During the 1999 F1 Grand Prix I worked for radio. After the practice runs, I rushed to the press room, but I wasn’t paying attention and almost pushed one of the pilots down the stairs. Fortunately, Rubens Barrichello was just able to keep himself straight and did not have to give up for the race that Sunday…
In 2007, we ran the Fun Cup 6-hour race in a two-seater fully decorated as a jet fighter for the 90th anniversary of the 1st Squadron and the 60th anniversary of the Florennes Air Force Base. During one of the driving turns, none other than the commander, Colonel Renard, sat in my passenger seat. I told him over the onboard radio: “Dear Colonel, I’m going to do something you can’t do with your F-16.”, and throws the car in Pouhon a nice double pirouette, to finally get back on track. No, he couldn’t do that with his F-16. He didn’t say a word for half a lap, so I had made an impression.
One absolute horror round. It is 2005 and we are driving the Zolder Touring Cup at Spa, with a BMW M3. It’s my first year without a full racing program in an otherwise very modest racing career. At least I still call it a career. I’ve been ‘dry’ for a long time and I can finally get behind the wheel again to show myself to all the talent scouts in the Touring Cup (hum) and to the massive crowd (hum hum). Dillen hasn’t lost it yet, see. We see it, and how. In the first lap of free practice I charge full throttle towards the Raidillon, to slide completely transversely upwards at 190 km/h. It’s already running through my pants. Have we learned? Oh no, I brake much too late at Les Combes and dive straight into the grass. Have we learned now? What did you think? The same lap I brake much too late at the chicane, and open the crankcase on the high curb after the kerbstone. The round of a moron, I’m still ashamed of it. Lesson: Always take your time to build up. Be cool, you’ll be fine.
My first memory of the old Francorchamps circuit is a fast ride next to my father. That day only one was faster than our Volvo PV544: a Harley-Davidson with a flashing blue light. Anyway, the microbe had bitten me and I had to go back to see real racing cars. That happened in 1971: my first 24 hours! Later as a journalist, the fascination for that race remained, then on the new circuit. These were the heydays of Group A, but I was especially interested in the amateur racers, whom I knew from provincial motorsport. I remember their joy because they were able to realize their dream, their justified pride after obtaining their A-license… Today I drive almost weekly on the old circuit, and every time I return in my mind to the time of Combes, Burnenville, Malmedy, Masta, Stavelot, Carrières. Motorsport history was written on these place names, unfortunately just too often in blood-red letters. This does not prevent the temptation from becoming very great at times. But then that image of that Harley looms up again.
I remember Thierry Boutsen’s victory in the Porsche 962C of Brun Motorsport in the 1,000 kilometers of Spa in 1986. A battle to the last meters against a factory Jaguar, which the Belgian won in his favor by just a few seconds. I really don’t remember how I managed to do it then, but was almost literally next to the finish line. And I still get goosebumps when I think about it. As a journalist or simply as an enthusiast, I saw dozens of races, made the switch from tourism cars to GTs in the 24-hour races, saw the BMW M3, the Peugeot 306 and the Nissan Skyline, Chrysler Viper and Maserati MC12 win, was witnessed the triumphs of Senna, Räikkönen, Vettel and Hamilton and did not drown a few times in the crowd of Schumacher and Verstappen fans. I enjoyed overtaking maneuvers on the Kemmel straight, often went ‘as close to the wire’ as possible to taste the even more impressive-looking speed of the protos, GTs and F1 cars at Blanchimont and never got tired of the storming of the Raidillon .
It’s late and it’s raining. In the dark I carry a backpack full of posters and other souvenirs. My hand grips my father’s, who is passing on his love for racing. We are in the Bus-Stop chicane and are blinded by the headlights of the approaching racing cars and deaf by the raging engines. I am fascinated by the illuminated brake discs, the transmission noises during downshifts. That 24-hour race was my first encounter with Spa-Francorchamps. Little did I know then that I would be allowed to drive several laps on it later. Hopefully with illuminated brake discs.