Meet Zoë Beun, a sidecar racing passenger with an eclectic mix of occupations: motorsports, chimney sweeping and interior design. She tells us all about the exciting sport of sidecar racing and her experience of being a motorsports fan in Ghent, Belgium.
WHEEL SISTERS: Zoë, please introduce yourself.
Zoë: My name is Zoë Beun. I just turned 23 and I live in Ghent, Belgium. A beautiful city but a nightmare if you like to drive faster than 30km/h…
I am a classic sidecar passenger, participating in national races. From time to time participating in demo races in Holland and France. The last three years we have been Belgian champion in our category, sidecar GP500. I’m looking at the option to combine it and race a solo bike in the future.
At 17 she got the chance to try sidecar racing and loved it.
Picture: Marc Bossiroy
WHEEL SISTERS: You are a sidecar racing passenger. How and when were you introduced to motorsport? Please describe your motorsport background.
Zoë: My parents were part of a motorcycle association that organised one of the most beautiful road races here in Belgium. So I kind of grew up with it.
The love for sidecars came a bit later when, as a 16-year-old, I began ‘working’ as a marshal (orange flagman). With this job you really need to look at what’s happening on the track and I was mesmerised looking at the sidecar classes.
At 17 I got my first chance to try it and since then I have been HOOKED!
Finding a place in a side was difficult, because most teams stay the same for years. In the end I think I landed in the best team possible: Team König! I’ve been with them for the last 3 seasons and hope to stay for many more.
WHEEL SISTERS: Can you explain the sport of sidecar racing to us? What are the rules? What is special about this discipline?
Zoë: An original sidecar is a motorcycle with a car attached on one side of the motorcycle for a passenger. For racing, the ‘car’ was replaced by a platform so we can move around.
You have sidecars for road, racing, motor cross and speedway.
There are a lot of categories, driving with different engines. We race a König engine; only 3 real, authentic Königs were racing this year. All three belong to the same owner and it is a privilege to race one of them.
Our rules are the same as in most races, first over the finish wins. But because there aren’t a lot of sides GP500, we race together with other classes like Poste Classic or G1 (big wheeled sidecars), so the first in your class over the finish wins.
WHEEL SISTERS: What is your job as a passenger? How do you support the driver? How do you work together as a team?
Zoë: My job as passenger is to keep the sidecar balanced and sturdy.
If there is a left corner you hang out the front of the sidecar – if you don’t there is a possibility that the side will flip and crash.
In a right corner you hang over the rear, this gives extra grip on the rear tire.
You need to understand the side and pilot so you can anticipate what will happen, it took me some time to work out the best approach. Sometimes it is a bit trial and error.
WHEEL SISTERS: How do you train in your discipline?
Zoë: Unfortunately we do not have a lot of opportunities to train here in Belgium. If we need to test, we go to a demo race in Holland or just hope for the best and test during our training before the races.
Zoë is racing with the successful team KÖNIG since 3 seasons.
WHEEL SISTERS: Who are the people around you? Who gives you the necessary support?
Zoë: As part of Team König, there are a lot of people around us. We have the main boss and owner of the sides in our team, he mainly works on the engines and races.
Our team manager is the owner’s former passenger. He coached me from the beginning; he helps us with everything, getting the bikes ready for the start, taking the pictures…
My pilot is also always there for me when I am not sure about something – he takes the time to figure out what is best and explain the mechanism… my pilot also rebuilt the side we are currently racing with.
My mom is my biggest support before the race and my father during the race. He’s still marshalling so this gives me extra motivation not to fall out at his corner :).
WHEEL SISTERS: Can you describe the motorsport landscape in Belgium?
Zoë: Well, the organisation for motorsports here in Belgium is not a big fan of classic bikes or sidecars, so we are often put behind the moderns or cross. It is a pity, all motorsports are great and should be shown the same amount of interest by the FMB BMB…
For example, they put a lot of classes together to avoid having to give a lot of trophies to the Belgian champs…
When you walk around the paddocks at classic events, there is so much respect for all classes, solo or not. We are one big family
WHEEL SISTERS: Sidecar racing is your hobby. What is your profession? Is there a connection between your job and your passion?
Zoë: I am a chimney sweep by day and study interior design by night, so there are zero connections… but I like that.
WHEEL SISTERS: How about injuries? How dangerous is sidecar racing? Have you had an accident?
Zoë: As in any sport, it has its dangerous aspects, but you can’t think about them too much.
If you start thinking about that, then it is time to stop…
We have, like in all motorsports I think, the massive bruises. But hey let’s call them battle scars ;)
Okay you do not have the protection a car has, and yes you slide alongside the road, but that is what gives you the rush, it is like flying along the circuit!
And, yes, I have had 2 accidents… one was completely my own fault. I was passengering in a long sidecar called an F1, there was a little bump in the road, I misplaced my feet and due to the bump my feet came out of the side. I was hanging there like a loose flag on a pole, I had to let go so I slid and rolled on to the road. Thank god there were no sides close behind us!
Helmet, leathers, gloves… all ruined, but I only had 2 little burnt patches on my elbows.
The other accident was because of completely and utterly stupid and dangerous driving from a newbie who thought he was a top racer…
We went all the way to Dijon in France and after one round in training, it wasn’t even a race, he drove straight into my back in a left corner (hanging fully out of the side)… end of our weekend… still have some issues with my back from time to time, but nothing a good physiotherapist can’t fix.
Other than that (touch wood) no accidents.
The last three years Zoë has been Belgian champion in the category, sidecar GP500.
WHEEL SISTERRS: What aspects of motorsport do you love the most? What do you feel most proud of achieving on the track?
Zoë: The speed, adrenaline, the sensation, the people… just the complete package
I am proud of the opportunity I had to ride on the Spa-Francorchamps circuit – thinking of it still gives me goosebumps!
WHEEL SISTERS: Who is your motorsport hero or role model?
Zoë: Ooh this is a difficult question, there are so many that I love! I have been a big Rossi fan since childhood.
Now I am really happy that the girls do such a great job, like Ana Carrasco and Maria Herrera and many others.
A lady that I admire very much is the Finnish handy racer Ulla Kulju. Despite being bound to a wheelchair, she is still rocking her bike!
WHEEL SISTERRS: Have you experienced any sexism when racing and, if so, how do you deal with it?
Zoë: I don’t pay a lot of attention to it. In one ear, out the other.
But it is a freaking great feeling when you are faster than the critics!
WHEEL SISTERRS: Is sidecar racing a popular sport for girls? What advice would you give girls who want to get into sidecar racing?
Zoë: I think so yes. If you compare looking around the paddock 10 years ago and now, there are a lot more girls, as passenger but also as pilot.
I would say to just give it a try, if you like it, amazing , if you don’t, well you will find something else… Just do what makes you happy!
WHEEL SISTERRS: What are your sporting goals in the upcoming months or years?
Zoë: Just to have fun, we aren’t really in it to win it. Although, yeah, it is fun to win.