Men, Passion and racing cars
The date was August 3, 2002. The location was the pit lane during the Spa 24-
hours. I was wandering down the pit lane in the middle of the night when a crowd
of people rushed up the hill. Somehow, I had missed the bang, and had my back
to the flames but, when I poked my head over the pit wall I was faced with a view I
had only ever seen in films.
A Chrysler Viper, or what was left of it, was in the middle of the track, burning
fiercely. It was shocking. There was no way of knowing that the driver was out
(actually Anthony Kumpen was out, 50 yards from the car and aiming a thump at
the German he blamed for causing the accident), but the car was totalled. "Yeah,"
said Toine Hezemans at a bar in Oschersleben a year later, "I only got 12,000
Euros for it."
Toine's passion and commitment to motor racing is akin to that of Lister team
boss Laurence Pearce. Both have raised the cash to run their teams at a
professional level, both have ploughed vast sums of money, their own and that of
others, into making their racing cars supremely competitive. Both have been
around motor racing for most of their lives, know the game, play the game, and
sometimes make up their own rules.
The stories about both men, and their fiery temperaments, have passed into
legend. John Brooks details one elsewhere on this site about Hezemans' efforts
to win the Targa Florio, but both men are driven by getting their car to the finish
faster than anything else on the grid. It sounds like proper racing, but so many
have their view clouded by money, either such a lack of it that the job is never done
properly, or too much of it at which point the fun is dulled and replaced with the
need to make more. "I have had to go back to work," lamented Toine in Germany
as racing sucked more funds from the Hezemans coffers.
Hezemans has the respect of Pearce; a man he freely admits is crazy. Julian
Bailey once told the story about Laurence when he drove for him. His water
temperatures were through the roof and he wanted to pit. "Blow the f###ing thing
up!" was Laurence's reply, keep going at all costs. Jamie Campbell-Walter, at
Zolder, was on the final leg of the three-hour race when he radioed in that he had
smoke coming from the dashboard. Then flames. "Bring it back," was the
instruction. Jamie's reply involved the act of lovemaking, followed by "off".
At Magny Cours this year, Campbell-Walter was leading, had driven a perfect race
with Nathan Kinch, and had it in the bag. Then the throttle cable broke. Pearce's
solution? Jam the throttle wide open and send him out, let the rev-limiter take care
Do Not Inflame
Toine was no mean driver in his day, he still has the passion for blasting to
circuits such as Magny Cours in his Aston Martin until all the warning lights go on
and the car cries enough. His son, Mike, is one of the best, in the same mould as
Campbell-Walter, only with his father's temperament. The pair spend most of the
weekend laconically in the pit, giving the air of professional calm until something
goes wrong, at which point they quite simply explode. Watching them nose-to-
nose at full volume carries a government health warning.
Mike's accident during this year's Spa 24-hours, was a mighty one by all accounts,
an impact which can be compared to that which killed Stefan Bellof in 1985 at the
same place. Whether a tyre went down, a suspension failed, or some other
mechanical component went wrong, Mike went into the tyres at Eau Rouge at full
tilt. He climbed out, returned to the pits, smiling, and gave interviews in English,
German, French and Dutch, all of which he speaks fluently. He drove at the
Belgian circuit again, later in the year. Were there any ill effects? "No, I realised it
was OK to go off there, so it was not a problem," he replied. Safety standards in
both the Viper, better than the old Porsche 962, and the corner, saved his life but
the Dutchman was spectacularly unfazed.
Swedish Triple Jump
When Mike and Kumpen have their accidents, they have big ones. The Belgian
wrote off a Viper in a Belcar race at Spa last year, he wrote off another in the 24-
hours, the same that Toine later sold for the 12,000 Euro. Anthony went off at
Anderstorp in practice, when his brake calliper fell off at the end of the 1.1km
straight. His description of the accident: "I was 500m before the end of the straight
when I heard an explosion from the left rear, and I saw some smoke in the mirror.
I started to brake, but they didn't work so I went straight on into a bush. Beyond
that, there was a ditch, and I flew high into the air. The jump was incredible. If I
was in the athletics championship I would be in the top three in the high-jump! I
saw the sky and thought I was already in heaven. I think that I killed 100 little trees
on the side of the road. My mother wants one, so maybe I can dig one out of the
front of the car for her."
This season very little has gone right for the Hezemans team. At Oschersleben
they finally made it to the first round of pit stops, after seven races retiring in the
first hour. In Germany they led in the second hour before a crank shaft failed.
Anthony pulled off onto the grass at barely unabated speed, only to rejoin under
instruction and brought the car back to the pits. Mike and Anthony are possibly the
strongest driver pair in the championship, but with just one victory since the start of
the season in 2002, they wouldn't mind their luck changing.
Zonda the future
That may come with the debut of the Pagani Zonda. The car was launched in a
Belgian nightclub, lowered in a son et lumiere extravaganza onto a stage and left
there as thousands of Belgians arrived to dance the night away. Along with having
a Chinese meal in the Arctic Circle in January, it was for me one of the more
bizarre moments of the season, watching a load of sweaty teenagers admire this
supercar sitting on a stage before returning to their drinking. There was not so
much as a fingerprint on it at Sebring.
The car was not race ready for its debut in Florida, but the team was forced to take
the car to gain entry at Le Mans. It was not ready for Le Mans, either, partly
because they lost so much time taking it to Sebring. Now, they have developed it
they have tested it back-to-back with their Viper and found it to be quicker already,
and this week will place the 7-litre version of the engine into the chassis. The
engine is a copy of the 1997 Mercedes V12, prepared by German tuner Ernst
Breuer, will give plenty of power and should blow the doors off anything on the grid
It is the new breed of super car, developed in conjunction and with the blessing of
Horatio Pagani, and will race again at Le Mans in November. To Toine, Mike,
Anthony, from the bar in Hasselt and Oschersleben, to the offices in Braselton
Georgia and London, we wish you well.