AROUND THE CIRCUIT
with Pedro Rodriguez
The 1970 Belgian Grand Prix winner takes you for a lap around Spa-Francorchamps
By Elizabeth Hayward
The Belgian circuit of Spa-Francorchamps has been the center of much controversy in recent years. It consists of a long series of fast, sweeping bends with just one slow hairpin (plus, for the first time, a chicane at Malmédy which was inserted to reduce speeds through a rather bumpy section) and it is considered, by those who think that way, to be a circuit which «separates the men from the boys,» In other words it is one of the fastest and most dangerous road racing circuits in the world, and there are not many Formula 1 drivers who actively enjoy racing there.
Among those who do like Spa are most of the dual role. Grand Prix/sports car drivers like Ickx, Oliver, Siffert and Rodriguez. Pedro, runaway winner of the 1970 Belgian Grand Prix in a Yardley BRM, says, «It is one of my favorite circuits. But I do not like the new chicane. I think it is silly. I think it is more dangerous with the chicane than without it, because you reach the same top speed at the end of the straight. With the chicane you have to brake into a blind corner, and the camber is very bad. Under braking the effect is very twisty. I would like it to be taken away. It may have been a bit bumpy there before but not bad like the camber.
«I think it put about seven seconds on the lap times (he had lapped Spa in 3:16.5 in a Gulf Porsche 917 three weeks previously—without the chicane). The new record for Formula 1, Chris Amon’s, is 3:27.4. I was doing mostly 3:28s in the race, but the sports cars are more aerodynamic than Grand Prix cars and more powerful, 5-liter engines instead of 3-liters.»
«What impression do you get of the circuit? Just a blur of trees and houses and telegraph poles?»
«No, I just don’t notice the trees or anything! I only see the track and I concentrate one hundred per cent on the corners and on taking the right line. It is very important on a fast circuit, you must get the maximum out of the fast corners, because even if you lift just a fraction off the throttle coming out of the corner at that speed, you lose two or three hundred revs, and that may cost you one, two, three seconds. You have to be very precise and very exact on a fast circuit like Spa.»
«There is not much overtaking under braking here; most of it seems to be done on the straights. Did your engine have a lot more power than the Ford, the Ferrari and the Matra?»
«No, not really. I passed Brabham and Ickx on the straight—Amon, too. It isn’t so much that I had a lot more power— I just got a tow and then came out of it at the right moment, slipstreaming. It is the only way, really, to get by. I would say the power of the engines is about equal. Sometimes Amon’s car, which was right behind me all through the race, was faster up the hill. With a tow coming out of fast corners he could catch me, you know, but I knew where he was gaining on me, so I knew where I had to go faster, where I could pull away, to keep my distance from him—keeping in front by two or three seconds all the time.»
«It was a good race. In all honesty, we didn’t expect a BRM to win; no one expected it to last the distance.»
«Neither did I! We did not think the engine would last, but it ran beautifully and I did not have any problems.» So Pedro gave BRM their first victory for four years.
«Can you take us round the circuit now, on a flying lap from the start line?»
«Well, I come past the pits, down the hill, in fourth gear, and then for the lefthander after the pits ( Eau Rouge ) I take third and hold it as I swing right and then left again going up the hill. Before the second lefthander I change up to fourth, and immediately after it I go into fifth. From here the road curves gently to the right, and I get up to about 170 mph before braking hard and changing down to third for the lefthander called Les Combes. ( This is the place where Brian Redman had his accident in 1968 ). «From here I change back up to fourth and then fifth, and stay in fifth all the way round the long righthander called Burnenville. After Burnenville, instead of going on through Malmédy Corner, I now have to brake hard and go down to second gear for the chicane, which goes left and then right. Then I go back up through third and fourth gears into top, reaching about 180 mph before I get to the Masta kink. I stay in top gear here, and though I lift off the throttle a little on the approach, my foot is flat on the floor again as I come out of the second part of the corner.
«At Stavelot, which is a long right-hander, everything depends on the amount of traffic. Sometimes I stay in fifth gear, and sometimes I drop to fourth. But I take both of the next two lefthanders in top gear, and then change down to fourth for the righthander called La Carrière, where there is a house right by the edge of the track. After the next righthander, I go back into fifth and I stay in fifth until the lefthander before the hairpin where I go down to fourth. I take the hairpin in second, and then go flat out down past the pits again, and on into the next lap”.
«At Spa it is very difficult to pass, because it is high speed all the time, so it is best to get away right from the start if you can. You have a clear road and no traffic problem for a long time—the leader does not come up behind the back-markers until almost the end of the race on this track at present speeds, unless someone has a pit stop and rejoins the race. But fortunately I had a very good car and little by little I managed to reach the front. I started in sixth position and was still sixth all the way to the new chicane. I couldn’t get by Brabham and Ickx. The place where I did get by was going down the straight, and I passed both of them before Masta. But by that time Rindt, Stewart and Amon were quite a long way ahead. So I was in fourth place at the end of the first lap, and again on the second lap, no change. On the third lap, going up the hill, I started closing on Rindt, and I passed him at Burnenville, coming past the pits in third place. Then I began to chase Stewart and Amon».
«On the next lap I passed both of them.»
«They must have been very surprised!»
«Yes, I think so. I was very pleased, but I was afraid the engine would not last, so I tried to save it. I only kept a little way in front of Amon. He came alongside me once or twice on the straights, but he never got by. Some people I never saw all through the race. I never saw Beltoise at all, though he finished third. The cars are so spread out at Spa, and it is very satisfying to win there.» •
AUTO RACING MAGAZINE, April 1971.
¡A Mil Por Hora!