Teams Jacques Bernard 'Jacky' Ickx
181Jacky Ickx: Mr. Le Mans, But So Much MoreBy Jeremy McMullen
Six victories in the arduous and famed 24 Hours of Le Mans would certainly tend to define one's career, and most would be happy being defined by such terms. But then again, Jacky Ickx is not your usual racing driver. In many ways, Ickx is one of those drivers that cannot be defined by such simple terms or by any neat dimensional box.
It would all start, like it does for everyone, at the beginning. Born on the 1st of January in 1945, Jacques Bernard 'Jacky' Ickx would come into a world, especially around Brussels, Belgium, immersed in war. However, by the time Jacky did appear in the world, on that first day of 1945, the Allied powers had already pushed through the city of Brussels. There was a sense of hope. Unfortunately, very few had expected the offensive the German military would launch over the course of Christmas in 1944. It was clear the war would drag on a while longer than many believed and hoped.
Still, Jacky would come into a world on the verge of peace, on the verge of being able to start again. The problem Jacky would have would be starting. While many of the great racing drivers start out very early in age and are passionate about motor racing knowing incredible facts about many drivers and races throughout history, Jacky would find none of that very interesting to him.
Jacques Ickx was a motor journalist in Belgium and was quite well known. Cars were really everything to Jacky's father and he would even take his son to see the 1955 Belgian Grand Prix. This would be an incredible event featuring Juan Manuel Fangio and Stirling Moss behind the wheel of the mighty Mercedes-Benz W196. However, by his own admission, Jacky found the whole thing entirely uninteresting.
The lack of interest was carpeting the whole of his young life though. Jacky's grades in school were not good at all and he had no sense of himself, what his purpose in life truly was. Known to be the child sitting in the back of class not engaged at all with what was going on, Jacques knew he needed to do something, even if it did push his son into something he didn't like, just to help give him a goal and a reason for being.
The push would come in the form of a 50cc Puch motorcycle. To his father's delight and amazement, the motorcycle opened up a whole new world to Jacky and it would, for the first time in his life, give him a passion for something. He was 15 years old.
It would be like a whole new world when he received the motorcycle. Within a year, Jacky was winning events. He would even be named European Champion in his class. It was clear he was a prodigy on two wheels.
Racing motorcycles helped a rider learn about balance and control of an inherently unstable vehicle. Racing in such events as the Scottish Six Days Trial, Ickx would have plenty of opportunities to learn control and balance over slippery terrain in wet conditions. This would come to be a defining characteristic of his driving for years to come.
By 1964, Jacky would already be the Belgian Touring Car Champion having made the move to circuit racing, initially in Kreidlers and Zundapps before receiving an opportunity behind the wheel of a BMW 700. Ickx would also get an opportunity to drive a Lotus-Cortina in the European Touring Car series in 1964. It would be soon afterward that he would be noticed by Ken Tyrrell. Tyrrell had a knack for recognizing talent. He would discover Jackie Stewart and he would quickly recognize that this Belgian teenage was yet another from the same ilk.
Tyrrell would offer Ickx the chance to test a Formula 3 Cooper at Goodwood. It would not be an entirely flawless moment in Jacky's racing career as he would damage the car in a crash. But Tyrrell had seen what he wanted and this would lead to Ickx earning a F3 drive at Monaco in 1966. The race in Monaco was to be a one-off event, but Jacky would also earn another drive at Silverstone in July of that year as well. Many top drivers were in F3 at the time, but in the rain, Ickx would be in a class unto himself as he started from the back and finished 3rd.
This performance in the wet, Ickx would earn a Formula 2 drive in a Matra-BRM in which Jackie Stewart would be his teammate. At about the same time, Jacky would earn himself a start in the cockpit of a monstrous 6-liter McLaren-Chevy at Brands Hatch. He would qualify the powerful car on the front row of the grid. And though he would spin in the early stages of the race, he would go on to a strong finish.
Ickx's career, which was already on a missile-like trajectory, was only going to go higher, must faster. By 1966, and at the age of just 21, Ickx would find himself racing just about anything he could get his hands on just about anywhere in the world there was racing going on. Not even two years earlier Jacky had made his first serious foray into the world of circuit racing. By 1966, it would be rare not to see the Belgian at some track every weekend throughout the world. This would include trans-am racing in the United States, as well as Formula 2 and sportscar racing at places like Le Mans and Spa. But if 1966 was an incredible year for Ickx, the following year would be even better.
The 1967 season would start off with a class victory in the 24 Hours of Daytona at the wheel of a Ford GT40. Ickx would also earn an overall victory behind the wheel of a Mirage M1 in the Spa 1000 Kilometers. Three more victories at Swerige, Paris and Kyalami would firmly cement the young Belgian's talents in endurance sportscar racing. They were early indicators of what was to come.
Ickx's single-seater career would also literally take off in 1967. As part of Tyrrell's Matra Formula 2 team, Jacky would stun all when he took his Formula 2 car and, for a time, held the fastest lap around the Nurburgring. Getting airborne more than a dozen times over the course of a single lap, Jacky would certainly be flying as he would end up the third-fastest qualifier for the German Grand Prix, which included Formula One and Formula 2 cars.
Concerned he would be in the way at the start of the race, Ickx would be relegated to the back of the field where the rest of the Formula 2 cars were found on the grid. This would prove to be a good thing for Jacky as he had the opportunity to stun everybody as he made his way toward the front with relative ease. Just three laps to go to the end of the race, the Belgian would be sitting 5th overall and well in front of a number of top Formula One cars. Unfortunately, it would all come to an end when his front suspension broke.
By the time of the race he had already raced around the Nurburgring in a number of endurance races and he knew just about every foot of that track. This experience would be obvious that day and it would make him a driver in demand for 1968.
The 1968 season would see Ickx earn the ride of a lifetime. Following a 6th place result at Monza in an older Cooper T81 entered by Roy Salvadori for the Cooper-Maserati team, Ickx's star would be on the rise. And, while Tyrrell probably would have liked to hire the Belgian to drive alongside Stewart once again, Ickx would find himself with a contract to drive for the Italian outfit based in Maranello—Ferrari.
At the time he signed for Ferrari, Jacky was still living at home, but his life would really begin to change driving for the famed Italian team. Ickx would sign with Ferrari and would spend the next six years with the team. The longevity of his time with the team would be an indication of just how successful those years would be.
A couple of early retirements would mark his beginning with Scuderia Ferrari but a 3rd place in just his third race with the team, which came at his home grand prix, would mark the first of many points the Belgian would score for Ferrari. It was clear he had the talent to earn victory. It was just a matter of when. Many who were wondering would not have to wait very long.
Ickx's fifth race of the season for Ferrari would come at the French Grand Prix at the circuit Rouen-les-Essarts. The day of the race would see rain cover the area. The circuit would be soaked, the perfect setting for the man from Brussels. Having honed his wet weather driving skills on motorcycles, Ickx would take to the conditions like a duck to water. He would practically lead every single lap of the race and would go on to take the win by nearly two minutes over John Surtees' Honda.
The victory and three other podium results would lead to Ickx finishing his first full year in the Formula One World Championship in 4th place. Everyone figured he was a World Champion in the making.
Ickx would back his Formula One performance up with another strong year in endurance sportscar racing. While he would fail to finish the Daytona 24 Hours and the Sebring 12 Hours, Jacky would go on to score victories in the Brands Hatch 6 Hours, the Le Mans Test, a class victory in the Nurburgring 1000 Kilometers, the Spa 1000 Kilometers and the Watkins Glen 6 Hours. The victory in the Spa 1000 Kilometers would be another clinical race as the circuit would be so waterlogged that Ickx's lead after just the first lap would be more than half a minute.
Ickx was, even at a young age, a force in both Formula One and endurance sportscar racing. The Belgian appeared to have that touch that made any car he drove look like a potential winner. And he would never more prove this to be true than in 1969.
Though he had signed to drive for the coveted Ferrari team in 1968, Ickx would leave the Maranello squad to drive for Brabham in 1969. In hindsight this may not have been the best decision of his grand prix career but he would certainly take the Brabham BT26A to great heights over the course of the season.
Early on, the car was not very reliable or competitive. However, a 2nd place at the British Grand Prix would be followed on by victory in the German race. It would be another incredible performance around the Nurburgring. Another victory in the Canadian Grand Prix and a 2nd place in the Mexican round at the end of the season meant Ickx finished 2nd in the championship in just his second full year of racing in Formula One.
On top of this, a victory in the Sebring 12 Hours, the Imola 500 Kilometers and the first of what would become a record six victories in the 24 Hours of Le Mans meant Jacky was one of the hottest drivers in all the world. The victory at Le Mans would be a statement in more than one way. Not only would it pronounce what was to come, but his slow deliberate walk across the track at the start of the race would also serve as the final step to foregoing the traditional, and very dangerous, start that had been a part of Le Mans tradition from the very beginning.
Ickx had left Ferrari, but he would be one of the few to be asked to return. And he would do just that in 1970. He would help Mario Andretti and Arturo Merzario to a 3rd place result in the Daytona 24 Hours race but then would struggle somewhat with the new 512 S Spyder. The team would get the car righted and Jacky would help guide the car to a 3rd place result at the Monza 1000 Kilometers and then a 2nd at the Spa 1000 Kilometers. Ickx would appear at Le Mans as one of the defending champions. At the wheel of the Ferrari 512 S he would start the 24 hour race from 6th on the grid. Unfortunately, the number 5 Ferrari would suffer an accident over the course of the race and would fail to finish. In fact, it wouldn't be until the Kyalami 9 Hour race at the end of the year that Ickx would come through to earn a victory in an endurance sportscar race.
Formula One would be a different experience altogether. Ickx would be consistently quick in sportscars all season long and would come away with top five, or better, results throughout the whole of the year. In Formula One, the first half of the season would be terrible as he would suffer five early retirements out of the first seven races of the season. However, his season would turn around over the last half the year. Not surprisingly, the season would turn with the German Grand Prix.
Ickx would earn the pole for the race and would go on to set the fastest lap of the race. He would be beaten to the victory, however, by Jochen Rindt in the Lotus. Though he would finish the race in 2nd place, the performance would be such that it would inspire confidence for the remainder of the season. And the last half of the season would be entirely different from the first half.
A victory in the Austrian Grand Prix would then be followed by victories in Canada and Mexico. And though it would not be enough to grab the championship away from the then passed away Rindt, it would be an incredible charge by Jacky to finish the season 2nd in the championship standings.
By the end of the 1970 season Ickx had already amassed six Formula One victories. The World Championship seemed to be heading his way in 1971. However, were it not for victory in the Dutch Grand Prix and a 2nd place in the Spanish, there was really very little Jacky had to be cheerful about by the end of the season and he would go from back-to-back runner-up results in the World Championship to finish 1971 in 4th place. This would be followed by another 4th place finish in the 1972 World Championship. He would still earn victory in the German Grand Prix, as well, as three other podium results over the course of the season but the Ferrari 312B would be just no match for the Tyrrell and the Lotus. From then on, Ickx would seem to join teams too early or a little too late to enjoy any kind of sustained success.
Ickx would join Lotus in what would have seemed like a dream pairing of Ickx and Chapman. However, the honeymoon would quickly end and Ickx would leave the team about halfway through the 1975 season. This would be followed by disappointing signings with Wolf-Williams, Walter Wolf and Team Ensign. Team Ensign would result in Jacky plowing through Armco at Watkins Glen and ending up with broken ankles and burns. Until his final race in 1979, Ickx would never finish any higher than 9th in the World Championship. This would be shocking and disappointing to many.
However, any disappointment Ickx experienced in Formula One, it would be quickly tempered by success in sportscars. Ickx would score victory in the Daytona 6 Hours in 1972, as well as, victory in the Sebring 12 Hours that same year. The 1972 season would remain a successful one for the Belgian as he would score victory in the Brands Hatch 1000 Kilometers, the Monza 1000 Kilometers, Zeltweg 1000 Kilometers and the Watkins Glen 6 Hours. He would not take part in the 24 Hours of Le Mans with Ferrari in 1972 and would fail to finish the following year. However, success continued to come the Belgian's way as he would add another Nurburgring 1000 Kilometers victory and a Monza 1000 Kilometers victory over the course of the '73 season.
The 1974 season would see Ickx driving for Equipe Gitanes in their Matra MS670C. The move would appear seamless as he would take victory in the Spa 1000 Kilometers. Jacky would drive, at times for Alfa Romeo throughout 1974 and 1975. He would then partner with Derek Bell in the Gulf Research Racing Co in a Mirage GR8 for the 1975 24 Hours of Le Mans. The pair would start the race from the pole and would go on to take the overall victory by more than a lap. This would set off a string of three victories in a row around the Circuit de la Sarthe and it would also see Ickx develop a very important, close and successful partnership with Porsche.
The 1976 season would have Ickx driving for Martini Racing Porsche. The season would start off with victory in the 6 Hours of Mugello and would continue with victory in the Monza 4 Hours. Partnered with Jochen Mass, the successes kept coming as the pair rattled off another victory in the Imola 500 Kilometer race. Then, at Le Mans, Ickx would co-drive with Gijs van Lennep in a Porsche 936. It certainly didn't seem to matter who Jacky partnered with as he would go on to secure another overall victory in the race.
While success in Formula One was waning as he drove for struggling team after struggling team, Ickx was the hottest driver in sportscars winning at the wheel of a Porsche 936 and a 935. The successes kept coming in 1977 and would be highlighted by another overall victory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans co-driving a Porsche 936 with Jurgen Barth and Hurley Haywood.
The partnership of Ickx and Mass at the wheel of the Porsche 935 would continue to be indomitable as they would take victory in the Silverstone 6 Hour race in May of 1978. Unfortunately, at Le Mans, an accident would ruin any chance of a fourth-straight overall victory. Instead, Jacky would have to settle with finishing 2nd in a car co-driven by Bob Wollek and Jurgen Barth.
Even though he would continue racing in Formula One up through the 1979 season, Ickx was very much known as an endurance sportscar specialist by this stage in his career. In many ways, the Belgian was considered a ringer. Armed with a Porsche 935, he seemed unbeatable. 1979 would also see Jacky return to Can-Am racing, something he hadn't done in a number of years. It really wouldn't seem to matter. Driving for Carl Haas' racing team, Ickx would take the Lola T333 to nearly a half a dozen victories and would earn Ickx the championship for 1979.
Ickx would finish the 1980 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2nd place at the wheel of a Porsche 908 but would then take the overall victory the following year in a Porsche 936 co-driven with Derek Bell. By this time, Ickx was 36 years of age and had an incredible five Le Mans victories to his credit. Returning to the circuit the following year, again with Porsche, Jacky would repeat his feat taking the overall victory behind the wheel of a Porsche 956. A second in the race the following year reminded just about everyone that if Ickx didn't win, he would certainly come damn close. Le Mans had a reputation of being no respector of persons, but that just didn't seem to hold true of Jacky Ickx.
In 1973, Jacky would look to an endurance race of a slightly different sort. Originating in Paris and ending in Dakar, Senagal, the Paris-Dakar Rally would be rallying in the extreme requiring competitors to complete more than 500 miles per day just to be within a shot of victory. In 1983, Ickx would drive a Mercedes 280 G to victory proving just how versatile the Belgian truly is at the wheel.
Jacky would keep driving for Porsche in the Endurance Sportscar World Championship throughout 1984 up until 1986. His last race for the team was to come at Le Mans. He would be listed as one of the drivers possible for the winner 956 piloted by Hans-Joachim Stuck, Derek Bell and Al Holbert but he would actually never drive in the race. His place on the entry list would come as a bit of a surprise given his retirement at the end of the 1985 season, no doubt motivated by the tragic accident between himself and Stefan Bellof at Spa. Ickx would race Bellof hard and would close the door going up Eau Rouge. Bellof would not back off and the two would touch sending both hard into the wall. Ickx would emerge unharmed, Stefan would die and hour or so later.
Stepping away from driving, Ickx would never be far away from motor racing. He would act as the race director in the famed 1984 Monaco Grand Prix in which Senna and Bellof would be putting together incredible performances in the wet until Jacky decided to stop the race because of the rain ensuring Prost won the race.
Because of his title as Mr. Le Mans, Ickx would become the first sports person to become an honorary citizen of the French city. He would then be inducted into the Interntional Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2002. Often seen at the Goodwood Festival of Speed and a number of historic races, Ickx still fills his life with motor racing.
Jacky was married to Catherine Blaton, and, in 1975 would welcome a daughter, Vanina, into the world. This would be a delight for Jacky as Vanina would end her studies and would decide to go into sportscar racing herself enjoying a career that spanned the better part of 15 years. The two would even do the Paris-Dakar Rally together in 2000.
Now married to Burundian singer, Khadja Nin, Jacky now lives a rather quiet life with little to no reminders of his racing past to be found around his house. He, in fact, prefers not to reflect upon his achievements in racing, focusing instead on those in the background that helped him achieve all the success he enjoyed throughout his career.
Spanning the more than three decades, Jacky Ickx's racing career has been long and vast. The cars he had the fortune of driving is also long causing even the most avid car collector and historian to become immediately jealous. But this fact alone highlights the reality that though he was considered the first Mr. Le Mans, he was so much more and it doesn't do his talent any justice to merely define him as the ruler of the roads around Le Mans.Sources:
Moore, Jonathan. 'Jacky Ickx: Mr Versatility, Mr Superfast', (http://www.speedhunters.com/2012/12/jacky_ickx_chopard_superfast/). SpeedHunters. http://www.speedhunters.com/2012/12/jacky_ickx_chopard_superfast/. Retrieved 30 December 2013.
Taylor, Simon.'Lunch With…Jacky Ickx', (http://www.motorsportmagazine.com/halloffame/jacky-ickx/lunch-with-jacky-ickx/). Motorsport. http://www.motorsportmagazine.com/halloffame/jacky-ickx/lunch-with-jacky-ickx/. Retrieved 30 December 2013.
Moore, Jonathan. 'Retrospective: Jacky Ickx—Mister Le Mans', (http://www.speedhunters.com/2009/11/retrospective_gt_gt_jacky_ickx_mister_le_mans/). SpeedHunters. http://www.speedhunters.com/2009/11/retrospective_gt_gt_jacky_ickx_mister_le_mans/. Retrieved 30 December 2013.
'Complete Archive of Jacky Ickx', (http://www.racingsportscars.com/driver/archive/Jacky-Ickx-B.html?page=10). Racing Sports Cars. http://www.racingsportscars.com/driver/archive/Jacky-Ickx-B.html?page=10. Retrieved 30 December 2013.
'Drivers: Jacky Ickx', (http://www.grandprix.com/gpe/drv-ickjac.html). GrandPrix.com. http://www.grandprix.com/gpe/drv-ickjac.html. Retrieved 30 December 2013.
'F1's Greatest Drivers: Jacky Ickx', (http://f1greatestdrivers.autosport.com/). Autosport.com. http://f1greatestdrivers.autosport.com/. Retrieved 30 December 2013.
'Drivers: Jacky Ickx', (http://en.espnf1.com/f1/motorsport/driver/901.html). ESPN F1. http://en.espnf1.com/f1/motorsport/driver/901.html. Retrieved 30 December 2013.
Wikipedia contributors, 'Can-Am', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 14 November 2013, 15:21 UTC, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Can-Am&oldid=581638001 accessed 30 December 2013
Wikipedia contributors, 'Jacky Ickx', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 26 December 2013, 20:35 UTC, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Jacky_Ickx&oldid=587797701 accessed 30 December 2013
Wikipedia contributors, 'Dakar Rally', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 16 December 2013, 17:37 UTC, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Dakar_Rally&oldid=586366613 accessed 30 December 2013
Schlegelmilch, Rainer. 'Grand Prix Originals: Jacky Ickx', (http://www.grandprix-originals.com/english/index.php?action=jacky). GrandPrix Originals: Your Website for Drive and Lifestyle! http://www.grandprix-originals.com/english/index.php?action=jacky. Retrieved 30 December 2013.
'Heritage: Jacky Ickx', (http://www.mclaren.com/formula1/heritage/driver/Jacky-Ickx/). Vodafone McLaren Mercedes. http://www.mclaren.com/formula1/heritage/driver/Jacky-Ickx/. Retrieved 30 December 2013.