REGISTRATIONCircuit de Spa-Francorchamps Designed in 1920 by Jules de Thier and Henri Langlois Van Ophem, the original course used public roads linking the Belgian towns of Francorchamps, Malmedy, and Stavelot. The track’s inaugural race was planned for August 1921, but was cancelled when only one driver entered. The first car race was held at the circuit in 1922, and 1924 saw the first running of the now famous 24 Hours of Francorchamps race. The circuit was first used for Grand Prix racing in 1925. The original Spa-Francorchamps circuit was essentially a speed course, with drivers managing higher average speeds than on other race tracks. At the time, the Belgians took pride in having a very fast circuit, and to improve average speeds, in 1939 the former slow uphill U-turn at the bottom of the Eau Rouge creek valley, called the Ancienne Douane (until 1920, there was a German Empire customs office here), was cut short with a faster sweep straight up the hill, called the Raidillon. At Eau Rouge, southbound traffic was allowed to use the famous uphill corner, while the opposite downhill traffic had to use the old road and U-turn behind the grandstands, rejoining the race track at the bottom of Eau Rouge. The old race track continued through the now-straightened Kemmel curves to the highest part of the track (104 metres above the lowest part), then went downhill into Les Combes, a fast, slightly banked downhill left-hand corner towards Burnenville, passing this village in a fast right hand sweep. Near Malmedy, the Masta straight began, which was only interrupted by the Masta Kink between farm houses before arriving at the town of Stavelot. Then, the track progressed through an uphill straight section with a few bends called La Carriere, going through two high-speed turns (the former being an unnamed right-hand turn, and the latter named Blanchimont) before braking very hard for the La Source hairpin, and that rejoined the downhill start finish section (as opposed to today where the start–finish section is before La Source). Spa is located in the Belgian Ardennes countryside, and the old circuit was, and still is, used as everyday public road, and there were houses, trees, electric poles, fields and other obstacles located right next to the track. Before 1970, there were no safety modifications of any kind done to the circuit and the conditions of the circuit were, aside from a few straw bales, virtually identical to everyday civilian use. Former Formula One racing driver and team owner Jackie Oliver was quoted as saying "if you went off the road, you didn't know what you were going to hit". Spa-Francorchamps was the fastest road circuit in Europe at the time,[when?] and it had a reputation for being dangerous and very fast – it demanded calmness from drivers, and most were frightened of it. The old Spa circuit was unique in that speeds were consistently high with hardly any let-up at all for three to four minutes. This made it an extraordinarily difficult mental challenge, because most of the corners were taken at more than 180 miles per hour (290 km/h) and were not quite flat – every corner was as important as the one before it. If a driver lifted the throttle more than expected, then whole seconds, not tenths, would be lost. The slightest error of any kind carried multiple harsh consequences, but this also worked inversely: huge advantages could be gained if a driver came out of a corner slightly faster. Like the Nürburgring and Le Mans circuits, which also ran on public roads, Spa became notorious for fatal accidents. At the 1960 Belgian Grand Prix, two drivers, Chris Bristow and Alan Stacey, were killed within 15 minutes (although Stacey's accident was caused by a bird hitting him in the face) and Stirling Moss had crashed at Burnenville during practice and was severely injured. When Armco crash barriers were added to the track in 1970, deaths became less frequent, but the track was still notorious for other factors. The Ardennes forest had very unpredictable weather and there were parts where it was raining and the track was wet, and other parts where the sun was shining and the track was completely dry. This factor was a commonality on long circuits, but the unpredictable weather at Spa, combined with the fact that it was a track with all but one corner being high-speed, made it one of the most dangerous race tracks in the world (if not the most). As a result, the Formula 1 and motorcycle Grands Prix and 1000 km sportscar races saw smaller than usual fields at Spa because most drivers and riders feared the circuit and did not like racing there. Multiple fatalities during the 1973 and 1975 24 Hours of Spa touring car races more or less sealed the old circuit's fate, and by 1978, the last year Spa was in its original form, the only major races held there were the Belgian motorcycle Grand Prix and the Spa 24 Hours touring car race; the 1000 km World Sportscar Championship race no longer took place after 1975 and did not come back until 1982. In 1969, the Belgian Grand Prix was boycotted by the F1 drivers because of the extreme danger of Spa. There had been ten car racing fatalities in total at the track in the 1960s, including five in the two years previous. The drivers demanded changes made to Spa which were not possible on short notice, so the Belgian Grand Prix was dropped that year. Armco barriers were added to the track and sections of it were improved (especially the Stavelot and Holowell sections), just like they had been added for the 1969 Le Mans race. One last race there the following year on the improved track was still not satisfactory enough (even after a temporary chicane was added at Malmedy just for that race) for the drivers in terms of safety, and even with the chicane, the drivers averaged 150+ mph (240 km/h) during the race. For the 1971 race, the track owners and authorities had not brought the track up to date with mandatory safety measures, and the race was cancelled. Formula One would not return to Spa until 1983 on the modern track. Over the years, the Spa course has been modified several times. The track was originally 15 kilometres (9 mi) long, but after World War II, the track underwent some changes. In 1930, the chicane at Malmedy was eliminated and bypassed, making the course even faster, but the chicane was re-installed in 1935, albeit slightly different. In 1939, "Virage de l'Ancienne Douane" was eliminated and cut short, thus giving birth to the Eau Rouge/Raidillon uphill sweeping corner. In 1947, the chicane at Malmedy was again eliminated and bypassed, and was made part of the Masta Straight. The slight right-hander that was originally Holowell (the corner before Stavelot after the second Masta Straight) was eliminated. And finally, instead of going through a slight left-hander that went into the town of Stavelot and a sharp right-hander at a road junction in Stavelot, a shortcut was built that became a very fast, very wide right-handed turn that bypassed Stavelot. All these changes made the final configuration of the old Spa circuit 14 km (9 mi) long, and also made Spa the fastest open road circuit in the world. In the final years of the old circuit, drivers could average 150 mph (241 km/h). The biggest change, however, saw the circuit being shortened from 14 km (9 mi) to 7 km (4 mi) in 1979. The start/finish line, which was originally on the downhill straight before Eau Rouge, was moved to the straight before the La Source hairpin in 1981. Like its predecessor, the new layout is still a fast and hilly route through the Ardennes where speeds in excess of 330 km/h (205 mph) can be reached. Since its inception, the place has been famous for its unpredictable weather, where drivers are confronted with one part of the course being clear and bright while another stretch is rainy and slippery. The circuit probably[according to whom?] demonstrates the importance of driver skill more than any other in the world. This is largely due to the Eau Rouge and Blanchimont corners, both which need to be taken flat out to achieve a fast run onto the straights after them, which aids a driver in both a fast lap and in overtaking. Support Your Racing Community Your donation helps SRO pay for the operating costs of this website, race servers and other related costs. Your support is important in sustaining our racing community and to provide you with an ad free website. Donate and become an SRO Team Member.