Audi A4 To Spa
With Some History Along The Way

dsc trips to European races usually involve a last minute dash to the event, and a headlong rush back immediately afterwards – so that you’ve got a website that’s being updated the following morning.

We were determined to take a little longer than usual returning from Spa, and left ourselves a couple of hours on Monday morning for some Belgian history, although that meant arrival at Calais for a lunchtime Sea Cat which was cancelled, everyone being despatched to the Sea France Terminal for a conventional ferry, and a later return to base than planned.

The whole journey was made extremely comfortable by the loan of an Audi A4 FSI (automatic), so the trip out on Thursday evening was a very relaxing one. The Belgian autoroute to Liege is a spectacularly dull one visually, so we missed nothing at all travelling during the late evening, arriving at our modest Campanile base at 23.30.

First practice was held at 11.15 on Friday morning, so that just about left a little time to marvel at one feature of the old Spa-Francorchamps circuit: the Masta Kink. David Lord snapped the A4 at this famous spot, leaving us to marvel at the bravery of drivers who took on such challenges – and averaged over 160 mph over the whole lap. Whether it was Rodriguez and Amon in that classic 1970 Belgian GP, or Rodriguez and Siffert in the 917s, or Redman and Ickx in the 312Ps, or the Matras wailing around the Ardennes, life was different then, wasn’t it?

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But Spa still has the high speeds and challenging sections, and David Addison insisted that the Ed. and Deputy Ed. walked the bulk of the circuit on Friday afternoon. “We’ll just go out to Pouhon,” became a much longer trek out to the Pif Paf and Stavelot, then under the tunnel and a stroll through the trees beside the dramatic Blanchimont. It’s easy to see why Spa has such a magnetic pull for drivers.

The bulk of the meeting was spent around the paddock and media centre, trying our best to keep up with everything that was happening. With over 40 cars involved, and the typical Spa dramas unravelling, it was impossible to keep up with every entry. One example: the Ed. was in the Lister pit as Pierre Kaffer’s inferno literally flashed past, so that was the cue to beetle off to the Audi Sport UK / Team Veloqx garages, where systems went into overdrive to assess the damage, the team initially looking as though they were going to try and get the R8 out again.

The smouldering wreck was wheeled into its pit, plastic floor tiles being flung out the back, while mechanics appeared with the lifting gear to remove the rear end. But even a change of rear end (as per last year’s rules) wouldn’t have produced a raceable car this time: the fire damage was far too great, and retirement was inevitable. Meanwhile, typically Spa, the rain was coming down, and intermediates were made ready for Johnny Herbert – which was the key moment in deciding the outcome of the race.

There was something going on throughout the 1000 kilometres, and it never ceases to amaze us how a five or six hour event can hurry on by in such a blur. Apart from the Freisinger Porsche dominating the class, there was always something happening in GT, and the points position in the vital teams title chase seemed to change every fifteen minutes. The fiftieth win for the Audi R8 made the Spa 1000 Km a particularly significant event.

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Three hours after the chequered flag, we collapsed back into the Audi A4, for a gentle run back to a fourth night at Liege – just grateful for the comfort of those leather seats, and the ease of an automatic that made cruising as easy as it comes.

Pushing on to Lille the next morning (there was surprisingly little traffic for a Monday), we missed the torque of a turbo diesel, a manual gearbox probably being better suited to the FSI petrol engine. The A4 looks sportier than it is, but for motorway cruising it was perfect. Details such as body coloured front and rear bumpers, an extended front valance with enlarged air intakes and integrated fog lights, side sill extensions, a restyled rear bumper with mesh diffuser and a subtle rear spoiler all add up to a remarkably solid looking motor car. The electric lumbar adjustment was a clever touch, much appreciated by those of us in the front.

The two photographers in the back (David Lord and Darren Maybury) appreciated their comfortable seats too, and the huge boot had swallowed all their gear with ease. We didn’t concern ourselves with the Electronic Stability Program, which apparently maintains the chosen direction by tightening the line where necessary. We were content to arrive in Northern Belgium after a rest, not a thrash – and anyway, our destinations would leave us in sombre mood for the balance of the journey.

Heading towards Ieper (Ypres), we stumbled across Bedford House Cemetery, a last resting place for victims of both World Wars.

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Travel slowly and such scenes are remarkably common in Northern France and Belgium. This was one of the larger cemeteries, but smaller ones are dotted about the landscape: it’s a humbling experience, discovering so many graveyards.

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dailysportscar.comOur ultimate destination was the Menin Gate Memorial, in Ieper. This extraordinary monument was inaugurated on July 27 1927.

Designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield, it honours the 54,896 officers and men of Great Britain and the Commonwealth who fell in the Ieper Salient between 1914 and August 17 1917, and whose bodies could not be found or identified.

The names are engraved on almost every surface of the arch: so many names, so many lives cut short. David Lord’s images certainly capture the significance of this remarkable tribute to so many.

We had a ferry to catch (or not), and therefore couldn’t wait for the daily ceremony, at 20.00: every evening since 1928, the Last Post - the traditional salute to the fallen warrior - has been played under the Menin Gate Memorial. Performed by a team of local buglers, this ceremony honours the lives of all the soldiers who fell in the Ypres Salient.

dailysportscar.comThe Last Post Association aims to maintain this ceremony in perpetuity. www.lastpost.be is well worth a visit. There we find that Chief Bugler Antoine Verschoot has served as a bugler at the Menin Gate since 1954.

Her Majesty The Queen will shortly recognise such faithful service, with Antoine Verschoot about to become an Honorary Member of the British Empire.

You can hear the Last Post being sounded by clicking the link to the website: one day, we’ll return and find the time to visit the Menin Gate Memorial at the appointed hour. Perhaps that will be next May, if the Spa 1000 Kms does become the first event of the 2005 LMES season.

The tributes posted in the Last Post website’s “Book of Honour” are a reminder of the importance placed upon this memorial by visitors from around the world (to the website and the memorial) – as are the wreaths that are placed within the Menin Gate at regular intervals.
MC


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