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Finally seeing Johnny Cecotto in action again...

Saturday July 6th 2002 at Zolder, Belgium
After I met Johnny Cecotto at the motor show in Essen I decided to visit races again. I planned a trip to Zolder because Cecotto was racing in V8Star there and it was the nearest place for us. Giovanni was informed about it and he would arrange another meeting for me with Johnny. I was surprised when I had to give my phone number so Johnny himself would call me to make an appointment. He lost the number and so didn't call but I went to Zolder assured he would be pleased to meet us again. With my wife Carolien and my kids Lindsey and Wesley I arrived early at Zolder and were just in time to see Johnny before stepping in his car for practice. We were at the top of the pit box and called out to him. He surprisingly recognized us at once and we sort of arranged a meeting at the paddock after practice. We watched practice from above the pit box where I made some pictures and video footage. At the end of the session Johnny was 5th and he would compete Top 12 Qualifying later that day. We got down the pit box and waited at the back to see Cecotto go to the paddock but he already had left. His car was taken to "parc fermér" for control. We saw that his son Johnny Amadeus was sitting on the bike that had to pull the car to the paddock. We decided to go to the Irmscher tent in the paddock. It was only 09.30 and there weren't many people in the paddock yet. We arrived at Irmscher where Johnny already was giving autographs to some fans. When he saw me he welcomed us and explained why he hadn't called. We took some pictures of me standing next to him and talked a little. I wasn't as nervous as I was in Essen but it still was strange for me to stand here and talk to him. You could other people see thinking: "What is that guy talking to Cecotto?" It was funny to see. Because I always wanted to look behind the scenes of a race I very much would like that. But I wouldn't want to be impolite and was a little afraid to ask. When Johnny asked: "Can I get you something?" it was easier to do so I asked if it was possible to get into the pit box. Johnny said he would look if he could arrange something and went inside the Irmscher truck. He came out and gave me a key card which gave me entrance to the pit box. That was great. I had to give it back to him after the race because it was his personal key card. After Johnny had given some more autographs to fans he went inside and we watched the mechanics prepare his car for the Top 12 Qualifying race. Cecotto stepped into his car to be pulled to the race track. My wife and kids went up the pit together with Johnny jr. to watch the race from there while I walked into the pit. It was weird to be so close to the racing scene. I took the possibility to make a lot of pictures while I had the chance. I thought it was a once in a lifetime experience although I hope it will happen again in the future sometime. The teams were practicing pit stops and it was impressive to see that from so close. On television you see these things from distance but when you're standing next to it it is an indescribable feeling. Cecotto's car was prepared for the race and went on the track. Regrettably Johnny collided in the first corner and his car showed some flames from the front and he was out of the race. This meant he had to start from 11th place for the real race this afternoon. I didn't know where Johnny Cecotto was but I guessed he was taken back to the paddock. He didn't show up in the pit box after the accident. We went to the back of the pit box and watched how his damaged car was brought in. It was taken back to the Irmscher stand in the paddock and the mechanics started to work. They had to fix it for the race that would start at 15.00 hours. While I watched how they worked on the car my kids asked Johnny Amadeus, Cecotto's son, to play with him. And he did. It was a bit strange to see Cecotto's son play with my kids. Of course he is just an ordinary kid just like mine in his behaviour (he did rip a hole in his sweater) but for me he still was the son of my idol Johnny Cecotto. And he seemed to know me as well because he asked if I was the guy from the website. He used information of that site for his schoolwork. I promised I would put a picture of him on the website.The car was repaired in time to compete in the race. Cecotto stepped in his car and was pulled to the race track by a mechanic and his son on a motorbike. My wife and kids went up the pit box again. My wife informed me everyone else was going to the race track and so I did. I wasn't sure I was able to get there but I walked to it anyway. No one stopped me so suddenly I walked on the starting grid of Zolder. I went to the position where Cecotto was lined up and made a lot of pictures and video footage. I could see Johnny smile when he saw me taking pictures although he had his helmet on. I gave him a thumb up for the race and he gave one back. I watched the race from the pit and saw Cecotto come forward in the first session of the race. There is a forced pit stop in this session and Johnny came 2 seconds late to do so and when he finished 4th he was penalized and was taken to the back of the starting grid. He managed to drive to the front in the 2nd heat and finished in 4th place. After the race we went to the paddock to return his key card and to thank him. I went into the truck where Johnny was sitting with his son. He autographed some pictures and posters. Johnny didn't seem to be pleased with his race. I guess (now) he knew what would happen later but I wasn't aware of that because I simply didn't know. I gave him a model of the Toleman Formula 1 car which he drove back in 1984. I became the V8Star cap he had been wearing all day and I thanked him for this great day and went home. Hours later Kurt Thiim was disqualified and Cecotto got 3rd place. But he had overtaken in the formation lap and was weeks later penalized with 30 seconds and was taken back to 7th place and lost important championship points. That's what I meant I guessed he already knew when I was with him in the truck. Who knows? But again it had been a fantastic experience for me in Zolder and I had been with Johnny Cecotto for the 2nd time in my life for real. He had asked me after the race if I would visit more races and I had given the answer it was very difficult for me. I work a lot in weekends in the nursing home so do have little time to go to races. But what happened to me in Zolder was so impressive I decided to go to some races more later in the season. It was possible I even would be witness of Johnny Cecotto getting the championship title in the V8Star while he still was in a leading position. If that could be true.............
PHOTO GALLERY TO FOLLOW

V8 Star Zolder 2002

Johnny Cecotto: Irmscher Opel V8Star
Johnny Cecotto in V8Star Irmscher Opel
Johnny Cecotto & Johnny jr.