Motorsport Wonderland

Central Europe is lousy with racing, and I have made it a point to attend as much of it as I can during my time here. It is home to some of the biggest and most significant events in motorsport, as well as a lot of somewhat quirky smaller scale local events that can be even more fun. It has been not only thoroughly enjoyable, but in many ways inspiring as well.

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One of my dreams for Europe was to spectate a lot of motor racing. That may seem a bit unambitious, just to go watch some races, but as a longtime race fan and aspiring motorsport photographer, central Europe is something of a Mecca in that regard. Spa and NΓΌrburgring are regarded as two of the most scenic race courses in the world, in addition to hosting a number of high-profile events each. Not to mention the other slightly lower-profile tracks nearby that host their share of events, as well as local hillclimbs and rallys. Between all these options, there was some kind of motorsport to see on almost every weekend from February through November if I wanted to. I just had to pull up the schedule I put together, and see what I was in the mood for.

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Track Tourism

In the last 4 years of going to track days, I have tried to visit as many different courses as possible. Continuing to sample myriad racetracks was one of my personal missions in coming to Europe, and after visiting seven of them on this continent, I think I can call it a success. (Lead photo courtesy BookaTrack.com Ltd)

I suppose not many people apart from professional race drivers can say they’ve taken their car to twelve different racetracks in five different countries on two continents, but somehow I’ve managed this achievement. It wasn’t easy, and after a dozen or so visits to the Lotus shop and getting on a first-name basis with my mechanic, it for sure wasn’t cheap either, but it has been a satisfying fulfillment of a dream.

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Car Culture Shock

Of all the cultural differences between Belgium and the US, I was perhaps least prepared to experience the difference in car culture. From across the pond, I saw an incredible density of amazing racetracks in amongst the homelands of exotic and interesting brands like Donkervoort, Artega, Weismann, and Caterham (not to mention the more famous ones you’re thinking of). So naturally, I expected a car culture something like what I experienced in America, but with cooler cars and more track time. But that’s not really how it is.

Car culture in Europe, or at least Belgium, seems to be generally much more intentional and event-oriented, less casual than American car culture. If there’s a type of car event in America that you like, you can find it in Belgium taken 1 or 3 levels up. Cars & Coffee becomes a once-annual car show with parking spots reserved months in advance. Instead of doing autocross with your local sports-car club, you run hillclimb events with the Royal Automobile Club. A casual cruise to a winery with a few friends turns into a club convoy to a historic race at Spa. Instead of a few mates running a $500 rattletrap against other such heaps in ChumpCar, they run something a bit more expensive on track with Porsche GT3s in the national endurence championship. The local tracks host Formula 1 and WEC instead of NASCAR and IMSA.

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Track Days (Here and There)

Lots of people have travel blogs. I hoped to do something a little different, and make a motorsport-oriented travel blog, but that hasn’t quite come together like I wanted. Between the shipping delays and a couple of abortive attempts at track days last year, I’m about eight months behind on the track-touring experience I wanted to pursue. But finally I’ve had a mostly successful day driving at Zandvoort, so things are getting underway, and boy is it a different experience than going to tracks in the US.

 

Back in the States, I went to to 5 track days at 5 different tracks with 5 different organizations. So far in Europe I have done 4 track days at 3 tracks with 1 organization. And even though two of those have been largely unsuccessful, with one noise violation and one minor accident, it’s enough for me to be able to spout some more-informed-than-average nonsense about it on the internet.

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“Have Racecar” Part 2

This week my car is finally finished being imported. Yes, more than a year after the shipping company pickup in the US, and 8 entire months after her arrival in Roosendaal, the Belgian government has agreed that Elena is, in fact, a car, rather than some sort of cobbled-together rolling safety hazard, and seen fit to grant me local registration and plates. Here is the rest of that story.

If you thought all the hard work of importing a car had been covered in the previous post on this topic, oh how wrong you were. Getting on the road on a new continent was just step 1, I still had to go get Elena certified for extended use on Belgian roads. Think if it like the difference between a tourist visa and permanent resident visa. After a certain time, a foreigner (car or person) is not allowed to stay in country without satisfying additional bureaucrats. I’m not exactly sure how any authority would figure out my car has been here too long, or what they would do in such a case, but I didn’t want to find out.

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Road Trippin

Undoubtedly, America was built for road trips, and vice versa. I’ve enjoyed my share in my day, short, long, and multi-day. To be sure, they still have their place in Europe, but I have found that there are a number of factors which make them feel like more of an afterthought in the transportation network, a means to an end rather than something to enjoy in themselves.

Train travel is great. High-speed rail is a wonderful way to travel. Air travel here is ok too. Security is usually far less aggravating than anything involving the TSA, and higher gas prices make it easier to justify the cost of a plane ticket. But if your destination is far enough outside the main rail network, and not far enough away from your origin to want to deal with the temporal overhead of flying, then it’s time for a drive.

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French Review (2 out of 5 stars)

French is the fourth language I have made any attempt to learn, after Spanish, Russian, and of course English (it counts!). The options to fill my high school requirement for foreign language were French or Spanish, the two lanuages, which out of all the major languages in the world, were the two I least wanted to learn (figures). Out of those two, I didn’t care much for what I knew of the sound and mechanics of French, so I took Spanish. Now I’m learning French anyway, and it turns out…I was right.

I was initially surprised when I realized I’m learning a “fourth” language. It seemed like quite a high number for someone who “doesn’t enjoy” learning languages. But then, I wouldn’t say I “know” Spanish or Russian. (Although my brain sometimes pulls up Russian or Spanish words for things instead of French. I haven’t got everything straightened out yet.) I just learned more of them than I have Finnish or Esperanto. After almost a year of learning, I now know French better than my other two “second languages,” but I still wouldn’t say I “know” it.

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