SPA GP 2015 – A RACE/TRAVEL REVIEW

View towards Pouhon
Hey guys. Not been active lately as you may have noticed. I was planning to do a post on Kimis year. Like sum it up race by race. To show all the stuff that happened to him in qualifying and in races. But I lacked the time and energy. Some of it is of course down to his qualifying problems and the issue of switching on the tires for that single lap. But many things have been beyond his control and the scoreboard tells an unfair story. It probably sounds like excuses to some people but there really have been crazy freak things happening this year. Things that have robbed Kimi of several podiums and probably also a win. But that’s history now. The Ferrari car and engine is a much much better car than last year but still vastly inferior to the Mercedes and the Mercedes engine as well.

I had contemplated going to Spa for a while and for a couple of reasons. One is of course that Kimi always does well at Spa. The other reason being that Kimi had not been confirmed for 2016 at the time, so it might be the last chance of seeing him race at his favorite playground. Shortly before leaving, Kimi got confirmed for another year at Ferrari however – but that is hardly any reason to change my mind of going ūüôā

My review of Spa will be a little different this time because I will try to write it from a spectators point of view. As much as I can that is. And a bit of travel description as well.

So – my decision to go to the Belgian GP was confirmed when I posted this video that I filmed when Kimi competed in Rally Germany in 2010:

What does that have to do with Spa you say? Nothing really. Except that two of my fellow Kimsters, Alexander and Christopher, in the Kimi group made me aware that they were in the video. In fact, they sat right in front of me for the special stage and I didn’t find out until 5 years later ūüėÄ That was kinda funny so we chatted a bit and they convinced me not only to go to Spa along with them – but to go for General Admission. I have done Gen Adm once before. That was in Hungary and it was crap I thought. Maybe because I love my
creature comforts. But Spa is a big – ;correction; – huge place. And I didn’t see a lot of the track when I was there last time in 2012.
Also – I was going alone this time with plenty of time to explore, so why not. I booked with my usual tour company, Select Motor Racing, and reserved a Bronze ticket.

I chose to fly to Amsterdam, Schiphol since Chris was landing there as well. Plan was to hitch the 2,5 hour ride with him down to¬†Maastricht and then find some way to get to my hotel in Valkenburg from there. I was arriving at 7 o’ clock and his plane was due 6 hours later at 13. It’s a bit of a wait but I got my laptop and movies, so I should be fine. Then trouble was brewing. With only a¬†couple of days before travelling, Alex suddenly became quite ill and his entire Spa trip was in jeopardy. We crossed our fingers and hoped for the best on his behalf.

IN TRANSIT

SchipholThursday rolled around. I forced my poor wife and confused daughter out of bed at 5 am and made them drive me to the airport. Thankfully we only live 5 minutes away from our, by international standards, small airport. So she dropped me off at a spot where I could slip through a gate so she wouldn’t have to drive all the way around to the main entrance.
Arrived in AMS on time. Found a spot with power sockets. Checked in on the shenanigans in the Kimi group and to see if my ban finger was itching. Thank goodness for free wifi. Although the speed is more Nissan Leaf than F1. Michi was doing a solid job it seemed so I settled in with a movie. “Bad Words”. Different and pretty hilarious.

Noise cancelling headphones is a good thing as well in a noisy airport. All right. 2 hours passed. Time for some food. After sampling the local Dutch cuisine.. aw heck – It was Burger King, alright..

“Chappie” was next in line. Great flick. Also¬†recommended. Fast forward to arrival time for Chris and his gang. I get a text saying that he has become the victim of food poisoning during the flight (He flew in from the US) and is so stricken that he went straight to
a hotel nearby to recuperate. Poor guy. I really felt for him. But I also felt for me having spent 7 hours in Schiphol airport. But that’s life sometimes. Nothing to do but head to the train station. I don’t like trains but the Dutch railways really surprised me. Very smooth and efficient. A lot cheaper than Norway and even having to change trains twice was no hassle. It was timed perfectly so there were only 6-8 minutes of waiting time between changes. Just time enough to find the track and a seat. Free wifi as well.
Finished watching Chappie and an episode of Pawn Stars. Arrived in Valkenburg after 2 hours 50 minutes. And the hotel is a 3 minute walk from the station. I will do it this way the next time. Well done Dutchies. You sure talk weird, but you have great infrastructure.

Valkenburg

FRIDAY

Friday morning and its time to get ready. After a nice breakfast buffet, I saddle up with water and some sandwiches in my backpack. The bus leaves at 7.45 to drive to the circuit. Met up yesterday evening with Ciaran from the Kimi group when I arrived at the hotel. So we had decided to do¬†some walking of the track together. I had also been in contact with Pascale so perhaps we could be so lucky to have a sort of a guided tour of the track. Not many people know Spa-Francorchamps better than Pascale. She is there many times a year and has a sort of relationship with the¬†track I think ūüėČ

IMG_1234I know it may sound silly and I am romanticising it for all it’s worth, but wow. When you see Eau Rouge and Radillion for the first time.. Heck, second time, third time. It doesn’t matter. When you pass Bruxelles and overlook the run down to Pouhon. That drop. And
the track is just laying there. Waiting. In a way it is even more majestic when it is silent. I don’t care what people say but it has a presence. It really does. You can feel it if you try. It is just there. Well kept. Good fresh tarmac. And yet you feel the history between its hills and turns. And then the roar of an engine echoes along the track. When you walk up towards the Kemmel straight, there is a spot where the cars come up over Radillion. You hear the noise getting closer and closer. Still nothing. And from out of nowhere they appear over the crest and scream past you like a bat out of hell. I couldn’t help yelling in excitement when I saw that the first time. You see them disappear between the trees and out onto the straight. That was simply magical for me.

Here is my amateur footage filmed on an iPhone.

As Ciaran and I pass Les Combes, we hear a ruckus and see people storming towards the fence with their phones held high. And lo and behold, Maldonado decided to smash into the barrier a couple of hundred yards away. Business as usual.

Maldo

We finally meet up with my dear friend and Kimi fanatic, Pascale and her daughter Pauline at the Bruxelles (or Rivage if you will) hairpin. What a great spot. First of all, the fence is so low that it doesnt obscure the cars. And second, the cars are so close you can see the hand movements of the drivers in the cockpit. If you wanna walk the track and see different viewpoints, Friday is the day to do it when it is less crowded. The cars roar down from Les Combes and the track has an angle so it is very easy to lock up the inside front wheel. Verstappen did it several times in Free Practice. Or you can just walk 30 meters through the trees to watch the cars accelerate out of Bruxelles and rocket down towards the corner with no name. Stay there during qualifying or the race and you will have a bit of shade. Or a little bit of shelter if there is rain.

Kimi Rivage

We walk on down to Pouhon or double gauche as some call it. No matter what, it is quite the challenge. We watched the GP2 free practice session and you can easily tell that it takes some balls going almost full speed into that turn. Many misjudge and run wide
and even lose the backend. Nice place, I thought. I can see myself watching the race from here.

IMG_1249When the GP2 session is over, Pascale shows us a pleasant shortcut through the woods. It goes from Pouhon and exits close to the chicane/old bus stop. Saves a bunch of time. We watch some of the FP2 there. It is Pascales chosen spot for races as it is close to the podium. It’s good but the general admission area is small so you have to be there when the gates open at around 7 to secure a spot. So not my personal favorite. If I were to watch from there, it would definitely be from the grand stand there. Because there is¬†always something happening. Overtaking. Entrance to the pits. And watching the cars accelerate onto the start/finish straight were particularly fascinating for me. The Porsches look incredibly slow even though they would crush almost any road car except the hypercars. But Formula 1 cars… boy do they pick up speed something fierce. The acceleration after 100 mph is even more impressive.

Oh, and I thought I would touch on sounds a bit. This was my first race with the V6s and I have been a firm hater of the way they sound on TV. Am I a converted man now after hearing them in real life? Eh, not quite. But they do sound a lot better than on TV. They
have a nice throaty race sound to them. From what I have been told they are notably louder than last year. After hearing the screaming V8s in the GP2 cars you kinda feel like you don’t have to use ear plugs for the F1 cars. But after a while.. Yea, you should if you
value your hearing. Basically, the sound is okay. And they will probably get even louder next year. And yet, search for a video with a V10 on Youtube and you will once again mourn what we have lost. That metallic howl is second to none. I loved the V8s as well.

IMG_1253I wanted to view the cars going through Blanchimont so we hiked on down from the chicane. Sure, the cars blast by on full song. And it is impressive to watch. However, you only see them shortly and the fence is tall. So not my fav spot either. The track did look
gorgeous in the sunlight. All of a sudden we can see some smoke up ahead. We rush on and it’s Rosberg having his puncture. He is taking the relatively small walk back to the pits from there. The car is hoisted onto a flatbed truck and taken back to the Mercedes¬†team. We turn around and walk the same direction as the bus for the hotel is leaving at 16.15 and Ciaran and I did not want to miss that. We thank Pascale for her insight and expertise and make our merry way through the village and out through the gates. A wonderful day. The only parts of the tracks we didn’t see were Campus and Stavelot. Next year!

Rosberg puncture

SATURDAY

The bus departs at 8 o’clock and arrives at the circuit around 9.45. The traffic is a noticably thicker than yesterday. Kimi whizzes past us in a black Ferrari as we walk towards the entrance to have our tickets scanned. I decided to watch todays action from the large open¬†field on the Kemmel straight. Its easy to find a place on Saturday morning. People bring chairs and seems a smart choice for a Gen Adm goer as it looks like you are able to leave them and find them in the same place. But having a mate or two along to keep watch over things would be wise. You do not leave any valuables around. That should be a given. I brought a cushion that I bought last time around. It’s not a chair but it beats sitting on the grass/dirt.

IMG_1263
I manage to connect with Oi, a long time member of the Kimi Fan Club group. She is up at Les Combes but agrees to come watch FP3 with me. After a bit of searching we locate each other. And what do you know – Christopher and Alexander with family also manages to find their way to our sweet spot on the Kemmel, right in front of one of the screens. Both have thankfully almost completely recovered from their illnesses. So we are a merry Kimi bunch following the action together. Good times ūüôā Unfortunately, I completely forgot taking a picture of all of us together. Another thing added to the “next year” list.

Pascale and IChristopher and I

During the break and Porsche quali session, we scatter to find some food and agree to meet after. By then the hillside is getting quite full. I move a bit further up towards the larger screen. From there you also have a magnificent view of the paddock, chicane and
start/finish in the background. Binoculars is a smart thing to have. You can see the times on the screen with a pair if need be. Oi finds me but the rest of the guys, being a larger group, had to find a spot about 100 yards further on.

kimi-out-spaAs expectations rise for a good and decent qualifying, they are quickly shattered when I see a red car pulling over to the side and Kimi gesturing to the marshalls to push him towards an exit of the track. I exclaim: “Seriously??” “Are you FREAKING kidding me!!!??” A¬†woman sitting beside me jumps with a fright and gives me a nervous look. I do not pay much attention as I immediately enter into a state of utter shock and depression. Oi San is a lot calmer but also shakes her head in disbelief. I am ready to leave with the first bus¬†for the hotel to lick my wounds and miss the GP2 race. But I gather myself during Q3. Reminding myself that I have travelled to Belgium to be at the greatest race track in the world. So I suck it up and decide to stay.

After qualifying we make our way through the crowd and into the village where we meet Chris and his entourage. His brother Alex had already left as he was not quite running at full steam yet. The village is actually not a bad place to watch from either. You have an awesome view of Eau Rouge, a big screen and plenty of booths with food and drink. So we follow the GP2 race from there. The mood is dampened a lot after de Jong has his horror crash at Blanchimont. Going straight into the tire barrier – and over – at full speed. The race is stopped and the emergency personell is taking an unnervingly long time at the car. My thoughts inevitably drift to Jules Bianchi. We dont get much info as we don’t hear the commentary. We do learn the next day that he had fractured his vertebrae and needed surgery. But was relatively fine otherwise all things considered.

I leave the track to get to the bus. Usually there is water on board but they were all out. So I leave the bus to look around for some vendors that might sell drinks. As I scout around, I hear a voice calling “Soren”. I turn around and see a friendly face I have never seen before asking me, “you are Soren, right? From the Kimi Fan Club?” “Yea, that’s me”. “I’m Holm” he says. And the pieces fall into place. I start remembering seeing him brag in the group about winning a trip to Spa with Shell. So he is in the hospitality zone living it up – the lucky bastard. We take a quick selfie and exchange a few words about Kimis dysmal qualifying before he has to leave. And I have to get back on the bus myself. It’s fun to meet people like that. You have never met them, but you kinda know them and you have something great in common.

I meet up with Ciaran who spent the day up at Les Combes and Bruxelles if I remember correctly. And we talk about war movies on the way to the hotel since we are both avid fans. And I get a crash course in Irish as well. Not always an easy dialect to understand for
a Dane like me, I might add.

Holm and ICiaran and I

RACE DAY

Seb Loeb in the Porsche race

Seb Loeb in the Porsche

We leave the same time as yesterday from the hotel but now the roads are so busy that it takes half an hour longer to get there. So we arrive just as the GP3 race is about to end. I find a spot in the middle of Kemmel and watch the second GP2 race from there. I hear¬†that Pascale has found a spot down at the bus stop. So I make my way down there to chat a bit and pass the time. It’s quite a haul but the weather was nice. I have kinda made my mind up to watch the race from either Bruxelles /Rivage hairpin or Pouhon. As we watch the Porsche race, we realize that McDreamy/Patrick Dempsey wasn’t doing so great. Second to last. Sebastian Loeb did a lot better.

I snap a couple of photos of Kimi in the drivers parade and start making my way through the forest to Pouhon. You save a lot of time and do not have to battle the crowds along the edges of the track. If you were suddenly teleported there in a quiet period between¬†events, you would have absolutely no idea that you’re right in the middle of a legendary race track. Cool.

IMG_1274

I exit the forest and the track comes into view. Big crowd! People in between the trees. Up in the forest. They can’t see anything from there I think to myself and press on. I walk up the hill and get to the big banking at the beginning of Pouhon. This is good. Now,¬†if I can find a tiny opening between the chairs, I can look for a spot for my cushion and my tiny Danish derriere. Jackpot. It’s big enough so I don’t bother the guy behind me in the chair and I happen to sit myself down right next to a fellow Dane. So we have a¬†little chat in our native tongue before the race. The hill is slanted, so I fold up the front end of my cushion to compensate. Perfect. I’m ready.

Pouhon

The cars go around on their sighting laps. I snap a few photos of Kimi. But I am not good at filming or taking photos during the race. I’m way too caught up. The Honda engine in the McLaren sounds like absolute crap compared to the other cars. The brother of my Danish friend is clearly a McLaren fan and he can’t help shake his head in sheer disappointment almost every time one goes by.
Now the formation lap. Which I have poorly filmed in the linked video further up. The formation lap comes around twice actually due to Hulkenbergs aborted start. People start slow clapping and others join in. Soon the entire hill side are clapping, adding some great
atmosphere. The helicopter swoops down and pans past us and everyone waves like excited little children.

IMG_1229

All eyes on the start, the lights go out. I watch the screen in my binoculars to better see if Kimi gets trough La Source unscathed. He does but he is almost dead last! He passes the Marussia at Eau Rouge like a boss. Takes down a Sauber on the Kemmel. We hear the¬†cars coming, everyone stands up. The front runners go by. I then see Kimi dive on the inside of the McLaren right in front of me! What a treat. From a Kimi fan POV, that was kind of the highpoint of the race. Kimi inches away and gets past some cars but are also helped by retirements to¬†advance up the order to finally finish 7th. It was frustrating to watch Kimi being stuck behind those two Mercedes powered cars with a very worn engine in his own car. The worn engine cost him about 5-6 tenths each lap, so no wonder he couldn’t get past. Even though he¬†was clearly faster until he decided to drop back.

Vet
Towards the final laps of the race I contemplate leaving to beat the crowd. Thinking that the positions are pretty status quo until the checkered flag. But I notice Grosjean getting closer and closer to Vettel in 3rd place. It’s shaping up for a battle right to the end, so I decide that I don’t wanna miss that. Just as Grosjean is lining up for an attempt to pass on the straight, Vettels tire blows into shreads. People point at the screen. Some cheer, some shake their heads. Kimi and his group of cars catch up to Vettel in front of us and swerves around him. Vettel then comes trundling past us with tire remains flailing about. I could almost hear some German swearing from where I was standing.

But that’s it. I make my way back to the bus. Manage to bump into Holm yet again for a little chat. And then to the hotel for a hot meal. In the evening I meet up with Ciaran who tells me that he made a dash to the place where Vettels tire blew. He went onto the¬†track, searched the grass and came over a huge chunk of tire! It was still warm and sticky. So he brought it to the hotel bar and passed it around. And I do mean passed it around because we all took a big whiff of the tire pieces. It had a horrible smell! And¬†yet, we had to sniff it again. Kind of addictive. Weird ūüėÄ

IMG_1281

Well, that was my rundown of my 2015 Spa experience. A bit lengthy but I hope you found it interesting in parts. As mentioned, I have already decided that I want to return next year. Very likely it will be Kimis last race around Spa in a Formula 1 car. So I can’t miss that.

Take care folks. I also jotted down a few advice points below if you ever decide to take a trip to Belgium. They might be helpful for some. Peace!

Love,
Soren

ADVICE:

Sunscreen. Always bring sunscreen. 30 is my factor of choice. But I am Scandinavian.. I apply in the morning. And reapply during the day if I am fully exposed. I absolutely hate getting sunburnt. I would rather look like an idiot with my shirt around my head and neck
than get sunburnt. Haha.

Bring some water and bring some food. You will probably need to buy some more fluids during the day. I made myself a couple of sandwiches and they kept me going for the day. You save money and you won’t have to stand in line. The food queues can be very long.¬†The selection is not that great either. Fries, burgers or waffles are basically your choices at Spa.

Sometimes it’s a good idea to get your merchandise on Friday. It wasn’t that crucial this time. But in 2012 the Kimi Lotus cap with the Icebird on it got sold out in no time. There are vendors outside the track that are sometimes cheaper. Even in the village I saw a
5 euro price difference on the t-shirt I bought for my kid in a neighboring booth.

IMG_1297
Pascale told us that there are shuttles near the hotels and the camping sites that will take you to different locations on the track. Just say where you want to go and they will drive you. And they are free of charge! Can save you a long walk. I didn’t try them myself¬†as I wanted to walk the track and view the action on the way there. But good to know I thought.

The pitwalk on Thursday is cool to do. But it is insanely crowded the further you get towards the big teams. For an autograph of Kimi or another big star, you probably have to be there when the gates open and secure your place in front of your garage of choice. And
even then you are not guaranteed a signature. That’s life ūüôā But you can always snap some photos.

I probably won’t do General Admission again. However, if you only are 1 or 2 people, there is pretty much always a spot here and there you can squeeze into. Especially on Kemmel and Pouhon which were my favorite places. Even if you arrive half an hour before the race
starts. But if you can afford it, get a grandstand. That is my recommendation. You can still walk all the places but have a seat to return to when you want.

Get some good walking shoes when exploring. I saw a guy in flip flops. Not a good choice. A small to medium sized backpack for your stuff is the way to go in my opinion. And bring one of those plastic rain ponchos. They take up very little space when folded. We were spared of rain but you never know when you are in the Ardennes.

IMG_1208

Goodbye Spa. Goodbye Belgium.

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2 Responses to SPA GP 2015 – A RACE/TRAVEL REVIEW

  1. Maggie Ruiz says:

    a pleasure to read you, as always. Warmest regards.

  2. Leon says:

    Nice report. I read it with a smile on my face. Been there Many time. Great experience

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