Belgium may have no direct interest in the current Formula One season but there is a real and genuine connection to the sport’s new star.
Max Verstappen is a Belgian-Dutch racing driver currently competing in Formula One, under the Dutch flag, with Red Bull Racing. At the 2015 Australian Grand Prix, when he was aged 17 years, 166 days, he became the youngest driver to compete in Formula One.
Verstappen is the current leader – and favourite – to take the F1 crown this year, from current champion Lewis Hamilton.
But there will be many who are totally unaware of his background – and that is where Belgium, or more specifically, a karting venue in the country’s Limburg region, comes in.
It was at Karting Genk where Verstappen, from the tender age of just six, first learned the trade that was to catapult him to fame and fortune.
The racer, still aged only 23, was born in Hasselt, the capital of Limburg. and just a few kilometres from Karting Genk.
His dad Jos used to taken the young Max for karting sessions at the track and, while he is now more commonly associated with the Netherlands, Verstappen still maintains his close connections with Limburg, being an occasional visitor to Karting Genk.
It is known as “the home of champions” and, today, is a highly popular place or racers, young and old alike.
The site, great if you’re looking for a day out this summer, features two tracks: a 1,360m “professional” track for people aged over 18 where karting can be done at speeds of up to 90kph and a 550m “fun” track (max speed of 60kph).
The pro track can be used by professional racers and also by people with their own karts and is popular as an “event” activity by companies.
The smaller track is ideal for newcomers to the sport and has a range of karts are available for hire. There is also a dual kart which is perfect for parents who want to accompany a child.
The type of kart you use depends on your height but all age groups are welcome
Beware! the staff have a remote control that can slow down or even stop anyone who does not respect the rules and regs while karting.
Things can get very busy at peak periods with up to 300 rides per day but the number allowed on the track at any one time is strictly limited so as to ensure it doesn’t get too crowded.
Everyone is, of course, given a safety briefing before they start.
The whole site was founded back in 1983 by Paul Lemmens and his wife Lisette. Their son Koen is now responsible for the day to day running of things.
Karting Genk’s events manager is Esmee Rosman for whom her current role is a dream job. A self confessed karting nut she used to do karting here herself when she was younger and jumped at the chance of a job.
She points out that the owners are currently trying to once again boost the events side of the business after the impact of the health pandemic.
Dutch-born Esme says, “We were closed like other places for some time but things have started to really pick up after we reopened. It is already popular with companies – the events side accounts for up to 60 percent of business – but we are trying to attract even more companies.Karting makes for a great team bonding activity and our premises are also ideal for conference meetings. With summer upon us, it is good to know that you can also combine a karting session with a BBQ.”
The site, which underwent a big refurb in 2005, regularly hosts major events – it was the venue for the world championships in 2018 – and, later this year, will host another of the popular karting endurance races.
The site is ideally situated, close to a busy motorway with direct and fast links to Brussels, and also close to the Dutch border. From April to October, it is open 6/7 (closed Tuesday).
Given the excellent facilities here, it is little wonder that Verstappen – and British driver Jenson Button who also used to drive with Karting Genk’s own GKS (Genker Kart Shop) team for a couple of years – have gone on to such success.
So, if you are looking for a great day out you would do well to consider Karting Genk as a great spot to head for this summer.