This is the Car Lovers’ Bucket-List Road Trip
What would eventually last two-and-a-half weeks and cover over 2,700km of driving, began with a long flight from my home in Australia to the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps.
Having read, watched, and heard so much about so many historic motorsport icons such as Spa, Monza, Maranello, Modena, and the Nurburgring, I finally decided it was time to experience each of them for myself, with my own eyes, and in the case of the Nordschleife to actually drive on the most iconic racetrack in the world. I drove a rental car from place-to-place, but it was just an unremarkable Peugeot.
It was my epic “Car Lovers Bucket-List Road Trip”.
Just walking onto Spa’s grounds and seeing Eau Rogue for the first time was jaw dropping. I literally stopped dead in my tracks, in awe of one of the most famous corners on any racetrack in the world and its presence. It’s hard to describe the spine-tingling sensation of hearing the V10s at full roar, their wails echoing off the surrounding mountainsides. The cars’ sheer speed headed down the hill towards Eau Rogue was just mesmerizing.
From Belgium it was on to the Nürbugring to drive the infamous grüne Hölle—the green hell that is the Nordschleife. If you want to assault your senses, drive the track with an instructor who will yell instructions as quickly as machine gun fire, as you turn, twist, bump, and fly over the Green Hell’s roughly twenty kilometer stretch of bitumen. All the while bikes and cars of every kind—even station wagons—will jockey for position and the quickest time possible. Everything you’ve read and heard about this place is true. Words can’t describe it and it’s addictive as hell. Practicing on the Playstation might contribute to the slightest of advantages, but can’t come close to what this place is really about.
And while many visit the Nürburgring just for the Nordschleife, the surrounding roads are amazing too! They’re beautiful, scenic, lush green as far as you can see, split by thin strips of licorice asphalt. Drive around and you’ll discover vantage points to check out the eye-candy running the circuit. Via RSRNürburg I enjoyed a day tour, getting a drive in a classic Ferrari 308 GTS and Lancia Delta Integrale—two legends in their own right. Prototype spotting adds to the experience and it always pays to keep your eyes peeled with jewels like the Porsche 918 and Mercedes AMG Black cruising by during my trip.
From there it was onto the German Autobahns for a blast down to Italy to drive over the famous Stelvio Pass through the Alps. The pass has been featured on TV shows, written about, filmed, you name it, but like Eau Rogue or the Nordschliefe nothing quite prepares you for this piece of road that starts off quite innocuously. But then its scale becomes apparent as the mountain peaks become more visible, the snow caps become clearer and you begin climbing to the top. While not the most amazing road to drive on, its sheer scale and scenery is breathtaking and when you reach the top and look back, it’s just incredible. Although, like a Kinder surprise, what lies on the other side is even more awe inspiring as you head over the mountains and back down. The landscape changes and the road flows with a mixture of hairpins and gentler curves providing an amazing driving experience.
Once in Italy, I headed to Bormio and down to Maranello, Ferrari’s home. After a couple of days visiting places like the new Enzo Ferrari Museum, driving a track-prepared Ferrari at Autodromo Di Modena, I was off to spend the weekend at the home of speed, Monza, for the Italian Grand Prix.
With a blend of history, speed, and amazing roads under the belt it was time to fulfill a life long dream of driving a Formula One car. From Monza I headed southwest to Nice, visiting the home of the now-defunct AGS F1 Team where you can drive their fleet of classic or modern Grand Prix cars on a purpose-built testing facility called Circuit du Luc about an hour outside Nice.
Well, it would have been amazing to step right in and perform like Senna, Prost, or Schumacher, but the reality was very far removed. The crew at AGS F1 have, not only their own track, but a whole fleet of single-seaters ranging from traditional V10s with manual gearboxes to more recent Arrows chassis with semi-automatic, paddle shift cars. Lots of options are available including two-seater rides. For me, the day began by getting warmed up with lots of theory, followed by some laps in F3 cars, a spot of lunch, then the moment when the talking stopped and I strapped into an ex-World Championship Formula One racer.
For obvious safety reasons the cars are de-tuned but every bit of them are pure F1. Carbon fiber everywhere, FIA markings, and while they are late ‘90s, early ‘00 vintage cars, they are still formidable track weapons. Driving one is a mixture of nerves, fear, and excitement—you don’t want to spin, crash, or go off track due to the insane insurance costs, but at the same time you do want to get a taste of what an F1 car feels like.
So like Top Gear, 5th Gear, and countless YouTube videos with people trying an F1 car for the first time, everything happens so quickly and with such ferocity that you hardly have time to absorb it all, let alone look down at the speedo. Everything is quite violent and you can’t really push the car to its limits, realizing that going from a road car to a Grand Prix car for ten laps is like taking the outer skin off an onion with lots more to go.
It was the most expensive part of my trip at over $5,000, but worth it, so much so, that I’m going back to do it again.
I travelled in late September, which is nearly the end of the European Summer meaning it is still warm, 25 degC most days, but not too busy as it’s nearly the end of holiday season. In spite of the Formula One car’s ferocity, the scariest part of the trip was encountering bad weather heading up to the Stelvio Pass with snow and rain making it difficult to see as I got closer to the top. Other than that, the typical navigation, traffic flow, and driving on the other side of the road were all part of the adventure.
After my F1 adventure, the following days were spent taking it easy, driving along the Cote d’ Azur then heading up to Lake Garde exploring the areas surrounding Brescia and Milan before heading home.
It was amazing to visit some of the most historically significant locations in motorsport history on the way to fulfilling a dream of driving an F1 car and experiencing the infamous Green Hell. I can’t wait to return!
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