited the Ring I only had Ben Lovejoy's written instructions, but most of the visits in between have been guided by nav. This trip, because I was on my own, I thought I’d trust my own judgement and not use Tom. And, it turned out I was able to navigate the Brussels ring road from memory, a great feeling for someone who had, by my own admission, become lazy and overly reliant on GPS.

Pretty soon I was peeling off the E40 and, with it being lunchtime, decided to head to Spa for lunch. Stopped in Stavelot

had lunch, quick look around the town, found this,

all very pleasant as always then headed up to Francorchamps for a meeting at the circuit.

Spa Francorchamps, like the Ring, is a very, very special place. The whole region is just lovely, but to have a race track, the race track nestled in amongst the rolling hills and valleys is truly poetic. There’s a long and proud history at Spa, all the more fascinating before 1979, the point at which the circuit as we know it today was revealed.

Prior to ’79, Spa was an absolute monster of a circuit. Conceived in 1921 at a length of some 9.3 miles (the track originally turned a sharp left just before Eau Rouge before looping back on itself to rejoin at Radillion) it quickly gained a fearsome reputation. It was fast – oh so fast, with full throttle downhill sections heading away from Francorchamps, through the dreaded Masta Kink before banking sharp right at the village of Stavelot heading back to rejoin the current circuit at what is now the right hand exit of Stavelot leading to Blanchimont.

Between 1939 and 1978, the 9 mile track was a rival for anywhere else in the world and claimed many lives, as was so often the case with the old masters as the cars that raced on them grew ever faster. Compare Formula 1 speeds, 145mph average lap speed of Chris Amon’s March in 1970 against Felipe Massa’s 137mph in the Ferrari on the 'new' circuit in 2007!

At the time, most of the circuit was in fact public roads, and today all of the old track still remains in almost original form and can be driven quite easily, with a trace of old armco here and there to remind you of its past. I decided to have a quick look round and retrace it’s path.

These gates at the top of Les Combes lead a slightly banked road away from the track and down toward Malmedy

Join the main road

and imagine shimmying along at full pelt – the gradient is such that there are very few cars that couldn’t reach terminal velocity very quickly indeed. What is quite awe inspiring is just how open the road is from here all the way down to Stavelot (with a new junction inbetween) leading to the old Stavelot banked curve.

It’s quite steeply banked and must have been a fantastic corner to drive at what would have been very high speeds

You can still see what I assume is the original track surface


From here we can drive what serves now as an access road back toward the circuit, climbing slightly but soon levelling off to another fantastic straight through the forest

until it meets the current track here

Incidentally, this road serves the HGV transporters on race weekends as it leads to the only tunnel with enough clearance to get them into the infield. It was this tunnel that collapsed in Easter 2010, since fully restored of course, but if you follow the road through you arrive back at paddock of the old pits at the bottom of Eau Rouge

Footage from the old circuit in 1958:

By mid afternoon I’d had a couple of concerned texts from Nürburg, as despite wanting to slip in and out as discretely as possible, the local grapevine had already detected my leaving England and was now waiting for me with a beer. I headed back out to the E42 headed the wrong way north before realising (no sat nav remember) and before long was in the Eifel.

I quickly popped into the Subway up at the Ringwerk to check to see if I still had some euros on a card from last year (I had, they do carry over), bumped into Aston N24 Co-Pilot driver Andy Gülden, before hot footing it 2 minutes down the hill to Welcherath to meet Michaela at the new Gästehaus Fuchsröhre. She’s in the middle of renovations, so I promised not to share any pictures until the guesthouse is officially opened and welcoming guests but man, is that a cool place. I foresee many beers being drunk there, the bar is great and I can’t wait to throw some cheese in the basement! If you’re wondering what the hell I’m on about – she’s opening on the 1st April – get down there and see for yourself. Just promise me you’ll never, ever play a game of Schock with her!

We were running out of time before the ‘Fan Discussion’ started up at the Ring, so we popped back to Michaela’s home (via a short cut through the woods) before picking Jochen Frozenspeed up and making our way to the TV Studio on the Ring Boulevard.

There were many familiar faces there from lots of local businesses and a good representation from the Touristenfahrer forum and before long Mr Richter, Mr Lindner and Mr Strack took the stage and started answering questions. On the whole, the mood seemed cordial and quite positive despite some quite searching questions from the floor. I even felt moved to pipe up, asking the only question in English.

Forward to 1hr 6 mins to hear yours truly making a fool of himself:

And then it ended, we hung around chatting for a while before piling into the 206 and heading down to the Comfy Corner in Adenau for something to eat.

Sir Karl B’stard of Adenau was in there and must have been feeling unwell as he offered to buy me a beer. Before long Jörg had rustled up my favourite dish (Pork Medallions) and we sat down to enjoy the usual great food and atmosphere.

I hugged Jörg. He’s very cuddly. I still had to pay the bill.

Picture Michaela Scheffner

Dropped Jochen home then headed bach to Wimbach for some well earned sleep. Except I’d forgotten about the bells. The church bells in Wimbach ring at the same ungodly hour seven days a week, and properly woke me from my slumbers. Bugger. Still, I had to be at an 08.30 meeting with Heide and Theo at RentRaceCar anyway, so after a quick coffee I headed off. I won’t bore you with details, but it was lovely to see the new and expanding fleet at RentRacecar before meeting with the guys at the Nurburgring to sign contracts for the Destination Nürburgring track days later in the year. From there I popped into RSR for a chat with John.

Soon I was innocently passing the car park and noticed the Ring was open, so I weighed up my options and bought a lap ticket. The 206 is a ring veteran with lots of laps under it’s belt so I figured it was rude not to.

Headed out though the barriers and unleashed the might of all 90 horses with a deft flick of my right toe. Nothing much happened in terms of outright acceleration but before long we were overtaking a couple of things on a damp but enjoyable lap. First one of many to come in 2011.

On my way out I noticed two grinning loons arriving in what can only be described as comedy British entries adorned with various bits of fluffy shizzle and pink writing. One Rover and a VW Caddy I think. I’ve noticed an increase of these kind of ‘bangers bought of ebay for a few quid then drivin to the Ring with the lads to get away from the Mrs for a weekend don’t care if it doesn’t make it back’ types. Lads, seriously. Stop it. Stop it now. At best you look like twats. At worst you give the British a bad name and risk others with your piles of crap. Rant over.

Jochen was in a talkative mood, so what should have been a quick chat about Frozenspeed event photography ended up a two hour meeting , and after a quick go on his Scalextrix I was now seriously late and not looking like I’d make my return channel crossing.

So, back to Michaela’s, changed the return and set off for the uneventful sat nav free return journey back home. Fuelled up and a quick check of the tyres (I think the air/tyre gauges in Germany are brilliant so here’s a pic)

Oh – there’s a “Welcome Stop” services on the M20 just after you get off Eurotunnel. It’s anything but welcome, with a single KFC and some toilets in a massive otherwise empty building. Service was slow at the KFC. Best avoided if possible.

So, a very quick 'over and back' trip, great to catch up with old friends and new and it was kinda nice to spend some time in the old 206 despite the weather being glorious and winter tyres being completely unnecessary! Doh!

And finally, no trip report would be complete without a shot of some technogeekfest or another so, Ben Lovejoy, this one’s for you.

Music being handled by the HTC Desire, voice calls/photos by the N82, both streaming over Bluetooth to the Sony head unit. Word.

Until next time.

Preparation At the Ring Safety More SOS
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