Expo set to open on history of Belgium's famous Spa race track

A new exhibition is set to open at Brussels’ Autoworld museum to mark the 100th anniversary of Belgium’s ‘national’ racing circuit at Spa-Francorchamps in the Ardennes.

The expo features more than 35 racing cars and motorbikes, all having played a major role in the track’s history.

The museum has transformed its “Sport & Competition” and “Design Story” zones on the first floor into a large paddock where visitors will have the opportunity to immerse themselves into the history of the famous Ardennes circuit, described by drivers and the general public as being “the greatest circuit in the world”.

The cars are brought together for the expo are based on the three major themes that gave the Circuit its international status: the Grand Prix of Formula 1, the 1000 Kms/Spa 6 Hours and the 24 Hours. In the F1 category,there is a collection of Lotus and Williams cars but also an extremely old Renault ING and a Benetton, a Ligier and a De Tomaso, among others. Among the “Touring” cars, there is the presence of several BMW as well as a few Mazda, Ford Capri, NSU, Toyota, Mustang and of course the charming Porsche992/Beetle. And not forgetting the Lola770 prototype driven by Jackie Stewart. In all there are more than 35 cars including competition motorbikes, plus 1:43 scale model format, as a reminder of the Circuit’s great moments.

Inaugurated on 12th August 1921, not everything at the track has passed off as planned and only a few motorcycle races were held at first. One needed to wait a further year prior for the first car races to take place: the Grand Prix of the RACB, over a distance of 600 kilometres. This first race was won by a Belgian, Baron de Tornaco, at the wheel of an Impéria-Abadal with Englebert tyres.

“A triple Belgian victory!”, was how the “L’Automobile Belge” dated 20th August 1922 described it.

However, that was the only truly positive part of the article, because somewhat further down it stated that none of the other major automotive makes, such as Ballot, Peugeot, Sunbeam, Fiat or Bugatti, were present.

In fact, there were a mere 12 cars at the start and just 3 at the finish. The reasons for this feeble participation? A regulation that excluded numerous car categories and the fact that many makes did not consider the event to be of much importance.

Fortunately for the circuit, history was not to be repeated.

The track’s initial lay-out was comprised out of three sections of open road, roughly forming a triangle. With just under 15 km, the circuit was exceptionally long with numerous perilous climbs and descents, such as the Descente de Masta.

It also included its share of sharp bends, such as Source and Stavelot, but also long straights and treacherous curves. This combination proved to be fatal for many drivers. In 1970, the last Grand Prix was held on the original circuit.The lap record on the old circuit was set in 1973 by Henri Pescarolo with his Matra 670B, in 3 min 13 sec, at an average of 262,41 km/h.

If it wanted to retain its international ranking, the circuit needed to become shorter and safer. The new circuit was inaugurated in 1979. Its length was 6,9 km, but still retained a section of open road. It was only in 2003 that it became a permanent circuit, henceforth 7,004 km in length.

The new expo tells the fascinating story of this world famous track, most recently in the headlines at the weekend when, for the first time in living memory, the grand prix was cancelled due to bad weather.

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Martin Banks

Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a highly qualified journalist with many years experience of working within the EU institutions. He is an occasional, and highly valued, contributor to EU today, writing on a wide variety of issues.

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