Interview with Toine Hezemans, European Touring Car Champion- GTA, Le Mans, Spa-Francorchamps 24 hours, Daytona 24, Sebring 12 and Nurburgring Champion
Courtesy Robert Little
Toine Hezemans at Sebring 1970
Toine Hezemans (Eindhoven, the Netherlands, April 15th 1943) drove touring cars and prototype- race cars in the 60’s and 70’s. In 1970 and 1971 he became the European Touring Car Champion in an Alfa Romeo GTA, in 1973 driving a BMW 3.0 CSL and in 1975 in a Porsche 934.
His victories in the 70’s: - Winner FIA European Touring Car Championship in 1970 and 1973 - Winner Targa Florio 1971 - Winner Spa-Francorchamps 24 hours in 1973 - Winner Le Mans 24 hours (TS-class) in 1973 and 1975 (GTS-class) - Winner FIA European GT Championship in 1975 - Winner Daytona 24 hours in 1978.
Mike Hezemans (Eindhoven, the Netherlands, July 25th 1969) was a professional race car driver. He is the son of Toine Hezemans and a well-known race car driver. Mike Hezemans drove a lot of GT-cars in the FIA GT class and the Le Mans series. Besides he joined famous events as the Sebring 12 hours and the Le Mans 24 hours. In FIA GT he participated in 113 races between 1997 and 2008 and won 12 times. These victories where mainly achieved in Corvettes and Vipers as part of his own team Carsport Holland.
After his third place in the karting World Championship in 1989 he switched to the Dutch Touring Car Championship (DTCC). From 1991 on Mike drove Porsche cars in various racing series such as the Porsche Supercup and the ADAC GT Cup. In 1997 he switched over to the FIA GT class in which he became the most successful Dutch competitor.
On May 25th 2013 I had an exclusive interview with father Toine and son Mike Hezemans. They spoke frankly about present and past. Toine, married for the third time, father of four children (daughter of 38 and three sons of 44, 15 and 10) and 4 grandchildren. He looks extremely fit for a man of about 70 years! He has plenty of go in him and many plans for the future. He still works every day and has a busy life. If he is in a talkative mood he tells one story after another..
I found out quickly you can easily write a complete book about this man’s live. Others have made musicals and produced films of far less interesting people.
Tell me something about your family, place of birth and school.
“I was born on April 15th 1943 in Eindhoven, Burghstraat 10 in the so called ‘white village’. I’d lived there ‘till my 18th year. I joined primary school at the Piuslaan. After that I went to Joris College, but I saw every high-school in Eindhoven there was, because I was kicked-off everywhere. First Sint Joris, then GLE. When I was in second class of GLE I had already joined high-schools for four years. So, that went wrong. After that I went to the MULO (read: lower grade education). With failed grades for almost every subject I passed from third to fourth class because I sold a Peugeot 404 to the headmaster. At that time I already became a car dealer. So, schools where not my strongest point. I began to deal in cars in Breitnerstraat, my father’s business."
"At that time, my father also had a karting-circuit at Vaals where we often went. From one thing came another. Our car business was successful. We picked up damaged cars in Germany, repaired them and sold them on. When I was 23 I already had a Ferrari 330 GTC and that was, of course, unlike anybody else."
"One time I bought myself an Abarth and after that two Porsches. I raced with those cars and became Dutch Champion. In the international classes I won a lot with the Porsche 908, at that moment the finest race car in any class. With my own privately entered Porsche I put myself on pole and took victory on the Nurburgring and defeated all factory Alfas and BMWs. We were very clever at that time, we added lightness and speed and improved the car, together with Hans Willemse, also from Eindhoven, our mechanic.".
"That’s why Alfa contacted me and offered me a factory contract. That was very uncommon at that time. I made a lot of money by then and bought myself a house on Parklaan, one of the prettiest houses of Eindhoven”.
So you’ve been connected all the time with Eindhoven?
All the time! Until I was 43 I lived in Eindhoven. With Marlene, the mother of Mike, I was married for 25 years. When we met I was 16 and she was 14. Then she came on her Puch (read: moped.) and we went as madmen together through Eindhoven. So... I know Eindhoven very well. My grandpa already owned himself a logistics company. I assisted Uncle Jan unloading the butter when I was 10 or 11 years old. By then all was done with horse and carriage.”
Speed was in the genes of the Hezemans family?
“Oh yes, it started all with grandpa in the 50’s. Then Toine and Mike and now Loris. (Loris is the 15 year old son of Toine who is karting during our interview and time after time drives past us). Loris is now training with a Suzuki with Coronel (read: Coronel is also a famous Dutch racing family.) Suzuki already insisted that Loris come to drive with them. They were impressed by his skills, but his mother wouldn’t let him go".
By that time Alfa Romeo contacted you, offered you a contract, could you tell us something more about that?
“Yes, I got a contract to drive the European Championship with an Alfa GT Am. The GTA was the predecessor and this GT Am was a 2 litre. Then I joined Autodelta and Ing. Carlo Chiti... he was in charge at that period. At that time Autodelta employed 150 men and it was not the case that they had only one car. Four months before the season, I began testing the Alfas on their own Balocco test track."
"About ten cars were set up ready for testing and we were invited to break them all ! For instance when the gearbox broke, they simply installed another and we went back on the track. The purpose was to make 7500rpm... I deliberately made 8000 rpm and the engine broke. Then they investigated why and after that they solved the problem and made improvements. Then the rear axle broke... then the wheel bearing and so on. But after 3 months and 26 times of strengthening and improvement it was not possible to break the car again. That car was fantastic!”
For what speed was the car capable?
“That depended on the circuit. At Spa-Francorchamps the car made 260 km/h and at Zandvoort 230 km/h. It all depended on the length of the long straight. Don’t you forget, I won with that car the Spa 24 hours. The track by that time was laid out from Spa to Stavelot. It was simply 4 kilometres full throttle. That was very fast by that time, but that’s another story.”
If you had still owned that car it was worth a fortune. Do you know where the car is?
“No, but I also drove a GTA 1300 on that track, all aluminium. I drove with an Alfa 1600. Recently I bought myself a GTA 1300 on an auction, very original, 1969, once owned by Autodelta. All GTA’s had an aluminium hood, boot lid, doors and lightened interior. They were all built by Autodelta. Not by Alfa Aomeo S.p.A. who as the factory only built the chassis. Alfa shipped the bare chassis to Autodelta and there a new engine was mounted with 145 bhp (in a 1300), so that was quite a lot ".
"I also raced with my own GTA 1300 in Zandvoort and with a GT Am. Carlo Chiti loaned both of them to me. That man did everything for me. By that time I had an Iso Rivolta. That car had a Chevrolet engine, was capable of 240 km/h and I had a trailer behind it. I mounted the Iso with Dunlop racing tires because I did 190 km/h with that trailer, loaded with an Alfa. Petrol consumption was close to 1 litre every 2 kilometres, horrible. If you made even more speed the tires would explode. That’s why we mounted racing tires on the trailer. In that time I won a lot…"
"In the meanwhile I also raced with the Alfa T-33/3. With that car I won the Targa Florio. But the Alfa GT Am, and also the 1300 were unbelievably good. Another interesting story is the homologation and the production of 1000 cars (read: the minimum number for homologation for FIA touring car races was 1000 pieces at that time).”
“But they only made, I think... 30 examples, but the model had to be homologated... so they made a plan with Alfa Romeo S.p.A., a very clever plan. They had cars to be 'exported' to the States. On the bill of lading they listed 400 cars on Thursday, another day 300 cars and so on. In total 1400 cars to the States. But that beats nothing at all, the point is they had the documents for FIA".
"I won the first race at Monza, a 4 hours event. It was usually driven with 2 drivers, but I trusted nobody else and drove alone. That was pretty tough, 4 hours in one stint. Normally men could drive 1 hour 52 or 53 minutes on one tank of 100 litres fuel, the tank was not bigger. They came up with an idea at Autodelta to build in a tank of 110 litres. After the race it was checked if it really contained 100 litres max, the upper limit. With that bigger tank I drove exactly 2 hours and 1 minute which saved me 1 pit stop of 1.5 minutes. I won that race easily.”
So it was all about the tank?
“I probably would have won the race anyway, but that would not be so easy with a 2 litre against a 3 litre BMW. I was instructed to stop in a certain bent under a bridge. At that time, there were no TV cameras to film everywhere on the circuit. In the trunk they put a plastic bag with plastic balls. I had to put in the balls quickly one by one in the tank. When they checked the tank, only 99 litres maximum containment was the result. Nobody knew, only Autodelta of course. Later it became public and that gave hilarity ! That’s why I was well known to do strange things. At home I owned the very same car. That privately- owned car was lightened by us by 70 to 80 kilograms and of course that car was a lot faster than the factory car.”
How about the scrutineering at that time?
“Oh yes, but the possibilities were much bigger. Another time. The car was great, we raced as much as possible with it. We drove it 24 hours in a row and it kept in one piece.“
Looking back, those were the greatest days of your life?
“Looking back those years were very special, after that I had also great times with Mercedes, Porsche and BMW. But the best period was with Alfa Romeo. That’s Italian, that was cosy. After every race, if it was in Buenos Aires or the States, we had our own Italian cook. They all came over. You know it, an Italian has to eat well like with mother at home. So, those were the days."
"We had a factory team were money was no issue. When you arrived, you took a Mercedes rent car. The best of the best hotels. Everything was possible, those times are gone.”
I heard you discovered Ayrton Senna more or less?
“I didn’t discover him. Mike and I went to a kart-race in Nivelles (Belgium) in 1980. Peter de Bruin became World Champion. Senna finished second, we followed him some time after that. At that time he drove Formula 1 races with Ford. When he raced at Zolder (read: another race circuit in Belgium) I spoke to him. He told me he sent newspaper clippings of his latest victories to all Formula 1 teams. But, of course, at that time he knew nobody."
"At that time I was pretty close with Ron Dennis of McLaren and Bernie Ecclestone. I introduced Ayrton Senna to Ron Dennis. At that time I was about to join the McLaren team which had become nothing. My wife said: ‘If you join the team, I will leave you’. Everybody who entered Formula 1 loses his money. But, this was the other way around, it was a real success story.”
Could you tell us something more about the development of your Pagani Zonda?
“That was an instant flop. We liked the car very much and thought it would be a great GT car. That car was not suitable. It was great on the road, but it was something else technically. The car had too short of an overhang. And the second point was the factory engines we expected to be supplied by Mercedes....the deal was cancelled at the last minute so we start fiddling with the engines ourselves and that won’t work. If you have 10 million, it works, if you have 1 million it won’t. Battling against a factory team under those circumstances is not possible. They have more resources to fix broken engines. Impossible to win."
"The best move we made was to buy factory Corvettes as part of our own team: Team Car Sport Holland. The factory already spent 20 to 30 million dollars on those cars. Every nut and bolt was checked and nothing broke."
"That’s why weird things break nowadays in Formula 1... there is no money to test cars thoroughly. There is no money to carry out tests. They are afraid to drive, afraid it will break. These cars cost 500.000 to 1.000.000 Euro each. We expect next year (read: the first Turbo Formula 1 year 2014) everything will break in Formula 1. Because of the new engines. From the 22 cars on the grid, only 12 will finish by the start of the season. And now, 21, 22 are finishing. What they figured out is insane, doesn’t make sense. Burning money. It’s nice for the technicians working with it. Honda is very clever. They wait for one year in order to see what goes wrong.”
Was there a time when you both raced?
“We drove one time together, but Toine had stopped racing already by then. Toine stopped in 1980 and went into business, he found that more enjoyable" . Mike started karting in 1982 and a long time after that with racing. Mike was 12 – 13 years when he joined the karting World Championship, like Michael Schumacher in 1984.
Is it true every racing driver starts with karting?
“99 out of 100 drivers. Only Robert Doornbos did little karting. He played tennis and switched to racing.”
After racing you went in property investment?
“I started in 1978 in Amsterdam with a property investment. In 1994 I bought a hotel in Miami. As an investment, not for exploitation. At this time I have investments in Miami, Eindhoven and Brussels.”
Mike, your finest victories were at Spa-Francorchamps in 2007 and 2009?
“Those are the special ones with the Corvettes we’ve just talked about. But we also won a lot with the Dodge Viper.”
.At Silverstone Mike ...you escaped death, in a burning race car?
“That was a Corvette. A little valve worth 10 cents won’t close so petrol flew out on a hot brake disc and the car caught fire.”
While escaping do you think: “That’s it, I’ll quit ?”
“No, actually the cause of the accident was bio-fuel. This fuel contains ethanol. Methanol and ethanol are sugar based and the valve is made from plastic. Every time some sugar stucked on the valve and at a certain time that valve stayed open.”
But you well came off?
“A few times, I caught fire more often, just watch my YouTube films.”
You got no burns while stuck on hold inside the car?
“One time at Salbris, France, that went very fast. But the worst incident was the last one at Silverstone, that was not funny at all. If you stop while petrol is flowing into the cabin, that’s quite bad and it becomes hot very fast. Due to the smoke you’re completely blinded. Stuck in the Corvette and unable to open the door. On the dashboard there is a red button you have to pull on. I saw nothing and breathing became very painful. Breathing smoke is horrible ! I thought this goes wrong."
"So I smashed everything on the dash to reach that button. I pulled off the steer as well but couldn’t see ithe button yet. Stay calm is the watch word in these circumstances. I was lucky there was some wind and at last I saw the red button. ! For me it last fit took ages, but actually it was only 20 or 30 seconds. Other drivers saw it happen. I just thought what’s going on ? I’ve no grip on the tires ! But the petrol was already flooding on them.”
Since 1995 there is "Hezemans Karting". Initially owned by Toine, now Mike’s. Are you often here?
Mike: “When I am in Holland, I’m here. Every morning I go to the Kart circuit. I am not working there, there is an excellent staff. Recently I had to book somebody, I even didn’t know how to do it! My job is public relations and advertising. I often contact staff associations. And we are building a bowling centre. It is important to have a good staff you can trust and build on. The first one is here at 9:00 a.m., the last one leaves at 12 in the night. 361 out of 364 days we are open.”
In life, what would you like to do again?
Toine: “Not much.”
Mike: “In life also not much... in sports I have a couple of things.”
Toine: “I raced with some fantastic teams, but running my own team…..”.
Mike: “Running your own team is not the problem, but building your own cars…. That I have done and won’t do again. I’ve tried it over and over again and it failed every time. And that cost me a lot of money.”
Tell us about your best choices.
“The best and nicest period was with Hezemans Rotax. We gave the world a karting engine and built our own factory to machine it at Welschap (Eindhoven Airport). A karting engine that changed the whole karting scene. Compare it if you get in a Formula 1, in 2014, with new engines. A turbo and somebody comes up with a revolutionary turbo that’s two seconds faster than all the others. Or has 50 HP plus. Suppose you have a Mercedes or Ferrari and suddenly Honda comes up with an engine that’s a few seconds faster and wins every race."
"We changed the world of karting. We won the World Championship 10 times between 1987 and 1997. They came to us from all over the world for our engines. From Italy one team owner came with a private jet to buy an engine for their son. But, we had a problem, we didn’t have enough engines. There were teams who... if they saw us on the entry list would decide not to participate, it didn’t make sense. Michael Schumacher begged on his knees to buy an engine for his brother Ralf."
"The engines were homologated, so you were not allowed to copy them for a period of three years. There were 100 karts in the World Championship and only 34 could participate in the finals. So, there was a year where 34 Rotax engines were in the finals. It was easy to be champion with Rotax, it became a unit class."
"In 1989, if you asked what would I do again, I (read: Mike) would be in front in the finals. But I became 3rd. Another engine won that time. The winner took our engine ...copied and build it over. That’s possible for one engine, but not for a serial production. Kart drivers also drove with our stuff like liners and pistons. People begged for us to sell our engines to them and even offered a lot of money for second hand engines. For Mike’s engine they offered 10.000 guilders (read: at that time, 1997, one US dollar was approx. two guilders) which was ridiculous. So, it was a mega success!”
And it was all made in Eindhoven?
“Yes, we got the parts from Austria, further development took place in Eindhoven. We had a test facility there. And, we worked very hard there, also Mike, day and night. You could put an engine with 25 exhausts and on the test bank get 25 different results. We had huge know how and technical expertise from Bombardier, an aircraft manufacturer from Canada. They had a department ‘Rotax’ with engineers who had great knowledge about metals."
"We came with a complete different concept. If somebody came up with an idea and delivered nobody would change that for three years. If someone had something another one didn't have, and you'd like to have it also, you had to wait for three years. The engine costs about 1500 guilders at that time. If we came into the office in the morning ...faxes were waiting in a pile. Then we decided who got an engine and who didn't."
"We never made a promotion. Green T-shirts with white letters ‘Hezemans Rotax’, that was all.”
It sounds great as in the past. Has it stopped now?
“Sold in 1996 or 1997. We developed a good concept but that became too expensive. A final race took 25 minutes of a total engine life of 28 minutes. Then the engine was really broken and in the need for an overhaul of 600 – 700 guilders. The enigines had an extremely short durability. When a driver came on the circuit he had not one but ten engines with him. Going karting you needed 50 – 100.000 guilders a season even at those times. I said, this will go wrong ! We needed to develop an engine with the durability of a few months and even a lot of horsepower. We developed it and a lot of them are still driving out there, it’s called "Rotax Max". The whole concept was taken over by Rotax themselves. Even now it is still a big success, but we were the founding fathers of that.”
You have no regrets you’ve sold it? .
Toine: “No, we started car racing at that time. Karting ...even though was the nicest time. ..Karting was better than car racing. Great, aside from the success.”
Mike: “For me it makes not much difference. Karting is better. Better to watch and practice yourself….. not here, not indoor, outside. The fun of car racing is everything around it. You get more appreciation, although karting is 10 times more difficult than car racing. In karting, almost everybody has the same material and that’s not the case with car racing. Rotax never made the numbers we were selling. That’s been the situation over many years. Besides, Rotax was very successful in other businesses. We made a turnover of 5 million which was not much for that kind of manufacturer. They did 500 million. They produced over 200.000 jet ski’s every year. There were even jet ski races. The best engineers were put on jet ski’s, that was their main business they made money with.”
Do you still follow racing?
“Formula 1 yes, karting no. We’ve last been to the World Championships in Genk. The difficulty with karting is when you’re not deeply involved, you can’t follow the races. You have to look on the Internet to know who won the race. Formula 1 is live on TV.”
Suddenly Toine shouts “42.0” seconds which means the time that his 15 year old son just drove on the track. Again he is faster.
During the interview he always kept an eye on his son's times. By the end of the interview I made them an invitation to attend our club meeting on September 14th. If they are around, they will definitely come to join us.
On the question if he will join us then with his Alfa Romeo Giulia GTA which he acquired on an auction he replird he’d already sold it…….
"Business is Business. I even though have another car..." he said, "...styled by Touring in which we joined the 1000 Miglia last year". He showed me the picture of a beautiful Alfa Romeo 6C2500 Touring from 1949.
You never get attached to a car?
“No, this 6C is worth 500 to 600.000 Euro (read: about 600 – 700.000 US dollar) If tomorrow somebody offers me a million it’s gone. I don’t give a thing for it.”
With this 6C he won the Concours of Villa D’Este….. In Mike's opinion Toine drives still too fast.
Toine: “I just drove from Brussels to Eindhoven in 1 hour 8 minutes.”
We conclude the interview with a nice anecdote about the Bertone:
During his time at Alfa Romeo – 3 years – he got two brand new 1750 GT’s every year. One for his wife and one for himself. That was part of his contract with Alfa. At that time in the seventies they were new about 17.000 guilders.
“I simply sold them all…..”.
This article was originally published in Dutch in Bertonebulletin 75. Illustrations courtesy to the Register Giulia Bertone and the archives of Toine Hezemans. Translation: Pieter-Jan van Zanten
Toine Hezemans and Gian Luigi Picchi
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