So, you’re an F1 fan in central Europe? Well congratulations, you’ve come to the right place, because there is nowhere else on Earth with as many circuits in a relatively small area. This is because the juggernauts of the European motoring market all originate from this part of Europe, your VWs, Peugeots, and whatever Renault is pumping out these days all have roots in this region.
Belgium and the Netherlands are no different, sure they might not have a manufacturing giant like their neighbours, however, car culture is very much present around those parts, even if for different reasons.
Let’s start with the Netherlands first. Now this country is an absolute joke of a place (in a good way, please don’t come after me dutchies). This reflects in the approach they have to car racing: full balls to the wall, pedal to the metal, Collin McRae style, straight out of Dukes of Hazard (they like the colour orange after all). The circuit I visited there was Zandvoort, around an hour’s drive away from Amsterdam, and I think the best way to describe it is by delving into the mind of a Dutchman since the track was designed by one. Picture this: our good track designer friend goes down the street to the pub with his mates and says “Lads, how should I make this track?”. Now the one guy in the corner, who got there earlier and has already had some extra beers says “Uhm just give it like banked corners kinda like the Americans do.” Then the short fella on the left side of the table stands up and says “Nonono, you should give it elevation changes and fast corners, that’s what drivers like the most.” “Then the one guy who’s just there to run away from his wife says, “Oh and you should make it near the beach, so that after the race is over you can just go for a sunbath.”. Finally the bartender, who was, as usual, eavesdropping the conversation adds, “You gotta make a BTT track around it as well, just for the laughs.” After this, our designer friend goes home and after about 5 seconds thinks to himself. “Why not add all of those?”. And thus, Zandvoort was born, a track so insane it was an instant hit.
It was the host for the Dutch GP from the 60s to the late 70s until it became obsolete due to the lack of updates and maintenance. Fortunately, it was recently renovated and brought back to its full glory. It is the Gen Z incarnate of racetracks, the iPhone X of the motoring world. It is ideal for new motorsport fans to get the daily adrenaline rush, and you don’t even have to drive around it! I was lucky enough to visit it on a day when cars were being raced around it and it looked like the most fun thing in the world. You can rent the whole thing for a day and take part in activities such as slalom, drag racing and karting, but most importantly driving a supercar around of the best tracks in Europe, sign me up! Even if your funds are somewhat lacking you can enter the track itself ( obviously not the asphalt) and visit the pitlane and take a short break at the bar ( who else but the Dutch to build a bar on a race track), or you can take a walk around it through the dirt tracks that surround it, just beware of bikes, these people will NOT slow down if you’re in their path. All in all, a very entertaining experience and most definitely recommend it.
Now onto Belgium, and this is a country which is the home to, in my opinion, the most historic racetrack in the world. If you’re willing to make the hour-and-a-half journey from Brussels to the humble village of Stavelot, you will find the great, the wonderful, the unrivalled, the iconic and the intimidating Spa-Francorchamps. I can only describe this circuit by comparing it to others. If going to Zandvoort is going to your local all-you-can-eat fast food restaurant, visiting Spa is going to a 5-star Michelin meal. It is unforgettable, it is the ethos of a racetrack.
If Zandvoort was designed by a Dutchman and his mates, Spa is the work of a renowned mathematician who calculated every corner’s angle to the millimeter. It is perfect, if you go into it thinking “Oh it’s just another track like the others” you will come out saying “That is art.”
I went on a guided tour but to be completely honest, words are unnecessary, all you need to do is take a trek around the track and witness all its greatness. If you’re lucky enough there’ll be cars doing laps around it, if so then you will ascend to a new plan of existence, and your soul will raise to the Heavens, if only for a few seconds as you hear the engines echo through the mountains. Spa is a track for the gentlemen, the refined racer or the long-time racing enthusiast. Of course, even if you are new to this motoring world, you are still more than welcome to visit this omen to racing, the cathedral of the motorcar, the pontifex of speed. Honestly, it is life-changing, and I highly recommend it, in fact, if you visit Belgium and you choose not to visit Spa, it is like choosing Dave from around the corner over Bruce Springsteen for a karaoke party.
Long story short, eastern Europe is rich in racing culture, and whether you’re an F1 fan or a drag racing enthusiast, there is always something for you around these parts, so knock yourself out.