Spa 6 Hours - The One to Watch

As the World Endurance Championship gears up for its opening salvo at Silverstone in a week’s time, the Speed Chills office has been filled with talk about which race we’re most looking forward to in the 2014 season. We ended up with an answer that, in a series that visits stunning circuits around the world, might be a bit unexpected...

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By the time the WEC circus arrives in the Ardennes many people are starting to think about Le Mans, so the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps can sometimes be overlooked. It’s understandable when you’re just a few weeks away from the greatest race in the world, but it means that Spa often gets treated as a prologue rather than the amazing event it really is.

Spa is one of the world’s most spectacular tracks, and there’s no feeling like being there in person. There’s something about this 7k mash up of tarmac and nature that beckons you in then shoves you right back into the thick of the World Endurance Championship.

The open paddock and stellar pit walk give you the chance to hang around the garages, see the mechanics working feverishly and have a word with Mark Webber when he appears after his stint. The view from the inside of La Source, the first corner, is pretty special too, with multi-million pound prototypes shaving paint off their wing mirrors in search of a few precious hundredths.

And then they get the hammer down towards Eau Rouge. TV cameras can’t show how ridiculously steep this legendary corner really is, or how when you’re standing at the bottom of it you feel as if the cars are being shot out of a cannon in an attack on the Belgian countryside. The way that the GTEs look like they’re sinking into the tarmac is something that you can only experience if you’re there.

As with most circuits you can tell where the best bits of the track are by following the locals. They crowd onto the steep grass slopes with their beers and their camping chairs, a mass of Belgians stretching from Les Combes all the way down to No Name, where a good choice of viewing pitch nets the die hard fan a view all the way down to Pouhon. On a sunny day, surrounded by pine trees and V8s and with a cold beverage in hand, motor racing feels like it should do.

And that feeling starts before you even get to the track. When you leave the motorway behind and start down the snaking country roads, through green valleys and hairpin bends, it feels like something out of a 60s Bond film.

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The Racing Hotel where we stay is caught up in the history of the track, and the bar is covered with pictures and photos from across the years; the 25 hour spec 2CVs have to be seen to believed. If the weather coin has landed on heads then you can sit outside enjoying a beer in the hazy forest evening before strolling up the road for a meal. It all feels local and homemade, a racing mecca in a sleepy village in the middle of nowhere.

Nobody tells that to the teams, though. They all turn up eager to get points on the board, and the harsh nature of the Spa-Francorchamps track promises bragging rights that come in very valuable when preparing for Le Mans.

It’s a great place to see a bit of innovation, with many of the top teams using one or both of their cars to trial new and exciting bits of kit that might give them the edge at the 24. Last year Audi debuted their modern (and mildly disappointing) version of Porsche’s ‘langheck’ or longtail format from the 70s, and with the endurance legends making a return in 2014 each of the big manufacturers will be searching for the technical jump on their opponents.

There will be seven of the top tier LMP1-H prototypes at Spa in 2014 with 21 of the world’s best drivers vying for the chequered flag. There will be the battle between Lotus and the debuting Rebellion R-One in LMP1-L, the tense action brought by the LMP2 field, the manufacturer dogfight in GTE-Pro and the dirty slog that always makes up the GTE-Am field.

I can’t wait to grab a beer in the bar on top of the pits and feel the field fly by as the lights go green. It will be unmissable, and it’s a great opportunity to find out what the FIA World Endurance Championship is all about. And while it’s fair to start getting excited about Le Mans (to be honest that’s started already) don’t underestimate the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps; you’ll be missing out on one of the jewels in the sport’s crown.

Jamie Snelling is a WEC accredited journalist and 7-time Speed Chills veteran. Tweet him at @speedchillsview