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Seeing Johnny Cecotto riding a 750cc Yamaha for the first time in my life...

Saturday & Sunday July 6/7th 2019 at Francorchamps, Belgium
Earlier this year Johnny Cecotto had been present at the Imola 200 Revival in Italy. Because of personal circumstances I hadn’t been able to visit that event to meet Johnny. When I saw he drove a 750cc Yamaha at Imola I had regrets I wasn’t there. I never saw Johnny Cecotto riding on a 750 Yamaha for real. All the events I visited him before he drove a 500cc Yamaha. Now he would be at the Bikers’ Classics event at the marvellous circuit of Spa Francorchamps, definitively my favourite track. In the past I used to visit the event every year for my Motorsport Motions website but after I stopped at the end of 2014 with that activities I did never go to the Bikers’ Classics anymore. In 2018 I started the website of Sport Motions, keeping it a little closer to home with local events but also with classic motorcycle events in mind. And so now with Johnny Cecotto at this years Bikers’ Classics I had to make sure I could be there. In this case firstly for Sport Motions and at the same time for this Official Johnny Cecotto Fansite. I managed to get press accreditation for the event for which I thank Vincent Franssen of DG Sport. It was going to be a busy weekend for me with having to make 2 reports. I informed Johnny that I was coming to Francorchamps. On Saturday early morning I drove to Francorchamps where I picked up my press pass and VIP parking ticket at Hostellerie Le Roannay. Today I was alone but for Sunday I was bringing my brother Ad along so I had asked Johnny to help to get access for him. After I did put my car in the underground parking beneath the F1 pit building I got to the press office to collect a photographers vest. From there on it was of to the pit of the Yamaha Historic Racing Team of Hubert Rigal for which Cecotto would ride together with Steve Baker and Christian Sarron. The bikes were standing in front of the pit. No less than 4 OW31 750cc machines stood in line with a 500cc Yamaha, the machine Johnny Cecotto rode at Dijon last year. Back in the pit box I saw Johnny and we said hello with a hug like always. He informed me he had arranged 2 tickets for me. I would pick them up later as for the first GP Parade would start very soon. Steve Baker and Christian Sarron already were in their leathers and got to their bikes. Johnny was still changing in the Yamaha truck and when he came out a lot of people came to get an autograph and to get on a picture with him. It is still remarkable how much people are interested in Johnny. He doesn’t do a lot of these events so if he comes to a circuit lots of people come to see him there. The engines of the bikes first needed to be warmed up and so Johnny sat in a chair for a while waiting to get on it. Many people gathered into the pit box to get close to him. When it was time to go to the bike it was very difficult for me to take any decent pictures as for there were a lot of people around. I really had to push myself through to be able to make a few pictures of Johnny on his Yamaha. I hurried up to get to the chicane on the other side of the circuit. When I arrived they already had passed once. Sarron came by followed by Rigal and Baker. Steve was looking back like he was searching for Johnny. He came with some other drivers through the Bus Stop chicane and when I thought I was going to shoot some nice pictures Johnny turned to the right and got into the pitlane. I could take some shots of him passing me from behind but that was it. I could not even make one real action shot of him. I took shots from the other participants of both GP parades and got back to the pit. I got into the Yamaha truck where Johnny was with Christian and Steve. We had a talk there. Johnny said his rear tire was very bad and he had slipped twice so he took no risk and got in. Christian confirmed that the tires were bad. It could be worse though because Steve Baker had got a seizure with his bike. Johnny asked me if I knew that Johnny junior was doing boat races now. I had seen that he won the race yesterday so I told Johnny who was really surprised because he didn’t know that. He was trying to call him immediately but it didn’t work at that time. There would be a autograph session very soon now at the Lifestyle Village. When we arrived there I almost couldn’t believe how many people were waiting there in line. Johnny was out of posters in short time. But many people brought their own photographs, posters, paintings, shirts and helmets to get it signed. I think eBay will be full of advertisements the next few day’s with these items for sale. After this session there wasn’t going to be any activities anymore today  for the Yamaha team. So I said goodbye for now and focused on the rest of the program for my Sport Motions website. At 16.00 hours I decided to get back home as for I had to pick up my brother Ad the next morning in our home town Tilburg. Because of a truck that had caught fire on the A2 just before Eindhoven the highway was completely closed and I had to drive in a long line. It took me instead of 1 hour and 45 minutes more than 3 and a half hours to finally get back home. The next Sunday morning I got to my brother Ad to get to the Francorchamps circuit together. It’s nice to not have to drive alone, with a companion it’s always easier to be on the road. And so at 09.30 hours we arrived at the circuit. It was a bit strange for my brother to get into a circuit. I was used to that but he never got so close. We walked through the pitlane to look at all the classic racing bikes which were presented all standing in a massive line up. It feels like you are back in the seventies into the Continental Circus of motorcycle racing. We got to the Yamaha pit and I showed him the bikes of Cecotto, Baker and Sarron. I said I was going to introduce him to Johnny and we walked towards the Yamaha truck. “Are you just going to walk in there?“ he asked me. Well, I wouldn’t have dared for a long time but after seeing Johnny so many times at different occasions it was quit normal for me these days. Coincidently Johnny was standing just on top of the entrance door and he welcomed me again. I said I wanted to introduce my brother Ad to him so he got out of the truck and shook hands. I joked that now this was the “Big Johnny” on which Johnny joked back he wasn’t that large in height at all. We waited there to see them get out of the truck in their leathers for the first GP Parade of today. Just like yesterday a lot of people gathered to look at these heroes of the past. My brother said to Johnny he had to ask 20 euros for every picture they wanted to take with him. If he would he was going to be a very wealthy man. On my request also Ad was going onto a picture together with Johnny. I was sitting next to Johnny talking a bit and also people took pictures of that. It’s a bit strange to know people are looking at you and take photographs. Johnny Cecotto is used to that but I’m not. I wanted to make sure to be in time at the chicane this time and be able to take some action shots of Johnny and his companions. Johnny told me he would do about 3 laps. I hurried up and arrived there before they were going to pass me for the first time. As he said to me Johnny did 3 laps around the circuit and I could take descent pictures this time from different positions. I was happy with that because it would be a bit disappointing if I would get back home with no action shots at all this weekend. Steve Baker was riding the 500cc Yamaha #7 as for his OW31 750cc had that seizure yesterday. Before this session Johnny had said to Steve “Take it easy Steve” but that didn’t work out. Steve still knows how to handle the throttle bar and pushes the Yamaha very hard around the circuit. It’s remarkable to see how fast these guy’s are still going on their motorcycles. And at this age. It’s their lifestyle I guess. After this me and Ad took a break for a while. I was going to show him the F1 pit building now. It’s a place where you normally would get into at all. With the access bracelet that Cecotto had arranged I was able to get him in there. I think he really was a bit amazed about where he was now. Massive pit boxes and a big standing. We also looked at the pit wall near to the corner of La Source. Of course I couldn’t take him into that corner but he had a good idea of how it looked from here. I took a picture of him looking through the pit wall on the track. He already noticed that so it wasn’t a big surprise. When we got into the Lifestyle Village the autograph session was already underway. But still there were a lot of people passing the tables to get their stuff signed. Cecotto again was out of posters already. I took some pictures of the autograph session as well. I don’t need an autograph anymore, I have lots of them. And the posters were still the same. Maybe I can offer Hubert Rigal he uses one of my photographs for a new poster of Johnny Cecotto in the future. Not a bad idea at all I think. To cover the time between now and the last GP Parade we went to the Salon at l’Eau Rouge to look at the exhibition. Back in the pit we watch the last session on track of the sidecars. Seeing them going up the hill towards Raidillon is great to see. You just have to respect these drivers and passengers as well in my opinion. All the drivers of the Yamaha Historic Racing Team were already in full gear waiting for their 2nd parade. Now this time they would get onto the starting grid to line up there. Just like in the old days. A bit like feeling it was going to be a real race. While Johnny was sitting in the pit box I made a selfie of him and me with my phone. I had never done that before. The sign was given now to start the engines and they all got up. This time I was in good positions behind Johnny when he walked towards his 750. The so recognising big word of “Cecotto” on his back of the leathers. I could see this view get back in my remembrance of the time I saw him from the back at Raalte, Holland in 1978. At that time I was even scared to get close to my idol. Now more than 40 years later I was as close as I could to take pictures of that view. They made their way to the track now and I walked to the grid to wait for them there. My brother Ad was going up the pit boxes to watch it from there. One by one they arrived and when Johnny Cecotto got to his starting spot I only focused ion him from now on. It was already 8 years ago he stood here in front of me at the Francorchamps circuit. I took pictures from different kind of spots on the starting grid. Before they were going to take of I was going to make my way towards the La Source corner though. I really wanted to get shots from the inner side of that turn. I had to run hard to get there in time with all the cameras around my body. Panting and sweated I arrived there and shortly afterwards another guy with a small video camera came there also. He was panting even harder then me and it made me feel quit good as for I was for sure double his age. My condition wasn’t that bad after all. I heard the racing bikes coming through the chicane onto the straight towards La Source now. The fence on the wall had been made much longer into the corner. Probably that because of safety issues for Formula 1. It makes it a lot more difficult though for a photographer to make good shots. You see them arriving later and it’s tougher to get them in focus. I tried to shoot pictures from 3 different spots in La Source. Especially the ones in the middle of the turn are difficult as they are right beneath you with still a remarkable speed. You have to pan very quickly and keep your camera steady to get focused shots. I did it quit well though after looking at the photographs. Again as said Johnny Cecotto did 3 laps and then got into the pit. After this session was over I got back to the pit and took some more pictures of the bikes that were lined up again in front of the box. Finally I sat next to Johnny’s bike for some shots as well. For us now the Bikers’ Classics were over. The truck of the Yamaha team was closed and there was nothing to see. We looked back in the pit to see if Johnny was there. I guessed they were in the truck watching MotoGP together. So I called Johnny to say we wanted to say goodbye to him. My guess was right, they were watching television together. Also these old racing drivers are still motorcycle racing maniacs. So now Johnny came out of the Yamaha truck and we said goodbye to each other. We will keep in touch regularly as always. Ad thanked Johnny for arranging entrance for him. For me it was great to see Cecotto in action on this OW31 750cc Yamaha for the first time in my life. It was nice to let my brother Ad take part of this and share this together with him...

Bikers’ Classics Francorchamps 2019

Johnny with the Mercedes 190
Jonathan Cecotto
Johnny Cecotto in the BMW M3