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Sidecar motocross – A team sport

15/12/09 - 08:30

In FIM Motocross World Championship history, the list of Champions is impressive. In the solo classes, the Belgian Stefan Everts is the undisputed king of titles, having collected a grand total of 10 World Championship titles. “Collected” is not really the correct word: ‘hard fought’ or ‘strongly contested’ are more appropriate words to describe the ups and downs of a seasoned rider.

Stefan leads a long list of other ‘solo’ champions, champions who have won one or several titles and each and every one of them a fantastic rider with his own story, together a very special group of athletes. Closely following Stefan (by number of titles) are other ‘Motocross Legends’, such as Joel Robert with six titles, followed by his merry countrymen, Roger De Coster, Eric Geboers, Georges Jobé and Joel Smets each with five titles each. Other Champions follow this group and almost all of these riders share one common point before they became the ‘top’: all these riders started young, some of them very, very young. Stefan started when he was only 4.

But in the off-road world, there is also Sidecars motocross. And in this special group and historic circle of motocross athletes, there is another multi-titled world champion. Daniel Willemsen (34) from Holland has seven FIM Sidecar Motocross World Championship titles and is leader in his discipline. This year will be the tenth year after winning his first World Championship title with his brother Marcel.

When we spoke to Daniel at the Swiss round in Wohlen, he and Sven Verbrugge finished the event perched on top of the provisional championship standings. At present, after the fourth event of the 2009 FIM Sidecar Motocross Championship and looking at different results from the past four rounds, without a shadow of doubt, these two are serious candidates to win this year’s championship.

Daniel remains very calm and attributes his own and his team’s results to their experience and know-how. ‘Before 2003, we were considered a ‘factory’ team. In 2003, we took charge of our own work and that year, we started to do our own development work, on engines, chassis and suspension. We still have the same team members who joined us 10 years ago. This team provides a solid, experienced group of people, concentrating on our needs which, I am convinced, gives us a considerable advantage.’ Daniel, although rather timid, does accept that a certain amount of talent and perseverance helps and is very important for obtaining the results. Indeed, 10 years since the first title and six titles in a row since 2003, we are truly convinced.

Actually, the Willemsen’ story started in ’81. The two brothers, Daniel and Marcel, started riding together at the tender ages of 6 and 4. From very young, the two kids learned the tricks of the trade, supported by their father, more encouraged with the exploits of his sons than his own riding.

Like many of their peers, the two boys became excellent riders in motocross. However, their excellence shone when they competed on a sidecar. After their learning years, competing in the solo classes and sidecars, the Willemsen brothers won their regional and national Sidecar Championships rather ‘convincingly’ and entered their first GP in 1996 with mixed success and hardship, but perseverance won. Daniel (24) and Marcel (22) became Sidecar World Champions in 1999. And in Daniel’s view, the most difficult season so far.

In 2000, their success story was interrupted by a crash where the two brothers were seriously injured. After some time, it appeared that Marcel would no longer be able to compete, but urged Daniel to continue. And against all odds, Marcel recovered rather remarkably, but did not re-enter the arena of competition directly. While the season continued there was an urgent need to find a new passenger, a task which did not prove to be easy, considering that Daniel is a very strong rider and his tempo very high.

Daniel says ‘A rider – passenger combination works as a team. Many people do not give enough credit to the efforts made by the passenger. A good passenger can help you steer the outfit; his contribution is probably 50% or more. A sidecar rider must trust his passenger completely and vice-versa. It is an exercise of total balance while being able to follow the rhythm. A good passenger knows exactly how to react to his teammate’s style: he knows exactly what to do at any moment, when to change position when traction is needed, when to transfer his weight before, during and accelerating out from the corners and how to keep the sidecar totally ‘balanced. The best description is that it is really a ‘team-effort’ in the truest meaning!’ Needless to say, only experienced passengers need apply.

Ten years later, Daniel Willemsen and his trusted passenger, Sven Verbrugge, from Belgium, are again this year making a formidable pair for the competition, having won 7 out of 8 heat races to date. Daniel and Sven were a successful team in 2005 and 2006. Will the pair be as good as before? Only the future will tell but in the world of ‘Sidecar’ motocross competition, Daniel and Sven are the reference.

2009 FIM Motocross World Championship results click here

by Charly Hennekam

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