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Thread: Cat in Snow - A Caterham Trackday at Spa-Francorchamps Circuit Belgium

  1. #1
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    Default Cat in Snow - A Caterham Trackday at Spa-Francorchamps Circuit Belgium

    Track day at Spa-Francorchamps Circuit in Belgium

    In the latest installment of great circuits of the world in a seven, on March 23/24, 2013 I made the trek to the Spa to have a weekend in a Caterham R300 rented from Bookatrack. I have rented this car a few times before having run it at Oulton Park and Silverstone previously.

    For those who do not know, Spa-Francorchamps has a long and distinguished history in motor racing. Currently the track is the home of the Belgian Formula 1 Grand Prix plus the Spa 24 hours and Spa 1000km Endurance Race.

    Circuit History (from Wikipedia)

    “Designed in 1920 by Jules de Their and Henri Langlois Van Ophem, the original triangle-shaped course used public roads between the Belgian towns of Spa, 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.
    The old Spa circuit was essentially a speed course with drivers managing much higher average speeds than on other race tracks, a factor that made Spa very popular from its inception. Back then, the Belgians took pride in having a very fast circuit, and to improve average speeds, the former slow uphill U-turn at the bottom of the Eau Rouge creek valley, called the Ancienne Douane, was cut short with a faster sweep straight up the hill, called the Raidillon. Until 2000, it was possible to travel over the racetrack when it was still a public road. At Eau Rouge, southbound traffic was allowed to use the famous uphill corner, while the opposite downhill traffic had to use the old road and U-turn behind the grand stands, rejoining the racetrack at the bottom of Eau Rouge.

    The old racetrack continued through the now-straightened Kemmel curves to the highest part of the track, then went downhill into Les Combes, a fast, slightly banked downhill left-hander towards Burnenville, passing this village in a fast right hand sweep. Near Malmedy, the Masta straight began, which was only interrupted by the fast Masta Kink between farmhouses before arriving at the town of Stavelot. Then the track blasted through an uphill straight section with a few kinks called La Carriere, going through 2 ultra-fast turns (an unnamed right-hand turn and then Blanchimont) before braking very hard for the La Source hairpin, and that rejoined the downhill start finish section as opposed to today where the start-finish section is before La Source.

    Spa is located in the Belgian Ardennes countryside, and the old circuit was (and still is) used as everyday public road, and there were houses, trees, electric poles, barnyards, fields and other obstacles located right next to the track. 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".

    Like the Nürburgring and Le Mans circuits, Spa became notorious for fatal accidents, as there were many deaths each year at the ultra-fast track, especially at the 1960 Belgian Grand Prix where 2 drivers, Chris Bristow and Alan Stacey were both killed within 15 minutes (although Stacey's accident was caused by a bird hitting him in the face) and Stirling Moss had crashed at Burnenville during practice and was severely injured. When Armco crash barriers were added to the track in 1970, deaths became less frequent there but the track was still notorious for other factors. The Ardennes Forest had very unpredictable weather and there were parts where it was raining and the track was wet, and other parts where the sun was shining and the track was completely dry. This factor was a commonality on long circuits, but the weather at Spa was always more unpredictable than other long circuits, combined with the fact that it was an ultra-high speed track with all but 1 corner (La Source) being extremely high speed made it one of, if not the most dangerous race track in the world. Multiple fatalities during the 1973 and 1975 24 Hours of Spa touring car races more or less sealed the old circuit's fate, and by 1978, the last year Spa was in its original form, the only major races held there were the Belgian motorcycle Grand Prix and the Spa 24 Hours touring car race; the 1000 km World Sportscar Championship race no longer took place after 1975 and did not come back until 1982.”
    Last edited by Croc; 04-13-2013 at 05:56 AM.
    Mike
    2010 Caterham CSR with Cosworth 2.3 Duratec
    2018 Caterham 420R with 2L Duratec 210hp at Donington UK
    1975 BMW CSL Group 4 (restoration finished - track set up time)
    1977 Holden Torana "A9X" (awaiting restoration)
    1985 Holden Commodore SS Group A (suspension restoration)
    1985 Holden Commodore Group A (suspension set up)
    1982 Ferrari 400i (radiator replacement)
    1965 Ford Mustang Fastback "Holman Moody"
    1992 Ford Escort RS Cosworth WRC (dyno time)
    1990 Range Rover 2 door Classic
    and another project car coming....

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    “In 1969, the Belgian Grand Prix was boycotted by F1 because of the extreme danger of Spa. There had been 10 racing fatalities in total at the track in the 1960s, including 5 in the 2 years previous. The drivers demanded changes made to Spa, which were not possible on short notice, so the Belgian Grand Prix was dropped that year. Armco was added to the track and sections of it were improved (especially the Stavelot and Holowell sections), just like Armco had been added for the 1969 Le Mans race. One last race there the following year on the improved track was still not satisfactory enough (even after a temporary chicane was added at Malmedy just for that race) for the drivers in terms of safety, and even with the chicane, the drivers averaged 150+ mph (240 km/h) during the race. For the 1971 race, the track owners and authorities had not brought the track up to date with mandatory safety measures, and the race was cancelled. Formula One would not return to Spa until 1983 on the modern track.

    Over the years, the Spa course has been modified several times. The track was originally 15 kilometers (9 mi) long, but after World War II, the track had some changes. In 1930 the chicane at Malmedy was eliminated and bypassed, making the course even faster, but the chicane was re-installed in 1935, albeit slightly different. In 1939, "Virage de Ancienne Douane" was eliminated and cut short, thus giving birth to the Eau Rouge/Raidillon uphill sweeping corner. In 1947, the chicane at Malmedy was again eliminated and bypassed, and was made part of the Masta Straight. The slight right-hander that was originally Holowell (the corner before Stavelot after the second Masta Straight) was eliminated. And finally, instead of going through a slight left-hander that went into the town of Stavelot and a sharp right-hander at a road junction in Stavelot, a shortcut was built that became a very fast, very wide right-handed turn that bypassed Stavelot. All these changes made the final configuration of the old Spa circuit 14 km (9 mi) long. All these changes made Spa the fastest open road circuit in the world, and in the final years of the old circuit, drivers could average 150 mph (241 km/h) on the circuit. The biggest change, however, saw the circuit being shortened from 14 km (9 mi) to 7 km (4 mi) in 1979. The start/finish line, which was originally on the downhill straight before Eau Rouge, was moved to the straight before the La Source hairpin in 1981. Like its predecessor the new layout still is a fast and hilly route through the Ardennes where speeds in excess of 330 km/h (205 mph) [Croc edit – not in a Seven!] can be reached. Since inception, the place has been famous for its unpredictable weather. Frequently drivers are confronted with one part of the course being clear and bright while another stretch is rainy and slippery.
    The circuit probably demonstrates the importance of driver skill more than any other in the world. This is largely due to the Eau Rouge and Blanchimont corners, both which need to be taken flat out to achieve a fast run onto the straights after them, which aids a driver in both a fast lap and in overtaking.”

    Circuit Map




    This map does not give justice to the elevation change from the heights of the circuit just after Les Combes from which it is a rapid downhill to Campus (aka Stavelot) and then the level run along the valley through Blanchimont and Pit Straight before rounding La Source and heading steeply downhill again to Eau Rouge and then the steep steep climb up top Raidillon and then the Kemmel Straight.

    Travel to Spa

    So I fly out from Newark on Thursday night to Brussels for arrival at 7am on Friday. I pick up my trusty rental car from Uranus Hertz (actually not that company but the cost felt that way!), and proceed to head to the exit of the garage. Inching out into a one-way street that was blind from the right where the cars should have been approaching from, I was promptly run over by some dump truck heading up the one-way street the wrong way. Sigh. Luckily the rental car company was watching since I only just left the booth and so after 1.5 hours of waiting to give the police a report and for no cost to me, I was given a nice new diesel Ford minivan to carry on my way. A little over 1.5 hours smooth drive later I was at Hotel La Source. This is a nice new facility located just off the La Source hairpin. During the F1 Grand Prix rooms go for 1000 Euros a night…ouch!
    Last edited by Croc; 09-28-2019 at 02:41 AM.
    Mike
    2010 Caterham CSR with Cosworth 2.3 Duratec
    2018 Caterham 420R with 2L Duratec 210hp at Donington UK
    1975 BMW CSL Group 4 (restoration finished - track set up time)
    1977 Holden Torana "A9X" (awaiting restoration)
    1985 Holden Commodore SS Group A (suspension restoration)
    1985 Holden Commodore Group A (suspension set up)
    1982 Ferrari 400i (radiator replacement)
    1965 Ford Mustang Fastback "Holman Moody"
    1992 Ford Escort RS Cosworth WRC (dyno time)
    1990 Range Rover 2 door Classic
    and another project car coming....

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    Saturday

    So the day dawns overcast with threatening skies – snow flurries were forecast. The temperature is cold (20sF) – rather daunting given that I am a virgin on Spa.



    So I rock up to the pits to sign on, get my wristbands and check out my car. It is a Caterham SV R300 spec with the Duratec 2L putting out about 180hp with the Caterham 6 speed gearbox. It runs on 13 inch wheels with Avon CR500s. It is pretty simple – no speedo, the Stack dash is erratic in its warnings, no headlights or indicators or brake lights. As I complete my scan of the car I notice…the car has an S3 chassis sized Tillet. Given my built-for-comfort-not-speed-sized dimensions this is a problem. The car is normally spec’d in advance with a Tillet B2 race shell which is larger for the dimensions of the SV chassis. Oh well… so we borrow some foam from the truck and some duct tape and before you know it I have a nicely comfortable and functional seat.





    Bookatrack are in my opinion one of the best track day operators I have ever run with. For Spa it was open pit lane format, passing only on the left (car being passed on the right), and normally with a point by. For Spa given the speed differentials are so great the point by requirement was waived as on Kemmel Straight the Caterham can only pull about 125-130mph (on a good day) whereas some of the cars there (Ferrari F40, Porsche, etc.) could pull close to 200mph. Vigilance was key for the day. Jonny LeRoux has the best driver briefings that I have ever listened to – thorough, comprehensive, and leavened with a healthy dose of humor. Really well done.
    Last edited by Croc; 09-28-2019 at 03:07 AM.

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    So we leave the briefing room and discover….uh oh….its snowing. Never mind, it is time for sighting laps. This is something I have experienced outside the US but never within the US. It is a series of 2-3 laps behind a pace car in any vehicle that is mobile. So I grabbed my trusty Uranus Hertz rental minivan and helmet and went out for some sighting laps:




    You know something is wrong when a diesel front wheel drive car is getting huge amounts of oversteer…hmmm.

    So then they let us out on track in the snow initially following a pace car with no passing and then after 2 laps the pace car came in and we were live. Here were the pits as I set out:




    and Kemmel Straight:

    Last edited by Croc; 09-28-2019 at 03:10 AM.
    Mike
    2010 Caterham CSR with Cosworth 2.3 Duratec
    2018 Caterham 420R with 2L Duratec 210hp at Donington UK
    1975 BMW CSL Group 4 (restoration finished - track set up time)
    1977 Holden Torana "A9X" (awaiting restoration)
    1985 Holden Commodore SS Group A (suspension restoration)
    1985 Holden Commodore Group A (suspension set up)
    1982 Ferrari 400i (radiator replacement)
    1965 Ford Mustang Fastback "Holman Moody"
    1992 Ford Escort RS Cosworth WRC (dyno time)
    1990 Range Rover 2 door Classic
    and another project car coming....

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    Then it was time to saddle up and see what mischief I could get up to. I sort of knew I was in deep s*&^ over my head when the nice lady controlling our exit onto the track stopped and said “be careful where you see the yellow flags or yellow lights as that is where the ice is on track.” Oh F!@#!!!!!:




    In short it was diabolical. The lightweight of a seven just cannot cut through a wet track let alone an icy track to get any grip. Cat on a wet tile floor is the analogy that comes to mind – paws everywhere trying to get control. There was black ice just after the apex on Eau Rouge, ice on the second part of Les Combes, ice on all the apexes and curbing. Opposite lock was standard steering in Les Combes, La Source, Bus Stop, Fagnes, and Campus/Stavelot corners. La Source was interesting as there was a nice little stream running from left to right down to the apex. So you turn into the corner, aquaplane understeer and then the fronts grip again which suddenly kicks the tail out into oversteer. I don’t think I have ever driven in a more treacherous condition on a track.

    My strategy was to stay in one piece for the day as I had a second day to look forward to. Also I applied the usual wet weather trick of looking for grip off the racing line, which did work in a few of the corners, but I was painfully slow. By contrast everyone else in a heavy car such as Porsche, BMW, Ginetta, etc. was flying past me. Before I could decide to come in and reassess the state of my underwear, the decision was made for me – a Bookatrack seven found the wall before Campus, which mangled the radiator and ripped the steering race mounts off. Red flag to stop the session.



    Then it was back out for 2 laps before contestant number 2 in a Bookatrack rental seven miscued Eau Rouge and backed it into the wall at the top of the hill – fuel tank holed and its mountings ripped off. Red flag for that one.




    I checked the state of my car – the ice build up was a problem…hmmmm:


    Last edited by Croc; 09-28-2019 at 03:14 AM.
    Mike
    2010 Caterham CSR with Cosworth 2.3 Duratec
    2018 Caterham 420R with 2L Duratec 210hp at Donington UK
    1975 BMW CSL Group 4 (restoration finished - track set up time)
    1977 Holden Torana "A9X" (awaiting restoration)
    1985 Holden Commodore SS Group A (suspension restoration)
    1985 Holden Commodore Group A (suspension set up)
    1982 Ferrari 400i (radiator replacement)
    1965 Ford Mustang Fastback "Holman Moody"
    1992 Ford Escort RS Cosworth WRC (dyno time)
    1990 Range Rover 2 door Classic
    and another project car coming....

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    So I decided a tea break was in order. Bookatrack were stars for laying out hot tea, hot soups, and biscuits to warm up. In the pits I found Mav and Paul – from the Lotus 7 Club. Mav had brought his Caterham SV Sigma across from the UK for the two days. The three of us mugging for the camera.





    The break was still interesting – there are some very interesting cars to check out:




    Last edited by Croc; 09-28-2019 at 03:22 AM.

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    I did like how the owner of this Swiss Aston Martin kept a steering wheel cover over his wheel to protect it while he slipped and slid his way around the circuit dirtying the exterior of the car:



    The star cars were one owner who brought a Ferrari F40 and a Ferrari 275 GTB. I so want one (or both):





    Last edited by Croc; 09-28-2019 at 03:24 AM.
    Mike
    2010 Caterham CSR with Cosworth 2.3 Duratec
    2018 Caterham 420R with 2L Duratec 210hp at Donington UK
    1975 BMW CSL Group 4 (restoration finished - track set up time)
    1977 Holden Torana "A9X" (awaiting restoration)
    1985 Holden Commodore SS Group A (suspension restoration)
    1985 Holden Commodore Group A (suspension set up)
    1982 Ferrari 400i (radiator replacement)
    1965 Ford Mustang Fastback "Holman Moody"
    1992 Ford Escort RS Cosworth WRC (dyno time)
    1990 Range Rover 2 door Classic
    and another project car coming....

  8. #8
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    Last edited by Croc; 09-28-2019 at 03:29 AM.
    Mike
    2010 Caterham CSR with Cosworth 2.3 Duratec
    2018 Caterham 420R with 2L Duratec 210hp at Donington UK
    1975 BMW CSL Group 4 (restoration finished - track set up time)
    1977 Holden Torana "A9X" (awaiting restoration)
    1985 Holden Commodore SS Group A (suspension restoration)
    1985 Holden Commodore Group A (suspension set up)
    1982 Ferrari 400i (radiator replacement)
    1965 Ford Mustang Fastback "Holman Moody"
    1992 Ford Escort RS Cosworth WRC (dyno time)
    1990 Range Rover 2 door Classic
    and another project car coming....

  9. #9
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    Someone took a video of the two Ferraris on track:



    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature...&v=wytOl4_eTb4

    I had the privilege of following the 275GTB on track and it was handling the conditions very well – much better than my seven!




    Last edited by Croc; 09-28-2019 at 03:30 AM.
    Mike
    2010 Caterham CSR with Cosworth 2.3 Duratec
    2018 Caterham 420R with 2L Duratec 210hp at Donington UK
    1975 BMW CSL Group 4 (restoration finished - track set up time)
    1977 Holden Torana "A9X" (awaiting restoration)
    1985 Holden Commodore SS Group A (suspension restoration)
    1985 Holden Commodore Group A (suspension set up)
    1982 Ferrari 400i (radiator replacement)
    1965 Ford Mustang Fastback "Holman Moody"
    1992 Ford Escort RS Cosworth WRC (dyno time)
    1990 Range Rover 2 door Classic
    and another project car coming....

  10. #10
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    So it was back out again to keep learning the circuit. The weather was not really any better but it was still a fantastic driving challenge. It was not long before another Caterham found the wall after Blanchimont, rotating the rear and going into the left hand wall sideways at what would have been a fairly high speed. The impact was hard enough to bend the deDion tube and punch the suspension up through the rear wing:



    One thing to note about the damage, there is a sizable deductible on the rental Caterhams. So if you crash them you pay for the repairs – parts and labor. Encourages a bit of common sense while driving. There were a couple of hot shot pros in Caterham R500s circulating. They were much faster than me but also they all either went off or spun in front of me at least once during the day….somewhat reassuring that they were finding it challenging conditions.

    Before the day was out the driver of a formerly-nice looking Mercedes CLS63 AMG coupe decided to redecorate every panel just after La Source corner. He was warned for bad driving earlier and the day was the type of day which did not suffer fools or bad driving. I was told a BMW also kissed a wall and was towed off but I did not see it.

    So with all that here is the short video to give you an idea of what it was like. First part is the snow, second part is the slidey moments and the third part is one full lap to give you a flavor of the place. It looks slow because it was! I screwed up the sound (yet again) so music for parts of the video to cover up blank space (I hope you like Frankie!).

    Last edited by Croc; 09-28-2019 at 03:31 AM.
    Mike
    2010 Caterham CSR with Cosworth 2.3 Duratec
    2018 Caterham 420R with 2L Duratec 210hp at Donington UK
    1975 BMW CSL Group 4 (restoration finished - track set up time)
    1977 Holden Torana "A9X" (awaiting restoration)
    1985 Holden Commodore SS Group A (suspension restoration)
    1985 Holden Commodore Group A (suspension set up)
    1982 Ferrari 400i (radiator replacement)
    1965 Ford Mustang Fastback "Holman Moody"
    1992 Ford Escort RS Cosworth WRC (dyno time)
    1990 Range Rover 2 door Classic
    and another project car coming....

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