Barry Sheene has a special place in the Grand Prix history of the Spa-Francorchamps circuit.
Sheene, who passed away 10 years ago, won the 1977 500cc Grand Prix of Belgium and although it was to be his only Francorchamps win the race entered the history books as the fastest ever Grand Prix race. At this year's Bikers' Classics during the first weekend of July his son Freddie will get on the bike that Barry raced in 1983.
On his Heron/Suzuki RG500 crowd favourite Sheene won 6 Grands Prix in the 1977 season on his way to his second successive world title, but his speed at Francorchamps was unequalled. Sheene recorded a time of 38'58.5 min for the 10 lap race of 87.7 miles/141.200 km. His average speed was a staggering 135.067 mph/217.370 km/h. The La Source hairpin was the only corner where his speed dropped below 45 mph/60 km/h.
However, it was by no means an easy race for Sheene. The bracket that held his rev counter had come loose and some good old duct tape made sure it could not move. After a number of laps Sheene managed to break free from a group of six but in the final lap it seemed he would run out of fuel. To reach the finish Sheene had to lower his pace but still beat his good friend and Yamaha-mounted Steve Baker by 11 seconds. Sheene's fastest lap of 3'50.30 min meant a new lap record with an average speed of 137.150 mph/220.721 km/h.
Sheene, a 19 times Grand Prix 500 winner, climbed on all three steps of the podium at Francorchamps – he finished second in 1976 and 1982 and third in 1978 – but his 1977 win was nothing less than historic. On 3 March 2003 the ever popular Sheene lost his fight against cancer in Australia.
In loving memory of Sheene's rich racing heritage Suzuki racebike collector Steve Wheatman provides Barry's son Freddie with an HB/Suzuki XR45 to experience the Spa-Francorchamps circuit, the track on which his father created history. Accompanied by former world champions like Giacomo Agostini, Wayne Gardner and Christian Sarron 25 year old Freddie Sheene will undoubdtedly be one of the most remarkable riders in the GP500 Parade on Saturday 6 July and Sunday 7 July at the 11th Bikers' Classics.
Photo: Jan & Hetty Burgers