Like many others, my only experience of Spa up until now had been either through watching Formula One on television, or lapping it virtually on a computer game. On screen, Eau Rouge looks like a slow rise up into the forest. A challenging corner, sure, but nothing more. The real thing is so vastly different.
The corner known collectively as Eau Rouge is actually two. The left-hander at the bottom is Eau Rouge itself, but the exit leading up the hill is known as Raidillon. Formula One cars are said to take this flat-out at speeds of up to 186mph, which demands millimetre-perfect driving. Get it wrong, and the tyre walls and grass either side are there to greet you. Type 'Villeneuve' and 'Spa' into Youtube to discover what can happen.
We lapped the track with other Clios and more powerful Renaultsport Méganes. During our down time, we explored the old 8.7-mile circuit, which hosted Formula 1 until the 1970s.
Some of the route is a public highway, which weaves up into the forest. It's an exciting drive, especially on sections with steep descents on one side. Indeed, the Masta kink is still visible on the course, and it's easy to see why Sir Jackie Stewart once described it as "the most difficult corner in the world of motor racing".
Later on, with the action winding down on track, we headed back across Belgium to catch the Eurotunnel. Our day passed without incident, besides a slight juddering from the front left wheel (caused, I suspect, by a slightly warped brake disc).
Our day left me in awe of grand prix drivers. Suffice to say, we didn't trouble Sebastian Vettel's current lap record of 1m 47.263, set in 2009, but at least we can say we've driven around this grand old circuit at a fair lick.
You can, too, if you've got £46 for a return trip on the Eurotunnel and around £83 to take part in a public day at the circuit. Plus, as a bonus, the Nüburgring is only 90 minutes away from Spa. Now there's a thought for next time...
Read Autocar's previous track day diary – Sabre Supersport 1000 at Bedford Autodrome.