Sign up for an AMG Advanced Driving training course and you could be perfecting your racing lines at the Spa circuit in Belgium.
Sign up for an AMG Advanced Driving training course and you could be perfecting your racing lines at the Spa circuit in Belgium.

Practice makes perfect around Spa-Francorchamps



Legendary is an over used word, but for some racetracks it is very apt. If you polled 100 international racing drivers as to their favourite circuit, there is always a clear winner and that is the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium. The circuit is one of the good old boys of the Formula One circuit and, despite a brief absence, has been on the calendar since 1950, the dawn of the modern F1 era.

There are many reasons that drivers love Spa but mostly because it is fast, hilly, twisty and notoriously difficult to master. So when Mercedes-Benz called and offered me the chance to drive their AMG fleet at Spa as part of their Peak Performance Advanced driving school, my racing boots didn't touch the ground. Many sports car manufacturers offer some form of training academy for their clients to learn how to drive their products at speed in a controlled environment. Not only does this mean that they are likely to be safer on public roads, but also they can fully experience what their high performance machines can do.

AMG's driving school offers many different ways to experience the cars which range from road tours to the Masters programme for advanced race training. At Spa, I was signed up for the Advanced Driver training programme in a range of AMG products. As we arrived at the hotel near Spa, in the beautiful Ardennes forest, there was no sign of the somewhat tempestuous Spa weather. The course started with a technical briefing from Reinhold Renger, the chief instructor. He explained to the eager participants that they were about to experience two days intense training in the full range of AMG machines including the SL63, C63 SLK55 and the CLK63. We were then introduced to our instructors, our team had been graced with the presence of five-times DTM (Deutsche Tourenwagen-Meisterschaft, the German touring car championship) champion Bernd Schneider, if we could learn just a fraction of his Spa knowledge in the next two days we would be well on our way to getting around the famous circuit.

Renger went on to describe the basics of circuit driving including oversteer and understeer as well as the on-track fundamentals we would be covering over the next two days. The next morning dawned bright and sunny, still no sign of the unpredictable weather for which Spa is famous. There was no time to lose as we headed to the final chicane in the SLK's to practice cornering. After a few convoy runs with Schneider in the lead, we lined up to have individual turns under the champion's watchful eye. Hug the turns, brake later, try and turn later, the second part of the chicane is more important for your exit speed. The commands kept coming and we were trying to absorb them.

Soon it was time to move onto the next exercise and experience the incredible acceleration and braking powers of the SLKs. The task seemed simple: accelerate down a straight section of track and then brake as hard as you can and stop in the box. Easier said than done as car after car sailed through the designated zone or braked too early and were left short of the target. To drive a challenging circuit like Spa you need perfect car control so it was time to swap into the C63 AMG and head to the slalom. Again another seemingly simple task - keep as close to the cones without knocking them down, always with the helpful voice of Schneider echoing forth from the in walkie-talkies.

Before lunch, we did a brake-and-swerve challenge to teach us high-speed car control. The teams then adjourned for a very nice lunch, tales of heroics and disasters were swapped and discussions were had as to what the afternoon would bring. One thing was agreed on: Spa was more than living up to its reputation. In the afternoon we underwent training on the corners of the actual circuit, in a way I have never seen it done before. The track was divided into sectors and we ran in convoy along two or three corners at a time practising lines with the expert tuition of our instructor, and let's face it, if he didn't know how to do it by now, no one does. Before long we came to the fastest section of the track, Blancemont. "In the DTM car, we go through here flat out," quipped Schneider. "We won't be trying that today."

Soon we were to face the most daunting and famous corner on the track, the truly legendary Eau Rouge. What a staggering corner - you plunge down towards the bottom of the corner, turn your head skywards and aim toward the apex at the top of the hill, leaving your stomach behind. Running the kerbs and clipping the apexes, it is a huge challenge. You can't help thinking of all the greats that have driven this corner before you.

However all of those top drivers have had to put up with Spa's weather over the years. The sky started to cloud over and a drop or two of rain began to fall. Would we get away without a true Spa downpour? No, of course not, and when it rains at Spa it really rains, so Renger called time and ordered all cars back to the pits. As we picked our way gently back to the pit with wipers going full whack, I could hardly see the car in front of me. Just imagine being in a single seater. I was happy I at least had a roof. As the storm passed we were confined to base for nearly an hour and left wondering whether there would there be time to get back out on track? Helmets were picked up and put down and numerous cups of coffee were consumed, Renger went out to do an inspection and announced it was dry enough for a few tentative practice laps. So, in less than ideal conditions, we headed back to the track to experience the full magic of Spa-Francorchamps. We couldn't wait for the following day.

The following day paid homage to the phrase "practice makes perfect". We did lap after lap of the track trying to perfect our lines. I was lucky enough to benefit from one-on-one instruction from Renger. He is not only a uniquely gifted instructor, who has the ability to draw ever last ounce of talent out of his pupil, but also a first-rate race driver in his own right with five class wins at the Nürburgring 24 hours.

As he honed my technique, my lap times picked up, Renger altered my line by just a few feet at Les Combes and it suddenly clicked. It's a unique experience when a racetrack opens up to you and you feel comfortable with its corners and lines. I was convinced that the legendary Eau Rouge was the hardest corner, when you get it right you feel it in the pit of your stomach. But when you get La Source right, you feel it in the middle of your central nervous system and that feels great. If you have the opportunity and the cash, it's an experience you won't forget. cfurnell@thenational.ae

COMPANY PROFILE

Name: SmartCrowd
Started: 2018
Founder: Siddiq Farid and Musfique Ahmed
Based: Dubai
Sector: FinTech / PropTech
Initial investment: $650,000
Current number of staff: 35
Investment stage: Series A
Investors: Various institutional investors and notable angel investors (500 MENA, Shurooq, Mada, Seedstar, Tricap)

UAE currency: the story behind the money in your pockets
COMPANY PROFILE

Company name: Klipit

Started: 2022

Founders: Venkat Reddy, Mohammed Al Bulooki, Bilal Merchant, Asif Ahmed, Ovais Merchant

Based: Dubai, UAE

Industry: Digital receipts, finance, blockchain

Funding: $4 million

Investors: Privately/self-funded

The specs

Engine: 2.0-litre 4-cylinder turbo

Power: 258hp from 5,000-6,500rpm

Torque: 400Nm from 1,550-4,000rpm

Transmission: Eight-speed auto

Fuel consumption: 6.1L/100km

Price: from Dh362,500

On sale: now

How it works

Booklava works on a subscription model. On signing up you receive a free book as part of a 30-day-trial period, after which you pay US$9.99 (Dh36.70) per month to gain access to a library of books and discounts of up to 30 per cent on selected titles. You can cancel your subscription at any time. For more details go to www.booklava.com

Company Profile

Name: HyveGeo
Started: 2023
Founders: Abdulaziz bin Redha, Dr Samsurin Welch, Eva Morales and Dr Harjit Singh
Based: Cambridge and Dubai
Number of employees: 8
Industry: Sustainability & Environment
Funding: $200,000 plus undisclosed grant
Investors: Venture capital and government

Company profile

Company name: Fasset
Started: 2019
Founders: Mohammad Raafi Hossain, Daniel Ahmed
Based: Dubai
Sector: FinTech
Initial investment: $2.45 million
Current number of staff: 86
Investment stage: Pre-series B
Investors: Investcorp, Liberty City Ventures, Fatima Gobi Ventures, Primal Capital, Wealthwell Ventures, FHS Capital, VN2 Capital, local family offices

MATCH INFO

Uefa Champions League semi-finals, first leg
Liverpool v Roma

When: April 24, 10.45pm kick-off (UAE)
Where: Anfield, Liverpool
Live: BeIN Sports HD
Second leg: May 2, Stadio Olimpico, Rome

COMPANY PROFILE

Company name: Revibe
Started: 2022
Founders: Hamza Iraqui and Abdessamad Ben Zakour
Based: UAE
Industry: Refurbished electronics
Funds raised so far: $10m
Investors: Flat6Labs, Resonance and various others

MATCH INFO

New Zealand 176-8 (20 ovs)

England 155 (19.5 ovs)

New Zealand win by 21 runs

if you go

The flights

Direct flights from the UAE to the Nepalese capital, Kathmandu, are available with Air Arabia, (www.airarabia.com) Fly Dubai (www.flydubai.com) or Etihad (www.etihad.com) from Dh1,200 return including taxes. The trek described here started from Jomson, but there are many other start and end point variations depending on how you tailor your trek. To get to Jomson from Kathmandu you must first fly to the lake-side resort town of Pokhara with either Buddha Air (www.buddhaair.com) or Yeti Airlines (www.yetiairlines.com). Both charge around US$240 (Dh880) return. From Pokhara there are early morning flights to Jomson with Yeti Airlines or Simrik Airlines (www.simrikairlines.com) for around US$220 (Dh800) return. 

The trek

Restricted area permits (US$500 per person) are required for trekking in the Upper Mustang area. The challenging Meso Kanto pass between Tilcho Lake and Jomson should not be attempted by those without a lot of mountain experience and a good support team. An excellent trekking company with good knowledge of Upper Mustang, the Annaurpuna Circuit and Tilcho Lake area and who can help organise a version of the trek described here is the Nepal-UK run Snow Cat Travel (www.snowcattravel.com). Prices vary widely depending on accommodation types and the level of assistance required. 

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Engine: Electric

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Power: 571bhp

Torque: 650Nm

Price: Dh431,800

Specs – Panamera

Engine: 3-litre V6 with 100kW electric motor

Transmission: 2-speed auto

Power: 455bhp

Torque: 700Nm

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The Specs

Engine: 1.6-litre 4-cylinder petrol
Power: 118hp
Torque: 149Nm
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Price: From Dh61,500
On sale: Now

Company Profile

Company name: Cargoz
Date started: January 2022
Founders: Premlal Pullisserry and Lijo Antony
Based: Dubai
Number of staff: 30
Investment stage: Seed


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