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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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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The First of Many Race Weekends

This weekend I made my first of hopefully very many trips to a local racetrack. Well, not technically the first; I had been to Zolder on my interview trip and had a fun time. In a way this was my triumphant return! But this was the first time I went to Zolder as a “local” track, complete with a Zolder Racing Club (season pass) membership and infield parking. I gotta say, it felt pretty good, even though this particular trip came with its share of challenges.

The main reason I cite as motivation to move to Belgium is “because of the racetracks.” I am, you may have noticed, quite a big fan of motorsports (which, as usual, should be appended with “but not particularly NASCAR so much”), and my location (and work schedule) in Hampton made it somewhat difficult to engage in this hobby as much as I wanted to. The closest “decent” road course (i.e. one that hosted any professional events at all) was VIR, and that was almost four hours away. That distance made it pretty impractical to visit the track regularly for any race events.

For comparison, here are the “decent” road courses that are a shorter drive from where I live now than VIR was:

  • Circuit Mettet
  • Zolder
  • Spa
  • Zandvoort
  • Nurburgring
  • Assen
  • Hockenhiem
  • Lydden Hill

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