The Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps motor-racing circuit is the venue of the Formula One Belgian Grand Prix, and of the Spa 24 Hours and 1000 km Spa endurance races.
It is also home to the all-Volkswagen club event, 25 Hours of Spa, run by the Uniroyal Fun Cup. It is one of the most challenging race tracks in the world, mainly due to its fast, hilly and twisty nature. Spa is a favourite circuit of many racing drivers and fans.
Designed in 1920, the original triangle-shaped course used public roads between the Belgian towns of Francorchamps, 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 higher average speeds than on other race tracks. Back then, the Belgians took pride in having a very fast circuit, and to improve average speeds, in 1939 the former slow uphill U-turn at the bottom of the Eau Rouge creek valley, called the Ancienne Douane (until 1920, there was a German Empire customs office here was cut short with a faster sweep straight up the hill, called the Raidillon. Until 2000, it was possible to travel over the race track 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 race track at the bottom of Eau Rouge.
The old race track continued through the now-straightened Kemmel curves to the highest part of the track (104 metres above the lowest part), 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 farm houses 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.
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 kilometres (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, and also 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) 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.
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