Saturday 11th June, 10 AM.
The citizens of Francorchamps have already had their involuntarily early start to the day over an hour ago, by the time we finally arrive at the track. The day's second session is already well under way. As with previous editions of the Summer Classic, the brutal noise of race cars shifting down for the La Source hairpin is almost lost in the naturally quiet Ardennes surroundings. It surprises us -again- how little public is attracted by these fantastic Francorchamps race day events. After our two-hour road trip, we opt for a cappuccino and pain au chocolat on the paddock restaurant's balcony, while we take in the high paced laps of the CSCC 'Swinging Sixties' machines. A bright red Camaro soon becomes our favourite, but it can hardly keep up with the canary yellow TR7 it is chasing. But wait – wasn't that a seventies car?
But that's the Summer Classic; while the contenders do race as hard as in any other competition, the various classes are such a rich mix of vehicles that it is often a challenge in itself to try and guess its common denominators. But then, who cares? Certainly not the mixed bag of drivers: captains of industry, their well-off 'sons-of', a rich variety of smaller company owners (judged by the obscure sponsor names, written in large on their cars and trailers) and numerous plain enthousiasts who have probably put most of their savings in a Caterham Seven or, say, a Lotus Cortina. Which is often maintained by a bunch of even more enthousiast mechanics – seemingly from the local town workshop. They often race in various classes simultaneously and are all just here for a few days of undiluted fun. And for the fans that we are, the Summer Classic, as always, is a great way to come oh so up close and personal to the cars and their drivers.
This rich mix of pedigree seems slightly off balance when the Formula 3 series get ready to rumble. The average age of formula car drivers seems well above 50 (60?), judged by one after the other grey-moustached, well-weathered face that we spot through most helmet visors. Nevertheless these guys mean the business. Some cars look like miniature Formula 1 racers and the attention to detail -as the level of tech support- is impressive.
As the weather changes, sometimes dramatically, in an almost hourly rhythm, we do our best -as the drivers do- to anticipate and plan our obligatory track walk. You don't want to get caught in one of those sudden Francorchamps rain showers! Before you know it, the shimmering hot and sticky asphalt may change in a soaking wet and slippery slide. Which will consecutively heat up so quickly again that steam rises from it, thick as smoke. The air will be hot and humid once more, with ten degrees centigrade difference in a matter of minutes. Ah, Francorchamps!
We alternate watching the races with deep-diving into the paddock and pit lanes. Every tent, every pit box its own atmosphere, nationality and -in many cases- family feel. Lots of Brits today! A bit further down, we chat with the 2 meter tall Dutch driver of a tiny orange mint condition Elan, who explains us why the car looks so good: it was built up all over again after a recent dramatic crash. Changed my opinion on shiny race cars once and for all! "It's all in the game", he smiles, indifferently. Later that day, he would finish third – his cheeky little Lotus snapping at the tail of a big, bad 'Vette.
It's those unexpected stories and meetings, together with the ever-inspiring hunt for details, brilliant war paint and graphics, that make these days so great. On top of the continuous speed kicks and eargasms that is.
What a wonderful day!