17 January 2020

Fascinating F1 Facts: 45 - An unlikely tale

In the early 1930s, AD (Anton) Hildebrand was in his mid-twenties and working as a writer of radio plays with the Algemene Vereniging Radio Omroep (AVRO), the public radio service of the Netherlands. In 1935 he published a book for children about a fictional brown bear called Bolke de Beer, who escaped from a zoo and went to live in a forest near Apeldoorn, with a group of animal friends. The book was a huge success and in the years that followed (despite the war) Hildebrand wrote a further nine books about Bolke. Later the stories would become a television series with puppets. Bolke was one of a number of different animal  characters that Hildebrand wrote series about during his lifetime.

His son Tonio, who was born before the first Bolke book was published, benefited from his father's wealth. He raced with some success in the 1950s and 1960s on the Dutch national scene and became something of a celebrity with a life of seemingly unlimited money, fast cars, beautiful women and wild adventures, with a group of friends that included circus performer turned TV persanality Bas van Toor, comedians Rijk de Gooyer and Appie Bueno de Mesquita and the singer Willy Alberti. Tonio carefully cultivated his image sporting a large moustache and always smoking a fat Havana cigar. 

In 1979 he agreed to sponsor Michael Bleekemolen in a Lotus B team, which would be run by BS Fabrications, using the old Lotus 79 chassis, which had won the title in 1978 with Mario Andretti. Team Lotus would move on to a new Lotus 81.

At the time, Bleekemolen was 29 but had shown promise in Formula Vee and in European Formula 3 that year in a factory Chevron, winning several heats and taking overall victory at Enna. He had finished fifth in the championship, which was won by fellow Dutchman Jan Lammers. He was a man in a hurry because there was not much money available in the Netherlands and he was in competition with Lammers, Arie Luyendyk and Huub Rothengatter. That summer he did a couple of Formula 2 races with a Fred Opert Chevron and tried to break into Formula 1 with an ATS. The previous year he had tried to qualify for the Dutch GP with a RAM March but had failed and with ATS it was a similar story, although he did make it into the race at Watkins Glen, where he retired with an oil leak.

That autumn the deal with Lotus was agreed and everything seemed to be place and over the Christmas period Bleekemolen went off for a skiing holiday. While he was away the FIA issued an entry list for the World Championship. Bleekemolen read about it in a German motorsport magazine and was upset to see that not only was he not there, but also there was no sign of the team either.

It emerged that the Dutch motorsport federation had failed to do the necessary paperwork.  A late application was made but it was turned down by the federation because there was no shortage of cars and it did not want there to be pre-qualifying.

As a result Bleekemolen had to give up the plans and raced instead in Formula 3, where he joined Roger Heavens Racing and finished a distant runner-up to Alain Prost. But the money for F1 was no longer there. Hildebrand ran into trouble with the Dutch tax authorities and skipped the country, escaping to Belgium. He would later spend six months in prison in Holland.

Bleekemolen was another chance in 1981 when he was named as a fulltime driver in the British Formula 3 Championship by Barron Racing, which had a Ralt-Toyota. His results were disappointing and after six races he was replaced by a young Brazilian called Roberto Moreno.

Bleekemolen drifted away from single-seaters and spent many years racing in Renault one-make championships after that.

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