Spa Francorchamps, Eau Rouge, 28 Degrees C and an iPhone

There’s a solid white painted line on the pitlane exit at Spa Francorchamps. Cross at your peril we’re told in the driver’s briefing and indeed, you’re acutely aware that you don’t want to. Just out of sight over your left shoulder is the exit from La Source hairpin. Quite a broad exit. In theory there’s no way anyone should be anywhere near you if they’re driving the correct line. That’s assuming they haven’t dropped it on the exit and they’re not heading straight for your left rear quarter in a slide of oversteer. So you get that uneasy feeling as you roll out of the Spa pits and you get on the gas smartish.

View from the top - Brasserie at Spa Circuit
View from the top – Brasserie at Spa Circuit

Porsche 911 GT3 engines are good for that, I discovered last week, a throttle response more akin to a 1.6 BDA than a 3.8 litre six cylinder. And the noise. Don’t get me started. The Mezger block is best engine in the world, in my humble opinion. Hard in second, seven five then shift to third, the exhaust tone bouncing back into you ears off the wall of the old pit complex over your shoulder as you head down the hill. Once I’d got my head around Eau Rouge, 7,800 in forth was the yardstick for braking downhill, conservative as it’s not my car and the owner is sitting alongside, windscreen filling full of track, suspension compressing, me wondering exactly how good GT3 rebound damping was as it unloads and I get the wheel straight ahead and send it launching over the inside kerb at the top of Eau Rouge. Very satisfying, once you’re got your head around that ‘leap of faith’ moment. The theory goes that a few minutes ago, the track was right there. Nobody has moved it in the last few minutes, so we’re just fine. Happy days…

The main square in the town of Spa Francorchamps
The main square in Spa

If you haven’t been there, you simply must. I’m not talking about one of those ‘bucket list’ unattainable gigs, it’s not up there with “backseater with the Red Arrows” or a private Jacuzzi and back rub with Kelly Brook. Spa needs to be driven. If you live in Europe, it’s perfectly attainable and once you have, you’ll never want to drive anywhere else. It’s quick, makes you think really hard, Pouon get you really working hard through the second part as the camber tries to spit you towards the outside and the exit of Blanchimont could go badly wrong, very quickly so it’s potentially lethal. But you can’t resist it, it’s addictive. That was the first two days of last week, spending time with Specialist Cars, their staff and customers.

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Porsches from 210bhp to 700bhp on track at Spa Francorchamps....
Porsches from 210bhp to 700bhp….

This whole area of Belgium is immersed in history and I find it remarkable that so much architecture has survived two World Wars intact. Beautiful buildings, a great many war memorials, friendly locals reminding me that I really need to get my French sorted out. And you’re left with no doubt that locally, motorsport is important. Art Deco posters and hotels with cool names, chequered flags on the tourist signs and, of course, that short strip airfield just around the corner with a runway that might just test the stopping power of anything heavier than a fast single…. And of course, there’s frites, mayo, sausages and chocolate.

Serious chocolate, not for amateurs....
Serious chocolate, not for amateurs….
Have to recommend Leonidas, just off the square and close to the Raddisson Hotel. 28 degrees Celcius and bright sunshine made me nervous of buying chocolate. The wrath of the family expectations back home was greater, though and opening the door was like entering a Swiss bank. Cool temperatures and neatly aligned rows of crafted chocolate insulated from the outside heat made you feel like you were buying bullion, not cocoa products.

For this trip, it was iPhone 5 all the way and that’s actually no hardship. Everything you see here was shot on the iPhone 5, everything having to be scaled down for the web. Quite a camera and as you’ll probably notice, my passion for panoramics has been rekindled. Sorry. Can’t help it…

There are a great many memorials of fallen soldiers from two world wars in that part of the world, as you drive through towns and villages, almost every street corner has a dedicated monument of some kind. Returning to the UK and just a few miles from home, I came across this most remarkable field of poppies, blazing red in the sunshine. A rather fitting end to a busy couple of days.

Poppies in a field in Yorkshire.
Poppies in a field in Yorkshire.

It’s been a while since I’ve written an Editor’s Journal, but they seem well received. The resolve is to write them more, very much ‘from the hip’ each week and fuelled whenever possible by Chianti in the best Hemingway tradition. Write drunk, Edit sober.

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Author: Neill Watson

If you love the sound of the Cosworth V8 as much as the V12 Merlin, the smell of Jet A1 as much as Castrol R and admire the late Ray Hanna as much as Sir Stirling, you’ll find you’re both on the same page. Neill's love of art deco buildings means that his ideal home would be a brilliant white, 1930′s control tower in Southern France, with crisply mown grass, biplane parked on the driveway and a Ferrari 288GTO in the garage. This is something that those around him tolerate, though it does concern them from time to time.

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