“Dreams are to be chased”. It’s something a lot of people say, but only a few actually do. Sport aces like F1-drivers, yes, they have achieved their dreams, but in normal life dreams tend to end behind a desk or in a dreary factory. Belgian Noël Roegis however, proves that it is never too late to realize your dreams. This story is about him and the love of his life: a Tyrrell.
Before you continue: 63-year old Noël actually has two loves in his lives. One goes by the name of Viviana, she lovingly calls him “daddy” and has been his wife for many years. She helps Noël run the small garage that makes them a living. The couple has plenty of customers, the whole region knows Noël and trusts him with their voiture. Noël and Viviana have no childeren. “Well”, Viviana smiles, “Noël actually does have a ‘baby’…”
It was 1972 when Noël first witnessed Formula 1 in action, in his home country. 40 years later, the fascination for the sport hasn’t left him. “I love the technology of F1-cars. Many fans dream of being a driver, but I would probably rather be a mechanic in an F1-team”, he smiles.
It was 2006 when Noël did something he – and many other fans – had dreamed of for years. “Like many fans I’d often thought how amazing it would be to own a Formula 1-car”, he says, “but like everyone I was convinced I would never be able to afford that.” That thought led to Noël never taking serious steps to make his dream to reality. That all changed in 2005. Late in that year Minardi, then owned by Paul Stoddart, changed hands to become the Scuderia Toro Rosso. That was the moment Stoddart decided to set up an online auction in which to sell some of the F1-cars from his extensive collection. In total he decided to sell 11 Minardi’s, six Tyrrells, three Arrows and a BAR, plus an array of accessories and just about all assets of the Minari team. “I’m not sure where I heard of the auction, I think it was at a race somewhere, but I found it interesting enough to take a mate to England to have a look. It was amazing, like a giant candy shop!” After talking to Stoddart, and looking through all the lots, Noël became so enthused he suddenly decided to do what he’d been dreaming of for years. He bought a car. “But”, he insists, “first I called my wife to ask her if I could!” He eventually decided on a Tyrrell 023, equipped with a Yamaha engine, like it appeared on the grid in 1995 in the hands of Ukyo Katayama and Mika Salo. The history of Noëls purchase isn’t completely clear. On the nose is number 4, the one Salo raced, but it’s the name of his Japanese teammate that graces the sides of the car. A spare chassis maybe? Noël doesn’t know, and doesn’t care: he owns a real Formula 1-car, of that there is no doubt. He chooses not to discuss the price he paid fort he car. That it’s high enough to take out a mortgage seems obvious, but he calls the Tyrrell “reasonably affordable” and many, many times cheaper than a McLaren or Ferrari. “I don’t like computers, so my mate handled the online purchase for me”, Noël says. His only job was to wait fort he day the car came to Belgium. Noël calls that “the big day”.
Another friend who drives a truck in which he transports milk, was willing tol end Noël his truck and accompany him to the UK to pick up the Tyrrell. Noël has a trucking licence, so the duo made it a non-stop haul. They set off at four in the morning, and arrived back the next morning at three. They used a forklift to take the Tyrrell from the truck, and suddenly Noël had an F1-car standing on his driveway. What that is like? “Wickedly good!” Noël grins. He put the car in his garage, and found that he couldn’t stop looking at it while at work. “If I couldn’t find Noël at night, I knew where to look for him”, his wife smiles, “he’d be with his car.” Noël couldn’t do much more than look at it. The electric starter he bought together with the car would only make it to Belgium a few months later. Time crawled by slowly, but the wait ended, and Noël could finally start his Tyrrell fort he first time. That became a moment he loves to relive: “Possibly one of the best moments of my life”, he says, “I had goosebumps.”
A little while later Noël took his first drive. A local contact arranged for him to take some laps around the runway of a local airfield, a chance Noël took with both hand. But, he admits ita lso was a moment that nearly wrecked his nerves. The day before the run he decided to take a little practice on the forecourt of his garage, to get to know the bite-point of the clutch. “I expected a lot of public to show up, and you don’t want to look stupid”, he smiles apologetically. It rained as the big day dawned, which made Noël sweat profusely. Wet weather tires weren’t included in his purchase, you see. With sweaty palms, he drove the Tyrrell to the airfield on a trailer. Fortunately for him the weather gods took pity on hi mand it dried up. Indeed there was a big audience, witnessing Noël – dressed in the overalls of test driver Gabriële Tarquini and with an Ayrton Senna-helmet on his head – stall the Tyrrell. It took another attempt for him to cautiously disappear into the distance. On his return he floored it, and with a loud howl and smoking tires he made the Tyrrell point the other way. “Beginners luck”, he admits, “I’d asked fors ome advice on how to execute a power turn, and by chance I let the clutch out at the right time. But hey, it feels great when it works out!” Noël didn’t really go fast that day though, the concrete slabs of the runway were simply too bumpy fort hat. After that he drove the Tyrrell only one more time. In six years of ownership he covered no more than ten miles in his Tyrrell-Yamah. He passionately hopes for more, and waits for it with great patience. “Getting angry about it is pointless”, he says. In the meantime Noël did a racing course, in which he did a great number of swift laps around the Zolder circuit. Mind you: not in his Tyrrell, but in his daily driver, a diesel-powered Mercedes-Benz C-class. “I learned a lot”, he concludes. Next spring he hopes tob e able to lap the Tyrrell around Spa-Francorchamps. Friends help him realise that dream, and the omens are good. And Noël? He remains endearingly calm among it all. “Who knows, maybe after one lap I find it so terrifying that I park up and never drive it again”, he says, “I mean, it is a Formula 1-car after all, and I’m 63 and completely inexperienced. You just don’t know what will happen!”
The story of Noël and his Tyrrell was published in Formule 1 in 2013.