Tommy Robb returns to Spa-Francorchamps
25 March 2010 12:56
Tommy Robb needs a cane, because of a broken neck and a severely damaged spine long ago. Arthritis has set in and his ears are not what they used to be.
"Because of all those hours on racing bikes", Robb explains. "Physically I sometimes feel like I'm 94, mentally I'm a 21 year old!".
And that is why Tommy Robb has decided to return to Francorchamps for this year's Bikers' Classics on the 12th and 13th of June. Despite his tender age of 75.
Tommy Robb's day begins with an extensive work out on his rowing machine. "I need to do my exercises because of the injuries I suffered during my career", says the Northern Irishman. "And it helps me a lot. I¹m still the same weight as I was back in 1962."
That might make many people jealous and Robb considers himself lucky. It has been almost twelve years since his last visit to the European continent.
After the illustrious Centennial Classic TT in Assen Robb only performed at demos and classic racing events in Great-Britain. It did not take a lot of persuading however to have Robb's name added to the impressive starting list of the Biker's Classics at the historic Spa-Francorchamps venue.
"The old track was definitely one of my all time favourites", says Robb. "It was so incredibly fast you can't imagine. Nowadays the circuit turns right at Les Combes, but we rode straight on. Full speed, with the houses on the left and the green fields on the right. And no Armco whatsoever!
"The road down to the finish was breathtaking as well. The fear and the adrenaline rush are hard to describe. Back then we pushed for safety measures, now you see a rider crashing at more than 125 mph, get up and kick his bike in anger. We w ould be carried away on a stretcher!"
Exactly forty years ago Robb finished an outstanding third in the Belgian 500 cc GP on a Seeley. "Riding that bike was absolutely wonderful", Robb remembers. "It had so much power and torque. I would work on the bike myself, together with Colin Seeley. I've always done a lot of work on my bikes because I was a trained mechanic. Even now I work on a little 250 Honda, a replica of the bike that I raced in 1962 and 1963. I still take her out for a ride three or four times a year at events."
Robb, a seasoned all rounder, will ride a Yamaha YZ623C of the Dutch Yamaha Classic Racing Team in Francorchamps. On an identical bike Robb won his very last GP on the Isle of Man in 1973 as a nearly 39 year old. "I did not give my age a lot of thought then, but now I guess it is quite special, with 15 and 17 year olds racing in GP 125", Robb smiles. "I rode the same bike in Brands Hatch last year and it was a lot of fun. And oh yes, I know for sure that I¹ll be nervous. I need that, otherwise I know I won't ride properly.
"Every time I put on my leathers I tell myself to take it easy. But when I'm on the bike, I feel like I'm 22. I must keep remembering myself that I don't bounce like I used to. The most important thing for me is to thoroughly enjoy the ride. Just like back then, but now without the stress and pressure of having to perform. And of course there¹s the added bonus of meeting old friends again."
At Spa-Francorchamps on the 11th, 12th and 13th of June Robb will be reunited with his former Honda team-mates Luigi Taveri and Jim Redman. His long time friend Sammy Miller will join the fun as well. "Luigi still looks like the 50 year old pictures I have of him", Robb refers to the Swiss' seemingly eternal youth. "But Sammy is really old. He¹s eleven months older than I am!"
In 1962 his team-mate Redman won the 350 title, leaving a disappointed Robb to finish second. Now, 48 years later, that still hits a nerve, Robb admits.
"Finishing second doesn't mean a thing. If I could do it all again, I'd be much harder. I wouldn't be Mr Nice Guy like I was then. But somebody told me 'you gained friends not because of a world title, but because of your character'. I guess that's worth a lot as well."
More on the Bikers' Classics - http://eng.bikersclassics.be/index.php