Local racers' motor sport return after horror smash
SEVEN months ago Ben van Wegen was lying beside his mangled BMW racer, his leg broken, having just extinguished a fire in the car's engine bay.
Still pinned inside was his father Robert, who had been driving the classic car at April's Targa Tasmania Rally when he lost control at over 150kmh and struck a tree.
The talented veteran racer from Noosa had a compound fracture of the left leg, several broken ribs, fractured vertebrae and a bone chip to the right ankle.
Despite several weeks of recovery in hospital, both father and son vowed this terrible accident wouldn't halt their motor sport pursuits.
"So many people told us to give it up, but it's so important to keep doing what you love or you're just not living," said Robert, convinced racing has kept him young despite his 70-something years.
The weekend's Noosa Hill Climb saw a glorious return to action for the father and son duo, complete with their new race-prepared 2010 Renault Megane RS250 which was finished just days before the event.
Had the accident slowed them down? Not a chance.
In hot conditions on one of Australia's hardest race events, Ben van Wegen finished 28th outright (out of 155 entries) and was quickest front-wheel-drive car of all.
Dad Rob finished just over half a second behind his son, despite those horrifying injuries of half a year ago.
"It was so great to see the grin on dad's face after racing," Ben said, "especially after the nerves before we started.
"The Noosa Hill Climb isn't the ideal place to drive something new - we hadn't tested the Renault before competing - we always jump in at the deep end."
The pair's 1968 BMW 2002 was destroyed in the Tasmania accident, so shifting to a far more modern performance hatchback, with front- instead of rear-wheel drive, was a big change for the van Wegens.
"We've always loved BMWs, but to build another similar to the old one would have taken 12 months, but the Renault got us back into motor sport very quickly," Ben said.
"I found the Megane on eBay. It was an insurance write off after flood damage, so we got a replacement engine from a wrecked Megane RS250, sourced a brand new turbo from the UK, and gave it to our Brisbane expert Pierz Harrex of RX Automotive."
Ben then stripped the cabin, had a roll cage fitted, upgraded the brake pads and fitted semi slick tyres.
Once the nerves were defeated, both father and son went blisteringly fast once more.
"We were ecstatic with how it and we performed, motor sport is in our blood and we'll continue as long as we can," Ben said.
"As a father and son you can't get a better bonding situation than a life or death experience like we had at Targa (Tasmania)."
Making the Noosa weekend even more special for the van Wegens, the Hill Climb's special perpetual trophy, awarded to the event's fastest driver, has been named after Robert in recognition of his enduring involvement with this famous race.