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The obligatory road trip early start was made a little harder on Day 1 as many of the group met the night before in Tring’s premiere Indian restaurant the Olive Limes. Fortunately, weather and traffic conditions were kind to us and we got onto the Eurotunnel crossing in good time. Our presence was most probably detected at the furthest extents of the lower deck as the carriages provide a perfect sound tube for the flat six symphony we created!
We deliberately avoided the autoroute and major Route Nationale trunk roads, favouring the twisty B-roads that linked the little French hamlets together. It was painfully slow progress for much of the morning but interspaced with some cracking short blats from time to time. Caution needed to be exercised as the farmers were harvesting and the roads were exceptionally slippery at times, resulting in significant application of opposite lock on one particular square right bend in the road!
Our lunchtime stop was shortly after entering Belgium was at a roadside pizzeria called Sapori Casa Mia in a small town called Tournai. The manageress must have known we were coming as there was a table right in the middle of the restaurant laid out with exactly the requisite number of places. She also spotted the line-up of cars outside and insisted having photos in front of the GT4 with the Chef. They even took their flag banner down and went into the main road to stop the traffic and allow us to exit as a group onto the main road again (some more flamboyantly than others!).
We saw a lot of Belgium that day and were glad to get to our accommodation in Francorchamps at the Hotel De La Source, located at the top corner of the circuit. We enjoyed the Belgium beer for a little too long and by the time we walked into town we could not get a table for dinner so booked one for the following evening and returned to the hotel and twisted the arm of the waiting staff to feed us, despite the kitchen technically being closed, which they very kindly accommodated for us.
Sunday morning weather was a bit variable, but we found some awesome routes out to the Nurburgring and the weather was cracking at the Nordschleife.
Highlight of the day was the initial ‘sighting lap’ we did in the 2005 model year Skoda Octavia VRS. Nick had driven the circuit before and either has Gran Tourismo on his PlayStation or a fantastic memory for corners as the speed we carried into most corners were off the chart for a 12-year-old warm hatch with five big blokes in it! The guys who didn’t helmet up in the back were regretting that decision after turn two!
There were some very quick machines there and the modified German and French hot hatches amongst the fastest machinery we saw. It was a bit too kamikaze for me on a public day but would love to go back on a closed-circuit track day. Nutter of the day award went to a German family in their A4 cabriolet, roof down, no lids and their eight-year-old on the back seat!!!
Drive back to Spa was epic and a great mix of quiet back roads and relatively deserted dual carriageways. Dinner was at a quaint restaurant called L`Acqua Rossa in the heart of Francorchamp. We ate well and then headed back to the hotel for a nightcap. Anticipating a big day on track in the morning.
We were expecting bad weather and pulling open the curtains the following morning we were greeted with a grey sky and very consistent drizzle. Conditions on track were going to be challenging. A point highlighted in the Circuit Days drivers briefing.
After doing a couple of sighting laps, we cranked up the speed and the GT4 was seeking out some half decent traction in the conditions. A testament to the brilliance of the Michelin Cup2 tyres. Traction control is a nice safety net, but I made the decision to completely turn it off as it seriously interfered with the driver connectivity and fluidity of progress. I won’t lie I did spin at La Source when I had to take a wider line through the La Source hairpin to avoid a slower car, but that was also partly due to a certain amount of showboating on my part and that is karma for you!
The Track got drier and drier and by the time we left in late afternoon the circuit was pretty much completely dry. One of my best memories from that day was getting to grips with the transition from full on wet weather to a near dry track and the challenges that this presents in the horrible greasy not wet/not dry stage. The GT4 performed faultlessly and cemented its position in the top three of my all-time favourite cars on track.
All cars survived intact (despite Matt’s best drifting efforts in his 997 Gen2 Turbo). Graham’s Gen 1.5 was flying around and revelling in the benefits of its four-wheel drive in the mornings wet conditions. It was great to have the 996 CSR there and Phil really got under the skin of it that day. By a quirk of fate, we also met up with the Boxster CSR as well (the owner Gary having driven there from Scotland!). By an even more peculiar quirk of fate we have just brought the Boxster CSR back into the fleet!
A blast through Belgium and Holland, with some dubious navigation moments, eventually got us to Hook of Holland with not too many minutes to spare! The overnight ferry to Harwich is a great way to finish the road trip. Opportunity for some last beers and reminiscing before getting shut eye in comfortable cabin accommodation. Getting into the UK at 6.30 we all drove straight to work. Although it meant a slightly delayed start to the working day for most, we still managed to work the best part of a full day before heading home to catch up with families and having a well-earned rest.
Planning the next trip, watch this space…
Written by Darren Anderson.