2010 Belgian GP – Saturday Pt.2

If you missed Part 1 from Saturday at Spa, do check it out here!

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With the racing done for the day we returned to the cabins for a rest, a shower and a drink. We couldn’t really agree what to do with ourselves and we were all absolutely shattered from two days of walking the hills of the racetrack, braced against the rain.

At first we elected to be boring and stay to enjoy the hospitality of the site, nothing wrong with that as they were all very friendly and welcoming. They’d laid on food and drink although it wasn’t quite what we’d had in mind, lots of big meatballs and frites were involved and the local generic lager. Rude not to enjoy some of both. Not the high cuisine of Europe some of our group may have expected.

The food filled a hole. The beer was a bit underwhelming though as it tasted like Carling or Fosters (boring, can get that at home) yet we were in this place of beer experimentation. A few of us were getting itchy feet, particularly Bassano, Gavin and myself. We hadn’t properly explored the town of Spa itself yet, and we wanted a drinking session. Two of us would be driving Monday so Sunday night couldn’t be heavy on drink, that meant it had to be this night. Sadly some of the others didn’t want to go anywhere.

The fact I struggle to remember details suggests we were successful.

Continue reading “2010 Belgian GP – Saturday Pt.2”

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2010 Belgian GP – Saturday Pt.1

You might remember I went to the Belgian Grand Prix last year with a group of people and I’d been writing a little diary of our adventures. Those updates had slowed to a halt… but it is time to finish off, here is the next instalment!
If you haven’t yet read the previous instalments you can start here, and there will be a summary post with links to both my write-ups and those of others.. eventually.

***

Saturday dawned much brighter and drier than the wet, grey days leading up to the weekend. After the very heavy rain of Friday it was a welcome relief. We had another lift in from ‘Bueb’ and had a bit of a longer walk today as he wasn’t willing to chance his luck with the police cordons.

FP3

For the first F1 session of the day – Free Practice 3 – we decided to climb the hill at Eau Rouge and find a place on Kemmel, the long straight, as most of the group hadn’t seen it yet and those of us who had were keen to see some F1 cars in the dry there. Whilst it was dry and partly sunny there were also dark clouds hanging around giving the place an ‘impending doom’ atmosphere. Literally the calm before the storm. The view looked even more amazing in these conditions.

Continue reading “2010 Belgian GP – Saturday Pt.1”

2010 Belgian GP – Friday Pt.2

Continued from Part 1. Apologies for the long gap between posts in this series, I was moving house. I know not everyone likes the format of “we did this, then we did this” so I’ll try and shake it up a bit, but ultimately I think it is unavoidable.

Les Combes.

This wasn’t as impressive a viewing position as I’d hoped. The cars were too slow but this may have been due to them being Formula BMWs in the wet, but mainly you are so far away from the action it dilutes any sense of speed. Perhaps F1 cars in the dry are different. Perhaps I’d had enough of the incessant rain by now.

Photos:
Formula BMWs at Les Combes, and the view back down the straight through the fence;

With a lull in track action I continued around the track to Rivage corner – you exit a gate at Les Combes then enter another just yards away having to scan your ticket twice, it all seemed a bit unnecessary to me, can’t they put in a path? Anyway this is where all the drunks hang out, it seemed like people had been drinking since morning and weren’t planning to stop yet – I ordered a coffee and was greeted with sarcastic jibes from the others at the counter and the servers too! Charming. Unlike some I actually wanted to remember the day and the experience of F1 cars on a live track, at these ticket prices not all of us can go every year.

No rain for a while now, the sun was even trying to break through although the track was very much still wet. It was turning into a really pleasant afternoon. I’m turning into such an old man. Looking towards Pouhon with yet more stunning views in the backdrop, the pits surrounded by the forest with the mist hanging in the air. Not a bad way to get back to nature.

Here are a few pictures from this location because it is a great place to be close to F1 cars, although I wouldn’t watch the race from here. Just the one big block of pictures in this post, don’t run away!

Photos:
Great views at the top; Looking back up to the drunken happy fans; Mark Webber;

I also got a few videos at Rivage because it is a great spot to be up close to the cars, here is one of them:

A couple of lesser quality videos from the same spot are here and here until they surely get removed by copyright claim one day.

My main camera died at this point [cue cheers from the readers], I think the water got into it or the batteries died – I wasn’t impressed and had to switch to my phone so the photo quality is awful.

During the session I wandered down to Pouhon to meet Gavin and Guille who’d come over earlier in the day. They’d found shelter from the rain showers under a concrete toilet block of all things, there was a section under it which was a bit like castle ramparts, you could stand sheltered from the wind and most of the rain and still have a high up view of the track. And no before you ask, it wasn’t disgusting, the building was fully plumbed!

Pouhon corner itself was a tad underwhelming I thought, again like Les Combes this could have been down to the wet/damp track slowing the cars. Not much in the way of overtaking or of the out-and-out spectacle of speed. What you do get is a great appreciation of the way these cars take a corner so quickly particularly when Yamamoto is coming through with the back of his car constantly moving from side to side like it is about to throw him off the track – his was the only car that did this. The Red Bulls and McLarens were very much ‘planted’ through here but to be honest most of the cars were. Even the Lotus and Virgin cars didn’t look slow.

,

Photos:
Pouhon;

Again I was struck by how gorgeous this setting is. Look at all the trees and just the general ambience of the place. I love it. I started to get a little envious of the guys standing near me on General Admission tickets – we found unlike many Grands Prix it isn’t necessary to get a grandstand seat here.

GP2 qualifying was up next so we stuck around to watch it – cue yet another massive downpour! It had been dry for much of F1 Fp2 and even a dry line started to appear on the circuit, unfortunately for the GP2 guys the heavens opened practically as the green flag flew.

Here’s a bit of video of the very wet GP2 qualifying session.

And that was it, track sessions over apart from some GP3 and Porsche Supercup but we elected to skip those practice sessions to get home, get warm, and get dry. It isn’t possible to overstate just how wet I got that day and I think every single one of the others was just as soaked through.

Photo:
Returning from Pouhon to meet up with the others we passed under Eau Rouge as the clouds closed in;

We were all agreed that despite the conditions we all loved Spa-Franchorchamps and our first day at the circuit ‘proper’, whether we walked around or stayed in the stands it was excellent. There was a lot of grumbling about the weather and the cold from practically everyone (myself very much included) and it wasn’t comfortable in the slightest, yet writing this a few months later all that truly remains in the memory is an enjoyable day trackside at one of the greatest racing venues in the world.

Even so, the chance to dry off in the warm cabin with lots of takeaway pizzas was very welcome indeed. Indeed the clothes I wore on this day were still damp on Monday when we came to pack up and leave.

Come back soon for my recap of Saturday at the Belgian GP!

2010 Belgian GP – Friday Pt.1

This post is part of my recap of the Belgian Grand Prix weekend and is about the Friday before the race. Please see Tues/Weds, Thursday Pt.1 and Pt.2. Once again I apologise for the lengthy delay.

Friday

Thursday’s pitlane walk had really got us in the mood to see some track action, unfortunately Friday dawned as one of the wettest in months. Nevertheless we got ourselves togged up in rain gear and wangled a lift to the circuit from the resident campsite owner / driver / breakfast-maker / barman / fixer – for a small fee of course. It was a damned sight better than paying for the far more expensive bus option with all the bogans*. We weren’t so convinced when we were told to get into the minibus with the benches laid out along the length with no seatbelts, but it was all good fun and turns out ‘Bub’ took a shine to us – more about him another time.

Francorchamps village was filled with race fans milling around in the general direction of the race track, and a long line of traffic – some of us tried to spot famous faces but no joy. Unfortunately there was a bit of drama at the gate as one of the tickets refused to scan, the water causing it problems, but thankfully after several attempts it worked and let us all through. Perhaps having paper tickets at a venue known for wet races is a bad idea?

Continue reading “2010 Belgian GP – Friday Pt.1”

2010 Belgian GP – Thursday Pt.2

This post is part of my recap of the Belgian Grand Prix weekend and is about the Thursday before the race. Please see Tues/Weds here and Thursday Pt.1 here. Once again, I apologise for the lengthy delay.

Pitwalk!

This was all good fun but we were now missing the pitwalk, it was about 5.15pm so it was already halfway through and we had drivers and cars to try and see. We moved our cars out of the way and walked as quickly as possible past the various vendors, in through the La Source gate – and on to the track itself.

Wow! This came as a minor shock, I suppose I expected to be diverted over a bridge or under a tunnel to get to the infield but no, we were walking across La Source corner itself and into the pitlane exit! The place was bustling, La Source was packed with people and you could see hundreds on the main straight and yet more in the pitlane.


Gavin heading to the pitwalk / The famous house! / La Source exit

At this stage it was everyone for themselves, we instintively split up because we each knew we were running out of time and it was important to see as much as you could manage, plus we all had different interests. Some went rushing down pitlane, some checked out the new teams nearer our entrance. I hung around La Source for a little bit, looked at the steeper-than-expected run down the hill past the support paddock, and then walked into the pitlane where I found Lukeh and Lou had spotted David Croft and Anthony Davidson of BBC Radio 5 Live, in their trackies ready for their run (at every GP they run a lap of the track). I missed the conversation but was relayed it later, it seems Crofty remembered the pair having met at Goodwood earlier in the year! Lou had made a banner especially for them.

Here are a selection of photos from the pitwalk:



I also got a small amount of video:

Alternative link at Picasa in case the YouTube version is pulled (I can’t embed Picasa videos).

Somehow, and I still have no idea how they did it among all these people, Kathi and Emma appeared in front of us and started talking to us, and knew who we were. It took me a few moments to register that it was them! I think they must have found Lou or one of the others a few moments before? They been there since the pitlane opened and told us they’d managed to meet Bruno Senna and Rubens Barrichello, who’d come out of the pits to give signatures and meet the fans. Pretty cool! It was nearing 6pm and at the far end of pitlane security were getting a bit pushy, so Kathi and Emma were heading out. Since we’d only been there a short time we weren’t having that! I for one wasn’t planning to leave until I physically couldn’t stay any more.

That’s pretty much what happened. The guards worked their way down from pit in, and then split pitlane in half so those of us who hadn’t got that far were out of luck. Those with the ‘big teams’ were led out on to the main straight, the rest of us were trapped and had to return from whence we came, to pit exit. We took some more pics as we made our way slowly out.



There are a few more photos in my Spa Thursday album.

We soaked up the great atmosphere at La Source for a short while before making our way up the steep hill towards Franchorchamps village and our cars.

Evening

Next on the agenda was to book into the luxury mobile homes at the campsite, and unload all our bags. After working around the lanes with a short detour down a steep gravel track, we did just that! We were pleasantly surprised to find the homes were quite spacious, the bedrooms were a bit tight but we only needed them as somewhere to crash overnight and store clothes. The main living space was nice and open with a comfy seating area. A good choice and very well found by Kathi!

We were still one member short. Guille (pronounced sort of like ‘Geeche’) from Argentina was making his way to us from Paris via a train which had been delayed. The group split up, I and a couple of others went to pick up a bit of shopping and collect Guille, Bassano took Emma and Kathi to collect their bags from another town and a few stayed back at the site. We would rendezvous for steaks at the campsite restaurant.

Guille’s train seemed even more delayed than even he’d expected, the 3 of us meeting him were sat in the dark and wet station near some dodgy-looking taxi drivers! Eventually he arrived, I think quite tired after the journey from home including long flights, buses and trains, I think he appreciated that we’d put in orders for steak!

It really was a very good steak, I ate mine quickly enough that most of it was gone by the time I’d got a photo. I had to get a photo. For some reason they served it with melon and orange, really weird. The frites were disappointing, we’d been promised much but they were bog standard thin chips really. Beer was had. Steak and a glass of Hoegaarden is a nice combo.

We wanted to stay and make a night of it, but after the travelling and pitlane excitement were all so tired we had to retire to the homes for a chat in quieter surroundings – the site restaurant/pub got very loud and we wanted to be sociable especially with Guille, Emma and Kathi who we’d barely met. We all went back to one of the homes, talked, and tried to get the wifi to work so that we could comment at Sidepodcast, send tweets and perhaps put up some little blog posts. This didn’t really work, it was a real shame the wifi was unreliable in the girls’ home and was barely functional in the boys’ home. My plans for little blog updates over the weekend went out of the window there and then, and it was a struggle to get connected long enough for even the most basic message. Some people fared better than others, some could get on reasonably well all weekend whereas I had terrible trouble with it. Not to worry, blogs and social media could wait, we were being social in real life with fellow F1 and racing fans, and for us that was even more important.

All embedded photos and videos were taken by me (Patrick Wotton), I haven’t set up anything officially but you can consider them available for use under Creative Commons. Some of the linked media may be copyright, check details on the relevant pages.

Read on with the first part of Friday’s fun!

2010 Belgian GP – Thursday Pt.1

This post is part of my recap of the Belgian Grand Prix weekend and is about the Thursday before the race. Please see Tues/Weds here. Once again, I apologise for the lengthy delay.

The Road Trip

Following the Tuesday and Wednesday meetups I was still in London, to cut 3 hours off the journey time on Road Trip Day. From the hotel I was to cross South London to meet the others, we’d head to Kent to pick up two more, than take the EuroTunnel train to France for the drive to Belgium. A slight problem though, the week prior to the Grand Prix the organisers announced there would be a pitlane walkabout on Thursday – and if we stuck to our planned schedule there was no way we’d make it.

Cue urgent discussions in the pubs on Tuesday and Wednesday as we attempted to estimate the total journey time. Our original plan merely called for us to aim at the campsite near Spa and we’d get there whenever we got there, with no hurry the tunnel tickets were accordingly booked for lunchtime. Despite none of us having ever driven from London to Folkestone or from Calais to the other side of Belgium we came up with an estimated journey time with the use of Google Maps. We were to leave a couple of hours earlier than planned and push on as best as we could with as few stops as possible. We decided to aim directly for the racetrack, we could drop bags and pick up mobile home keys afterwards. Handily the standard EuroTunnel ticket allows you to be up to two hours early (or late) with no penalty. It was agreed if we got more than halfway there and it became clear there wasn’t a chance, we’d just follow the original plan, back down the speed and cruise on to the campsite. The pitlane walk started at 4.30pm. Our ETA was between 4 and 5pm. It was on.

We’re Off!

I departed the hotel only ten minutes later than planned, not bad for me on a non-work morning. ‘Not a problem,’ thinks I when I reach my car. ‘My sat-nav tells me it will only take 30 minutes and not the 50 I’d thought.’ Nnno. It took an hour! The traffic was heavy but not horrendous by London standards, though hitting every red light was extremely frustrating. Parts of London operate a ‘wave’ system so if you catch a green light you can ‘ride the wave’ of greens all the way. I caught reds. I’ve never known lights stay red for so long, or encountered so many in one run. Road closures did nothing to improve either my arrival time or my mood, and conspired to get me lost near the rendezvous point, not helped when the infernal sat-nav (voiced by Juan Pablo Montoya!) told me the destination was in a residential backroad some half mile away from the real location.

The others kindly agreed to come find me as I was lost and a little flustered by this stage, especially after the stellar efforts made by Chris and Pamela to get to the meeting point extra early from a distance away, it was silly to be even later when all I had to do was drive over and it really annoyed me! However, while I waiting for the others to get to me I decided this would be our hiccup for the day, I reckoned we were always going to have one, this would be it and I was relieved we’d got it out of the way so soon. It would be plain sailing from here.

Chris transferred to my car, then at about 8.20 (an hour late – sorry!) we set off down the A20 and M20 to Ashford to pick up Lou and Luke who were also riding in my car. The other car consisted of Bassano (driving), Gavin/Rubbergoat, Amy and Pamela.

We were very pleased to find we’d overestimated the journey time down to Kent – we’d allowed two hours including London traffic, and it only took us one hour. Bonus! Turns out the traffic was between me and the others, not between the meeting place and the motorway, useful to know if there’s a next time. So we picked up the others pretty much when we said we would, cue a huge relief from us all and me in particular. Both cars fully loaded, the road trip was on, we were set to go to Belgium!

Tunnel

The EuroTunnel shuttle was easy and hassle-free. It was quite spooky driving up to the unmanned check-in screen and have your name appear on the screen before you’ve even done anything – it scanned the car number plate! After a quick pitstop in the terminal we passed through passport control, the UK guys waved us straight through and the French just had a glance at our passports, nice and easy. The other car was delayed briefly as Amy and Pamela are from outside the EU, but no problems there either. For those not familiar with the tunnel, you have the curiosity of passing French customs while in the UK, legally you are then in France while physically still being in Kent. I’m not sure why this is still the case because travel between two EU countries is supposed to be unrestricted, border controls across the continent have been dismantled.

Then on to the train! Many people would find this unremarkable, it’s fair to say most of us are quite geeky and we were quite excited by it.

As each car slowly boarded, we were directed to the ramp to the upper floor. It had been drizzling so the ramp was wet, I left a gap to the car ahead so I wouldn’t have to stop on the ramp, went to put the power on and got a nice dose of wheelspin! Wheelspin on a train, a first for all of us in the car.

The train, once it gets going after all the safety announcements, only takes 35 minutes to travel under the Channel to Calais. Pretty sure it took us as long to get through security and the queues between the terminal and the train! When on the train we got out of the cars for a chat and a leg-stretch before the longer driving stint ahead.

Road Trip!

As you do all the passport checks before boarding, when leaving you drive straight off the train, along a service road and directly on to the autoroute – we were on our way! I’m not sure about Bassano but this was my first time driving outside the UK and on the right-hand side of the road. I’ve been a passenger many times, including a 10-hour run from the South of France to the tunnel. I found it really easy, I suppose because it was a two-lane motorway and the only thing to remember was the faster cars were on the left of the car not the right. It wasn’t like there were cars coming toward us on the opposite side.. not yet.

We quickly wound the cars up to pace, I was the lead car and I wanted to make the most of the 130km/h (80mph) speed limit in France and the 120km/h (75mph) limit in Belgium (and especially the higher French limit), but being careful not to stray over them because I’d been warned of hidden cameras along our route – French/Belgian examples aren’t as conspicuous as their UK equivalents and the fines are higher.

The French section was unremarkable, yet seemingly just as soon as we crossed into Belgium the driving standards changed completely. It was normal for drivers in the slow lane to pull into the fast lane no matter what was bearing down on them, no matter what speed they were doing, and only use their indicators when they were nearly across the gap, if at all. This isn’t ideal when you are pushing on. The pair of us each had to hit the brakes hard on many occasions including cars splitting us up. At home, slower traffic usually has enough sense to check the mirrors first!

There were plenty of near misses and not just with us but with a lot of traffic in the faster lane. It was just the same at slower speeds. In traffic such as the long 5mph Brussels jam, they thought nothing of cutting across two lanes of traffic in no more than 50 feet – not aided by some awful junction design which expected traffic to cross multiple lanes in well under a kilometre. A truck did that in front of me and I was worried he’d take out the nose of the car!

That traffic jam delayed us quite a bit, but after that despite the quirks of the locals we made really good progress, with just a couple of toilet/coffee/fuel stops which really were just quick stop-and-goes. I’d borrowed some radios, kids toys really and they weren’t great, but we managed to get messages to each other along the journey. Every time we stopped we called out “Box! Box! Box!” to tell the other car we were pitting!

Finding the Track

We arrived in the Ardennes area at about 4.30pm and got near the track at about 5pm. As we approached we had the slight problem of finding the right entrance, because this wasn’t a normal day for the public not all the gates were open. The maps provided with the tickets were very vague and were designed for Friday, Saturday and Sunday – there was no indication of where to go for the pit walk, or on the signs.

We followed our best guess at which of the 3 motorway exits to take and followed the signs to the track, when we heard a call over the radio from Gavin. We were on the old circuit! The main road meets it at a roundabout near the small town of Malmedy, we were heading ‘the wrong way’ along the classic circuit towards the modern circuit. It was surprisingly narrow for a race track (though for us it was a normal 2-lane country road) and surprisingly steep, I hadn’t realised just how steep this section was. It was barely recognisable as the old circuit as it had been kept up to modern road standards with smooth tarmac, painted lines, signs and the rest. Just before Les Combes it veered off to a bypass, the circuit has been permanent for some years now and the local roads have found a way around it.

After trying a gate or two we found our way to a roundabout near to La Source corner, we were just about to try our luck with the guards when someone shouted out – Jake and Martin!

Jake Humphrey and Martin Brundle from the BBC had driven over from London at the same time we did, in Martin’s classic Jaguar E-Type rigged with cameras for a special pre-race feature. They had parked up on the outside of this roundabout and were surrounded by people!

We quickly abandoned the cars, everyone grabbed cameras and went running over to them. I made sure the car was out of the way as best it could be, and locked, with all these people around I wasn’t keen to leave it unlocked and unattended when it had all our bags in it! I tried to find my camera but remembered I’d left it in my main bag, being the driver I assumed I wouldn’t need it until the paddock as I’d be too busy! Unfortunately I didn’t grab a photo, thankfully many of the rest of our group did. Martin with me and Lou; Jake and Martin with Pamela and Amy; So did Jake himself when he tweeted a photo of our group! We really had only been there ten minutes. Finally, Lou got a shot of that very same Twitpic moment from the other angle.

What a great welcome to Spa!

You can read Part 2 of Thursday’s adventures here.

Belgian Grand Prix – Audio

I had an utterly brilliant time in Belgium for the Grand Prix along with 10 fellow F1 fans loosely revolving around the Sidepodcast.com community. There will be plenty of blog write-ups across many sites from several of us over the coming days and I’ll do my best to point you to them. In the meantime, you should listen to this.

On Sunday night we came together and recorded our thoughts into a 26-minute podcast which is now available at Sidepodcast.

Between the group of us we covered:

– the rain

– the circuit

– the bumping into people

– the locals

..and much more besides.

LISTEN HERE

It really is a good listen and I think – I hope – we managed to capture our excitement at having attended the race, and having battled through the elements and won.

Hope you like it.

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Apologies for those waiting for the TMR Game post, I’ve been too tired to catch up with it and will write it Thursday night. If you need to get an entry in beforehand please use last week’s post.