24 Hours of Le Mans – Six things you need to know about Jacky Ickx
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24 Hours of Le Mans – Six things you need to know about Jacky Ickx

Legendary Belgian driver Jacky Ickx won the 24 Hours of Le Mans a staggering six times. So, here are six things to know about this exceptional man, considered a true gentleman in motorsport.

HE MADE AN INDELIBLE MARK AT THE RACE BY...WALKING

In 1969, man walked on the moon. That year, another man made a smaller mark on history with his footsteps when he took the start in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. As the 50 cars on the grid were aligned in front of their respective pits, the drivers were on the other side of the track, ready to run to their cars as was the custom since 1925. When the starter did his duty, all of the drivers launched into a sprint to their cars: all except one, Jacky Ickx. The Belgian driver walked to his Ford GT40 in Gulf colours in protest against the "Le Mans" start which he deemed too dangerous. By the time he took off, the other drivers were long gone, yet Ickx managed to win the race with teammate Jackie Oliver! That same year, he prevented Porsche's first win, a marque with which he would go on to triumph four times.

BALANCING ACT

At the end of 1974, Ickx participed in a charity event organised at the Rocourt velodrome. At one point in the evening, the Belgian driver crossed the length of the stadium on a high wire five meters from the ground, without any protection. Ickx had taken part in a football match the previous year and had decided to make his contribution in a more unique manner. For two weeks leading up to the event, he had trained in his backyard on a cable set up two meters above the ground, with circus shoes and a balancing pole.

FIRST WIN FOR A TURBOCHARGED ENGINE

In 1976, with teammate Gijs van Lennep, Ickx scored the first win at the 24 Hours of Le Mans for a turbocharged engine. It was in the Porsche 936, a car with many elements borrowed from the 917 and powered by a 2.1-liter turbo flat 6 engine taken from the 1974 Carrera RSR Turbo. Jacky Ickx: "When you drive a Porsche 936, 956 or 962, you have a car that can win. As a driver, it's up to you to stay on the track and be as fast as possible. We reached an incredible top speed with that car. When you do what you need to do to win, it isn't a miracle." It was after that success Ickx definitively chose endurance racing, proceeding to represent Porsche for a full decade.

HIS 1977 WIN WAS MAGICAL

In 1977, Porsche fielded two 936s. Ickx joined forces with Henri Pescarolo at the wheel of the #3 as the #4 was shared by Jürgen Barth and Hurley Haywood. At that running of the race, the German manufacturer was taking on Renault-Alpine. Four hours after the start, a connecting rod caused the engine to fail in the #3. Porsche decided to move Ickx to the sister car (for which he had been noted as a reserve driver). During the night, he beat the lap record three times established in 1973 by François Cevert (Matra). Early in the morning, the car held second position then took the lead after the Renault-Alpine of Jean-Pierre Jabouille and Derek Bell was forced to retire, and the #4 936 went on to win the race. "For all intents and purposes, the race had been lost. I shouldn't have won that year. You don't have many races likes that as a driver. It was magical because we had transformed a lost cause into victory, and the entire team was overjoyed."

HE SERVED AS A STRATEGIC ADVISOR FOR MAZDA

Ickx is technically a seven-time winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the last victory not as a driver but as a strategic advisor. In 1991, Mazda formed a partnership with ORECA to prepare for the race and orchestrate a strategy. Ickx served as a coach and therefore had a part in the first win by a Japanese marque at the race, with the iconic 787B powered by a rotary engine. "On one side were European experience and strategy, on the other Japanese sacrifice and rigor. All of it was brought together in an atmosphere of determination which unified the two camps."

2018 24 HOURS OF LE MANS GRAND MARSHAL

For the 86th 24 Hours of Le Mans, Jacky Ickx was designated the Grand Marshal by the Automobile Club de l’Ouest. He was given the honour and privilege of driving the leading car. The six-time winner had also served as the honorary starter in 2000 then Race Director in 2001. "I have quite a wonderful history with this race. Le Mans has always spoiled me."

Learn about Jacky Ickx's life in the comic book from the "Plein Gaz" collection published by Glénat Editions available at the official 24 Hours of Le Mans online shop.