The start of any race is always exciting; the rolling start of a race like the Spa 24 Hours, with the knowledge that the opening lap is just the first of many hundreds and that it’s the start of an epic day-long battle, just supercharges that feeling. The Circuit De Spa-Francorchamps provides some iconic view-points, images that immediately identify the track. There is nothing bland about the backdrop; no corner where it looks like the cars are taking it easy. Every one of the tens of thousands of people at the track – spectators, team, drivers and photographers – all have their own unique perspective, their own viewpoint of how the race started from all the different vantage points around the track.
A lap of the track is just over four miles long, with 20 corners to negotiate, the majority fast and furious. With a full-strength team of Speedhunters on hand, we decided to split up and cover as much of a full lap as possible, to bring you a round-the-lap view of that opening blast of 66 GTs.
After walking the grid, which was stretched out the length of the sharp descent from the La Source hairpin, we all headed off to our respective designated areas. I’d be taking Eau Rouge, opposite the start-line.
In place with 30 minutes to go, I watched a constant stream of photographers break off from the huddle on the grid and make their way up to the photo trenches on the outside of the corner.
Time to lay in wait. Fiddle with settings. Snap a few testers. Enjoy the weather.
The TV helicopter buzzed overhead, chopping the air in its gravity-defying hover. Apart from that, the only noise was the buzz coming from the crowds in the tribunes.
In front of us, nature got on with its normal business of adapting to all that man could throw at it. I hoped that no-one would throw their car at the tyre that the nice little spider had made a home in…
Hooters sounded, and the throng on the grid gradually thinned out as the marshals ushered everyone away and the first engines fired up. The course car then gently led the two lines of cars away to start their single formation lap.
In the WRT Audi garage, all eyes were glued to the video screens.
Red lights on the gantry. The sound of the engines echoing around the far reaches of the track.
Even a veteran of racing, like the head of Audi’s motorsport programmes Wolfgang Ullrich, can look a little nervous at this point.
Five minutes later, Sean tracked the cars as they made their steady way towards La Source, still controlled by the Safety Car.
The SC peeled off sharp right into the Endurance pit-lane. Behind him the pack scrabbled to maintain their two-by-two formation as they rounded the tight right, then growled down to the start-line… Still red. Red. Red… then just as they approached the line the lights finally turned green – and the hammer came down as over 60 cars accelerated as one. An explosion of noise and sound as time sped up and the cars shot down the hill.
Immediately the #3 Marc VDS BMW Z4 was neck and neck with the pole-sitting #66 Vita4One BMW; behind them the #5 McLaren was almost forced off-track as it fought to make up a place.
Through the first apex of Raidillon and into Eau Rouge: somehow the leaders were still side by side!
They made it through, now with #3 in the lead! Behind them the #1 WRT Audi was the car that had lost out to the McLaren, slipping back a place. It’s at this stage that the cars are coming at you so quickly that your brain becomes overloaded. Where to look?!
The rest of the pack streamed though…
…and over Eau Rouge. The #2 WRT Audi had also also dropped back slightly in this opening phase.
With that the pack was off and charging up the Kemmel Straight…
…right into the sights of Larry.
As they reached v-max on the straight the cars fanned out to fill the full width of the track.
#66 pushed it all the way towards Les Combes, desperately trying to retake the lead.
But it wasn’t enough. Maxime Martin was braver under braking, retaining first position. The #3 BMW dived into the apex, followed by a torrent of cars…
Christopher Mies in the #1 WRT Audi had slotted into a small gap behind the leading quartet – the pack then made their way round to the Bruxelles hairpin at the top end of the track.
Rod’s first view would be of the cars right in the distance as they rounded that hairpin.
Directly in front of him, empty track. A final view of calm.
The noise of the cars preceded the leaders before they emerged into sight, blasting through the terrifying flat-out left at Blanchimont.
Within a couple of seconds they were in the last run to the Bus Stop, with everyone hard on the brakes and squirming to slow for the chicane.
The cars were now running in one long train, with the more bullish drivers darting out in the braking zone to worry cars ahead.
Still they came through. 66 cars take a long time to pass by.
Right at the back were the Gentlemen Trophy and final Cup cars, including the VDS Racing Adventures Ford Mustang – they would temporarily benefit from a couple of cars starting in the pit-lane.
To Rod’s left, the majority of cars were already through the Bus Stop and on the way down to the final corner of the opening lap.
Sean now experienced a far more ragged approach: gone were the ordered lines of the starting procedure. Now it was maximum attack, a head-long rush.
Cars again scattered everywhere on the approach to La Source, looking for the best line possible through the hairpin but wary of attack from below.
On the exit the wide run-off beckoned – as would a penalty if it was used. So everyone scrabbled for grip and put the power down as best they could to avoid being swamped.
One lap completed in the sunshine at Spa. One lap. Two lines of cars. Three minutes. Four miles. Five photographers. 23 hours, 57 minutes to go.
Speedhunters at the 2012 Spa 24 Hours
From somebody who has gone to a few racing events this year, this post captured the excitement of the first lap of a race. The best endurance post I've seen from you guys yet, top work!
This is definitely my favorite post in the history of Speedhunters! What an incredible way to tell the story of an opening lap. Truly incredible. Thank you!
You can definitely tell which shots are Seans. Never thought I'd say this but I like the Canon tones more haha