One of the Netherlands’ most successful racers, Toine Hezemans is part of a motorsport dynasty that began with his father who raced Porsches in the 1950s. This family tradition continued with Toine who began racing 911s in the late ‘60s, but after his own career ended, his first son Mike, then picked up the baton and raced 964s in the early years of the Porsche Cup. Speaking with the effervescent Dutchman, one quickly gains the impression that there was never a dull moment in the career of Toine Hezemans. Hezemans was born in Eindhoven 1943, Porsche Road & Race’s Kieron Fennelly met him recently at his home in the Brussels suburb of Uccle.
As well as racing a 911, Toine Hezemans also drove a Porsche 906 in the late sixties and spent three seasons driving works Alfa Romeos before competing briefly for Ford and BMW. From ‘75 to ‘79 he was one of Europe’s top three 911 racing exponents, driving privately entered RSRs, 934s and 935s to numerous podiums.
When asked what got him interested in motor racing in the first place, Hezemans replied, “My father raced a Porsche 550 at Le Mans in 1956 with Carel Godin de Beaufort, and I was there with the stopwatch!” Hezemans senior was interested in cars and after the war he had a very successful business buying and selling war surplus vehicles. Eventually he made enough money to buy Porsches and he raced an 1100 cc 356, and this was followed by a 1300 cc version. Hezemans then went 50/50 with Carel de Beaufort and they bought a pre-Spyder open Barchetta built by Richard Trenkel, and entered this in the Le Mans 24 Hours. Hezemans again, “De Beaufort was from an aristocratic background and quite a character. His family wouldn’t pay for him to buy his share of the car, so my father told me that Carel quietly removed one of the paintings from the family chateau and sold it to raise the money. I remember too on another occasion he brought his single seater and drove it round our kart track!”
Go-karts served as the introduction for a young Toine Hezemans into the world of motor racing and in 1966, he won the Dutch kart championships. This served as a springboard, and in 1967 and 1968 he raced various Fiat Abarths.
An introduction to Porsche
Hezemans had been driving a 911 belonging to his father for some time, and during his years with Abarth he lived in Milan for three years. What better way to commute between home and Milan, than in a Porsche 911. In 1968, Hezemans also raced a 906 belonging to Ben Pon (son of the Netherlands VW importer and a racer himself) and proved to be quite successful, with two wins and a second from seven starts.
He continues, “In 1968 I also bought a 1965 911 from Pon. I lightened it by 80 kg and put Carrera 6 brakes and crankcase and Minilite wheels on it. I fitted Plexiglass windows and installed another oil cooler at the front. It was a very fast car, and I beat Gijs van Lennep in a factory-prepared 911 quite a few times! Later he and I shared my 911 in the Brands Hatch 6 hours and the Nürburgring 6 hours (which they won) and van Lennep said now he understood why I had been able to beat him with it! The best part though was beating those works 911s!
“I also bought a 906 from Pon, which cost me 40,000 guilders and it never broke. Porsche made the best racing cars in the world! The stupid thing is I kept it for a few years then sold it for the equivalent of $10,000 and look at what 906s go for now! I really don’t know what is happening to Porsche prices these days.”
In the ’69 season, he was still driving the 911 and the 906, with occasional outings for Abarth, but Ben Pon entered a 908/2 for Hezemans/van Lennep to drive at Le Mans. They failed to finish that race, but in their second race in the 908, the Paris 1000 km at Montlhéry, they set the fastest lap and finished fourth.
As the decade of the ’70s broke, Hezemans found himself driving for Alfa Romeo. “The Italians already knew me through Abarth, and at Montlhéry we beat all the Alfas, so Autodelta offered me a contract. It was a chance to be a professional race driver so I took it,” he offered.
The Dutchman stayed with the Italian team for three seasons, driving the GTV in lesser events and with more success than the Tipo 33 sports racer. “For the sports car championship, in 1970 I was paired most often with Masten Gregory who’d come over to Europe and we became friends. He’d blown all his money and had various personal difficulties. He was an aspirin addict and totally crazy and I like to think we helped him out for a while. He had been an exceptional driver and I remember seeing him at the Grand Prix of Cuba in 1960 where my father was racing his Spyder. Driving Maseratis, Gregory was even faster than Moss. Masten and I were third at Sebring in the T33, that was our best result,” he added.
In ‘71, he drove most races with Nino Vaccarella and they won the Targa Florio that year. The following year, his best results were third places at Sebring, the Targa Florio and the Nürburgring. In 1973, he raced for BMW Motorsport and had four wins with the 3.0 CSL and then he moved to Ford and shared a works Capri with a variety of drivers including Niki Lauda. “Lauda and I were second in the ’Ring 6 hours, but the Ford was neither reliable nor nice to drive, certainly the worst race car I have driven,” Hezemans admitted.
It was during the ’74 season that Hezemans got his hands on a 911 RSR. “I raced a couple of times for the Gelo Racing team in ’74 and then full time in 1975. The RSR was a brilliant car, it always finished. I was fifth at Le Mans and had two wins and two seconds in the rest of that season. Looking back, the RSR was my favourite race car, even better than the BMW 3.0 CSL,” Hezemans admitted.
That was followed by Hezemans’ best year, “In 1976, I won the GT championship in the Georg Loos 934 with seven wins and four seconds from about 20 starts. Ferry Porsche presented me with the inscribed picture you see on my desk at the end of that season. The 934 was Porsche’s first racing turbo 911, a brutal car, with almost 500 bhp after the 300 bhp of the naturally aspirated RSR. You never knew when the boost was going to come in, which made it quite difficult to drive. The 935, which we got in 1977, had more power still but it was altogether a more balanced car.”
Georg Loos was a Cologne property developer, and had been a reasonable racing driver, notching up his first win at Zolder in a Porsche 910. In 1974, Loos stopped driving and set up his own team, Gelo Racing (‘Gelo’ is made up from the first two letters of his name GE-LO), which was very successful for several years. “Loos was very determined, an impossible guy. He’d been to Weissach and seen Porsche testing a twin turbo version of the 935 for the 1978 season. When he tried to order one for Daytona, they wouldn’t let him have one, but he threatened lawyers and all sorts of legal consequences, because after all, his 935s had just won the Deutsche Rennmeister championship. So, Porsche conceded in the end, it was typical Loos,” Hezemans revealed.
Hezemans raced at Le Mans eight times, his best result being fifth place in 1975 with the 911 RSR. When asked what qualities a driver needed for a twenty-four-hour race in those days, he replied, “In those days, it was all about driving fast enough to be competitive, but to conserve the car. Many drivers couldn’t do that and went off too fast, one or two others concentrated too much on self-preservation and simply drove too slowly – you just had to look at their lap times. Ickx, though, was genuinely fast. When I was at Alfa Romeo, Rolf Stommelen [also an Autodelta factory driver and later 935 ace] was the benchmark.”
Looking at the results from 1978, it was another good season for Hezemans in the twin-turbo 935, “I scored seven wins and seven seconds with that car, and that includes winning Daytona with Stommelen and Peter Gregg.”
After 1978, Hezemans left Loos and the Porsches, “Yes, he was a difficult guy, as I said and we fell out. I did the Silverstone and Brands Hatch six hour races with the Kremer 935, and then BMW Netherlands offered me a drive in the Procar championships with the BMW M1. I was less successful than I had been with Loos, a second at Zolder in the Procar and second at the Nürburgring 1000 km were my best results. I stuck with Procar for another season  and then I retired. Basically, I was losing interest and I really wanted to concentrate on my businesses.”
Toine Hezemans team manager
Hezemans had always had karts in his life, and was building racing karts in the background. They couldn’t get engines, so in 1982 he bought a kart company and built a factory in Eindhoven to make the engines. These were rotary valve 100 cc units that revved to 18000 rpm! “My son, Mike, was very successful and he was even faster than Michael Schumacher at one time. We had initial problems with reliability, but what let us down in the end was capacity. We won the world kart championship in 1988 and had orders for 5000 of our Hezemans Rotax engines, which we couldn’t supply fast enough. We had to work fantastically hard, and although we made a lot of money, I do regard winning the world kart championship with our own kart engine as my greatest achievement,” Hezemans admitted proudly.
By this stage, Hezemans’ first son, Mike, was old enough to get a competition licence, which is when they started running a modified Porsche 944 in Dutch competition. “Just as with my lightened 911 from 20 years earlier, it was very fast and the other teams complained, so I turned to the Porsche Cup and ran three 964s. The 911 hadn’t changed, it was just as reliable. To give you an example, in 1994, we raced in the Cup at Hockenheim then took the car straight to Spa for the 24 hours. I asked Porsche what we needed to change to prepare the 964 for the longer race. They said, just put new wheel bearings in it, so that’s all we did and we finished third! Mike then went on and raced a 993 for another Dutch team.”
By the mid ’90s, GT racing was starting to flourish again and Hezemans entered the BPR championship, running a variety of different makes over the next five or six years. Mike won the GT championship with their Viper, and so they tried with a Pagani, although he admits that that was a complete failure. “We persevered with Lotus and we had a $10 million budget, but Lotus couldn’t build a competitive engine. There was a similar problem with the Porsche as well, because the 3.2-litre GT1 arrived relatively late and it just wasn’t fast enough to beat Mercedes and BMW. We kept our team going till about 2003 and then I packed up. But I got involved in racing again more recently with my younger boy, Loris, who races in the Clio Cup,” Hezemans added.
And so, with a life behind him that was so racing focussed, what is it that occupies his time today? “I buy and renovate properties in Brussels. I keep busy – it’s important!”
In response to the question as to what was in his garage, Toine Hezemans responded, “I’ve got about 20 cars. It’s not exactly a classic collection, though I do have a pair of Bizzarrinis.”
Surprisingly, there are no classic Porsches in his garage, “I’ve had many of them but then sold them, like my 906 – if only I’d kept it! I’ve owned many Porsches: we replaced the Cayenne with a Macan last year and I also had a Panamera for a while. The first 911 I owned was a Targa, but then my first new 911 was a 1968 S. I remember, I managed to crash it within 24 hours of buying it. My wife hadn’t even seen it because I collected it and drove straight down to Mugello. That took all day and the circuit was in darkness when I got there, but I reckoned that I knew the circuit well enough. Of course, I didn’t, and I went off at 100 mph and rolled the car. There was nobody about, but eventually a farmer turned up and with his tractor we towed the car back to the farm. The 911 was basically okay but the roof was stove in. Using jacks, I managed to push it back more or less into shape; the windscreen had popped out, but fortunately it had remained whole, so I was able to tape it back in. I drove straight back to Holland like that. My wife heard me arrive and rushed out to admire my new Porsche and was amazed at the battered wreck I climbed out of!”
Although Toine Hezemans was never a factory driver, over the years he rubbed shoulders with some of Porsche’s elite. “I knew Norbert Singer quite well and later Roland Kussmaul when we were Porsche Cup clients. I suppose the guy my generation recalls most is Ferdinand Piëch who built the whole Porsche racing machine, a brilliant if serious individual. I remember the BOAC 500 at Brands in 1971, the 917s for once weren’t doing so well and our 3-litre Alfa Romeos had the measure of them. My co-driver Rolf Stommelen, who Porsche had dropped after 1969, asked Piëch, ‘Was ist denn los?’” (what’s up with you guys, then?) – and Piëch absolutely exploded!”
Hezemans raced from 1966 to 1980, some of motor racing’s best years, and so looking back, how does he regard that time now? “Well, I’m grateful to be here now because a lot of my friends and contemporaries aren’t. I saw Ignazio Giunti killed in front of me at Buenos Aires in 1971 to name but one. I raced with a lot of different people, Fittipaldi on that day in Argentina, Lauda and Masten Gregory I’ve mentioned, John Fitzpatrick, Mass, Ludwig, Stuck, all the Germans and Dutch guys really. I knew Senna from his karting days and introduced him to Ron Dennis at Zolder in 1982.
“What we never realised then was how much people would look back on that period, how much interest it would generate. It was just something we did, there was no particular sense of history or posterity! I’m constantly amazed at all the black and white photographs from that time, that people seem to find now. We never saw any of them back then,” Hezemans mused.
Written by: Kieron Fennelly
Images by: Porsche Werkfoto and Kieron Fennelly