The sun is beating down, I’ve accidentally left my sunglasses in the car and I’m waiting for an electric shuttle from Spa-Francorchamps’ car park to the track.
Then I hear it. That flat-six burble; coarse, unfiltered. I was expecting some form of modified Porsche 911. Instead, I’m greeted by a bright green Volkswagen van.
Behind the wheel is Kim Orremark from Fanatec, who cheerily waves and gives it a few revs to say hello, and in the back are a few Veloce lads and Steve Alvarez Brown aka Super GT.
Have I gone delirious in the summer sun, or has Fanatec created Frankenstein’s Transporter?
It’s the latter, thankfully.
The ‘Fanavan’ or ‘Vanatec’ – take your pick of portmanteau – is owned by the Munich-based sim racing equipment manufacturer as something to frighten guests and invited dignitaries to within an inch of their life at racetracks across Europe.
Now the world is once again open, it’s back in action and was present during the 24 Hours of Spa. Joining an open-track session ahead of the main race on the Saturday, Fanatec showcased the mad creation to excitable passengers.
You’d be forgiven for thinking this was simply a tarted-up T5 people carrier at a glance. After all, the Volkswagen van scene is brimming with forums, magazines and enthusiastic owners who add bigger wheels or extended awnings to their vans before eulogising profusely to anyone who will listen.
My neighbour, for example, has a modified 2007 version which is polished, and I’m not exaggerating, twice a week. I’ve never seen them drive it further than the end of the driveway…
But, if the yellow brake calipers and Michelin cut-slick Cup tyres weren’t a big enough clue already, the dual centre-exit exhaust pipes certainly are.
Underneath the boot floor lies a Porsche 911 Turbo engine with 650bhp. It keeps the h-pattern manual Stuttgart-derived gearbox too, but because the engine is not in the usual spot for a VW van, the whole rear sub-assembly, drivetrain and suspension from the 911 are also carried across.
To try and keep things cool, it’s been fitted with a flat floor, with ducting helping channel air to the thirsty boxer engine out back.
Inside, the changes are equally dramatic. Gone are the usual front seating bench and rear cargo area. Instead, there’s a central driving position with a racing seat and harnesses, like a McLaren F1 GTR.
Behind that, in the middle, are four more racing buckets, this time for nervous passengers.
Rock up at a motorhome exhibition in the Vanatec, then, and you won’t be impressing any camping enthusiasts in a hurry. This is built for entertainment, not a good night’s sleep.
Placed in a line-up of supercars in the Spa paddock it draws an enthusiastic crowd. The line included a Lamborghini Murciélago GT1 race car and a fleet of Huracán STOs. The brightly coloured van was incongruous but also drew a bigger audience than its more illustrious peers.
“Why not,” explained Fanatec CEO Thomas Jackermeier when asked by Traxion.GG as to its existence.
“At the end of the day, it’s something really mad. A Porsche 911 Turbo engined-650bhp van. It’s fun, and that’s really what we’re all about.”
Once fitted with the requisite helmet, which was far from flattering, and having signed my life away, I find myself sitting in one of the rear seats heading up out of the Raidillon pitlane exit.
Down the Kemmel Straight and we’re sharing the track space with several other exotica, who initially come racing by.
The braking is extraordinarily late, something that belies the vehicle’s large stature. Those carbon-ceramic discs are worth their weight in gold. While the speed, noise and braking all mask the van’s original practical aspirations, the mid-corner body roll does not.
Suddenly, the vehicle’s basis rings true, and I find myself yelping through Les Combes without a grab handle to cling onto. Thankfully, however, while the pitch is disconcerting, the Michelins are sticker than used chewing gum. A relief.
By Bruxelles, I’m more attuned to this crazy concoction’s characteristics. Brake late, tip it in, wait for the body to take a set, rely on the rubber and smash the throttle earlier than expected thanks to a neutral handling balance.
Then a stark reminder that other cars are on the track as a ‘real’ 911 GT3 screeches past in close proximity on the inside of Speaker’s Corner. It’s like being on a coach tour of Belgium’s greatest racing circuit, only at over 100mph and with sim racing content creator GamerMuscle trying his best to impersonate Murray Walker in the seat behind.
As we cruise past the field of GT3 cars readying in the pitlane, the driver looks backwards and points at a warning light. “Engine kaput.”
Oh, dear. It seems the over five-hour drive to get here, plus several passenger laps, have worn out the Fanavan. Back to Munich it is then, on the end of a tow rope.
What a brilliant hysterical creation it is, though. As I removed my lid and embraced the sweaty imbroglio that is helmet hair, my first thought was of my lunch which was doing its best to escape upwards.
But my second thought was that I don’t think any other video game steering wheel and pedal manufacturer would ever think of something like this.
In a similar vein, no other competitor thought of creating the Podium Steering Wheel BMW M4 GT3, which is the identical part from the same production line for both the real-world racing car and your sim racing set-up at home.
Which brought it home that Fanatec is really trying to be different, bold, and exciting which in turn is pushing the entire sim racing genre and fanbase forward, one mad hat creation at a time.