Tag Archives: Spa

Flat through Eau-Rouge

I’m back on UK soil after the Caterham Motorsport’s yearly foray into Europe and I’ve just about had enough time to reflect on what was an awesome visit to the legendary Cirquit de Spa-Francorchamps.

We only had two sessions testing ahead of the race weekend; far less than normal for a new track. Everything was compressed into a very tight schedule. It’s a track full of fast, committed corners where you have to settle the car quickly and get back to the throttle. The kind of corners I go well around.

However, it’s also got the two longest flat out sections of any track we visit. From La Source all the way to Les Combes and from Stavelot right up to the bus stop.

In a Caterham, this means the track is all about managing the slipstream and racing tactically. Outright pace is not actually required!

I felt comfortable with the track after the first session out and was putting in times at the top of the timing-sheets quite comfortably.

I therefore went into Qualifying putting a little more pressure on myself than I have been used to recently. I knew pole was possible but trying to manage the ideal time when you only have 6 laps to do it is far from easy. This was also complicated by us sharing our qualifying session with the 420Rs.

Extremely early on, I got a super tow from Dan Gore up the Kemel straight. I was squeezed through Les Fanges between Dan and an 420R. This put me off and I made mistakes at the tail end of the lap. However, this lap was good enough for 2nd on the grid and for Dan, was good enough for pole. Without those mistakes… could have had Spa pole on my racing CV – which would have been very nice indeed!

Pole could still have been on, but sadly, a great lap was written off by a very slow car in the bus stop. (preparing for their own lap no doubt, but annoying none the less…)

My ideal lap in Quali was 1.4 seconds faster than the time I ended up with but that just shows how powerful the tow is around this track.

The weather through the whole weekend was threatening and forecasts changed from minute to minute. However, the sun shone down on Race 1 and an earlier cloud burst that caused havoc in the Roadsport race had completely dried by the time we got out on track.

There were over 50 cars set on the grid as the 420Rs were also lined up with us. It’s the first time we’ve run split grids at a Caterham weekend and seeing the sheer amount of cars ahead was pretty daunting. Getting through La Source on the first lap was always going to be a bit of a lottery and so it was for Ben Tuck and Roy Gray who were out after just 400m or so of racing.

I made a great start and was hooked onto the tail end of the 420Rs going up Kemel. But for a safety car due to the first corner incident, it felt like I had the chance at a break from the group.

The safety car seemed to drag on forever and the race only got going again with under 16 minutes remaining of the race.

There followed 16 minutes of frantic action working the tow and trying to figure out how to finish the last lap in the lead. I didn’t quite get it right, sadly, and missed out on the win by just a couple of car lengths but was extremely pleased with 3rd place. Back on the podium after an absence of over a year and it felt great. What was even more encouraging was I felt I had more to bring to race 2.

Sunday was another threatening day according to the forecasts, however, race time was sunny and it certainly looked like we’d be dry throughout.

This time, everyone got through turn one without incident and I settled into the lead pack. A much larger lead pack this time and one that just grew as the race went on.

There’s over 10mph difference between a Caterham Supersport running on it’s own as opposed to running in the tow; so again, the management of this process along the two hugely long flat out stretches of track was an art form.

For 90% of the race, I managed this process OK. I’d switched around my rear tyres ahead of the race to manage the tyre wear and ensure they remained legal after the race, however, they didn’t bed in very quickly so the rear of the car was very lose throughout. I also had one missed gear which sent me tumbling down the field; and one unlucky run up the Kemel straight that also cost me 6 places due to the tow. With, just a touch of patience and planning, I did manage to get back to the front on each occasion. Things were certainly looking good!

As the 30 minutes race period elapsed, Ben Tuck and myself broke very slightly clear of the pack and up the final straight into Balnchimon, I was able to take the lead. I crossed the line thinking I’d finally won another race. However, no chequered flag was waved and it dawned on me that we had another lap to go. Sadly, this lap went badly and while trying to go side by side with Ben Tuck through Pouhon, my rear tyres ran out of grip and I ran out of talent. That left me out wide scrabbling to get back to the track and the whole lead pack through. I was back in 10th or 11th at that point with only 3 real corners left to go.

At Blanchimont, Mike Evans cut across Henry and Christian causing some wings to go flying and a cascade effect of braking and swerving within a pack of 10 drivers. I was at the rear of this and had to jink right around the flat out left hander. I was closer than I would have wanted to having a big accident in the tyre barrier and also no further forward up the field and now with only one corner to go.

The right hander of the Bus Stop Chicane also had a yellow flag for Ian Sparshott’s stranded 420R. However, I noticed that the left hand part of the chicane was showing a green flag. Dan Gore was spun out of the pack ahead of me, having been overtaken under yellows and I just about managed to squeeze through to take a wider line into the left and cut up the inside of several drivers to make it to 7th place over the line. In the stewards office afterwards, Richard Noordhof was unfortunately excluded from the results. I therefore came in with a 6th place finish. Certainly a lot better than it could have been with 3 corners to go but also a huge part of me knew I’d blown another great result.

In my head, I’d won the 30 minute race of Spa – but clearly my old bones can’t cope with 35 minutes!

Well done to everyone for largely keeping it clean and tidy under immense and sustained pressure. I loved the weekend at Spa and am extremely happy to be able to say I’ve not only raced at Spa, but I’ve also had a podium there.

Next up is Brands hatch in just 3 weeks time. Can’t wait!

 

Time to kick the bucket list

This one is on most racers bucket list. The chance to drive around the legendary Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium. However, I’m lucky enough to not just be driving there, but indeed racing it!

Qualifying: Sat 13th May – 10:00 – 10:20
Race 1: Sat 13th May – 13:05 – 13:35
Race 2: Sun 14th May – 10:25 – 10:55

I’m hopeful that the Live Timing will be available at: https://livetiming.getraceresults.com/spa

As a treat – there’s also a live webcam of the spectacular Eau Rouge – which should also allow you to see some of the action as it takes place! http://webcam.spa-francorchamps.be/

Videos to follow of course! Watch this space.

Spa GP Paddock – With Caterham

0.002s was all it took to top off the best weekend ever! That was how close I got to predicting my Brands Hatch qualifying time. Mine was the closest prediction across all the Caterham championships at Brands and so I won the competition for Caterham F1 paddock and hospitality passes for the Spa F1 GP…

Race win, fastest lap and competition winner… The competition was designed to offer something for everyone to shoot for, so winning the race and the competition was greedy to say the least. Coincidentally 0.002s was roughly how long I felt guilty for when Jen rang me up to let me know.

Rob Clay, Academy Group 2, had won the competition at our Donington weekend and we arranged to stay together as near the circuit as we could. Rob was accompanied by Laura and I had dad in tow. Laura and Dad did all the hard work getting arrangements sorted. After all, the drivers had done all the hard work up to that point. I almost got a blister writing the qualifying guess onto a piece of paper.

After a LONG journey across Europe, through Brussels rush hour(s) we eventually arrived at the accommodation. A great challet style house in the Belgian Ardennes.


There was no time to rest though, as we needed to pick up the passes for the weekend. Dad and I drove over to the Caterham team hotel (Mercedes were also staying there) and we met Cyril for the first time. Cyril is in charge of looking after all of Caterhams guests over race weekends and he made us feel right at home from the off. We had a great chat over a couple of beers. We also met Fatna for the first time. She heads up the front of house inside the hospitality ‘truck’. We spent a good 40 mins chatting away and generally getting excited about what lay ahead.


Saturday dawned and we were out the door early. Spa is renowned for its bad traffic. The circuit is nestled around a series of rugged valleys and the approach roads are majority country tracks rather than main roads!

It was a lovely feeling to be able to walk through so many security gates leisurely flashing our magic passess all the way into the F1 paddock. I felt like I was trespassing! We had a walk around the paddock to get our bearings and looked in awe at all the trucks and buildings that comprise the F1 circus. The Belgian paddock is split level, with the pits and car trucks on the upper level and the hospitality units on the lower level.

Linking in-between was a set of stairs. This pinch point in the paddock turned out to be a brilliant place to hang out as everyone was forced there to get around – it was easy pickings to get lots of photos there!

SpaGPPaddockCaterham 1

We went up into the Caterham hospitality and were met by Fatina with teas and coffees whilst we waited for Cyril to arrive. As soon as he did, we knew we were going to be in good hands! He had the whole day sorted for us! Viewing area in the back of the pits for FP3. Quick lunch. Pitlane walkabout. Pit garage for Qalification. Over to the media scrum to see all the interviews taking place and then back for some afternoon tea.

SpaGPPaddockCaterham 44

If that all sounds brilliant, I can assure you that it was even better in reality! Watching the qualification session from the back of the pits will stay with me forever! We were right there when the call was made for Van Der Garde to go onto slicks and joined in the huge celebrations when he went and stuck it in 3rd in session 1 of quali! Just before quali 3 started, Cyril took us in front of the garage and we were nearly in touching distance as all the main runners and riders queued up to leave the pits.

SpaGPPaddockCaterham 18
SpaGPPaddockCaterham 19

Seeing the work of the mechanics, engineers, scruteneers and pirelli tyre personnel was also fascinating. The routines are all set and rehearsed. The same things happen each and every time the car enters and leaves the garage. Cleaning and polishing are constant!

Another memorable moment was the first time the two cars were fired up in the garage ready to leave for the track. An F1 car is extremely loud when out on the track and is unbelievably loud when that noise is contained inside a garage! It’s a very physical experience as you can feel the noise right through your chest.

After afternoon tea, sat next to Guido and Charles while they talked to the worlds media, we decided we’d go and watch the GP3 race from Eau Rouge. Rob made the inspired decision to flash our passes at one of the Gold grandstands and, much to our surprise, the bemused guard said we could go through! So we got to watch the race from a prime spot half way up one of the most famous corners in motor racing! Fabulous end to the day.

We all spent the evening looking through all the photos we’d grabbed through the day whilst an epic thunderstorm raged outside! We compared who’d seen who and who’d seen what! Between the 4 of us, we’d taken literally hundreds of photos but it was great re-living the day and sharing stories!

Sunday morning! Another early start and Dad and I decided to have a walk up to the other end of the track. It’s a huge track and it took about an hour to walk all the way up past Eau-rouge, along the straight and up to Les Combes / Malmedy. The F1 cars do it in a matter of seconds! It was great to taste the atmosphere of the GP in the forrest and also the views out across the valleys.

SpaGPPaddockCaterham 27

Back in the Caterham hospitality, Cyril laid out another packed day! An early treat was watching the GP2 race from in front of the Caterham pits, litterally 3 meters from the Caterham GP2 teams pit crew whilst they changed tyres. WOW! And through the day we got to watch Guido’s mechanics put his car together again ready for the race. Hundreds of man hours every weekend go into removing and replacing all the body panels on the car to check, clean and monitor the car.

SpaGPPaddockCaterham 29

After another quick lunch stop it was back out for the second pit walk of the weekend (oh, the chore). Watching the start of the race from the outside of La source felt the most like a normal GP but it was a brilliant place to see the action! The race itself was fairly spread out after just a few laps so being able to return to the garage was great. And then the final surprise of the weekend! We were able to go down to the podium for the celebrations! Right under the rostrum for all the anthems, champaign and trophies. Ross Brawn was just behind us in the crowd! Unforgettable.

SpaGPPaddockCaterham 46
SpaGPPaddockCaterham 45

So, that was the weekend of a lifetime. We said our goodbye’s to the Caterham team and to Cyril and Fatna. We hung around in the paddock for one last blast of the cameras and then slowly made our way back to our cars and eventually back home to he UK.

This year was already a completely unforgettable one for me. This has put it in the stratosphere. It’s certainly going to be a hard one to beat…