Jacky Ickx interview series (2) - 1969 and the walk to victory
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Jacky Ickx interview series (2) - 1969 and the walk to victory

From the WEC 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps and the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Belgium and France, the Ardennes mountains and the Sarthe region, enjoy this in-depth interview of Jacky Ickx. In this second installment, the six-time Le Mans winner discusses his first victory at the 1969 edition, the first of his many exploits at the 24 Hours circuit.

After his first participation with the Essex Wire team in 1966, the following year Jacky Ickx jointed John Wyer's outfit whose Mirage cars were decorated for the first time in Gulf Oil company's legendary sky blue and orange livery. But like in 1966, the young Belgian driver, that time sharing the wheel with the Australian Brian Muir, was forced to retire.

In 1968, the 24 Hours of Le Mans was postponed until September 29th and 30th due to the social and political climate of May of that year in France. Jacky Ickx was absent: on September 22nd, the day before Scrutineering for the 36th edition, he had an accident at the Grand Prix of Canada. With a fractured leg, he had to give his spot behind the wheel of the #9 Ford GT40 to Mexican driver Pedro Rodriguez...who went on to win the race along with Belgian driver Lucien Bianchi.

The start of the 1968 24 Hours was marred by an accident the consequences of which were fully felt the following year. After running toward his Ford GT40, another Belgian driver, Willy Mairesse, started off without securing his safety harnass, add to that a poorly closed door, and the result was a violent incident. Mairesse survived after a long coma, but his racing career was over. Sadly, one year later on September 2, 1969, he took his own life.

On June 14, 1969, Jacky Ickx made a gesture of protest that made him a legend and managed to change the landscape of the 24 Hours of Le Mans forever. At the start, he decided to make his way to his Ford GT40 Gulf by walking, not running. He took off dead last, but the Belgian driver and his teammate, the Brit Jackie Oliver, came back fighting and took the lead. In the final lap, Jacky Ickx overtook the Porsche driven by Hans Herrmann at Mulsanne. Under the checkered flag, only 120 meters separated the winning #6 Ford GT40 and the #64 Porsche 908.

At the end of the 1960s, motorsports did not enjoy the level of safety it does today, there were almost daily severe or fatal accidents, recalls Jacky Ickx. "What makes the overconfidence of youth is the lack of survival instinct. At 20 years old, we know nothing of the fragility or brevity of life, so nothing can stop you. During the 1960s, there were so many accidents that everyone was directly affected at one time or another. It stopped no one, but we were all aware when we left for a race weekend, we may not make it back home on Monday. The problem with the magnificent Le Mans start, that Pierre Fillon has masterfully updated, is there is a choice to make. When you run to your car hoping to be one of the first to take off, it is out of the question to fasten your harnass. We were not among the favorites (in 1969, Jacky Ickx and Jackie Oliver were 14th on the starting grid, Ed.), and in a long distance race such as the 24 Hours, the start is of relative insignificance. So it was easy to start last and calmly secure your harnass. Certainly, we started last and finished first. But just think if we had finished second...today they may say to me: 'instead of being clever at the start, you could have hurried a bit more and won the race.' But the most important thing is to act with conviction. And it caused the start of the 24 Hours of Le Mans to be changed, for the good of everyone."

In 1971, before the start of the race became what we know it to be today, the Le Mans start returned one last time in 1970, but with the drivers strapped in their harnasses. It was immortalized in "Le Mans," the movie filmed that year by Steve McQueen's team. Jacky Ickx was at the start, that time at the wheel of a Ferrari. His history with "Commendatore" Enzo Ferrari will serve as the subject of the third installment in this series.

 

Click below for the first installment in this interview series:

Jacky Ickx interview series (1) - The road to the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans