Updated: April 10, 2015
Not a spa, THE Spa, the racing track. Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps. Yup. One of the most popular racing tracks in the world, and I was there, for a brief stint in Renault Megane RS 265, an awesome and highly kickassful front-wheel-drive hot hatch. Remember my Grobnik race track escapade? Well, this is a sequel, sort of.
A good friend of mine and I decided to upgrade our combined manliness by trying our luck alongside Ferraris and Porsches that normally bless this famous Formula One venue. With a humble yet expensive intention to improve our driving skills, we drove from Germany to Belgium, first on unlimited autobahns and then on highly restricted and radar-enforced Belgium highways. The story of how we did the third part in our Eurotrip saga shall await another article, but here, we are going to talk about the racing experience itself. Follow me.
Once again, commence fun!
While Grobnik was a solemn, quiet event, Spa was an overwhelming sensory assault. The size, the legend, and then, the sight of a hundred super and hyper cars parked near the F1 pits, waiting for their turn at the track. We arrived on the so-called Munich Gentlemen's Club Day, humbly joining tons of awesome multi-millionaires and car enthusiasts for a blast at the track, rain and fog notwithstanding.
This is where you test your manliness. Sort of.
During the morning hours, the schedule alternated between half an hour of modern cars and half an hour of ancient, expensive, pimped-up classics. Lancia Stratos - yes, an original one, blimey - Lancia Delta Integrale, original 1970s Carreras, you name it. Again, much like our Eurotrip, this is a story for another Web page, coming shortly. But if you consider yourself even a very lukewarm car fan, then Spa and its wealth of automotive mechanics is turbocharged heaven.
The smell of petrol, rain and good ole honest money.
Like everything in Belgium, the weather was crazy, with a good rain promising a slick and tricky surface for the exercise. We had an old-time Italian instructor assigned to us, a merry and slightly mental fellow named Gabriele, who spent a couple of hours teaching us how to drive at Spa, and how to be faster in Megane than your average driver in a Porsche. Sounds amazing, and looks even more amazing, after he demonstrated a few full-throttle lap down the track, with not a single hypercar coming even remotely close to overtaking his humble 265 horsepowers.
Pumped up by the noise, the smell of fuel, the sight of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of cars, a few rare ladies in racing overalls, and the general heritage of the place, we started somewhat on the wrong foot, trying too hard to impress those who cannot be impressed, namely, our two-decade-seasoned instructor. Poor guy, he lives at Nordschleife and drives supercars to work. Sad.
The trickiest and most exciting part of the track.
After some warm up, I personally decided to tone it down and try to be as technical as possible. This worked like magic. Not only did I enjoy myself, my driving improved, immensely, and you know it's right when it's right. Then, to my amazement, I realized that the seemingly slow and effortless and counterintuitive driving on the outer side of the track, where there's far more grip despite the extra distance, I was gaining proper speed and keeping up with the drivers in their supercars. And on a few occasions, I even drove faster than 911s. Now, that's a really great feeling. You will have to check the video below for the actual evidence of these noble feats. Oh, did I mention there's a video. HD stuff, recorded with my brand-new and totally fine GoPro?
Now, before I let you watch the actual video, maybe a few words about the car. Unlike Clio Cup, which is a brutal and uncompromising racing car with unfiltered cabin noise and no driving aids whatsoever, the RSR Spa Experience fleet is comprised of normal, standard-issue cars. Our Megane did not have any posh extras, not even a roll cage. The only embelishment was the yellow-colored three-point seat belt, and that's pushing it. It was much cozier and more pleasant to drive. Less demanding, too. By far.
A very decent hot hatch. Very.
Everyday interior. Notice the helmets. The one labeled XL is for my big, unrefined head.
Red calipers, Brembo, good. Waiting to be unleashed.
While Clio made me exhausted after fifteen minutes or so, I was able to drive for thirty minutes at a stretch in Megane RS without any great pain and loss of concentration. Likewise, the feel of speed was much less, but then it does not have to look fast to be fast, as you shall soon discover. And when you have airbags and ABS and whatnot on your side, it's even easier. Regardless, Renault Megane RS 265 is a very nifty, six-speed manual hot hatch, and you can definitely own one for your ride to work, grocery sorties and anything else besides. And then it can get brutal, if you want. It's cozy and fun, but the Recaro seats in Corsa OPC are better.
Serious face, serious speed.
Anyhow, the video actually shows a segment of my later experience, where I was calm and relaxed and laughing at the pure ease of how smoothly it can be done when you listen to your instructor, without pushing yourself or the car. A bunch of laps, which take roughly three minutes each, so if you're not in the mood for lots of GoPro footage showing a piece of the car's dashboard and the track, then feel free to skip around. I edited out most, emphasis most but not all, of the original audio and replaced it with some ultra-funky music, because you don't want to hear me and Gabriele talk like a pair of silly kids. Maybe you do, but you won't get it. In Borat voice, you can't get this, you can't get this. But there's some original commentary left, just to keep you on your toes.
Gear change, just like in a normal car.
Anyhow, my driving was smooth, but not perfect. On a few occasions, I did not listen to Gabriele, and actually steered in too early or too late or too wide into the corners, focusing on the cars in front of me rather than the track. Then, as you shall see, I kept decent pace with a Porsche 918 Spyder, a hybrid supercar worth close to a million dollars. The owner was careful, which is quite understandable, but this only proves you don't want to be driving monsters down the track unless you're really skilled, because you'll cope with fear rather than fun most of the time. Then, the track was also littered with 911s, plus an odd Lambo, Aston Martin and such, and I think I did not shame myself too much. Top speed, I guess I hit about 180 km/h. All there, on camera.
So yes, the video, finally. Here we go.
Or just check out times 01:15 and 10:30, if you're really, REALLY impatient.
Driving the Megane round Spa is a tremendous experience. Just being there was worth the time and money, just to bask in the splendor of so many awesome cars. Then, to top it off, I actually had my share of actual racing, and I think I have improved, which is, after all, what you try to do when you go to a track. Right?
Anyhow, I still owe you an article on Spa itself, in addition to my little ego trip here. We will be discussing the cars, the legends, the fun, but that's a different story altogether. Well, not quite, but yes. Back on topic, this was an amazing day, even the food at the local restaurant was good, so if you are looking for an ideal drivery outing, then Spa probably offers the right blend of glamor, thrill and opportunity for drivers to test, prove and hone their skills. I can't promise Nurbungring will be the next trip, but we shall see. Stay tuned for more updates, and if do like this, plus the video, feel free to share and such. See you around.