One of the most solid competitors on the 250cc Grand Prix trail in the 1980s, Dutch legend Gert-Jan van Doorn was unfortunate to have never got higher than 3rd in a World Championship, but most of the time he was just as fast as those who won multiple titles around him.
Words: Ben Rumbold | Images: Jack Burnicle
With their unique geographical location and the fact that much of their country is reclaimed from the sea itself, Motocross racers from the Netherlands have always grown up racing on a certain type of soil – deep sand! So any world-class Dutchman knows how to miss a bump or four, and when translated to hard-pack this often gives them the sort of effortless style that doesn’t look fast, until they go past your nose! Amazingly, by the time Gert-Jan van Doorn reached Grand Prix level in 1982, there had yet to be a Dutch World Motocross Champion. With tracks far less prepared than today, the skills required to master genuine grassland and hard-pack circuits were not as easy for Dutch racers to acquire.
Born: November 1964
Years Raced: 1982-2001 (125cc GPs 1982, 250cc GPs 1983-93, 500cc GPs 1994-2001)
Machines Raced: Suzuki, Honda, Cagiva, KTM, Kawasaki, VOR
GP Wins: 6 GP Podiums: 26 GP Moto Wins: 15 GP Moto Podiums: 45
Nations Selections: 12 – Member of 2nd-placed MX des Nations team in 1985, Individual Open class winner in 1998
Championship Medals: 2 x Bronze – 1985 & 1986 250cc World Championship
Let’s just get his name right to start with – many are guilty of thinking he has three last names! Gert-Jan is said as one word – “Gairtyan” is how it sounds – and is as popular as “Jean-Paul” in France. Van Doorn hails from just north of Eindhoven in the south of the Netherlands, half an hour from the Valkenswaard GP circuit and the nearby Belgian border. Tall even by Dutch standards, his smooth style and height lent itself better to bigger machinery, and after a single season on a 125 at the age of 17, he moved straight to the 250cc class. Even by then, he had proved he was no ordinary sandman with points scored in France & Germany, as well as an impressive showing at the Coupe des Nations, finishing 4th overall on Italian soil in the first of 12 appearances in national colours.
He stayed with Suzuki for his first three years on 250s, and as well as collecting two Dutch titles – of which he would eventually collect SEVEN – he had scored his first podium finishes at GP level and took a shock win, still only 19 years old, in the 1984 Austrian GP at Sittendorf after both Heinz Kinigadner and Jacky Vimond failed to score in race two. The Dutchman, by now having earned the nickname “Rambo” for the odd bit of forceful overtaking, held off Jeremy Whatley and another home hero Willi Wallinger to win the second moto (his first ever GP moto win) and with it the overall victory. Anyone familiar with Sittendorf knows there’s not a grain of sand in sight! 6th in the final standings, GJVD joined the legendary Venko Honda squad ran by tuning wizard Jan de Groot, and armed with what he called the best bike of his whole career he became a real championship contender.
In a super-competitive series that not many British fans would have been aware of – no British GP, barely any Brit points scorers, and the distraction of DT’s title challenge in the 500cc class – the 1985 250cc world championship boasted 7 Grand Prix winners, 10 moto winners, and 6 manufacturers all duking it out! Winning the most motos was our man Rambo himself, 6 in total that included double wins at Austria again (Schwanenstadt this time!), and most emotional of all his home GP at Lichtenvoorde! Battling against Kinigadner, Vimond, Michele Rinaldi and Arno Dreschel, Van Doorn led the series after round five, before a few DNFs dropped him out of title contention. His fantastic late run, winning four of the last six motos including the first races at both the Soviet and West German GPs, saw him clinch the bronze medal in the championship that went to the wire between Vimond & Kinigadner. With now double-champion Kini moving to 500s, Van Doorn at the age of 21 and that rapid Honda were seen as the major threat to Vimond in ‘86. He also contributed a 2nd-in-class moto to the Dutch cause at the Gaildorf Motocross des Nations, the first mixed-class event that saw the Netherlands as surprise runners-up on the German grasslands to the might of the USA.
1986 started well with the opening moto win on his home sand of Venray, although a DNF in race two instantly put him on the back foot. Third on his usually lucky Austrian soil, then a DNF-1 in front of Vimond’s home crowd at Villars-Sous-Ecot, all saw him 2nd in points to the runaway Frenchman. However, a string of disappointing races saw Vimond and the consistent Michele Rinaldi lay claim to the Gold & Silver medals, and Van Doorn finally turned it round with a double win at the final GP, in Sweden, to deny Jeremy Whatley the Bronze and keep the number 3 on Rambo’s bike for another year! He also put in a great showing at the 1986 Motocross des Nations, his debut on a 500cc machine, finishing 4th in class twice to wind up 3rd overall behind David Bailey and Dave Thorpe – pretty good company!
Sadly, the #3 bike would only appear at one 250 GP all season in 1987. It was red, but not a Honda, as Rambo had signed to the factory Cagiva team alongside Pekka Vehkonen as the Italian concern tried to take their 125cc-winning form to the quarter-litre class. The bike was fast of course, but Van Doorn never got to make the best of it as he picked up a broken scaphoid in the support race for the Dutch 125cc GP at Valkenswaard a week before the opening 250 GP. The World Championship was held from April to August that year, and with complications to his wrist injury Rambo could not come back until the very last round, in Sweden. He showed what might have been by giving new champion Eric Geboers a real scrap for the first moto, which the Belgian just won, before hitting the gate in race two and coming through to a fine 5th. He was 3rd overall behind Geboers and Rob Herring, and hoping for a good winter before 1988.
It never really happened for Van Doorn the following year, however, and although the Cagiva was fast it was also fragile, and the machine eroded his consistency. He moved forward to 4th in the series with another double moto maximum in Sweden to finish the year on a high, but it would be his last ever overall win in the 250 class. The arrival of 125 champs John van den Berk, and then Jean-Michel Bayle, meant that he not only had competitors for longest name in the programme, but also had the pace move a step away from him.
In 1989 there were additional issues as the Cagiva deal went pear-shaped due to the factory plugging all of its money into the road racing GP team. Van Doorn had no confidence in the resulting stock engine he received and after one GP he bought a private Suzuki and instantly scored top three motos on it. With Bayle being the untouchable force he was, no-one else got a look-in for the title. Gert-Jan picked up his final moto win in the class at – guess where – Sweden, just losing the overall to Bayle, and retained his #4 plate to start the 1990s. He even dropped to a 125 for the Nations and finished 2nd in class to Mike Kiedrowski in race one at Gaildorf.
The next four years were to be pretty barren, with Van Doorn earning just one moto podium on a KTM in 1990, then the highlight of being 2nd 500cc overall to Jeff Stanton at his home country’s 1991 Motocross des Nations at Valkenswaard. Aside from that he was consistently mid-pack, slightly better if it was sandy. A change was needed!
Switch to 500s
Van Doorn had raced for Sarholz, the German Honda importer, in 1993, and taken his first German title for them. In 1994 the 29-year-old Dutchman moved to the 500cc class and in a total shocker, won the opening GP! A muddy Payerne in Switzerland played to his strengths and with problems befalling many of the fancied runners, he took the overall with a first race win and 4th in race two! Sadly, after a nice 3rd overall in Ireland left him close to eventual champ Marcus Hansson in the points, he missed the next three GPs and had to settle for 4th in the final table again. He played a role in the final championship nail-biter however, forcing his “Rambo” style into the mix by shoulder-charging the championship-chasing Hansson into the ropes! The Swede was so incensed that he physically launched himself at the Dutchman after the finish, and called Van Doorn an “a**hole” in the post-GP MotoVision interview! GJVD was unavailable for comment…
Over the course of 5 years on 500cc Hondas – all the same bikes of course – he never dropped lower than 7th in the series and took 9 overall podium finishes. His last ride on that bike was probably witnessed by the most number of people reading this – it was the infamously filthy Motocross des Nations at Foxhill ’98! Hands up those who remember that Van Doorn was second only to the incomparable Stefan Everts in the final race that day, or if you knew that he took the overall win in the “Open” class! The Dutch team were only a point off the podium, just being edged into 4th by New Zealand.
He raced at GP level up to the age of 36, scoring his 45th and final GP podium for VOR in the 2000 Dutch round at his beloved Valkenswaard, and took 6 German domestic Championships to go with his 7 Dutch ones!
Focusing just on the 1980s catches GJVD at the early pinnacle of his career. 6 GP wins and a 20-year career means that this talented Dutchman deserves a mention, especially when his 250cc results were against the likes of Kinigadner, Vimond, and countryman Van Den Berk. The 5 wins that put him in this list came over just a five-year period. Crashes certainly cost him more, as he won 13 motos in that time but had many low-scoring “other” races. One of those years was badly hampered by injury, and the rules of this list count those GPs missed by injury. Gert-Jan van Doorn was part of a rising pool of Dutch talent that made its mark in the 1980s and inspired many stars of today. And you can’t leave out an eighties racer with the nickname Rambo!
Next time, we feature another master of the sand who could also cut it on hard pack, and took an often-forgotten win at one of the most famous races in history. Keep your MX Vice windows open…
GPs counted: 94 – 5 Wins
Nations Events: 6 – 0 Individual Wins
Total: 100 Events, 5 Wins, Winning Percentage 5.0
Season By Season:
Year Class Record Champ Pos Nations Individual Finish
1982: 125cc GPs 12 rounds, 0 wins 13th 4th Coupe des Nations
1983: 250cc GPs 11 rounds, 0 wins 20th 27th Trophee des Nations
1984: 250cc GPs 12 rounds, 1 win 6th 29th Trophee des Nations
1985: 250cc GPs 12 rounds, 2 wins 3rd MXdN, 11th 250cc Class
1986: 250cc GPs 12 rounds, 1 win 3rd MXdN, 3rd 500cc Class
1987: 250cc GPs 12 rounds, 0 wins 24th –
1988: 250cc GPs 12 rounds, 1 win 4th –
1989: 250cc GPs 11 rounds, 0 wins 4th MXdN, 17th 125cc Class