A few days after Christmas I had the pleasure of talking to Jacky Ickx for a book I’m writing about the history of Carl Haas and Newman/Haas Racing. Thirty years ago Ickx won the Can-Am championship driving a Lola for Haas’s team, and I wanted to talk to him about his 1979 season in America. Jacky celebrated his 65th birthday on New Year’s Day and he’s not only one of the most accomplished racing drivers but also a delightful, old school gentleman.
Ickx is proud that, much like Mario Andretti, he won races across a broad range of categories. Jacky won Le Mans six times, of course, but he also won 37 World Championship long-distance sports car races – more than any other driver – and two world sports car titles in 1982-83.
Ickx won sports car races driving Gulf Ford GT40s, factory Porsches, Ferraris and Mirages, and came to be celebrated as a maestro of Le Mans and endurance racing.
He also finished second to Jackie Stewart in the 1969 Formula 1 World Championship and was second again the following year to Jochen Rindt. He won eight Grands Prix between 1968-72 driving for Brabham and Ferrari, and claimed the European F2 championship in 1967 when he was just 22. Jacky retired from racing sports cars in 1985 but continued to compete in the Paris-Dakar rally until 1992, having won the gruelling event in ’83. “I had a career that was similar to Mario in a way because Mario did all kinds of racing successfully,” says Ickx. “He could go from a dirt track, to Indy, to long-distance racing or F1, and whatever he did he could do it well. And that’s what I did, too.”
Jacky says that over the years he’s gained a deeper appreciation for the people and teamwork that makes the sport happen. “When you’re older you don’t see things the way you did when you were a kid,” he says. “It’s a very individual sport and a selfish sport too for the drivers, and it takes time to understand that you don’t do anything without a large number of people – the engineers and mechanics and so on – who are working in the shadows with a lot of motivation and passion. Your success depends on their abilities and goodwill. They do their jobs with pleasure, but the only rewards they receive is when their driver wins.”
Jacky is also aware how lucky he’s been and how much richer his life has been made by racing. “In sport, your career is reasonably short,” he says. “Mine started when I was 16 in 1960 and I stopped in 1992. So it was very long and I was extremely lucky to survive 30 years of motor racing in those days. Today, when I meet Jackie Stewart or Carlos Reutemann or some people from that era, the first thing we say is how lucky we’ve been to survive such a big amount of racing miles in F1, long-distance racing, Can-Am, the Paris-Dakar and everything else without losing a wheel or having a major technical problem. It’s a miracle!
“That is why every day when I wake up I feel lucky. It’s also why I pay more attention to the human side than the score. To me, the score is not important – the fact that I won Le Mans six times, or that I won 50 long-distance races, the F2 championship or Paris-Dakar. What counts are the outstanding people I had the chance to meet.”
Jacky is also a devoted Motor Sport reader. “It’s the only racing magazine I buy,” he says. “You guys are doing a great job. Keep it up!”
Thanks for the compliment Jacky. Keep reading and we’ll keep writing.