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Johnny Cecotto’s motorcycle racing bikes at the Bikers’ Classics...

Saturday July 5th 2008 at Francorchamps, Belgium
I was asked by Ferry Brouwer of the Yamaha Classic Racing Team to see if Johnny Cecotto was interested to take part at the Bikers' Classics 2008. This was in the weekend of July 4th to 6th at the circuit of Spa Francorchamps in Belgium. Johnny then was able to ride his original OW31 Yamaha 750cc which was put available by the Japanese factory and that was the biked on which he became world champion in 1978. I was anxious to get Johnny Cecotto on this machine because I also would think it was fantastic to see him riding on a motorcycle once again. I'm sure this would be the same for a lot of old motorcycle racing enthusiast from the past. Because of different reasons Johnny wasn't able to get in action at Francorchamps with as the most important he had to compare his son Jonathan at a kart race. Nevertheless I wanted to see this event and I decided to go to Francorchamps on Saturday with my brother Ad. The weather was nice and the sun already did shine a lot at these early hours. We walked straight towards the paddock to look around a bit to see who and what was already there. Here we already saw Dieter Braun and Wil Hartog greeting each other kindly. We searched for the pit box of the YCRT because for the fact there were the most interesting machines for me, the ones of Johnny Cecotto. In 5 boxes there was an exhibition of an amount of machines and only that alone was fantastic to see. So many old glory in one row. And later they all would get onto the circuit to be driven by very famous drivers of the past. Steve Baker, an old team-member of Cecotto, was going to ride his Yamaha and he already sat on the bike for a while to see how it fitted him. It was an odd feeling for me to look at it because for sure I would have loved it more to have seen Johnny Cecotto was there himself. I also saw Ferry Brouwer there but he was too busy to say hello to him at that time. We saw all kind of heroes from back then walk around now and then like for instance Christian Sarron, Steve Parrish and Kork Ballington. Through a pit box we walked into the pit and there it already was very crowded. Most of the people were at the end of the pit because there the YCRT was situated. And there some other old world champions were going to drive for them like the ones of Giacomo Agostini and Carlos Lavado. It was very strange that all these drivers now were so close to you while they were so unreachable back then. But that makes such an event so special and fantastic to be at. We walked by all the pit boxes to look at the motorcycles. Machines from Agostini, Cecotto, Lavado, Sheene, Mamola, and Spencer to name a few of them. My attention mostly was given to the YCRT of course and for sure these of Cecotto. While we stood at the YCRT pit box I saw Ferry Brouwer there again and I stepped up to him to say hello. It was nice to see him personally but the disappointment of not being able to get Johnny Cecotto here was clearly seen at both of us. Ferry gave me a friendly shoulder tap to reward my efforts and went on with his work again. Unfortunately it was not possible to sit on a bike of Johnny Cecotto for a while because the Japanese don't let anyone do so, they are very economical on their bikes what also is understandable. I therefore made the necessary pictures of Johnny' s bikes. It was very busy at the pit boxes of the YCRT because many people descended on the large names which drove for the team of Ferry Brouwer such as Agostini and Lavado. I know certainly the name of Johnny Cecotto had conducted even more visitors to the event still. I was looking forward myself to see Carlos Lavado for real once because he of course was a fellow country man from Cecotto. With all these motorcycles memories from the past came a bit back again and that was also for my brother. Time was almost there for the demonstrations to begin and the smaller machines were going to start first. Different kind of sounds came by our ears from sharp sewing machines to heavy growling sounds. Meanwhile the drivers of the bigger machines came in. Suddenly it was very crowded at the YCRT and my suspicion seemed to be right, Giacomo Agostini had arrived. He was interviewed and how secure the Japanese are on their machines was clear when the sound guy let his cable hang on the Yamaha of Cecotto. In no time 2 Japanese came there to tell the cable wasn't supposed to hang there. Very funny to see. Some way up Randy Mamola was giving his autograph to fans. It was fun to see how small these racing drivers really are. But top of the bill was Eugenio Lazzarini who in sudden stood in front of me. It was that his hair was grey and he had his leathers on with Lazzarini on his back otherwise you should have thought it was a little child, so small he was. To be honest most of the drivers had gained some weight during time but that's not that strange of course. But if I compare that to Johnny Cecotto than he still has almost the same body shape as back then regarding his age now. Meanwhile also Lavado was outside and he tried to get himself into his leathers. He had the well known motif which was used by Cecotto back in time also. Carlos walked around a bit through the pit and made some jokes with other guy's. Also with Lazzarini and it was very clear for me that all racing drivers really enjoyed to be here. You could easily almost touch all these drivers and that was very special and almost unreal. To be so close to Agostini, Lavado, Mamola, Baker, Sarron and so on was just fantastic to be part of. And they all were going to drive also. When we got further in the pit we were stopped by some official and were removed from it because we didn't seem to have the right ticket to be there. So we went to the standing on the straight to look at the race of the bigger bikes from there. It almost was if we were looking at a Grand Prix from the seventies again. Flying by came names as Agostini, Lavado, Baker, Hartog, Mamola, Sarron, Korhonen, Braun, Kneubuhler, Mortimer, Grant, Parrish, Spencer, Gould, Carruthers, Parrish and Ballington. Of course the drivers had a bit of controlled speed to race around the circuit of Francorchamps but that it's still dangerous was clear when the news came that Michelle Duff, the female racing driver, had crashes somewhere and had to be taken to a hospital. After the demonstration of the GP drivers we got to the other side to the new standing to look at all kind of nostalgic racing machines from there. Also the side cars came by and that for real is always very strange to see and I really am proud on the ones that dare to hang out of these things. You really have to dare at such a speed to literally hang and shave over the asphalt. We got on the open standings to look after some different practices and had something to eat there in the meantime. When we sat there enjoying our Belgian French fries we were taken in full picture by a cameraman. It is nevertheless a strange feeling to know that that you are filmed, it then is difficult to behave simply as if there is no camera on your targeted. There also were qualifying for the 4 hours race of tomorrow for the so called long distance run (Endurance) racers. Different well known machines came by which I knew from the old motorcycle magazines like the Kawasaki's and the Honda Bol d'Or. We then went back again to the pit to look from above of that to all the displayed machines before they would start with the second session of the GP demonstration. It was great to also look at these machines from above. All famous marks were there like Yamaha, Suzuki, Kawasaki, Harley Davidson, Cagiva and of course Honda. From above you could clearly see the differences these machines do have mainly in the way of their streamlines. Because it lasted a while until the real GP machines from the past were going to race again we let us take a look in the turning of La Source just as practice of other classes and it seemed as that Cecotto was there nevertheless. There was a driver who did wear the just appeared Johnny Cecotto replica helmet of X-lite, the helmet I myself carry also when driving my motorcycle. Hereafter we walked through the pit again just before the GP machines would start again to admire the machines from close on. Now and then also a driver walked by such Hartog. By looking so near you can clearly see the big differences of all the classes. Such a 50cc machine is still a lot smaller than an ordinary bicycle and falls into nothing with these 500cc or 750cc machines. But nevertheless its these a piece smaller and especially barge then a normal engine bicycle. According to we dense in the buurt it also always printer with people came of the YCRT became. Then to see you nevertheless that many people especially for the " toppers" of then to Francorchamps come but that was also for us the case natural. But these again are smaller and don't weigh as much as a normal motorcycle. As we came closer to the YCRT it also became more crowded with people. So you can see that most people do come especially to Francorchamps for the "greats" of the past but that was also the case for us of course. At the YCRT the machines still stood in the pit boxes but the doors were opened though. While the smaller bikes drove their turns along the circuit the Yamaha's of the YCRT were prepared. Ferry Brouwer secured himself about the machines of Johnny Cecotto and was warming up the OW31 750cc while Steve Baker was waiting there in his full racing gear. For this opportunity they had put the #32 over the original #4 of Cecotto. With this #32 Steve always used to drive in the past. But the original Cecotto stickers of Bel Ray, Michelin, Champion and Lem Helmets still were beneath on the streamline still. When the machine was warm Baker got on the bike and waited at the end of the pit for the sign to allow him on the track. Also Giacomo Agostini came towards his bike now and there were a lot of people there who wanted to admire him from very close. I was able to take nice pictures because I almost was standing against Agostini. It is some kind of experience if you're standing next to a hero of back then so closely. The memories you have from such a man from mostly photographs out of magazines are becoming for real at that moment. Agostini stepped on his bike and drove up the slope of L'eau Rouge to turn his laps on after that. From the pit we watched how all this old glory of machines and racing drivers came by. Moments surely to never be forgotten again. We for sure can say we really have enjoyed this day a lot. Regrettably we weren't able to visit it on Sunday though and it seems to be even greater then because they also do a special starting parade on the grid on that day. When we shortly before the ending of the GP demonstration wanted to go and I went up to Ferry Brouwer to say good bye to him when "Ago" came in with his machine and the door of the pit box was closed. Unfortunate....... Hopefully next year we will be able to go for the whole weekend to the Bikers' Classics at Francorchamps because it is a mighty fantastic event. It's the ultimate chance for all the fans of motorcycle racing from the past and present to (still) make knowledge with the machines and world champions of back then. An event which is only possible by efforts of people such as Ferry Brouwer of the YCRT. From here I want to thank him a lot for organising this fantastic event. Hopefully next year it will become an even more beautiful event and maybe it is possible to get an old public favourite in the name of Johnny Cecotto on the participants list!!!

Bikers’ Classics Francorchamps 2008

Steve Baker
Johnny Cecotto "look a like"
Steve Baker on the OW31