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Top 50 Riders of the 1980s (By The Numbers): #43 Marc Velkeneers

Although Team USA dominated the 1980s in the Nations events, there was one national anthem that played more than any other throughout the decade on the Grand Prix scene – that of Belgium. 119 GPs – over 30% of those held – were won by a total of 13 Belgians, and amongst the fastest of them in the 125cc class at the start of the decade was our #43 – Marc Velkeneers.

Words: Ben Rumbold | Images: Jack Burnicle


Born: August 1961

Years Professionally Raced: 1978-1991 (125cc GPs 1978-83, 250cc GPs 84-88, 500cc GPs 89-91)

Machines Raced: Yamaha, Gilera, Maico, Honda, Kawasaki

GP Wins: 6     GP Podiums: 20     GP Moto Wins: 16     GP Moto Podiums: 42

Nations Selections: 5 – Member of winning Coupe des Nations team 1983 and individual winner, 2nd-placed team Trophee des Nations 1981

Championship Medals: None – best championship finish 4th, 1980 & ’81 125cc World Championship & 1984 250cc World Championship

Flemish-speaking Marc burst onto the scene in 1978, and at just 16 years old his GP debut was made at his home 125cc round, at a circuit called Lanklaar Dilsen, and immediately he showed his speed with 7th overall. Tall and eye-catchingly stylish on the bike, he won fans immediately. If you see photos from back then there is a scary facial similarity to Jeffrey Herlings – should papa Peter be worried?!  He even rode a 250 GP that year and won the first moto but when the title-chasing Russians got wind of his age – the limit was supposed to be 18 at the time – he got protested out of the points and the second race altogether!


An 18-year-old Marc Velkeneers leads reigning World Champion Harry Everts at the 1980 125cc Dutch GP at Norg .

To prevent further issues Marc waited until 1980 to hit the big-time – and he was instantly on the pace against legendary countrymen Harry Everts and the coming Kid, Eric Geboers. Taking his first (credited) moto win in the first GP at Norg in the Netherlands, at the second round in Austria controversy hit again as he technically got the most points overall, although Harry Everts won both motos!  How? Well, the Suzuki of Everts was found to be underweight so his points for the second race were deducted, even though he was still credited as the GP winner!

Pushing on through the sand at Norg with no peak in race two!

Marc didn’t have to wait long for redemption, however, as a week later he took his first overall win proper at his home GP at Hechtel with a 2-1 scorecard to Harry’s 1-3. He had a clear lead in the championship after a further moto win in France another week on, then a consistent day in Yugoslavia, while others struggled, left him 17 points clear in the points chase.

Sadly, at West Germany’s sixth round it all came to a halt, a broken ankle left him unable to ride, even though he tried to.  Marc missed the next three GPs, ultimately leaving him 4th in the series, tied on points with Japanese Yamaha teammate Tetsumi Mitsuyasu. Against the might of Suzuki, Marc was Yamaha’s only GP winner in the 125s from 1980-82.

1981 saw Yamaha launch a three-pronged attack on world Motocross – there’s a great video on YouTube if you search 1981 Yamaha Motocross, and enjoy dubbed-over team manager Heikki Mikkola! Velkeneers led the 125cc challenge and was instantly competitive again, with a 2nd career GP win at Valkenswaard. Marc wasn’t a sand specialist as such, he was fast everywhere, but he was particularly good in the soft stuff! He won a further moto in Poland and mounted the overall podium 5 times, something he did every year from ’81 to ’83.  The title chase was close, the top four of Everts, Geboers, Velkeneers, and the Gilera-mounted Michele Rinaldi were all within 12 points of each other with two GPs to go!  Marc kept close after Everts did the double at Czecho, but in the final round at Mongay in Spain, he suffered a no-score day and was again denied the bronze medal, with Harry the champion once more. He made his Nations debut at Lommel in the famous Trophee event that saw Team USA’s first ever win.  Teammate Andre Vromans dominated both motos but Velkeneers, Geboers, and Everts, all 125cc GP riders, couldn’t back him up to deny the Americans their first shock win.

Marc manfully wrestles the 250 yamaha through the sands of Lommel as a late stand-in for Tam Belgium, on the day that the USa shocked the world by winning in Belgium’s deepest sandpit!


It was 1982 that saw Velkeneers make his best run at a world title.  Firing out of the blocks with 1-2 motos to win the Dutch opener at Venray, he then scored his only ever maximum at his grassy home GP at Angreau, and a third straight win with 3-2 motos in Austria.  He led the series by 34 points in the days when you could only get 30 for a maximum! Geboers and Rinaldi closed in, but moto wins in Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia kept the Yamaha man in the hunt after 7 rounds of 12.  Tragically it was at the big Stekene International in Belgium that he suffered a badly broken wrist, and as he missed two GPs his good friend Eric powered away to take the title.  Despite a comeback moto win at the Coupe des Nations in September, he would part ways with Yamaha before 1983.

Marc had based himself in San Marino from 1982 onwards and in ‘83 he signed up with the Italian Gilera factory, who had lost their star man Rinaldi to Suzuki. “In the beginning the bike was not so good, certainly not in the sand” says Marc, “then we made another frame that was much better.” He lost too many points at the start of the year, and despite winning 3 motos he couldn’t get higher than 6th in the series, won again by Geboers.  On today’s scoring methods he would have won the Finnish GP, but lost it on the tie-breaking overall time system to his replacement at Yamaha, American Jim Gibson.

He did share a magical weekend with his good buddy Geboers, however, as the pair clinched the Coupe des Nations for Belgium at Roggenburg alongside future IMBA Champion Jan Blancquert and Thierry Godfroid. They went 1-2 in race one with Eric in front, but Marc “knew I was going to beat Eric as I was technically better, but Eric was mentally better!”. The individual win in race two, and for the overall, was his last on a 125.

250s with Gilera

Gilera had done relatively nothing in the 250cc class, but for 1984 Marc took on the challenge of the quarter-litre GPs with them and again leapt out of the blocks with 2nd at the first GP in France, splitting moto winners Jacky Vimond and Heinz Kinigadner. He won a moto in Yugoslavia and was well in the title hunt, when suddenly tragedy struck. “I lost my father and that was a heavy blow to me, he did everything with me, gave me a lot of confidence, and it took me a while to get over his loss.” He soldiered on to get 3rd in one moto in Italy, and finish top European at that year’s USGP at Unadilla, although amazingly the locals boxed out the top six places overall!

Marc steers the Gilera to 7th overall in front of the “Hill People” at Unadilla in the 1984 250cc USGP.

He returned to form with an emotional overall victory at the last round in Finland, amazingly Gilera’s only ever 250cc GP win, and Marc’s last one as well. For the third time he was 4th in the world. With his Italian license he could ride for Team Italy at the Trophee des Nations, and helped them to 3rd overall at the last ever running of the event, behind the USA and home heroes Sweden, but ahead of his native Belgium!

Marc was all set for another season on Gilera in 1985, and had turned down an offer from reigning champs KTM to stay loyal, but a new boss taking over Gilera in December decided to stop all involvement in Motocross, and Velkeneers was left with only one option, to take his #4 plate to the once-great but struggling Maico factory.  The bike was never competitive, and his best results came at his home round in Borgloon, with a 3rd in the first dry moto which our snapper Jack Burnicle calls “one of the greatest motos I ever saw!”. 6th in the very muddy second one left him 4th overall that day. He battled on and consistency saw him to 9th in the series.

Gert-Jan van Doorn leads eventual winner Arno Dreschel and Velkeneers in this sensational scrap that snapper Jack Burnicle calls “one of the greatest I’ve ever seen”!

1986 saw him back on a Yamaha, and although the bike was good enough to take the title for Jacky Vimond, Marc began the year injured and only once, with a 2nd in the second moto of the Swiss GP, did he look like recovering his old speed. It was his last top 3 in a world championship race.

Private Honda and beating the Hurricane!

Classic poise from sand master Velkeneers on the Nashua-sponsored Honda at the 1987 250cc Dutch GP.

A switch to a private Honda for 1987, with his old pal Geboers returning to the class on the HRC machine, didn’t see the return to form that the 25-year-old was looking for. A 6th overall was his best in his favoured Dutch sand, and he worked hard to grind out a top-ten championship finish. There was one final big day awaiting him, however. Belgian Team Manager Sylvain Geboers, also well-placed in Team HRC as brother Eric had won the 250 title, secured a factory HRC 125 for Marc to return to the eighth-litre class for the Motocross des Nations in the USA!  He joined The Kid and new 500cc World Champ Georges Jobe on the plane.

This was the infamous mud-fest at Unadilla, and Velkeneers lined up against Davy Strijbos, Jean-Michel Bayle, and American legend Bob Hannah on the hard-thrashed 125s! Marc was always a master in the mud, and went well when racing for his country, actually beating the Hurricane in the first moto on his way to a 3-3 score for 2nd in class overall! Jobe had taken the first moto win and Belgium were equal on points with the Yanks going into the final race, but a problem for Georges in that last moto cost the Belgians a shot at an upset team win!

Marc himself would move to Kawasaki for another 250cc campaign in 1988, scoring a best moto of 4th in Belgium again, before moving to the 500 class in 1989 and faring little better. In 1990, still in green, he was consistent enough to finish 15th in the standings.  As he turned 30 at the end of another fruitless season on Honda in 1991, Marc was “no longer motivated and always suffering setbacks, so decided to stop – too early!”.  He still follows the sport and worked recently with the Gebben Van Venrooy MXGP team. Living in Belgium still with his wife Nadine, his trophy cabinet is well stocked and he’ll be remembered as a real flyer in his day, who never quite had the good fortune to go all the way.

The Numbers

You can’t beat the classic Yamaha blocky jacket, as rocked by a teenage Marc Velkeneers in 1980.

Marc Velkeneers raced for the entire decade, and against some amazing opposition.  Due to being from Belgium with their wealth of talent, he only got selected for 5 Nations events – and one of those was for Italy!  His 124 counting events is the 5th highest in the entire list, and the fact that he won one of those Nations events is a real help! 3 wins in one season, 6 GP wins in total, most of them against the dominant Suzuki machines in early 80s 125cc GPs – are all massive achievements in themselves. He was a huge talent who genuinely challenged for world titles against some of the best riders of the entire decade, and he was wonderfully open in answering my questions directly, so it’s a real pleasure to have him in our list.

Next time we feature a possibly controversial inclusion on the list, who shone very brightly in a very short AMA career!

1980s Numbers:

GPs counted: 119 – 6 Wins

Nations Events: 5 – 1 Individual Win

Total: 124 Events, 7 Wins, Winning Percentage 5.6

Season By Season:

Year       Class                      Record                  Champ Pos.                Nations Individual Finish

1980:     125cc GPs    11 rounds, 1 win            4th                                —

1981:     125cc GPs    12 rounds, 1 win            4th                                18th Trophee dN

1982:     125cc GPs    12 rounds, 3 wins          5th                                24th Coupe dN

1983:     125cc GPs    12 rounds, 0 wins          6th                                1st Coupe dN

1984:     250cc GPs    12 rounds, 1 win            4th                               10th Trophee dN (For Italy)

1985:     250cc GPs    12 rounds, 0 wins          9th                               —

1986:     250cc GPs    12 rounds, 0 wins        12th                               —

1987:     250cc GPs    12 rounds, 0 wins        10th                               MXdN, 2nd 125cc Class

1988:     250cc GPs    12 rounds, 0 wins        19th                               —

1989:     500cc GPs    12 rounds, 0 wins        22nd                              —