2020 – The year of youth – Part 1
09. January 2020Going all the way back to its beginnings, the singular image that has dogged truck racing is that of being a pastime for greybeards, hardcore truckers and men who make a living from the transport industry. A survey by Mercedes-Benz at the Truck Grand Prix in 1988 found that only 17 percent of the respondents were not from the trade.
The earliest races around 40 years ago were little more than non-competitive joyrides at trucker festivals. By the first 24 Heures Camions on the legendary Circuit Bugatti in Le Mans in 1981 the first sporting regulations were already in place. Most of the pilots may have been professional truck drivers with a need for speed, but there were also skilled race-car drivers seeking a new thrill in the 6.5 tonne colossi. Regardless of their racing accomplishments till then, they were – almost to a man – eaten alive by the hunks for whom the heavy metal was a way of life. A race truck was an altogether different beast from the relatively fragile lightweights they’d been used to.
The best-known pro racer probably on the truck scene then was Slim Borgudd. Having competed in Formula 1 for a few years, the Swede moved over in 1985. He achieved considerably greater success in trucks, going on to win three European Championships over the decade that followed. The last of his titles was in the Super Race Truck class in 1995, when he was all of 49 years old. At the other end of the age spectrum, German Mercedes pilot Axel Hegmann became the youngest European champion at 22 when he topped Class A at the penultimate round of the 1990 season in Zolder.
The youngest ever race-winner in the FIA European Truck Racing Championship was Benedek Major in 2013, a week to the day before his 18th.
Frenchman Noël Crozier (born in 1947), an active participant from the first 24h Camions on, and European champ in 2000, continued as a frontrunner in the French championship till a few years ago, when he was well past what most Europeans would consider retirement age. Teenage compatriot Téo Calvet became the youngest winner ever of a championship truck race at 16, on his first competition weekend at Nogaro in 2017.
Truck racing is ageless in the most fundamental sense.
But to be able to mix it up at the very top for an entire season takes more than talent and a killer truck – it takes years of experience. Adam Lacko was 18 when he drove his first truck race in 2003, but it took the Czech 15 years to win the championship.
Jochen Hahn, the winningest truck racer of all time, started out in 2000 when he was in his mid-20s. On only his ninth race weekend he sent a shock wave through the entire truck racing establishment, winning all four races on a soaking track in Zolder. The high-flier had made his mark, but he’d have to wait 11 years to win his first of six FIA titles.
To wit, if you want someday to finish a season atop the podium, you cannot begin early enough.
In 2020, last season’s youngbloods – 20-somethings José Eduardo Rodrigues (POR) and Fabio Citignola (GER) – will be joined by another “twen” and two teenies. This could shape up to be the year of youth. (Look out for Part 2.)