Stéphane Mertens back on a Superbike: “This year the Honda, next year the Ducati?”
Stéphane Mertens was over the moon when he heard the 2012 Bikers’ Classics would ‘go Superbike’ at its tenth edition. The Belgian was one of the most successful riders in the early World Superbike years, finishing second to Fred Merkel in 1989. “It will be a great opportunity to get back on a Superbike in Francorchamps”, says Mertens.
Mertens, one of Belgian’s best riders of all times, has been a regular competitor at the Bikers’ Classics. “I have been there nearly year, riding my Yamaha TZ250”, smiles Paris born Mertens. “The fact that we will have Superbikes on the track this year is fantastic, especially for me as I am Belgian. I had my best years in World Superbike. The good thing is that I have some good bikes available for the Bikers’ Classics.”
In 1988 Mertens finished fourth on a Bimota in the inaugural World Superbike year. A year later he raced a Dholda prepared Honda RC30 and seemed poised to become the first Belgian World Superbike champion when he was leading the title chase going into the last round. “Unfortunately I missed out on the title by seven points”, he remembers. “I was the fastest rider, but to be world champion you have to be there every time and I wasn’t that last race. But that year was a wonderful year on a fantastic bike and with a great team led by Jean D’Hollander. From a human point of view as well as from a sporting aspect it was a great season.”
After two successful years on the Dholda/Honda Mertens switched to Ducati, staying with the Italian manufacturer until he quit World Superbikes at the end of the 1994 season. The tall friendly Belgian won eleven WSBK races and added 46 rostrum finishes to his tally. Stéphane is not sure which bike he will ride at the Bikers’ Classics. “Unfortunately Jean is no longer with us, but his son Mike is involved in the team that will prepare a Dholda/RC30 for me. That sounds great. Also my old Ducati mechanic Enzo owns my 1994 888 on which I had my big accident at Phillip Island when the bike rode on in flames at the start/finish straight. I think this year I will ride the Honda at Francorchamps, maybe next time the Ducati? I have great memories of both bikes.”
52 year old Mertens is looking forward to meeting up with some of his former rivals at the 2012 Bikers’ Classics. “It would be nice to see people like Fred Merkel, Raymond Roche and Fabrizio Pirovano. For sure it will be a more relaxed way to meet them again.”
Spa Francorchamps is Mertens’ favourite track. “I love fast circuits and although I still ride the Francorchamps circuit many times during the year it is challenging every time”, says the 1989 24 Hours of Liège winner. In 1992 Mertens finished second and fifth at the Belgian World Superbike round in the Ardennes. “Robbie Phillis beat me in that first race. I have already talked to him on Facebook. It would be fun to see him back on a Kawasaki again at Spa-Francorchamps.”
The 10th Bikers’ Classics at Spa Francorchamps will take place from Friday June 29th until Sunday July 1st.