Following on from a good weekend of racing at Silverstone in July, I made the decision to try to attend at least 1 of the other Leon Eurocup rounds this year. For those of you who don’t know the SEAT Sport Leon Eurocup is a one make series that runs as a support race for the GT Open International. The Leon Eurocup has visited Germany, Austria and England already, Belgium was the next stop followed by Italy and then Spain.
I’ve always wanted to do a road trip abroad but never got round to it. When I saw how easy it looked to drive to Spa on Google maps, my decision was made, after all it was roughly the same distance as driving to Knockhill for BTCC. I’ve driven abroad before but never in my own car which was the most daunting thing, a right hand drive in a left hand drive country. An email was sent to SEAT Sport, booked a hotel,Eurotunnel,fire extinguisher,florescent jacket and GB sticker. I was all set to go. The weeks seemed to fly by and before I knew it the 1:30 alarm was going off.
My ride my new SEAT Leon Cupra 280, with a few modifications. Fired up the Cupra 280, Pointed it towards the south direction and off I went, 35 mins on the Eurotunnel and I arrived in France.While on the Eurotunnel I changed the Cupra 280’s digital speedo from Mph to Kph in the menus which was alot easier than it used to be on the MK2 Leon. I held back to let all the French and experienced Brits go off on their way as it was a bit of a free for all on the way out of the Eurotunnel. A few stop offs had been planned and the first one was Dunkirk which was around 30 minutes from Calais on the E40. I decided to let the DSG do its thing rather than using the flappy paddles like I usually do so I could concentrate on learning the ways of the roads. Dunkirk was easy to get to and arrived in no time.
Some early morning sightseeing and leg stretching around Dunkirk and I was ready to make the next part of the journey. Brussels was the next stop off point, the capital of the European Union which was around an hour and 40 minutes away. The motorways in France and Belgium are fairly straight forward, they do suffer from middle lane hoggers like in the UK but generally people in the outside lane don’t hang around. Brussels however was a different matter, trams and cyclists were the main concern as they were everywhere, So after 30 minutes of driving around like an idiot looking for a good parking space I stopped.
A word of advice for anybody wanting to visit Brussels, use the park and ride system so you wont end up in the Belgium equivalent of Mi5’s car park like I did to the disapproval of the armed officer and also keep lots of 50c coins at the ready as even restaurants charge for using the toilets.
Alot of sightseeing later, it was time to head to Trois-Ponts which was where my apartment was located. This was another hour and 40 minutes away. The motorway, at this point, had gone quiet which was a blessing. Arrived at the apartment and had a well deserved rest. Later in the evening I tried to visit the local supermarkets to get some supplies but it turns out the Belgians like to keep their shops open as little as possible.
Had a lie in and then made my way to Spa Francorchamps, flashed the paddock parking pass and in I went.
One of the Leon Eurocup drivers Juergen Schmarl has got his own Leon Cupra 280 with added graphics.
Spa Francorchamps has been around since 1920 and currently holds the FIA Formula 1 as well as Spa 24 hour. The most famous part of the circuit is the Eau Rouge / Raidillon combination. Having negotiated the La Source hairpin, drivers race down a straight to the point where the track crosses the Eau Rouge stream for the first time, before being launched steeply uphill into a sweeping left-right-left collection of corners with a blind summit. Properly speaking, the Eau Rouge corner is only the left-hander at the bottom.
The Leon Eurocup round 1 was at 13:55, Julien Briché had parked his Leon on P1 in qualifying with Gabor Weber starting alongside him. I took residence on top of the pit lane which offers brilliant viewing.
Briché made a clean start to the race, while behind Paulsen and Comini battled for position. Weber joined to make it a three-way battle, but contact between the drivers resulted in damage and early retirement for both Comini and Weber, with the safety car deployed.
As the race restarted, and extended to 11 laps, Briché led from Paulsen with Giao in third, who was feeling the pressure from a hard-charging Rosell behind in fourth place. With two laps to go, it seemed that Briché was set to take the win: he crossed the line first to claim his and the team’s first victory, with Paulsen second and Giao third. However, following the race, Paulsen was issued with a 30-second penalty for the race incident, demoting him to an 18th-place finish.
The rest of the day was spent wandering around the numerous paddocks, watching the other racing and of course eating in the SEAT Sport hospitality trailer. Later in the evening I visited some of the local towns, including Stavelot which has the Museum of Spa circuit along with other museums under the same roof and later on I have visited another local attraction: the Coo Waterfall.
Slightly earlier start on Sunday, after my usual breakfast of continental meats, I was back to the paddock parking and ready for the days racing. The Leon Eurocup started at 11:00, roof top viewing location was best place to see as much of the action as possible. Pol Rossell started on P1 for race 2 with Ferenc Ficza along side him.
Talking of roof top views check these out!
From the front row of the grid, Ficza had a strong start and was side-by-side with pole-sitter Pol Rosell through the first few corners before Norwegian driver Stian Paulsen passed to take the lead, having made an impressive start from sixth on the grid.
A race-long battle then ensued between the Hungarian and the Norwegian: Paulsen had the advantage for most of the race, with Ficza’s Gaspar Racing team-mate Norbert Tóth running in third and putting pressure on the two drivers ahead.
Behind, Baporo Motorsport driver Manuel Giao, who started fourth on the grid, was hard chasing Tóth, managing to pass him on lap six, with team-mate Pol Rosell following him through for fourth. However, a technical issue for the Portuguese driver caused him to drop down the order, with Rosell moving up to third and Monlau Competición’s Fran Rueda running in fourth place.
Ahead, the Paulsen-Ficza battle continued. Side-by-side, the pair exited the last corner of the legendary circuit, with Ficza managing to pass the Norwegian to cross the line 0.144 seconds ahead and claim his second victory of the season.
An appeal is pending but at the moment Stian Pulsen and Ference Ficza now joint lead the championship on 44 points followed by Pol Rossel. The next rounds of the Leon Eurocup will be be held at Monza,Italy in October.
The full race results and driver comments can be found Here
So the time had come to leave Spa, and I must say if you visit one of the tracks abroad make sure it’s Spa, the views are stunning.
Two planned stop offs had been selected the first of which was Ghent, Ghent was roughly 2 hours away and once again was accessed by mainly motorways, I had seen pictures of Ghent on the internet and it looked a lovely place so I just had to take the opportunity to visit on the way back. Parking was a little easier to find here than in Brussels aswell.
After some food and sightseeing I set off back towards England, the next stop off was planned to be the Cité Europe in Calais but took a slight detour to visit the beach near Nieuwpoort.
Some shopping in the Cité Europe centre and then back on the Eurotunnel. Back in the darkness of England, tired, I made it home at 1am.
The Cupra 280 was brilliant, no issues at all and even managed to achieve 400+ miles to a full tank.
Big thanks go to SEAT Sport! Hopefully see you in Spain for the last round.