Eric van de Poele
- September 30, 1961
- Not Active
- Modena,Fondmetal,Brabham,Risi Competizione,Bentley
Eric van de Poele is a former Belgian racing driver, who competed in Formula One in the early 1990s but he achieved greatest results in the sportscar and touring car racing. While his F1 results were miserable, with 24 DNQ in 29 attempts with three teams, Van de Poele was a five-time winner of 24h of Spa (most of all drivers), DTM champion in 1987, two-time overall winner of Sebring 12h and three-time class winner at Le Mans 24h.
Starting a racing career with father's Renault 12
Eric van de Poele was born on September 31, 1961, in Verviers near Liege. He started racing in 1979, soon after he gets his drivers lincence. His first race car was in a fact his father's car, the Renault 12. In 191, Eric scored his first victory, winning the Mettet 6-hour race with BMW 2002ti. In 1983, Eric took part in the Volant Avia F3 school at the La Chatre Circuit in France, and went home with the victory trophy.
In 1984, he entered Formula 3 races in France and Germany. After a difficult debut year, without F3 wins and podiums, Eric shined next season in the Formula Ford 1600 Benelux, winning his first title in a career.
During 1985, he also competed in the Belgian Touring Car Championship with BMW 325i, finishing in the third place. In July, he debuted at 24 hours of Spa, which was the part of the European Touring Car Championship, driving the Opel Manta GT/E for Hoflijk Sport Team. He didn't finish the race due to electrical issues.
1987 - first Spa victory and DTM title
In 1986, Van de Poele returned to Spa 24h with Ci Bi Emme's BMW 635CSi, sharing the car with Jean-Michel Martin and Pascal Witmeur, but he again didn't finish the race. He was victorious at Spa on his third attempt, in August 1987, sharing the #48 BMW M3 with Jean-Michel Martin and Didier Theys.
During the season, Van de Poele competed with BMW M3 in the European and World Touring Car Championship, but his main competition was DTM, where he was driving BMW M3 for Zakspeed team. In ten DTM races, Van de Poele scored three podiums and took the title with a slight margin over Manuel Reuter, who won two races but collected three points less than Belgian rival.
Although he was successful in the touring car racing, Van de Poele didn't leave single-seaters, so he had some Formula 3 attempts in the German and British championships.
In 1988, Van de Poele participated in just two DTM races, switching his focus to the European Touring Car Championship with BMW Motorsport factory team. With two wins (Donington and Zolder) in eleven races, he finished fifth in the points. In both victorious races, he was sharing BMW M3 with Roberto Ravaglia, who became the European champion.
Two seasons in the International Formula 3000
In 1989, Van de Poele revived his open-wheel racing career, joining Gary Ayles' team in Formula 3000 International series. With two podiums in ten races, Eric was fifth in the points. He spent one more season with GA Motorsport, finishing as the Formula 3000 runner-up in 1990, behind Erik Comas. Van de Poele has won three races (Pau, Birmingham and Nogaro).
During 1990, Van de Poele participated in few touring car races in Germany and Belgium, but he also debuted in sportscar racing, driving Spice Engineering's prototype Spice SE90C in two rounds of the World Sports-Prototype Championship at Monza and Donington. His co-drivers were Wayne Taylor and Bruno Giacomelli. Eric also traveled to the USA, to compete at Lime Rock's round of the IMSA GTO Championship, sharing the Ferrari F40 LM with Jean-Pierre Jabouille.
Only one start and fifteen DNQs in maiden F1 season
After such a diverse program in 1990, which included testing F1 car for Modena Team, Van de Poele joined the team for 1991 Formula One season, to drive the #35 Lambo 291. His teammate was Nicola Larini. Modena Team struggles whole season and both drivers collected six Grand Prix participations in total (Eric one, Larini five).
Van de Poele's only start was at San Marino Grand Prix at Imola. He showed good performance, running fifth until he ran out of fuel on the last lap and dropped to ninth. He failed to qualify in fifteen races, sometimes scoring qualifying times fifteen seconds slower than pole-sitters. In 1991, Eric's only race outside F1 was 24 hours of Spa, where he was sharing the #1 Bastos BMW M3 with Roberto Ravaglia and Emanuele Pirro. The trio had third starting position but failed to finish because of technical problems.
1992 - one start with Brabham and three starts with Fondmetal
In 1992 Formula One season, Eric van de Poele joined Brabham's Motor Racing Developments. In his first race with the #7 Brabham BT60B-Judd, he qualified for the South African Grand Prix and finished 13th. The streak of nine DNQs followed. His teammates were Giovanna Amati and Damon Hill, who failed to qualify in nine races.
For the Hungarian Grand Prix in August, Van de Poele joined young Italian team Fondmetal, to drive Ford-powered GR02 car alongside Gabriele Tarquini. Van de Poele qualified for three races in a row (Hungary, Belgium and Italy), scoring his best result at Spa-Francorchamps, where he finished 10th. Three round before the end of the season, Fondmetal withdrew from the championship because of financial difficulties.
Le Mans debut for Eric in 1992
Except being successful in the Formula 1 race at Spa, Van de Poele also scored a good result in 1992 Spa 24h. He finished second, sharing the #3 BMW M3 with Joachim Winkelhock and Altfrid Heger. The season 1992 was also marked by his Le Mans debut. He was a part of Peugeot Talbot Sport's #31 team, together with Alain Ferte and Karl Wendlinger. Their Peugeot 905 Evo 1B was pulled out of the race after 208 laps.
After a short and unsuccessful Formula One career, Van de Poele focused on touring cars again in 1993, participating full season in the Belgian Touring Car Championship with Waterloo Motors' BMW M3. He finished fifth in the points. During 1993, Eric was driving three more different cars in occasional appearances in other competitions (Nissan Primera, Porsche Carrera and Toyota Carina).
Driving Nissans at Le Mans and touring car races
He continued to drive Nissan Primera eGT in the 1994 British Touring Car Championship, participating in nine races. In June 1994, Eric returned to Le Mans with Cunningham Racing's Nissan 300 ZX, sharing the car with Paul Gentilozzi and Syunji Kasuya. They retired after just 25 laps. Later in the season, Nissan 300 ZX was Eric's car in three races of the IMSA GTS Championship.
In 1995, Eric was again combining touring car and sports car races. He finished third in the Spanish Touring Car Championship, winning four races with Nissan Primera.
1995 - Daytona 24h debut and Sebring 12h victory
In the sports car races, he debuted and retired at 1995 Daytona 24h with Scandia Racing's Ferrari 333 SP. In March, he scored a victory at another endurance classic, winning the Sebring 12 hour race. Eric's partners in the #3 Ferrari were Fermin Velez and Andy Evans.
He participated in two more endurance races, failing to qualify for 24h Le Mans with Courage C41 and retiring at 24h Spa with Opel Vectra.
One more victory at Sebring
In 1996, Eric scored the second consecutive victory at Sebring 12h. This time, he was driving the #4 Riley & Scott prototype for Doyle Racing, together with Wayne Taylor and Jim Pace. At 1996 Le Mans race, three Belgian drivers (Van de Poele, Marc Goossens and Eric Bachelart) were driving Ferrari 333 SP for Team Scandia,but retired after 208 laps. In 1996, Eric remained with Nissan in the Spanish Touring Car Championship, finishing 8th in the points.
In 1997, Van de Poele continued cooperation with Doyle Racing, participating full season in the WSC class of the IMSA Championship. His car was Oldsmobile-powered Riley & Scott prototype. With four podiums, he finished 8th in the points. At Le Mans, Eric joined Nissan Motorsports, driving the Nissan R390 together with Riccardo Patrese and Aguri Suzuki. In his fourth Le Mans participation, Eric recorded the fourth retirement.
1998 - Van de Poele won at Le Mans and Spa
The luck was on Eric's side in 1998, with two victories in major endurance races. He competed with Doyle-Risi Racing's Ferrari 333 SP in the IMSA Championship (finished 3rd) and it was the car for Le Mans too. Together with Wayne Taylor and Fermin Velez, Eric finished 8th overall and took the victory in LMP1 class. A month later, Eric finally reached his second victory at 24 hours of Spa. His co-drivers in the Fina Bastos BMW 320i were Alain Cudini and Marc Duez.
In 1999, Van de Poele's main competition was the American Le Mans Series with Team Rafanelli. He won at Road Atlanta. At Le Mans, he didn't start because of a pre-race accident with Nissan Motorsports' R391.
For 2000, Eric joined Team Cadillac to drive Cadillac Northstar LMP prototype in the American Le Mans Series, Grand American Rolex Series and 24h Le Mans. At Le Mans, Van de Poele, Wayne Taylor and Max Angelelli finished 22nd overall and 12th in LMP900 class. Eric was also driving Risi Competizione's Ferrari 333 SP, scoring his best result at Road America, finishing second.
Two class wins at Le Mans with Bentley
In 2001, at the age 40, Van de Poele was far from retirement but he didn't have full-season commitments. He competed in selected competitions and some of his biggest results followed. That year, Eric joined Team Bentley and scored his second class victory at Le Mans. His partners in the #8 Bentley EXP Speed 8 were Andy Wallace and Butch Leitzinger. They won GTP class and finished third overall, behind two Audis. It was Eric's career-best Le Mans result.
Van de Poele was an all-rounder in 2001, driving also Risi's Ferrari 333 SP, Dick Barbour's Reynard 01Q, Robinson Racing's Riley & Scott MkIII , Team Rafanelli's Ferrari 550 Maranello and Belgian Racing's Gillet Vertigo in five different competitions. In 2002, Panoz Motorsports and Lister Storm Racing were added to the list of Eric's teams, but the highlight of the season was the second consecutive class victory at Le Mans with Team Bentley. His co-drivers were again Andy Wallace and Butch Leitzinger. They won GTP class and finished fourth overall.
Winning streak with Maserati at 24h Spa
The diverse program with different teams in different competitions continued from 2003 onwards. Some cars on Eric's list were Ferrari 360 GT, Saleen S7-R, Porsche 911 Turbo, Maserati MC12 GT1... The last one was Eric's victorious car at 2005 Spa 24h race. His partners in the Vitaphone Racing Team #9 Maserati were Timo Scheider and Michael Bartels. In 2006, the same car has won again. This time, Eric's co-drivers were Bartels and Andrea Bertolini. It was Eric's fourth victory at Belgian endurance classic and he was tied with the previous record-holder Jean-Michel Martin.
The fifth victory came in 2008, again with Maserati MC12 GT1 of Vitaphone Racing Team. The drivers who helped Eric to became the Spa 24h record-holder were Andrea Bertolini, Michael Bartels and Stephane Sarrazin.
Three Le Mans attempts with Krohn and Risi
During 2008, Van de Poele returned to full-time racing, participating with Krohn Racing in the Grand American Rolex Series. After 13 races, he was 19th in the points. Eric was also driving the Ferrari 430 GT2 for Risi Competizione in the American Le Mans Series. With that car, Eric returned to Le Mans. His companions in the Krohn Racing and Risi Competizione's joint effort were Tracy Krohn and Niclas Jonsson. They retired early but returned in 2009, to scored class podium, finishing third in GT2 class. The trio came one more time to Circuit de la Sarthe, in 2010, again failing to reach the finish. It was Eric's last Le Mans participation.
In 2010, Eric accepted a new challenge, joining Volvo for two full seasons in the Belgian Touring Car Series. In 2010, he and teammate Vincent Radermecker finished second in the points, behind Frederic Bouvy. Next year, they were fourth in the points.
2015 Spa 24h - four Belgian racing legends against cancer
In recent years, Van de Poele was a regular competitor at Spa-Francorchamps' endurance race, participating four times between 2010 and 2015 at Spa 24h. In 2010 and 2011, he was driving Ferraris (430 GTC and 458 Italia), then McLaren MP4-12C GT3 in 2012.
His last participation was in 2015, with three other Belgian legends (Marc Duez, Jean-Marc Martin and Pascal Witmeur) in the #240 BMW Z4 GT3. The team called BMW Racing Against Cancer came to the race to help the Belgian Foundation against Cancer. Each driver drove a single 24-minute stint during the race, one at the start, one on Saturday evening, one on Sunday at noon and the final 24 minutes of the race.