On July 6th it will be exactly forty years since Julien Van Zeebroeck won the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps in the 50cc class.
'Julienske' beat his Van Veen Kreidler teammate Angel Nieto and Eugenio Lazzarini. To celebrate that historic win, Van Zeebroeck will return to Spa-Francorchamps during this year's Bikers' Classics.
Julien Van Zeebroeck is the only Belgian racer to win a Grand Prix in the 50cc class. The rider from Brussels heard the Belgian anthem being played for him three times during his career but that win at Spa-Francorchamps was overwhelming, he says. “In 1974 I thought I could easily win the Belgian Grand Prix. But at Francorchamps the corners come your way instead of the other way round, you know”, he smiles. “The track was very dangerous. We always had one eye on the rev counter and one finger on the clutch.”
That year Van Zeebroeck failed to finish on the podium, despite having the best possible equipment at hand. When the famous Van Veen squad became the Belgian Kreidler importer in 1973, Van Zeebroeck was given a 50cc racer. “I was the chosen one”, as Van Zeebroeck puts it. “I did the Belgian championship on a bike that had been raced by Jan Huberts. But he was a lot taller than I was. I was just a small guy. In 1974 they gave me a great bike. And getting something for free is alway better than having to pay for it!”
'Spanish Fury' Angel Nieto would be Van Zeebroeck's teammate in 1975 and behind the Spaniard Van Zeebroeck finished runner-up in the opening Grand Prix of the 1975 season. “Nieto was much more experienced than I was. But to me he was always very open. On top of that, we had former World Champion Jan de Vries taking good care of the technical business for us.”
“AN UNFORGIVABLE MISTAKE”
In Germany, Van Zeebroeck finished third and at the Dutch TT in Assen he took fifth. A week later, the riders raced in Belgium, at the 14.1 km/8.761 mile long circuit of Spa-Francorchamps. “My starts were never very good, but at Francorchamps everything went just perfect”, he remembers. “I also knew that I had to keep my nerves under control. But I didn't want to show my cards too soon either. That's why I took an quiet approach behind Angel and Lazzarini. Racing at a long and fast track like Francorchamps was very difficult. The smallest mistake could cost you dearly. You had to tuck in behind the screen and fairing as much as you could, you had to use the power perfectly and you had to choose your lines very carefully. Otherwise you wouldn't be able to reach the engine's 16,800 rpm peak.”
In the penultimate lap, the Belgian rider grasped his chance, much to the delight of the enthousiastic home crowd. Van Zeebroeck came out of Nieto's slipstream and eventually finished 4 seconds clear of the Spaniard. “I could hear the crowds screaming inside my helmet! Coming out of the La Source hairpin I was already waving to the people in the stands”, recalls the now almost 69-year-old Van Zeebroeck. And although he regards the Francorchamps win as the best of his three Grand Prix victories, even forty years later he is not fully satisfied. “Because I could have been faster. After the race I immediately asked Jan (de Vries) to show me my lap times. Waving to the crowds cost me a lot of time, you know. That really made me sick. It was an unforgivable mistake!”
Just like in 1974, Van Zeebroeck finished third in the world championship standings in 1975. Forty years later he will be one of the big names in the 50cc Parade at the Bikers' Classics on July 4-5. It will be an excellent opportunity to share memories about that historic 1975 Belgian Grand Prix with Eugenio Lazzarini and Jan de Vries, who will also ride. “Francorchamps was superb for me. What bike I'm going to ride at the Bikers' Classics? I don't know yet. Maybe I should give Jan a call!”