If you didn’t already know – let’s be honest we hardly kept it a secret – EngageSportMode was at the Belgian Grand Prix last weekend. As first timers to the Circuit De Spa Francorchamps, we learnt quite a lot about how to get the best out of the experience. So we thought we’d share them.
Our trip was based on two people driving from North East England, via the Dover/Calais ferry, all the way to Spa. That’s a journey of about 600 miles one way. We set off at around 6pm UK time, hit the ferry at about 3am, and arrived at the campsite for about 11am. Whilst not a horrendous journey, it’s not simply a case of nipping down the shops either. So what do we recommend?
- Take a European Sat Nav; preferably one that’s up to date and has a working battery.
- Research the route in advance. The E40 near Calais has horrendous roadworks at present, which threatened our ferry times.
- Use a car with cruise control. Or, even better, one with adaptive cruise control. Some of the stretches of the E40 are quick, but moderate in terms of traffic density. Adaptive cruise would be the best situation.
- Be aware that many of the motorway services charge for using the toilets. The last thing you need is having to buy random crap, just to get a magical €0.50 coin.
- Watch out for speed camera zones. The Belgians like to keep their cameras painted stealthy grey, unlike the UK’s fluorescent yellow.
- Keep your eyes peeled for asylum seekers riding on top of articulated lorries. We’re not kidding.
- Be surprised at the number of small estate cars you see on the roads; ok, it surprised us.
- Get distracted by the number of metallic brown cars. You know all those press releases with BMWs and Audis in brown; the Belgians are actually buying them.
- Forget to drive on the right. Especially when entering car parks for motorway services and defaulting back to UK mode.
- Panic at roundabouts. Ideally swap drivers just before one appears and let them deal with it.
- Drive stupidly when in the vicinity of the circuit. The police are everywhere with checkpoints. On a slightly sexist point, the Belgian police force seems to have a ridiculously high proportion of attractive female officers. Still not worth getting a ticket for.
- Hang around in the middle lane. The Belgians love lane discipline, and will make inch-perfect manoeuvres to get back into the correct lane. Check your blind spot!!
We camped at The Elephant (no. 97) campsite sited about 1km away from the Eau Rouge entrance to the circuit. It’s a family orientated site; the organisers aren’t fond of raucous parties until late at night. But if you’ve just driven several hundred miles, the chance to get a decent night’s sleep is not necessarily a bad thing!
- Know how to put your tent up before you go. The last thing you want is to be fiddling with poles and ropes, in the dark – whilst in inevitably rains – trying to put the damn thing up.
- Multiply the number of people going by four to find the optimum tent size. For example two people x four = eight man tent minimum.
- Consider hiring a motorhome. Yes there’s various other costs to consider, but we did envy the smug Germans who rocked up and were sorted for the weekend in about ten minutes.
- Take pillows and camping mats.
- Have a least one diesel engined car with you, so you can idle it throughout the evening to charge iPhones or dry clothes. The sound of an idling diesel was almost de rigour on our site. You don’t want to be left out.
- Burn through all your camping gas on the first night, prompting a trip to buy more on Saturday.
- Leave valuables in the tent. We had no problems at our site, but others staying at the track have reported thefts.
- Lie in too much if you want a shower. Get up early enough to avoid the queue.
- Rev your engine like a dick when trying to get out of a muddy campsite. It just sprays mud everywhere, and makes you look like a bell end.
- Forget to visit the local pub. Cafe Bertrand in Hameau De Ster was wonderfully cheap and amusing.
Food / Drink
If you’re camping, food and drink are going to be your own work most of the time. We cooked on a gas camping stove every night, but consider other options such as a barbecue or even just going to the pub! Inside the circuit there’s also a myriad of options that aren’t too unreasonably priced for a motorsport event. Puts Goodwood in the shade, that’s for sure.
- Take stuff with you in advance, ideally in a cool box. Depending on what time you get there, being able to just whip something straight on the stove could be a God send.
- Find someone kind enough to make you sandwiches for the trip. Again, when you’re staring down the barrel of 200 miles of arrow-straight Belgian motorway, a corn beef sandwich could be what keeps you going.
- Go to Carrefour in Spa. It’s on boulevard des anglais and has a really good selection of meats, meats and more meats. You’ve got a camping stove; what more do you want?
- Pack plenty of beer. At least to last you a couple of days. Yes you can buy it in the circuit, but nothing beats arriving at the track with a cool box full of chilled beverages.
- Leave your beer in the car overnight. It’ll be nicely chilled come morning.
- Ignore the local beer. Jupiler, a 5.2% pale lager, is the beverage of choice around Spa. At €1.50 a bottle in Cafe Bertrand it’s also something of a bargain. Try it at least… twice to be sure.
- Write off the food available within the confines of the circuit. We tested burgers, packed with onions, and fries with mayo – a Belgian establishment which both proved to be excellent. Reasonably priced, and way better quality than the UK equivalent.
- Drink too much Jupiler before attempting to cook. Tents are notoriously flammable.
- Forget to brush your teeth. You’re only camping in Belgium, not surviving in the Serengeti!
- Underestimate just how far the toilet block might be from your tent. When it’s cold, dark and inevitably raining, you want to know just how long the trip is going to take!
Let’s not forget why we’re here; the Grand Prix! It’s possible to become lost in the general excitement of camping and the whole experience of being at Spa Francorchamps. But don’t overlook what it’s all about.
- Use Friday to scout out your favourite spectating positions. We went for the Kemmel straight as it offers a long view of the cars, at speed, combined with big TV screens.
- Get to the circuit early, especially if you’re camping. You haven’t paid to sleep on the floor for nothing; use being so close as an advantage to get inside and get the best spots.
- Take camping chairs. You do not want to spend 10 hours sat on potentially soaking wet grass.
- Have full waterproofs and huge umbrella. The weather at Spa is just as unpredictable as it appears on TV. But when you’re there experiencing it, the reality is slightly less fun! Waterproof trousers come highly recommended, but make sure you put them on before the rain hits.
- Walk up Eau Rouge once the race is over. You will never believe how steep it is. Stop, have a beer, and enjoy being on one of the most famous corners in all of Formula 1.
- Ignore the support races. GP2 and GP3 are where the F1 stars of tomorrow are being born. You’ve also paid for it, so you might as well maximise the entertainment. Perhaps ignore the Porsche Supercup though.
- Laugh at the French language commentary too much. Ok, maybe you can laugh at Leeewis Waaaamilton.
- Take earplugs for F1 cars. They are that quiet. Take them for GP2 and GP3 though; and if your friends snore.
- Fall down the path at Eau Rouge. It’s steep, covered in loose gravel, and evil when wet. Be careful.
- Use the toilets on the Kemmel. They’re grim. Pay €0.70 for the nice ones at Eau Rouge if you’re that desperate!
Spa Francorchamps is, quite frankly, a superb track to visit when combined with Formula 1. We’re already weighing up options for next year, and we cannot recommend enough that you do the same. We guarantee that you won’t be disappointed. If you have questions or suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comments section below.