Spa auto racing
         for the Porsche enthusiast
The Races
Mille Miglia
Targa Florio
Watkins Glen

Spa-Francorchamps - Belgium
Courtesy of

On a beautiful summer day early in 1920, nothing it seemed, could disturb the usual quietness in the peaceful village of Francorchamps, perched on a hill overlooking the Moors. Nothing, except that, while settled at the Hôtel des Bruyères, two people well-known in the car racing world, were discussing the idea of making a race track. This track would take advantage of the triangle drawn by the roads connecting Malmedy, Stavelot and Francorchamps. One of the plotters was Jules de Thier, Manager of the newspaper "La Meuse", and the other was Henri Langlois Van Ophem, Chairman of the Sports Commission at the RACB (Royal Automobile Club Belgium). The proposed track would enjoy an ideal spot in these green Ardennes. The track would stretch over a hilly landscape but there were also numerous straight portions, particularly suitable for achieving high speeds. Moreover, with its proximity to Spa, already famous on an international scale for its hydrotherapy, and where car racing had been popular for a few years, this track seemed to have more than enough assets to make it successful. Very quickly a race was scheduled for the following year.

The track was prepared for August 1921, but the scheduled auto race unfortunately could not take place, due to a lack of representation. Indeed, although everything was ready, only one competitor had submitted an entry form.

That first year, the racing on the track was inaugurated by the motorcyclists. Auto racing debuted in 1924 with the first running of the now famous 24 Hours of Francorchamps, only one year after Le Mans. The first really big international race for single-seaters, the European Grand Prix, was run in 1925. Seven cars took part in this event which saw a victory by the legendary Alfa Romeo driver, Antonio Ascari.

During the period extending from the mid-twenties until the eve of World War II, the motorcycles Grand Prix and prestigious car races like the 24 Hours of Francorchamps and the Belgian Grand Prix were the major track events. As far as the track is concerned, it remained virtually unchanged from its beginning.

A new feature was added in 1939: Francorchamps was getting a unique artificial curve, the "raidillon" or steep rise. This obstacle, intended to be run at a very high speed, added to the orientation its manager wanted to give to the track: to make it one the fastest in Europe. This was in sharp contrast to that of its German neighbor, The Eifel, which though spectacular and much more tortuous, was one of the slowest European tracks.

World War II interrupted the life of the track for seven long years during which that part of the Ardennes was little spared.

Sports activities resumed in 1947 in this area around "L'Eau Rouge". Once again, the prestigious races were in the spotlight: Motorcycles and Auto Grand Prix, to which were occasionally added the 24 Hours of the RACB. The 24 Hours of the RACB became an annual event in 1964.

Other organizations added to the program. In the late fifties, the RAC from Spa organized its Grand Prix of Spa, then in the early seventies, the junior RAC, its 24 Hours motorcycles. Everything seemed to be going well for the track, but that would change in 1970, when what threatened to be the last Formula I Grand Prix at Francorchamps was run along the fourteen-kilometer long track.

Due to changes in car design and performance through the sixties, many of the Grand Prix drivers no longer wanted to drive at Francorchamps for safety reasons. The speed of the track that had defined Francorchamps had become a liability, the cars had become too fast. Like other tracks around Europe, Francorchamps had to slow down. This posed a problem for the Intercommunale Managers, for even if the other scheduled races still took place, it was obvious that the fourteen kilometer track had become very dangerous for the increased performance of the Grand Prix cars, and there were few options left for adapting the track. If nothing was done it could be the end of the Francorchamps. They had the implement the safety measures demanded by the Grand Prix drivers or this track, like others in Europe, would fade into racing history.

Plans were formulated that preserved the main characteristics of the track while eliminating some high risk areas (essentially the part included between Les Combes and Blanchimont). A course was eventually chosen and the construction began. The new seven-kilometer long track was inaugurated in 1979.

More technical, winding, and equipped with clearance areas, the new track kept the major elements that had made it famous, while combining improved safety for the drivers and new appeal for the spectators.

Thanks to the new track, the Belgian Formula I Grand Prix quickly come back to Francorchamps. This premier event paved the way for many others, with less media coverage, but which contributed to make Francorchamps more dynamic, to diversify its activities, and to put it at the forefront of the international stage.

Extrait du communiqué de presse du 9ème Trophée des Ardenne

[Home]  [Our Site]  [Poster Store]  [The Races]  [Vasek Polak
[The Cars]  [The Drivers]  [Poster Archives]  [Contact us]
West Linn, OR