Belgian Region Approves Loan To Prepare Spa-Francorchamps For EWC And MotoGP

The odds of Grand Prix motorcycle racing returning to the magnificent Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belgium increased last week. On Thursday, the government of Wallonia, the French-speaking region of Belgium, announced that the circuit had been granted a €29.5 million loan for upgrades to make the track safe enough to eventually host motorcycle racing at the circuit

The loan, from the Walloon development agency SOGEPA, is part of a larger financial package of €80 million aimed at updating and modernizing the Belgian circuit. €51 million of that total is targeted at bringing back international motorcycle racing to the track. The objective, according to Belgian website 7sur7, is to have the FIM WEC World Endurance Championship return to the circuit in 2022, with a possible return for MotoGP planned for 2024. 

Making the circuit safe enough for motorcycle racing is no easy task. The track winds its way through the Belgian Ardennes, a closely wooded area composed of steep hills. There is little room to create added runoff, at what would undoubtedly be one of the fastest tracks on the calendar. Corners such as Eau Rouge/Radillon and Blanchimont would be candidates for the fastest corners on the calendar, with little room for error. The circuit still holds the record for the highest average speed in Grand Prix racing, when Barry Sheene lapped the then 14.1 kilometer circuit at an average speed of 220.721 km/h. Even on the shorter 6.9 km circuit which Grand Prix racing used on their last visit in 1990, Kevin Schwantz set pole at an average speed of over 174 km/h. With 30 years of progress since then, MotoGP bikes should go much more quickly.

The layout is not the only challenge to racing at Spa. The Belgian Ardennes is a beautiful location, but the dense woods and steep hills mean it is highly susceptible to wet weather. On average, it rains approximately 12 days of every month in the area, giving a very high chance of rain. 

Scheduling a race in Belgium would also be tricky. Spa-Francorchamps is 375 km or three-and-a-half hours from Assen, and roughly 600km from both Le Mans in France and the Sachsenring in Germany. If the calendar threatened to cannibalize spectators from one of the other races, serious objections could be raised.

The dangerous nature of the circuit has saw international motorcycle racing withdraw from the track many years ago, the track focusing instead on the F1 race held there. A motorcycle Grand Prix race was held at Spa-Francorchamps 40 times, between 1949 and 1990, only missing out in 1980 (when the Belgian Grand Prix was held at Zolder) and in 1987, when the race at Spa was canceled due to safety measures demanded by the FIM not having been taken. The last 24-hour endurance race backed by the FIM was held at Spa in 2003, the 2004 24 Heures de Liege (as the race was known) being canceled again because promised work to improve safety had not been done.

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Comments

Eau Rouge + error = certain death. I imagine bikes going airborne over it as well. No way. I love Spa but it's just not worth it.

Total votes: 8

I agree. I can see no way that Eau Rouge's compression and Raidillon's crest can be made safe for GP bikes without scraping them flat. By the same token Blanchimont has about 15 metres of run off, then a literal cliff edge behind the barriers. The only way to make it safer would be to move the corner further inwards and turn it into a much longer arc, but then it wouldn't be Blanchimont and wouldn't be the stuff of GT3 fever nightmares anymore.

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Hopefully the Belgians have some genius engineering plan that will leave the layout of the track untouched whilst also improving run off and rider safety. If not Spa is about to get the Hockenheim and Assen treatment.

Total votes: 7

Of course they're very unlikely to use Eau Rouge "as is" with current GP bikes. I imagine they'll simply add a chicane at it's base very similar to what was done to the climbing turn at Lime Rock Park.

Total votes: 2

Don't they still do track days there for motorcycles? I'm sure if the amateurs are able to handle Eau Rouge without crashing the top riders in the world will do the same. It's not suddenly doom and gloom suddenly since GP bikes have run there years ago. My question is if Germany and France start complaining about poaching will that affect others? How is that situation handled in Spain which has the monopoly on races?

Total votes: 10

I'm not sure that avoiding crashing is either possible nor the goal.  One issue of rider safety comes down to what happens next when a crash occurs.  If there is lots of soft, safe runoff, then a rider stands a much better chance on injury avoidance than if there is, for example, a close wall.  That amatures do or don't crash doesn't really come in to play in regards to top level riders and the speeds they go.

Bikes have become faster and rider safety has become more important since 1990.  I suspect that making adjustments to the track will require a not-small investment to meet current circuit homolgation requirements.

Total votes: 14

1. doesn't bankrupt them and

2. doesn't mean materially changing the layout of the track

then why not try and see how far they can get to bringing modern bike racing to the circuit? if the taxpayer is happy to support them, who are we to argue with them?

Total votes: 20

place, and the Bikers Classic held there in July is such a great event. Getting up early and going around the old road circuit sends shivers down your spine, the Masta Kink, the ‘artificial’ banked bend to cut out Stavelot and increase the speed (they were in competition with Reims-Geaux as Europe’s fastest circuit at the time and when they replaced a slow bend in the town with a quickie, Spa responded!). The sheer change in elevation, the timeless imagery, everything! 

But with two wheels and four there is a terribly long list of tragedies here, especially in F1. Yes the run down from La Source, over Eau Rouge and disappearing into the sun (or rainstorm) is iconic, but there’s nowhere to go-without changing it beyond recognition. If they can pull it off I’m booking the Hotel de la Source no matter what the cost! A circuit only rivalled by the Salzburgring for lethal menace in a stunningly beautiful setting. Or possibly the most gorgeous girl you’ve ever seen that can absolutely destroy you the second you drop your guard, but you’d take your chances...

Total votes: 11

I wonder: how much of a future does a track like Spa have, if it doesn't tear apart its nostalgic rule book and reinvent itself to accomodate the big leagues? It's still got F1 and I know there are some 6h endurance races there on fast motorcycles. But I can imagine that big events will become more rare if Spa doesn't update itself to 2020+. 

I wouldn't mind a Grand Prix two hours from my home - it's only half an hour further out than Assen. Whatever needs changing, feel free to do so; better to have a track for MotoGP than to not have a track for MotoGP. 

Total votes: 3

Is this an April fools day story? Saw your recent tweet re; Suzuka Monza & Spa-Francochamps & had a bit of a think about them. The discussion in the forum "racing circuit pantheon" was interesting. Thought Suzuka maybe, Monza too deadly, Spa way too dificult to create run-off etc.

Incredible that the government of Wallonia has commited to funding some improvements. If they get MotoGp to race there it will be a miracle.

Even WEC & SBK at Spa would be awesome. I'm hoping to visit the circuit between Catalunya & Assen, now with added interest and excitement.

Total votes: 5

only those with big ba(($.  this is a classic course and should be in use! the tt is much more dangerous and raced every year by those with giant huevos ... are motogp dudes soyboys?

this would make me buy a season pass again

Total votes: 3

There are trackdays for amateurs.

im going 29th april.

 

Total votes: 6

Can somebody who knows their way around tell me why it's impossible to make Eau Rouge safe? Can't run off be extended? or is it not that simple?

Total votes: 3

but there may be ways, there always is. The ‘classic’ start finish is still there and used for Bikers Classic events; that’s halfway down the hill from La Source hairpin down to Eau Rouge-the current start/finish has been before La Source hairpin (opposite the old one effectively), for a long while now. There was talk that COTA used parts of classic circuits to string things together and that the first corner was likened to La Source in reverse, which does look about right. What becomes immediately apparent when you cast your eyes on this legendary part of the track is how narrow it is-being public roads, right up to the year 2000! The next thing is how steep/fast it is rushing down this narrow corridor to Eau Rouge (a stream/ford running under the track here gives the name). They would have to widen on the left side going down, which would be a big job, but possible. What they could also do was maybe resurrect the part of track not used for over 50 years, a part of the track that is still there as I’ve walked round it! Basically, as you hit the bottom of Eau Rouge you turn left, it’s under trees now but was an old border line, with the marker stone still there, in earlier times. This part of road was used to split everyday traffic coming from Stavelot (so anti-clockwise), even normal vehicles used to come together in the dip!! I’m sure they would use that to fire them up the mountain that is Raidillon. It would need to be a delicate operation as this is the precious, most photographed part of Spa-or any other racing circuit-stretching back almost 100 years and over a century by the time it may come to pass. Other areas like the end of the Kemmel Straight would need attention but I think not too much else, though I’m no expert. 

If the Wallonian region is prepared to commit the amount of money reported and are working with Dorna on financial and structural feasibility then clearly there is absolutely a way. My only concern going into the future is which horizons MotoGP are now straining their eyes towards. Motorcycle growth and investment seems to be growing in the East and the racing, like F1, is going that way. Will Europe need so many circuits and which ones will be able to command an advantage? The fabulous ambition of places like Spa brings into even sharper relief the folly now of four GPs in Spain. I did say last year that you have, for the best part of a decade now, seen available seating in most, if not all, the Spanish tracks. I also concluded then that tenders should be competed for to run two of the four races every year because the new circuits will demand attention and 20 races is looking like the limit. It might all come down to whether the series will want to embrace tradition, history and potential danger in place of the brand new Tilke-type designs of expanding markets in tropical playgrounds. 

Total votes: 12

If it can be safe for F1 and there is the will and ability to invest for MotoGP then this would be one of the greatest Dorna deals ever. The weather can be problematic due to the hills but no-one is going to sign-off the circuit unless it is safe. I imagine a lot of air fences will be bought. Sure, bikes cannot bounce off barriers like cars can, but bringing it up to modern standards has surely been part of the business case study and preliminary sign-off.

If it happens I will be going.

Total votes: 3

With a bunch of air fence, think Moto3 could make it work nearly as it is? Moto2?

(I love our beastly MotoGP bikes of course, but also pondering if they are outgrowing track possibilities). This plan looks a LONG SHOT hope.

These old gems of tracks are...sacred. They can't and won't be made again. Is there really anything inherently wrong with 85hp to 150hp bikes or a cautious roll off/don't pass befitting parts of them? Track days work great on more dangerous tracks. And slower bikes.

Torn. I still want old Assen back. So glad we still have BSB running on paved goat trails.

2 min video, onboard 2018 pole lap w Hamilton (sorry about the 2 extra wheels, ick)
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=z7ia7FR4XQs&t=11s

Total votes: 5