The Belgium city of Spa is known internationally for its water – the mineral sort that flows from many natural springs around town. In the motoring community though, it’s what lies 7km outside the city – Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps.
Along with the Belgian F1 Grand Prix, the annual 24 Hours of Spa is one of the famed circuit’s most prestigious events, and last week – in preparation for the 2022 race – Spa and its inhabitants welcomed a couple of hundred GT race cars to the main thoroughfare for a rolling parade. A spectacle like that doesn’t happen often, so I had to go and check it out.
I arrived a couple of hours before the event, and even then struggled to find a parking spot. After I finally did, I walked around to familiarize myself with the historic part of the city. The Ardennes town is called ‘Spa’ for good reason – the phenomenon of spa towns started right here. Back in the 14th century, Romans frequented the town for the purported curative properties of its mineral baths.
On a sunny Wednesday in 2022, tourists flocked to the city for a very different reason. The bars, terraces and every roadside vantage point were filled with racing enthusiasts, everyone waiting for their favorite drivers to show up.
Valentino Rossi was easily the favorite – that is, if the amount of ’46’ branded merchandise being worn and waved was anything to go by. After retiring his motorcycle boots, the nine-time MotoGP champion has contested the entire 2022 GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup season driving an Audi R8 LMS Evo II GT3 for Team WRT.
As the parade grew closer, the excitement grew too. A couple of police motorcycles gave everyone some false hope, but any minute now the first GT3 machine would drive down Rue Royale.
A collective engine roar soon followed, and the full grid of 66 GT3 cars made its way into the town center. And that’s not all; support class cars from the GT4 European Series and Lamborghini Super Trofeo championship followed too.
Together with all the modern-day race cars, fans were also treated to the sights and sounds of a few classic competitors from the SRO 30th GT Anniversary race. I drooled a bit when a Gulf-liveried Venturi 400 Trophy from 1993 made an appearance.
I wasn’t sure if Valentino Rossi had driven his Audi into the city, but he quickly appeared on a second-floor balcony. ‘The Doctor’ waved to the crowd and received a rousing reception in return.
I’m sure that the celebratory atmosphere continued throughout the day, especially since it’s been two years since this traditional parade took place. For me on the other hand, it was time to go to the hotel and prepare for the race weekend ahead. See you at the track in my forthcoming coverage from the 2022 TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa.