Spa-Francorchamps: one of the world’s most legendary race tracks. This weekend sees Joel Granfors tackle the daunting home of the Belgian Grand Prix for the first time of his career, as the GB3 title race continues to pick up pace in the striking Ardennes forests. Ahead of the only non-UK round of the season, we have listed three things that make Spa-Francorchamps stand out on the calendar.
1: The weather
The area surrounding Spa is famous – or infamous – for its extreme micro climate. Expect the unexpected, with frequent weather changes and very sudden transitions from clear-blue skies to heavy downpours.
The potential for local showers, along with the length of the 7.004 km lap, makes for highly special circumstances. It’s not uncommon for one part of the track to be fully dry while the other is drenched in rain, forcing drivers to draw on their full set of skills to even keep the car on the road – often on the wrong set of tyres. While pit stops are allowed in GB3, they take a lot of time – far from the two-second records of Formula 1 – meaning drivers are better off staying out on track even when on slicks amid a mid-race downpour.
2: The speed vs. grip compromise
In terms of car set-up, Spa is a big compromise. There are two main avenues to go down: either you prioritize high top speeds along the straights in Sector 1 and 3, or you go for grip in the twistier Sector 2 (see circuit layout above, with Sector 2 highlighted in red). Running less rear wing makes the car slicker through the air, reducing drag and increasing top speed that will come in handy in Sector 1 and 3. It comes with the downside of reduced downforce, however, providing less aerodynamic grip in Sector 2. Vice versa, more wing means more grip but lower speeds.
While both set-up philosophies can, intriguingly, produce virtually the exact same lap time, there are other factors to take into consideration. Running less wing makes the car more raceable in traffic, increasing overtaking opportunities at the end of the straights. On the other hand, less grip also means the car tends to slide more across the tarmac in the corners, inducing higher tyre wear that could ruin your second half of the race.
Striking the right balance in this speed vs. grip compromise is easier said than done, and will be a key factor this weekend. Expect the teams to look carefully into this area in Friday practice.
3: Race 3 fireworks?
Spa-Francorchamps is the best track on the calendar when it comes to overtaking. It is partly due to the point above, with different drivers opting for different set-up directions, but also a result of the layout of the track itself. The vast straightaways – especially the long run from La Source through Eau Rouge and down the Kemmel Straight – make for ideal slipstreaming battles. The same goes for the flat out stretch between the Stavelot right-hander and the Bus Stop chicane, another key overtaking opportunity.
This means Spa always lends itself to great racing – and that could be especially true for this weekend’s reverse-grid Race 3. With the fastest drivers from qualifying starting at the back of the pack, and the slowest at the front, this one could prove highly intriguing. With potentially crucial championship points handed out not only for each driver’s position at the chequered flag, but also for places gained, there is a lot on the line in Race 3 this weekend as the top drivers face their best shot of the year at scoring a reverse-grid jackpot.