Jacky Ickx


Here was a prodigy with the brio of Rindt and the controlled circumspection of Stewart, absolutely brilliant in the wet and endowed with such natural driving gifts that surely the World Championship would be a formality. In the end it was not to be, as his mercurial powers became diluted in a succession of less and less competitive cars. The son of a famous motor racing journalist, Jacky was three times Belgium's motor cycle trials champion before moving to cars, and quickly became the man to beat in his Lotus Cortina, taking his national saloon car championship in 1965. Though only 21, Ickx was pitched straight into a season of Formula 2 in 1966 under the guidance of Ken Tyrrell, who could see his vast potential. It was at the following year's German GP that the young Jacky caused a sensation by qualifying the little Matra third fastest in practice, and though he had to start with the other Formula 2 cars at the back of the grid, he soon carved his way through the field to fourth place before his suspension broke. Now a hot property, he guested for Cooper at Monza to score his first championship point, before signing for Ferrari in 1968. His first great win was not long in coming, Ickx showing sublime control in the wet to win at Rouen, and his consistent placings left him with an outside championship chance until a practice crash in Canada scuppered his hopes. By this time he was already regarded as one of the world's very best sports car drivers; racing for John Wyer, he had already won the Spa 1000 Km twice in addition to victories at Brands Hatch, Watkins Glen and Kyalami, and so anxious were Gulf to keep their prize asset that they arranged for Jacky to join Brabham for 1969. In the light of Ferrari's plight that year, it was a smart move with Ickx reaching the heights of his considerable brilliance by defeating Jackie Stewart in the German GP. Another win followed in Canada, but Ickx had to be content with the runner-up spot in the championship that year. Meanwhile the wisdom of Gulf's decision was demonstrated when Jacky took a sensational last-gasp victory at Le Mans over Herrmann's Porsche. In 1970 he rejoined Ferrari to race in both Formula 1 and sports car events, but once again he was the nearly-man, just failing to overhaul the late Jochen Rindt's points total after winning three Grands Prix. Apart from a non-title win in the Rindt Memorial race at Hockenheim, and yet another masterful display in the wet at Zandvoort, the following Grand Prix season was not as competitive as Ickx would have hoped, while in 1972 Ferrari were still a potent force, but not consistent enough. Jacky predictably took another superb win at the Nurburgring, as well as chalking up brilliant victories in the team's sports cars, races at Daytona, Sebring, Brands Hatch, the Osterreichring and Watkins Glen all surrendering to the Belgian that year alone. With Ferrari falling into one of their periodical troughs in 1973, Ickx's patience ran out by mid-season and he quit the team, freelancing for McLaren and Williams before joining Ronnie Peterson at Lotus for 1974. Apart from a memorable win in the Race of Champions, it was a disastrous move, the bewildered Belgian switching back and forth between the almost undriveable new Lotus 76 and the by now venerable 72E. Things got even worse in 1975, with Ickx and Lotus parting company in mid-season. By now his Formula 1 career was in the balance and a move to the Wolf-Williams team at the beginning of 1976 tipped him into the also-ran category. A brief spell at Ensign, ironically replacing Chris Amon, showed the spark was there, but a nasty crash at Watkins Glen convinced him his highly successful sports car career was a better bet. Jacky completed a remarkable hat-trick of Le Mans wins between 1975 and 1977, and won a string of rounds of the World Championship of Makes in the Martini Porsche partnered by Jochen Mass. In 1979 Ickx was back in the Grand Prix world, replacing the injured Depailler at Ligier, but sadly it was not a successful return, the finesse of his driving style not suited to the ground-effect cars of the time. Racing in Can-Am for Jim Hall, Ickx took the 1979 title, before concentrating almost exclusively on endurance racing in the eighties. After taking a fifth Le Mans win in 1981, he became a key member of the Rothmans Porsche team the following season and won the drivers' World Championship, scoring a record sixth win at Le Mans in addition to victories at Spa, Fuji and Brands Hatch. Jacky continued to race successfully through to the end of the 1985 season, when he took honourable retirement, hailed not only as one of the all-time greats of sports car racing but also, by those who remembered his halcyon days, as one of Grand Prix racing's most brilliant talents.

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