24 hours of Francorchamps 11 / 12 July 1998
VAN DIJK ENDURANCE TEAM - HOLLAND
The Van Dijk Team from left to right:
Eric Nijman, Tijl Schimmel , Otto Pasker, Thierry de Ameide, Peter Jansen, Hubert Curt, Gijs van Dijk, Marnix van der Schalk, Roger Viehl.
On July 11/12th, the Van Dijk Laverda Team came to Francorchamps with two purpose built Laverda 750S endurance racers.
The aim of Gijs van Dijk was to finish the 24 hours and do this in such a way that the bike will be in the final rankings, nothing more and nothing less. This means having completed minimum 75 % of the race distance of the winner.
Gijs has many years of endurance experience; he entered Bakker framed Laverda endurance racers in both 1979 and 1983 and a Laverda 668 in 1996. In 1997 he was chief mechanic in the Enzo team which managed to finish the race albeit after lots of technical trouble and without reaching the 75% limit. In 1998 he wanted to prepare Laverda 750 racers entirely according to his own views and ideas. He did, and with the help of his mechanics Tijl, Otto and Erik, the result was two ultra trick orange/blue racers with all the special features to enable quick pitwork and limit damage during crashes. Some of the special constructions were concentration of all vital electronic components in the nose of the fairing, dry batteries in the fairing, larger tank with quick filler installation etc etc. The Laverda was entered in the Stocksport class.
Three riders were recruited: Dutchman Peter Jansen, Belgian Yves Bollaerts and Englishman Russel Collins. Peter and Yves both raced the Laverdas in 1996 and 1997 so they had plenty of experience, Russel had been racing Laverdas in England with very good results. Obviously, this was a team of riders which was most suitable for the job.
On Wednesday 8 July, the first disaster struck the team with the highly disappointing news that Russel would not come to Francorchamps.. Luckily Yves recommended a fellow rider Peter Deruyter who was to race the Prologue 4 hour race. He was recruited quickly and so we could concentrate on qualifying again, which itself can be a difficult exercise because your laptimes may not be slower than 15% of the fastest rider's time This meant that we would have to ride a few super laps on the 90 bhp bike which ran with normal profile tyres. Thursday 9 July, the first practice day, including a night practice session as well as a qualifying practice. Some adjustments to suspension and gearing were the only necessary things during practice, for the rest the bike ran fine. Qualifying practice started with rain and it was to remain wet. All riders raced for what they were worth but none of the times were fast enough to qualify the team for the race. A nervous night followed and the next morning, the riders knew very well that it would be either 'race' or 'go home'. Imagine the thought . Brrrr.
Friday morning, it's dry but the track is wet 1st rider to give his utmost was Peter Jansen on a bike fitted with Metzeler rain tyres. His laptimes were coming down every lap and his last was the fastest, 3 minutes 9.915 seconds. Fastest rider in his group was Andreas Hofmann on a RC45 with time 2:49.924. Quick calculating followed . Yes! Peter qualified himself, and the bike with him! What a relief.
Erik Neiman, Peter Jansen and Yves Bollaerts
Now it was Peter Deruyter's turn in the second group. Peter got used to the machine pretty quick but on a slowly drying track he managed 3:03.592, not bad at all Peter. Fastest in his group was Terry Rymer on the factory Suzuki GSXR 750 at 2:35.093. Oh no, 5 seconds short no race for Peter unfortunately, let's hope Yves experience will help him in the third group. The track is drying a bit more and at the end of the session the ideal line is dry. Yves runs around the 3 minutes mark and even manages an impressive 2:56.790 with the worn out rain tyres sliding like mad. What a relief, this must be sufficiently quick for Yeves but what happens? During the very last minute Costes on the factory Honda manages an amazing 2:32.600, he must be on slicks and by doing he sends no less than 10 riders in his group home What a disappointment, what to do? Fortunately there was a fourth group for the reserve riders of some of the teams and the ones who qualified themselves could be available for a ride on our Laverda. A tour around the paddock resulted in us finding two Ducati riders who were available, enthusiastic and serious. The team now looked like this:
Peter Jansen (Holland)
Thierry de Almeida (France)
Hubert Curt (France)
Thierry had no endurance experience but was one of the 'students' of the French 'Ducateam' which trains young talented riders for endurance racing. Hubert had several years of 24 hour racing experience and was rider in the V-Twin Team Retina France.
We were happy and sad at the same time. Sad to see two very talented rides not qualified because of the circumstances and happy that we had a complete team, but could Thierry and Hubert live up to our expectations?
We were not the only team on a Laverda. Same as the year before, Belgian importer Enzo had come to Francorchamps with factory support. This team chose again for a tuned version of the 750 whereas we kept it virtually standard. Their Laverda was definitely faster than ours so qualifying was less of a hassle for them. Of course we were keen to win this 'Battle of the Laverda Twins', we of course hoped that our approach would be the right one!
The warm-up on Saturday was entirely used by our two new riders so they could get used to the Laverda a bit and then it was time for the real thing, 3.00 PM, the start of the "24 heures de Liege"!
There was an occasional bit of sunshine and the tarmac was dry so everything looked promising. All 63 machines were lined up and the riders crossed the track and jumped on their machines to make some super laps only to show what they are capable of.
Peter had a pretty good start and after exactly one hour of very consistent laps he was at 44th spot and managed a best lap of 2:53.
Then it was time for Thierry's first hour during which he made a beautiful progression with a fastest lap of 2:51.
Hubert was quite a bit slower, he apparently needed much more time to get used to this machine, a best lap of 3:05 but consistent and that's important for us. Would he go faster? Time would tell. He arrived in the box later than expected, problem: engine stalled. Appeared that the tank was already empty and that during the pitstops we needed to wait until the tank was really full The Metzeler tyres performed very well and lasted quite long. There was no noticeable oil consumption and the engine sounded very healthy indeed - encouraging. At 6.45 pm, there was an ambulance on the track. The Enzo Laverda rider Cuny had crashed in a big way after a broken oil line on his engines sprayed oil on the rear tyre We were keen to win this battle but not in such a way, very sad indeed for the Enzo team.
Thierry takes over from Peter, tyre change.
Due to the fuel 'thing' we had fallen back to 47th spot but not for long and after a few hours we were lapping at 40th spot.
Then at 9.17 PM the rain started and it wasn't to stop before 2.00 PM the next day . It was wet, it was cold, it was tough, very tough. Many bikes crashed, which made the wet tarmac slippery and riders complained about lack of grip.
At 11.07 PM, Thierry crashes in the Malmedy curve. He picks the Laverda up and returns to the pits just at the moment we were starting to get worried, same as his dear fiancée who stands glued to the guard rail during his sessions waiting for him 'to get home' Fairing, fairing support, tank dummy, throttle and wiring loom need to be replaced exhaust bent but for the rest, the nylon crash blocks on the side of the frame have done their job perfectly. Appears that Thierry has carried some 20 kilos of stones to the pits in the lower fairing half Thierry apologises for his crash. Oh no Thierry we don't blame you for anything at all, you're running great! After 10 minutes Hubert takes off again, and the long cold and awfully wet night which follows sees the Laverda run without any trouble and it sees Hubert make lap times almost as quick as the fellow team riders all are lapping between 3:25 and 3:30. What more can we want? Peter performed equally well as in the past years, consistent, reliable, razor sharp - very professional.
In the pitbox we immediately started to repair the damaged body parts with fibreglass kindly lent to us by our very pleasant neighbours, the Swiss Keller Corsa team.
Pitstop at night
It got light around 5.30 in the morning but the rain still fell and we had an occasional problem with water in the electric department which was easily solved by richly spraying WD-40 in combination with compressed air. This caused no delay in the pits, is became standard procedure during the regular pitstops.
Difficult times around 4.30 in the morning.....Hubert comes in Sunday morning.
At 11.13 AM, Thierry makes a second crash, this time in the lefthander after the Malmedy same cause, oil on the track makes the front wheel break away all of a sudden. Boy are we happy that we repaired the fairing and tank dummy. The parts were fitted, a clip-on was replaced and off was Thierry for yet an hour, there was no stopping this guy! A warm applause and cheers echo from the stands.
All riders were pleased with the handling of the bike and the engines smooth performance was pleasant under the wet conditions. Braking was by all riders described as awesome, they could out brake practically every racer on the tiny Laverda
At 1.30 PM, Hubert finishes his last session. Everybody congratulates him with his reliable riding and his perseverance. Hubert, you were great. Everybody senses that things are looking very good and that we stand a good chance of pulling it off but . Nobody dares to say anything everybody silently hopes
Thierry throws his leg over the bike wants to start the engine, nothing happens. Oh NO, not now! NOT NOW! Then the mechanics try to push the bike to life without success they stop at the end of the pit lane. What to do now? The speaker screams: "No, don't let the brave performance of the Dutch Laverda team end so short before the finish!" The bike is being pushed back to the pitbox and Gijs quickly examines the wiring. After some work on the switch gear, the engines comes to life with an enthusiastic howl from the BOS silencers which sounds as healthy as when the race started. Loud cheers of joy from the crowd and other teams. The support is really touching.
Thierry's session ends with a very warm welcome in the pits by all of us and of course his faithful and proud fiancée. He has proven to be one hell of a talent and we are proud to have had him in our team.
Peter takes over from Thierry for the last session.
And then at 2:15 PM it is Peter's task and privilege to bring the Laverda to the finish and it is dry...but the track is still wet. Peter is confident en enjoys every moment of it! Many enthusiasts wave to him as he makes his laps and already half an hour before the end of the race, Peter waves back enthusiastically!
At exactly 3.00 PM, the factory Honda of Lavieille, Polen and Costes passes the finish. They win the 27th edition of the race, closely followed by the factory Kawasaki of Sebileau, Mac Pherson and Dorgeix. Then our cherished orange Laverda crosses the finish line and what follows is a mixture of hugging, laughing, dancing, crying, congratulations, champagne spraying around and so on. The Van Dijk Team did it, for the first time in 19 years, a Laverda officially finished the 24 hours of Francorchamps and that was worth a big celebration.
Thierry, Hubert, Gijs and Peter, a tired but happy quartet.
A big thanks goes out the the sponsors of the Van Dijk team:
Metzeler tyres, Motul oil, Carbon Lorraine brake pads, D.I.D. chains, Termaat Motoren (Texport leathers), BOS silencers, Jack Vos Paintings.
Most of all, Gijs should be thanked for this brave private venture which was entirely done without the support of factory and importer
Marnix van der Schalk