Myself and Ned, my cousin and co-driver for the first three days of the trip, had made a good start on the first leg of the journey, from central London to the Spa-Francorchamps racetrack in Belgium. We were making good time and a little detour taking us a more scenic route for the last bit of the journey seemed like a good idea. At this point we assumed that our European map and the Belgian signposts would help us navigate. My sat-nav was quickly turned from a vital tool to a useless adornment for my windscreen as we progressed into farming country as I'd chosen only to upgrade it to map the main roads in Europe. The AA roadmap also began to cause problems, not going into enough detail and not recognising the roads we now found ourselves on.
At least, we thought, we'd have some good quality Belgian roads to enjoy the car on. Sadly our positive assumptions around Belgian road quality was seriously misplaced. The roads we experienced in Belgium yesterday reminded me of the roads in central Aberdeen after two heavy winters. You could be cruising along at 80mph on the motorway and there would appear a huge pothole that looked like a dinosaur had been walking there whilst the tarmac was still cooling. The smaller roads were even worse. We lurched around on poorly signposted rural roads that didn't ever seem to have been upgraded to tarmac. They seemed like they may have been paved by the Romans and avoided by civilisation ever since – until we found them anyway. Not Ferrari-friendly then.
We made it to Spa-Francorchamps about 10 minutes after the time indicated on the itinerary of our "bapteme de piste" session. Again we were struck by issues of poor signposting and couldn't quite work out where we should be. We drove slowly up a ramp that opened-up into the back of the pit lane and rolled forward to pause amongst the numerous track-prepared supercars, of which there were many more putting in some serious laps on track from what we could see and hear. After a brief chat with a group of Germans that turned out to be taking part in a four-day track driving lesson we found a security guard and things started to fall into place.
I will go into more detail on the track experience itself another time but I can tell you now that this brief introductory session at Spa-Francorchamps was excellent. It is certainly worth doing if you are in the region.
The passenger lap blew my mind. Both Ned and I were flabbergasted at what a professional driver can do in a car no more exotic than a Renaultsport Megane when they truly know the limits of the car and the intricacies of the track. The fact that it had been raining lightly for a couple of hours by the time we went out undoubtedly helped. As we drifted through corner after corner, sometimes seeming as though the grass verges were beckoning, I asked my driver whether the wet surface made it more fun. He turned to me briefly with the wry smile of a man caught up doing something that he loves and responded, with some understatement, "Yes".
I woke up today to the sound of German and Swiss-registered Porsche 911 GT3s making their way to the track for another day of tuition. I would really like to do more track-driving now and, after my abandoned trip to Brands Hatch earlier this year, will be putting my name down for some track days as soon as I get home. First though, Ned and I have a date with a Renaultsport Clio and the Nurburgring this afternoon. I can’t wait!