The warm Ardennes exchange shared with an official on arrival at Gedinne, the home of the Belgian Classic TT, is the first of many endearing conversations shared with locals and organisers during my first taste of ‘real’ Belgian road racing. By ‘real’ I mean old school, closed public road racing – the way it used to be and still is in the Isle of Man and parts of Ireland.
Lined with hay bales to protect riders from the miles of barbed wire fences, gateposts, telegraph poles and stone walls, the 5km course just outside the village of Gedinne slices through a valley so idyllic and peaceful, you could easily imagine Teletubbies Tinky Winky, Dipsy, Laa-Laa and Po bumbling in from the next valley to peruse the 300-or so pre-73 classic race bikes and competitors, snoozing in the paddock. The plump cows in Gedinne must also be the most content motorsport spectators I’ve ever seen, happily chewing the cud in the sunshine, their tails swishing contently in the warm August breeze.
Very few other places on earth offer the chance to race motorcycles (especially un-silenced classics) in such an unforgiving or indeed organic environment. The Gedinne track throws other very rare ingredients into the heady mix of Castrol R racing oil, hay bales and dried-hard cow shit; its old-world charm and character evoke a genuine ‘Continental Circus’-vibe, brought to you direct from the golden era of motorcycle racing.
Despite a grass paddock with little or no hard-standing, the fact the entry list is regularly full of competitors from throughout Europe is telling of the quality of the experience on offer. First run in 1947, the event has struggled to attract the really big names over the years, but if you ask me, here lies its charm and identity; this is a track for amateur road racers, for those who believe in a form of racing deemed potentially too risky and too archaic for modern times.
My first few laps are taken with great care in order to learn the course and indeed familiarise myself with a unique surface and a machine I’ve not ridden for around three years. Entered in the 250cc pre-1973 Group 1 class, my steed is a rather pretty single-cylinder, NSU-powered 1960-spec Manx Norton (see profile shot above). Only a handful of 250cc ‘Norsu’ specials were campaigned in period, the rare Anglo-German combination was used primarily for the featherbed frame’s track proven superiority on fast, bumpy road circuits.
Sadly, due to an unsolvable, electrical ignition fault during the third session, a timed qualifier, my weekend of racing was cut short by Saturday morning – caused by one of the only non-period, off-the-shelf parts on the bike! Nevertheless, I qualified 10th at 94kmh and enjoyed around 15 laps of what is a truly thrilling circuit.
Teaming up with a brilliant group of fellow riders from the Norton Owners Club, I'd like to thank the group for all their help and support over the weekend. A final mention must go to Hans van Bregt and Patrick Messerli, riders who tragically paid the ultimate price at Gedinne 2015, my thoughts go out to their families and friends.
For more information visit Classic Racing Motorcycles Belgium.