“Spa is still a fearsome challenge”
had an accident at Spa that was to change my life forever.”
Speaking in his suite at the Ritz Carlton hotel in Montreal earlier this year, Jackie Stewart chillingly recalls a historic moment in the history of grand prix racing. Despite the passing years he remembers the events of the 1966 Belgian GP – and his deathdefying shunt – in precise detail. It was a race that set in motion a transformation in the sport: a crusade to improve safety.
The 1966 edition of the race started in dry conditions, but as the field streamed flat-out towards Burnenville – on the old Spa road course – they hit a wall of water. A massive downpour sent cars scattering in all directions.
At the Masta Kink, Jackie was helpless as his car slid off the circuit at high speed. He was trapped. There were no marshals, no medics – no help. That day he was lucky and after his accident set in motion a campaign to transform the safety of grand prix circuits across the world.
Today, Spa in its truncated form is still considered a fearsome challenge. The dip and rise through Eau Rouge, the descent into the double-left at Pouhon and the flat-out turn of direction at Blanchimont demand a high degree of skill and bravery – especially when the track is subjected to the notoriously fickle Haute Fagnes weather.
In the 50 years since Stewart’s accident, advances in car and circuit design have saved many lives and research continues. Although the halo head protection frame has been delayed from appearing in F1 until 2018, it once again made an appearance at the weekend, when Mercedes’s Nico Rosberg trialled the device in Friday morning practice.
A year has passed since Justin Wilson’s fatal head injury at an Indycar race and there was relief when last week Helio Castroneves escaped harm from a dramatic pitlane collision – again in Pocono – when Alex Rossi’s car was launched dangerously close to Castroneves’s helmet. Today, head protection is the most pressing area of racing car safety.
In Stewart’s day the concern was with the paraphernalia on the edge of the circuit: telegraph poles, trees and buildings and the risk of fire. Changes needed to be made, but were unwelcome at the time.
As the sport attempts to reduce the risk of head injuries, we should take a moment to reflect on the events of the Belgian GP half a century ago and remember the crusade that Jackie started. “There were a lot of people who were not prepared to support change,” says Stewart. “But ultimately we won that battle.”
Renault will launch a new Junior Clio Cup championship next season.
It will be open for 14-17-year-olds and Renault will support the series, which will feature 12 races across six events that will form part of BARC club meetings.
Championship manager Will Fewkes said the planned running costs for the series would be £30,000-£45,000.
“Renaultsport is renowned for producing a massive amount of talent, single-seater and tin-top wise,” he said. “It’s the ideal opportunity for a mass car manufacturer to get into the junior market. If we can add another rung on the ladder it’s going to be a front-wheel-drive option to the British Touring Car Championship.