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  • Vanden Eynde Roland
    Hello colleagues, For the last 13 years, I have added at least one new country to my list. For this I have to thank my racing friends Prosper Mollekens and
    Message 1 of 331 , Nov 28, 2012
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      Hello colleagues,

      For the last 13 years, I have added at least one new country to my list. For this I have to thank my racing friends Prosper Mollekens and Jacky Eeckelaert, as without their help I would never have been able to see races in South Africa, Turkey and Singapore. And in what was probably the last race of Jacky as head of engineering at the HRT F1 team, he enabled me to score the Brazilian Grand Prix as well. Thus I kept my streak going for yet another year.

      Last Thursday, the first leg of my trip looked familiar. Parking my car in the NBB parking lot, take a train to the airport and board the Delta Airlines flight to JFK was a carbon copy of the start of last month's trip with Mike Knappenberger. After another long cue at immigration, the nature of the trip changed. Instead of having to wait 4 hours for a regional jet to Kansas City, this time I had a 6 hour wait for an intercontinental flight to Sao Paulo. As I would only arrive on Friday morning, I had try and sleep on the plane. In that respect, I was lucky to have a Delta flight with ample legroom and nobody in the seat next to mine. I managed to sleep for a few hours

      After arriving at Guarulhos airport, I put my lenses back in, got some Reals (approximately 3.5 Real for $1) from an ATM and went through immigration and customs at a breeze. In the arrival hall a young man in an HRT shirt stood with a sign bearing my name and that of a Mr. Dominguez. He introduced himself as Gustavo, and in half English half Portuguese, he told me he was local and hired by the team for driving duties. Mr. Dominguez would be on a flight landing 20 minutes after mine. I used my best Portuguese to tell Gustavo I'd already been in Brazil for three days when I visited the Iguaçu waterfalls. Back then the food had been appalling, but he assured me it was far better in Sao Paulo. He gave me a few addresses near the track to try out. Mr. Dominguez turned out to be a Spanish friend of part team owner Adrian Campos and unlike me, he didn't even try to speak Portuguese.

      When we got outside, it was like somebody threw a hot wet towel over me. It was 33° Centigrade and quite humid. Gustavo now alternated broken English and Portuguese sounding Spanish to tell us the team had rented an entire hotel just outside the track and that we both would be in a single room. It was about 20 miles from the airport to the track and we had to cross the Sao Paulo town centre. It's a huge town full of bland skyscrapers, lots of traffic and no real tourist attractions. In fact, it's rather gray and ugly. It took a while to cross the city, but once we got close to the track, the skyscrapers gave way to rather shabby houses, not unlike the ones I saw in 2000 at Foz do Iguaçu. Our hotel was a three story building on a side street from the motorway, running parallel with the start and finish straight of the Autodromo José Carlos Pace. Although mostly referred to as Interlagos (between the lakes), the track is in the borough of Cidade Dutra, a rather poor part of town. The track is indeed in between two lakes but the borough of Interlagos is west of it. The Hotel Pitstop had a modern and functional interior and a mezzanine overlooking the track.

      As by now it was midday, I first took a very much needed shower. I was feeling peckish, and went for a seafood lunch in the aptly name "A casa do peixe" (At the house of the fish) restaurant, a ten minute walk from the hotel. The first half of it was parallel with the uphill part of the start and finish straight. I had a small seafood platter and a nice grilled fish with lime sauce and a large side salad. I was reluctant to order a glass of wine, because in 2000 the wine I had in Brazil tasted far worse than vinegar. However, Gustavo was right about Sao Paulo cuisine. Both food and wine were good. Suitably watered and fed, I strolled back to the hotel, got my entry badge and walked into the paddock entry to salute Jacky and the team. As they stayed at the track until late in the evening, I left them at dusk and had another walk along the outside perimeter of the track to another nearby restaurant for dinner. After a fish lunch it was time for a beef dinner. Just outside turn two of the track, I found a small and humble restaurant called "Churrasco do Poeta" (The poet's beef). With a name like that you can't go wrong and indeed, it was like I was back in Argentina. A nice big juicy grilled steak with a huge and varied side salad and half a bottle of very acceptable red wine. After a walk along the track, I thought it was time to have a good night's rest. I slept like a log until 7.00 a.m. the next morning.

      On Saturday morning, I had breakfast with Jacky and a few other HRT staff members. Everybody was full of praise for the catering manager who found this hotel last year. He was intrigued by the location and went to take a look at the renovation work they were performing. He visited one room and immediately booked the entire hotel for this year's race. Unfortunately, the team is concerned about its future. It's up for sale but no potential buyer has manifested himself yet. Many consider this race as the end of their adventure with HRT and there was an air of sadness among the staff members.

      The track's location reminds me of the Autodromo Oscar Galvez in Buenos Aires: at the outskirts of town with a metro stop just outside the main gate. On the other hand it's much more surrounded by buildings, just like Imola. I watched the morning free practice from the inside of the pit exit, where it joins the track after the Senna esses. I stayed there for the first of two Porsche races, with which I did score my first Brazilian track. Unlike other Grand Prix weekends, the Brazilian one didn't have many other races. I was disappointed they didn't stage a round of the splendid local stockcar championship, because I saw two of those races live on one of my satellite channels. The Porsche series is several notches down on the ladder of Brazilian racing, but they did put on an entertaining race. As it was still hot and humid, I was happy to go for a light lunch to the air-conditioned HRT hospitality unit. After lunch, I watched the second Porsche race and, after a dash back to the hospitality unit because of a rain shower, the exciting Formula 1 qualifying from the other side of the paddock, where the long and steep climb leads onto the last turn. It was a nice spot and I witnessed shunt king Romain Grosjean drive into Pedro de la Rosa's car at high speed.

      After qualifying, itwas back to the hotel for a shower and a bit of rest, before taking another evening stroll to the Churrasco do Poeta. I was lucky to be early, for on this Saturday evening there were twice as many customers as on the Friday. I had a different steak dish this time with the famous red beans also featured in Brazil's national dish Feijolada, a beefed up version of Chilli con carne. It was very nice. I got to bed early, for on Sunday, I had a thorough travelling schedule.

      Sunday dawned overcast and rainy. From 6 a.m. on the nearby metro station belched out spectators in large numbers. Mr. Dominguez and two HRT crew members joined me in Gustavo's minibus for the short ride to the paddock. We all had to leave during the race because we had flights to catch later in the afternoon, so our bags were securely stocked in the vehicle. Between the morning warm up and the moment the cars got onto the grid periods of light or quite heavy rain and dry spells alternated. It was dry when the drivers were chauffeured round the track on a flatbed articulated lorry, but when the cars started their warm up lap, the track was wet. A bit like my home track at Francorchamps parts of it were a lot more damp than others.

      In order not to jeopardise our track exit, the four of us scheduled to leave during the race watched from the extremity of the paddock car park at the bottom of the Senna esses. It was a nice vantage point. We saw Bruno Senna's assault on Vettel, the battle between the two MacLaren's, Alonso's out of track excursions and Hulkenberg's pass on Button for the lead. After that feat, we had to leave with lots of regret, because it was a splendid race so far. In the minibus, Gustavo's radio was tuned on the race commentary and we learned about the rest of the race. Gustavo was happy about Felipe Massa's third spot and so was I, for early in his career, when he drove in the Italian Formula Renault championship, he was sitting next to me in the Monza press room when giving an interview. I've seldomly experienced a friendlier, better educated and more humble driver than Felipe and that's probably both his greatest asset and his downfall. He hasn't got the "win at all costs" attitude of his team mates past and present. Anyway, without Romain Grosjean's interventions costing Fernando Alonso points in Belgium and Japan, the Spaniard would have been World Champion.

      The entire population of Sao Paulo must have been before their television screens, for there was almost no traffic on our way to the airport. Checking in went smoothly and my Alitalia flight to Rome departed on time. I once again had nobody sitting next to me, so for the second time I slept a few hours during this flight. We landed in Rome just before 7.00 a.m. and 90 minutes later I boarded the flight to Brussels. A taxi ride to the NBB, a quick dash into the office to look at my mails and a 20 minute drive later, I arrived home, exhausted but happy about my Brazilian long weekend.

      As I still have 9 days of leave to take in 2012, I think I'll go to one of the two Andros Trophy ice races scheduled in December, but until then it's time to relax a bit. And I wish Will White the best of luck with keeping his new country streak alive.

      Roland

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    • Vanden Eynde Roland
      Hello colleagues, Long before I found out trackchasing ever existed, I had a habit of going to some late season races on southern French road courses. I ve
      Message 331 of 331 , Nov 12, 2013
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        Hello colleagues,

        Long before I found out trackchasing ever existed, I had a habit of going to some late season races on southern French road courses. I've long since exhausted those new track opportunities, but still there are a few French road courses I have to visit. Last weekend I added a rather remarkable one to my portfolio.

        Why drive an entire day if a high speed train brings you there in half that time? Since I discovered the multitude of possibilities of the French high speed trains, I like to take advantage of their services whenever suitable. Unlike my two previous train travels, this time, I couldn't get round Paris, but still that wasn't such a problem. I boarded a train to Paris Nord just past 11.15 a.m. and 75 minutes later it got me to Paris. In the north station of Paris, I had 85 minutes to get to Paris Bercy station by underground. It only took me 25 minutes to do so and I had ample time to take my numbered seat on the train to Clermont-Ferrand. Another 90 minutes later I got there. I had booked a hotel (Hotel des Commerçants) only yards from the railway station. The weather was a little cold, but sunny and after a long walk I had enough of an appetite to go for an early steak dinner at a Hippopotamus. These are chain restaurants a bit reminiscent of Applebee's.

        On Saturday morning I got back to the railway station to fetch my hire car at Sixt. They gave an excellent rate and handed me a Renault Twingo with only 75 miles on the clock. Unlike in Montréal, I didn't add thousands of miles to it, as my target for the day was less than 35 miles from the town centre. The French tyre manufacturer Michelin has its roots in Clermont-Ferrand and the centrepiece of those roots is its research centre at Ladoux (Auvergne region). This complex, officially called "Centre de recherche Michelin de Ladoux", is a beauty. It's in lush green surroundings. Inside a 5 mile high speed trioval, it harbours several testing grounds for dry weather tyre testing, wet weather tyre testing, braking, etc. The dry weather testing is done on a 2770 metres long flat track with numerous corners. It is on this track that twice a year countable races are held. Last Saturday, two Porsche clubs (one local and one Swiss) held a sprint and endurance meeting. This being a tyre test track, it has neither pit lane nor specific paddock area. I had to park my hire car on a piece of concrete where trailers and cars of team members were parked. Another part of that concrete area was turned into an improvised pit lane. In the morning, they held three 20 minute sprint races for various Porsche classes, while after a two hour lunch break (although there was only a local hot dog stand to get food from), allcomers got on the track for a two hour endurance race. The twisty nature of the track made for good racing, but the track surface was rather slick and there were spins galore. But as this track was surrounded by large grassy runoff areas, no cars were severely damaged. Not being a great fan of Porsches (I like Ferraris and Maseratis better), I left halfway the endurance race and had a nice drive in the hills surrounding Clermont-Ferrand. The entire landscape consists of extinct volcanoes and it's really gorgeous. I got back into town at dusk, handed the car back in and after another nice dinner, I had a good night sleep.

        Sunday morning, I got on the train back to Paris. Just like on Friday, the journey went by smoothly. So much for my contribution to tracks in November, as the rest of the month will not involve any new trackchasing for me.

        Roland

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        Visit our website! http://www.nbb.be

        "DISCLAIMER: The content of this e-mail message should not be
        construed as binding on the part of the National Bank of Belgium
        (NBB) unless otherwise and previously stated. The opinions
        expressed in this message are solely those of the author and do not
        necessarily reflect NBB viewpoints, particularly when the content
        of this message, or part thereof, is private by nature or does not
        fall within the professional scope of its author."
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