Europe’s Mr Versatility
- Mattijs Diepraam
- May 24, 2007
- 1966, 1967 & 1969 German GP - A tale of two classes, by Mattijs Diepraam
- Derek Bell - Master of Endurance, by Mattijs Diepraam/Chris Watkins
- Stefan Bellof - Talent overplayed, by Leif Snellman/Tom Prankerd
- Jack Brabham - The driver engineer, by Mattijs Diepraam
- Lotus 72 - The Lotus 72 Story, six years at the top, by Hrvoje Vrbanc
- Arturo Merzario - From Ferrari driver to self-made shambles, by Mattijs Diepraam
- Nürburgring - Lords of the 'Ring, by Robert Blinkhorn
- Ronnie Peterson - Super Swede, by Rainer Nyberg/Mattijs Diepraam
- Porsche - Weissach's single Grand Prix win, by Mattijs Diepraam/Felix Muelas
- Clay Regazzoni - Late bloomer gone too soon, by Mattijs Diepraam
- Williams - From rags to riches, by Mattijs Diepraam/Felix Muelas
Jacky Ickx, John Surtees, Pedro Rodriguez
Ferrari 312B, Honda RA301, BRM P133
LIV French GP (July 7, 1968)
The late sixties were a great epoch for the best of the sport’s most versatile drivers. Mario Andretti was making his name as a great all-rounder, Jim Clark enjoyed himself in touring cars, Vic Elford was doing both the Monte and the Monaco GP.
It was in this era that a young Belgian had his mind set firmly on Grand Prix stardom. Here was a 21-year-old who jumped straight into F2 from a very successful local career in touring cars and hillclimbs, after starring in moto trials on his Zundapp as a teenager. He quickly settled as an endurance racer like many of his single-seater contemporaries, but whereas other sportscar racers such as Redman and Kinnunen remained bit players in Grand Prix racing, Jacky Ickx became an instant F1 hit as well.
Having come close in 1968, then again in 1969 and even tantalizingly closer in 1970, a World Drivers Championship would have given him the unique quintet of World Drivers Champion, World Endurance Champion, European F2 Champion, and wins at Le Mans and in the Dakar Rally – even though it is certain that a 1970 drivers title at the cost of Jochen Rindt’s posthumous glory would not have given Jacky the pride and satisfaction that usually comes with a world title.
When the Le Mans victories started pouring in, however, Jacky’s F1 career was thwarted by a number of bad career moves which saw him turn into the more familiar pattern of being an also-ran in Grand Prix racing while at the same time being a huge sportscar star.
Still, if anyone was Europe’s answer to Mario Andretti, it had to be Ickx.
Quick rise through the ranks
And like every star-in-the-making in the late sixties, Jacky’s progress through the ranks took little time, no doubt helped by the room that was made in those days by the large number of casualties in the top echelons of the sport. Having started as a trial biker in 1961, he became a champion in every year of local two and four-wheeled competition since 1963 – from being the 1963 50cc trial champion and the ’64, ’65 and ’66 1600cc hillclimb champion to the ’65 and ’66 Belgian touring car titles. While continuing in Belgian hillclimbs and touring car races in 1966, he moved into F2 and F3 in the same year, with the result that he was next year’s European F2 champion and the winner of several big-name endurance races and his first F1 Grand Prix the year after – the latter feat accomplished for no lesser team than the Scuderia Ferrari. There was a very definite ‘future World Champion’ feel about Jacky Ickx in those days.
That pivotal year of 1966 saw him compete in – or on – such diverse machinery as a Zündapp trial bike, a Ford Cortina hillclimber and touring car, Ford GT40 and Ferrari 250LM sportscars, Cosworth SCA and BRM-powered Matra MS5 F2 cars, Matra’s MS5 F3 version, along with a Brabham BT18, also in F3, and even a McLaren-Elva CanAm machine.
In the Matra cars run by Ken Tyrrell Jacky made his F2 debut at Goodwood in the Sunday Mirror Trophy before moving on to Pau six days later. Remarkably, he shared the BRM-engined MS5 with none other than JYS, in an age when car sharing had largely become a thing of the past. Although he took some fine results in the F3 Zandvoort Trophy and the Coupe de l’Avenir at Zolder (winning the touring car race of the same event), his F2 account was only opened late in the season with fourth places at Albi and Brands. The 1966 highlight was undoubtedly his win in the Spa 24 Hours, when he shared a BMW 2002ti with Hubert Hahne.
1967 would be the season in which the Belgian really burst onto the international scene. Signing a sportscar deal with Mirage and continuing in the new 1600cc F2 for Ken Tyrrell, he held all the cards to make a name for himself. And so he did, consummately. His first major sportscar win wasn’t far off, and fittingly it came at home in the wet Spa 1000kms on May 1. It almost looked like the victory jumpstarted his F2 championship effort, as the single-seater results now started flooding in. With Gardner, Beltoise, Courage and Rees as his main non-graded adversaries, Jacky took a lot of points in his late-season charge, even winning races outright at Zandvoort and Vallelunga. His main accomplishment, however, came in front of the F1 paddock when he qualified his F2 Matra with an overall third time in practice for the combined F1/F2 German GP. Even though he had to start behind the F1 grid, leading the other F2 cars, he quickly carved his way up to fourth overall before his suspension broke.
This sparked major interest in Grand Prix circles, and sure enough, he found himself driving the second Cooper F1 at Monza in the Italian GP, replacing Dick Attwood. So, less than one-and-a-half years after making his international debut at Goodwood, here he was 15th on the grid of his first World Championship event. While he didn’t show any exceptional speed, Jacky managed to keep cool to finish 6th and bring home a point for Cooper. This led to a second opportunity for a Surbiton team already on its decline, but an overheating Maserati V12 caused him to DNF in the season-closer at Watkins Glen. In the weekends that followed, however, came his aforementioned run of late-season success, first taking the F2 Rome GP at Vallelunga to capture the European F2 crown, then winning both the Paris 1000kms at Montlhéry (with Hawkins) and the Kyalami 9 Hours (with Redman) for Mirage.
A champion in the making
Bring on 1968 and the sensation of Jacky Ickx, Ferrari Grand Prix driver. Granted, Maranello was going through one of its troughs and had nothing to lose by hiring young guns such as Andrea De Adamich, Jonathan Williams and Derek Bell, but still, to be racing a Ferrari in only his third Grand Prix was an impressive feat. And compared to Brits Williams and Bell, Jacky made a lot better use of it. By his third race for the Prancing Horse, at his home GP at Spa, Ickx planted his 312 third on the grid to hold on to that position during the race. This was followed up by a fourth at a wet Zandvoort, after which he outqualified his team leader Amon for the first time in practice for the fateful French GP at Rouen. The next day he won by a country mile, to take Ferrari’s first win since Scarfiotti won at home in 1966. Why?
Because it had rained.
Initially, having seen a start on dry tyres, the race saw Ickx battle with Rodriguez and Surtees on an increasingly wet track, after the field had to pick their way through the carnage of Jo Schlesser’s fatal accident. The Mexican set fastest lap of the race on lap 19 and got past Ickx, taking Surtees with him, but that would be a very momentary state of affairs. On the same lap, Jacky regained second place and dealt with Pedro the lap after. By now, the spray thrown up by the cars was increasing ever more, and several drivers pitted for wet tyres. In the treacherous conditions, Jacky got into a groove and soon was out on his own. By lap 34, his gap to Rodriguez was a massive 85 seconds while Surtees in third was being lapped. Ickx’s lead increased to over a lap when Rodriguez had to retire with gearbox problems, and it was only near the end of the race that Ickx lowered his pace to allow new second-place man Surtees to unlap himself. Still, he reeled off the remaining laps to finish almost two minutes ahead of the works Honda driver in one of the most dominant debut victories ever seen, perhaps only equalled by Ayrton Senna’s 1985 Portuguese GP win in similar conditions.
At Brands Hatch, Ickx took third in the race in which Siffert pipped Amon to a popular final win for Rob Walker, before all hell broke loose at the Nürburgring. While Jacky coped admirably with the monsoon weather, overcoming a spin on lap 6 and two pit stops for a visor change, he could nothing about Stewart taking his legendary four-minute victory on his hand-cut Dunlops. This was an occasion when the driver who later would turn into the acclaimed rain master was thoroughly beaten on the day, just as would happen during the washed-out 1972 Monaco GP, when Jean-Pierre Beltoise had his day of days.
Still, his useful fourth place at the ‘Ring and a third place at Monza moved him into second in the World Championship, in his first full season of F1. He wouldn’t get any closer, though, as he didn’t add to his tally in the remaining races, having hurt himself in practice for the Canadian GP. He was replaced by the Scuderia’s F2 driver Derek Bell, who has now come to regret the decision to sub for the Belgian, before Ickx returned in Mexico. Not fully recovered he qualified down in 15th place and was out by lap 3 with ignition problems. It gave him fourth in the final Championship standings – well ahead of unlucky lead driver Amon.
Jacky was now hot property and regarded as a future World Champion. This was underlined by his stellar performances for Ford, as he raced their GT40s to win after win in the World Championship for Makes. Teaming up with Brian Redman he won the BOAC 500 and the Spa 1000 kms (in the wet again), and with countryman Lucien Bianchi he took the Watkins Glen 6 Hours. His fourth sportscar win of the season came shortly after his recovery from his Canadian shunt, repeating his Kyalami 9 Hours win, this time sharing with David Hobbs.
By now, with Ickx going into the 1969 season with Jackie Oliver as his Ford team mate, the Blue Oval wanted something to say about the young hotshoe’s Grand Prix career as well. So when Jack Brabham failed to hold on to Jochen Rindt after a distastrous season with the four-cam Repco engine, Ford bought the second seat at Brabham, complimentary with free DFV engines.
Now armed with Cosworth power, Ron Tauranac’s tube-framed BT26 suddenly came alive. It wouldn’t for Jack, after a serious testing crash between the Dutch and French GP took the fizz out of the Australian’s Grand Prix season. But after a slow start it did for Jacky, who took two wins on his way to second place to Stewart in the championship – albeit a very distant one. He also won the Gold Cup at Oulton Park and he and Oliver famously shared the spoils for Ford in both the Sebring 12 Hours and the Le Mans 24 Hours. The pair were less fortunate in their Mirage outings, failing to finish almost everywhere, but the two blue-ribbon wins made up for it comfortably.
Next to his Le Mans win, a nail-biting last-gasp affair beating Herrmann’s Porsche, his F1 victory at the Nürburgring – with pole and fastest lap as well – was equally impressive. After a tense battle with Stewart for half the race, harrying the Scot for five laps before finally making his move stick at the Südkehre. Immediately setting a new fastest lap, he pulled clear of Stewart, to quickly further edge away from lap 7 onwards to win by 57 seconds when the Matra started to develop gear selection problems. His Canadian win also came after a fierce leadership battle with the new champion but this time his overtaking move on lap 33, shortly after lapping Bill Brack for the fourth time, ended up in tears, as Jacky hit Jackie, causing the pair to spin off the circuit. Stewart was out on the spot when he failed to keep his engine alive. Ickx’s Brabham had suffered some damage, but it was only minor. He used his 12-second lead on Rindt to stay ahead of him when returning to the track, and quickly pulled away again, damage or not.
Ferrari – the second coming
The new decade meant a fresh start on all fronts, as he returned to Maranello, signing to drive the 312B in F1 as well as the 512S in sportscars, Ferrari’s answer to the thundering Porsche 917. This sparked off a period of almost four years of near-exclusivity to the Ferrari racing team, only interluded by a few BMW outings in touring cars and F2. And whereas in his first spell for Ferrari Jacky had been brought in as an understudy to Chris Amon, he was now brought back to perform as the team’s leading man. He did so commendably in F1, especially near the end of the season, when on the power circuits late on the Grand Prix calendar the 312B became the equal of Jochen Rindt’s all-conquering Lotus 72.
Now teamed with Clay Regazzoni, a Grand Prix newcomer whose early results would go on to eclipse Ickx’s first successes for Ferrari, Jacky came on strong to record wins in Austria, Canada and Mexico. It wasn’t quite enough to snatch the World Championship from the posthumous hands of the man who died at the track where Regazzoni took the first Ferrari win since Scarfiotti did so in 1966. Jacky had been on pole at Monza and looked threatening enough to repeat his Zeltweg win. A clutch problem saw him fade away, however, until he dropped out before half-distance was reached. Rindt’s title seemed reasonably safe now, although Jacky still had a mathematical chance. He kept it alive by comfortably winning at Mont-Tremblant, leading home his Swiss team mate by 14 seconds for a Ferrari 1-2. This was after Jackie Stewart dropped out from a sizeable lead in Tyrrell’s brand-new 001’s debut race. Jacky now needed another two victories to overtake Rindt, but the Austrian’s replacement, the virtually unknown Emerson Fittipaldi put the issue to rest at Watkins Glen.
It’s been recorded in several places that Jacky wasn’t eager at all to ‘steal’ what he felt rightfully belonged to Rindt, so he will have felt some relief by ‘only’ finishing a lapped fourth. With the pressure off in Mexico, however, he ran away to Ferrari’s second 1-2 in three races, first holding off JYS in the early part of the race while setting fastest lap six times as the battle continued, then nursing a lead to his team mate.
This was followed by yet another win in the Kyalami 9 Hours, co-driving with Giunti, but overall Ferrari’s sportscar season was a big disappointment. Things would change with the conversion to 3-litre regulations for 1972, and while the 312 package would continue to improve in sportscar trim, resulting in a very dominant 1972 season, in F1 guise it would never see the successes it saw in 1970, that is until Niki Lauda turned the Italian’s form around in 1974. But before that, Ferrari – and Ickx with them – would plummet into one of the deepest depths that the Prancing Horse ever reached in Grand Prix racing.
1971 became a pretty indifferent season for Ferrari and Ickx. In the World Sportscar Championship, they left Porsche to dominate in the final season of 5-litre sportscars while they, along with Alfa Romeo, tested the ground for the 3-litre prototype rules that would become compulsory in 1972. In F1, having starting out with a classic Mario Andretti win in the Kyalami season opener, Ferrari were completely outclassed by Tyrrell and Lotus. On top of that the 312B2 suffered dreadful reliability in the second half of the season. Jacky did win the non-championship Jochen Rindt Memorial and the Dutch GP at Zandvoort – in the rain, of course, after a magnificent duel with fellow wet-weather artist Rodriguez – but failed to score a single point afterwards.
The following season, the 312B2 continued to be an underperformer in F1, but Jacky did well to repeat his fourth place in the final standings, again scoring an unexpected win. Indeed, his perfect triple of win, pole and fastest lap at the Nürburgring was an outstanding example of total dominance during the whole weekend. It hauled him and the Scuderia to third places in the drivers’ and constructors’ championships but it was the highest they would get. Much like the previous year, the car’s reliability became a handful in the latter part of the season. In sportscars, however, the 312PB ruled as never before as Ickx raced to no less than six wins, with Andretti, Regazzoni and Redman as his co-drivers, leaving Alfa, Mirage and Matra to fight over the crumbs they had left.
The fight for sportscar honours was on more equal terms in 1973, when Matra rose to challenge Ferrari’s supremacy. Although Ickx and Redman grabbed two 1000km wins, at Monza and the Nürburgring, Matra’s MS670B usually had the edge over the 312PB, as Henri Pescarolo and Gérard Larrousse raced towards five wins including Le Mans. Uneager to be on the receiving end in 1974, the Scuderia pulled out of sportscar racing to never return again as a works outfit.
The goodbye to sportscars came at a time when all was not well in F1 as well – and that is understating it quite a bit, as 1973 turned into an annus horribilis for Ferrari the likes of which haven’t been seen since, perhaps only excluding the disastrous 1980 season with the 312T5. When for once Ferrari designer Mauro Forghieri got it wrong with the original ‘low polar moment’ 312B3 ‘Spazzaneve’ (nicknamed so because of its snow plough-shaped nose) the team were on the backfoot the moment they decided to do the car all over but without the help of Forghieri. The replacement 312B3 – Ferrari’s first full monocoque – that was designed and built for the team by TC Prototypes in Britain (as Italy went on strike again!) not only looked out of touch with the new wave of British F1 design, it proved to be so as well. Ickx and Merzario struggled all season, with a fifth place in France the best Ickx could muster. In fact, that was one place worse than he had done in Argentina and Little Art in the two following overseas races – with the old car that was still eligible before it fell foul of the deformable-structure regulations that had come into effect at the Spanish GP.
That’s to say, ‘all season’, as Ickx grabbed the opportunity of a one-off McLaren drive at the Nürburgring when Ferrari decided to completely stay away. And that was after several one-car appearances at the cost of Merzario, which didn’t stop the B3 from slipping further and further down the grid – with Ickx’s 19th starting position at Silverstone, sandwiched between Ganley’s Iso-Marlboro and De Adamich’s third Brabham, the lowest point the Belgian decided to accept. After Jacky used his third Yardley McLaren to race to a comfortable third place at the ‘Ring, behind the Tyrrell steamroller of Stewart and Cevert, he wasn’t seen behind the wheel of a Ferrari until Monza, returning on a freelance basis. This left Merzario at the Österreichring to deal with the cumbersome car alone, which during the team’s absence at Zandvoort and the Nürburgring had seen a complete overhaul by Forghieri, who had been brought back in mercy. The car now featured side-mounted radiators, a tall airbox and revised aerofoils, all these alterations making the car look more in line with the design style that had quickly become de rigueur in 1973. Alas, the Forghieri treatment did not have the desired effect, and Merzario became the single Ferrari representative again in the North American races, as his token effort resulted in embarrassing 15th and 16th places at Mosport Park and Watkins Glen respectively. Meanwhile, at the latter circuit, Jacky guested for Frank Williams in the Iso-Marlboro that outqualified him earlier in the season, probably unaware of the fact that his F1 career would be in the doldrums so much that he would drive for the ever underfunded backmarker team full-time a mere two years later…
Jacky’s Monza appearance, where he finished a lowly 8th, would be his last competitive Ferrari drive ever. After four years of being Maranello’s lead driver he would not return to the cockpit of a Ferrari racing car until he took up the offer to race a 312PB sportscar in the Historic Shell Challenge series in 1998. To confirm the car and driver’s dominance during its original period of reign, Ickx won all four Shell Challenge races he appeared in between 1998 and 2000.
Lotus drama, Porsche glory
1974 was the start of a new era for Ickx in both F1 and sportscars. He would also return to touring cars, racing BMW’s brutal 3.0 CSL in several long-distance events. Sportscar racing was of less importance to him now, with the WSC in a steady decline, so apart from a few Alfa Romeo outings in their 33 TT 12 (sharing with Merzario) and a victorious one-off for Matra (winning the ’74 Spa 1000kms with Jarier) he was to focus on his new life as Lotus Grand Prix and their long-awaited 72 follow-up.
In the end, the decision to sign with Lotus did not give the impetus to his Grand Prix career that he was looking for. He must have been gutted that Forghieri was spot-on the second time he tried a low polar moment car, with the third and easily most successful incarnation of the 312B3, seeing his former team mate Regazzoni and former pay driver Niki Lauda work wonders in a car that could have been his. Over at Lotus, his new bi-plane rear-wing 76 was nothing short of a disaster, forcing Colin Chapman to revert to the long-in-the-tooth 72 and life at the back of the F1 grid for the next two years. So it wasn’t Jacky’s Grand Prix career that gained from his switch to Lotus, instead it was the second Le Mans win in 1975, in Gulf’s Ford-powered GR8, that meant the key to a prosperous Grand Prix afterlife in sportscars. The Le Mans victory also meant the true kick-off to the legendary cooperation with Derek Bell, who had been Jacky’s sportscar team mate for the first time in 1974, when the pair came third for Mirage in the Le Castellet 1000kms.
A contributing factor to Ickx’s floundering reputation as a Grand Prix driver was his new Lotus team mate Ronnie Peterson. A look at the bare facts reveals that the Swede scored three wins in 1974 to Jacky’s meagre pair of thirds, with ever increasing gaps in their respective qualifying times. If anything, it confirmed Ronnie’s ability to drive around any problem his car would throw at him. And while the burden of development lay firmly at Ickx’s feet, he could as well have been flogging a dead horse. Near the end of his first Lotus season Jacky would usually be found among the final ten drivers on the grid while Ronnie maintained position in the top ten. And if 1974 was horrible, 1975 proved to be straight from hell. The regular qualifying gap to Peterson increased to over a second, and race-wise there was very little to cheer for, except for a fourth in the wet Race of Champions – the event that he so memorably won the year before – yet another one of his fabulous drives in the rain.
Jacky’s second place at Montjuich Park was hardly an accomplishment to cheer about, because of the attrition that took place in the run-up to the race being cut short after Rolf Stommelen’s Hill ended up killing several spectators. Still, it was the only time Jacky came anywhere near a good result in the nine World Championship GPs he drove for Lotus in 1975, and by the time of the British GP he was fed up. He quit mid-season, just like he had done at Ferrari two years before and his seat was given to juniors such as Jim Crawford, John Watson and Brian Henton. And while his 1973 decision freed him to sign for Lotus, his 1975 decision effectively convicted him to the also-ran category.
Which is exactly what he did in 1976 with the Wolf-Williams FW05, save for a brilliant third place in the Race of Champions. On four occasions he did not even run, not qualifying at Long Beach, Zolder, Monaco and Brands Hatch, after which he’d had enough – again. A late-season switch to Ensign proved to be a reputation saver, just as it did for Chris Amon, the man whom he replaced, as Jacky delivered a couple of plucky midfield performances until a sizeable crash at Watkins Glen convinced him that his future lay in sportscars.
And what a future it would be! Signing for Porsche in 1976 turned out to be a masterstroke, enabling Ickx to complete an amazing hattrick of Le Mans win between 1975 and 1977. Teamed with Jochen Mass, and with Gijs van Lennep at Le Mans, he won seven of the ten sportscar events he entered in 1976, switching between the Group 5 935 and the new 936 open-top Group 6 car. 1977 was equally successful, with a hit rate of four WSC wins out of six attempts, including Le Mans, where he switched from his original Ickx/Pescarolo car to join the victorious 936-77 of Barth and Haywood. He still remembers this as his best win ever, as he hauled the delayed 936 from 42nd place up through the field to lead by Sunday morning. The car then suffered another problem, which was cured by the Porsche mechanics by shutting down one cylinder. Ickx still went on to win.
Jacky also tried his hand at the DRM, in a big fat 935 ‘Moby Dick’, and won the Division 2 class at the late-July Hockenheim event. More versatility was added when he took in the Mid-Ohio IMSA race, to finish second in a McKitterick 935, and four out-of-season IROC events at Michigan, Riverside and Daytona. Most remarkable however was the come-see-and-win style with which he conquered Australia, winning the Bathurst 1000kms in a Ford Falcon shared with local hero Allan Moffat.
1978 saw a brief return to Ensign, having already subbed for Clay Regazzoni at Monaco in 1977, but sadly Jacky failed to finish a single race. His Porsche year wasn’t quite as spectacular as the previous ones, with just the one win in the six-hour race at Silverstone – in the wet, of course – as sportscar racing stumbled from one low to another. So when Patrick Depailler took himself out of action in the early part of the 1979 Grand Prix season, Jacky accepted Ligier’s offer to make a genuine F1 comeback in a competitive car. Sadly, Jacky couldn’t get to grips with the ground-effect JS11 and rarely figured at the front. There was much more joy in his parallel new-style CanAm programme, racing a Lola T333CS for Jim Hall. With six wins out of nine attempts he became the conclusive 1979 champion.
World Champion after all
It looked like a fine conclusion to a chequered career, as the 1980 and ’81 Le Mans events were the only races Jacky took in at the start of the new decade, next to his rally raid debut in the 1981 Paris-Dakar on board of a Citroën CX 2.4 GTI. Those two 1981 outings, however, completely rekindled his ambitions. The Dakar would remain a fixture on his calendar until 1995 while his 1981 Le Mans entry in Porsche’s 936-81 shared with Derek Bell led to his fifth and record-breaking win at the Sarthe, following his second place in the 908-80 with Reinhold Joest in 1980. The rebirth of sportscar racing through Group C did the rest.
With Weissach’s all-conquering 956 at his disposal, Jacky Ickx was back in business in a sportscar worthy of his talents. And sure enough he used the striking Rothmans-liveried car to good effect to steamroll the opposition on his way to two consecutive World Sportscar Championship titles, also adding his sixth and final win to his Le Mans tally in 1982, again sharing with Bell. Moreover, his 1983 Dakar effort for Mercedes was turned into an emphatic victory.
During the remaining heydays of Group C racing Ickx joined Jochen Mass in the lead works Porsche to score a total of eight 1000km victories as a driver pairing, but by 1984 Stefan Bellof – probably the outright fastest sportscar driver ever – used his youthful exuberance to good effect to win even more races in the No.2 956. The young German was adversely affected by Ickx through the Belgian’s duty as Clerk of the Course at the Monaco GP, though, when Ickx decided to flag off the race at half-distance. In the heavy rain, Prost was leading but quickly caught by Ayrton Senna in the Toleman while Stefan Bellof in the Tyrrell was catching both of them at an ever faster rate. Ickx has always stood by his decision, pointing to the irresponsibility of racing on in these vile circumstances. And there will always be a big what-if surrounding the chances of Senna and Bellof. Yes, they were quicker than Prost, but being young and reckless, would they have finished a race distance without hitting anything? Ickx’s decision to cut the race short meant that only half the points were awarded and, ironically, it was Prost who at the end lost the championship to Lauda by half a point.
In 1985, the Stuck/Bell pairing had the better of Ickx/Mass while Jacky’s second Paris-Dakar outing for Porsche came to nought when the car’s suspension broke. With the prospect of Jaguar and Sauber-Mercedes challenging Porsche’s dominance in Group C, and perhaps also due to his sadness over his involvement in Stefan Bellof’s death, Ickx decided to retire from sportscar racing at the end of the season, instead concentrating on the increasingly professional rally raids, now contested by a growing number of factory teams.
Ickx had already been close to a second Dakar win in 1984 and ’85, his Porsche 953 winning the bulk of the stages in ’84 to finish sixth. That was after he lost any chance of an overall win when he was hit by troublesome electrics as early as stage 3. Instead, victory went to his consistent team mate René Metge. The desert battles heated up with Mitsubishi now also joining the fray, but while Porsche’s revolutionary 959 had the legs of the opposition in 1986, Jacky again lost out to team mate Metge.
Their goal achieved – a glorious Dakar one-two – Porsche decided to withdraw from rally raids, and so it was all change for 1987, as Peugeot stepped up the plate with a raid version of their 205 Group B monster. Jacky decided to join Lada and switched co-pilots too, Christian Tarin joining Ickx instead of Claude Brasseur. In the Niva, the pair was absolutely outclassed by odds-on favourite Ari Vatanen and his 205 T16. It was the same story one year later, Juha Kankkunen taking over Vatanen’s mantle in the new 405 T16 while Ickx/Tarin could only manage 38th. In the Atlas Rally in May the pair finished 10th before the Belgian scored his best result for Lada in the Pharaohs Rally in October, navigated by French Lada importer Jacques Poch.
It wasn’t enough to beat Peugeot, though, and so Jacky joined them for 1989, taking Christian Tarin along. Getting one of two 405 T16s available, Ickx now held the best papers to take his second Dakar win – that is, if he could stay out of trouble and beat team mate Vatanen, the 205 T16s of Fréquelin and Wambergue, and the opposition from Mitsubishi (Lartigue, Cowan and Tambay amongst them). It all came to a very anti-climactic end when at the end of stage 11 Peugeot competition boss Jean Todt decided to impose team orders – now why does that sound familiar! But contrary to his later Ferrari habits Todt did not use his drivers’ contracts to force them into a pre-decided order. Jacky had been leading the rally from day one, and was still narrowly in front in his frantic battle with Vatanen – by a mere two minutes – when Vatanen barrel-rolled near Gao, in the middle of the two-day monster stage between Niamey and Timbouctou. Fearing the lives of his drivers, Todt made his call by the toss of a coin… It would be Vatanen’s win.
The next few stages became a parade with Vatanen taking two of them, and Shinozuka (Mitsubishi) and Fréquelin the other two, with the event seemingly petering out. But then came the shock news on stage 17, just one ahead of the salutary beach stage to the finish in Dakar – Vatanen had made an error and Ickx was in the lead again! And so the final-day ‘show’ stage became critical to the change of order that was needed to gift the victory to Vatanen. Being an honourable man, Jacky duly obliged. Ickx/Tarin were second again in the Pharaohs Rally but finally took their Peugeot rally raid win in the Baja Aragon in July.
Peugeot’s swansong season before concentrating on the 905 sportscar project did not include Ickx, as the Belgian veteran turned to developing the Citroën ZX Rallye Raid ahead of the PSA sister mark’s full-season onslaught in 1991. Still with Christian Tarin, Ickx returned to Lada for the Dakar, and did considerably better than in 1987 and ’88, even scoring a special stage win in the Samara. He then entered the Baja Aragon and the Pharaohs with the ZX, an evolution of the 405 T16, finishing second and fifth respectively.Then, in 1991, he would be rejoined by Vatanen for what was supposed to be a remake of the 1989 Dakar edition.
It wasn’t to be. Ickx and Tarin started off well with a win in stage 3 and were second to Vatanen when their ZX caught fire during the marathon stage of Agadez-Gao, leaving the Finn to cruise to an easy hattrick of victories. Sadly, that wouldn’t be all the bad fortune that Ickx and Tarin were to endure. After crashing out of the Baja Aragon there would be more fire on the Pharaohs – and this time it would be deadly, co-driver Tarin getting killed after the car somersaulted and exploded to bits.
Survival through adversity
It was the tragic end to a luckless rally raid season and the third time Jacky was confronted by death through his hands. Very early in his career, in the 1964 Coupe de Spa touring car race, he rolled his Lotus Cortina at Masta, and survived with bruised body and pride, but in the process a spectator was killed. As it happened young Jacky was transported to hospital in the same ambulance that was used to carry the spectator’s body to the morgue, and it was an experience that deeply marked him as a young driver. The Masta kink had been off-limits to spectators, supposedly, but still Jacky felt responsible and almost decided to quit racing altogether. And then in 1970, another crash resulting in an innocent victim left him in anguish, when at Le Mans the brakes on his Ferrari 512S failed, causing the car to plunge off the track at the Ford chicane, claiming a marshal’s life there and then. The three deaths sadly complement Ickx’s fiery accidents of his own, at the 1970 Spanish GP (with Oliver), the 1973 South African GP (Hailwood saving Regazzoni from a burning BRM after a crash with Dave Charlton that also took out Ickx) and the 1976 US GP, from which he all escaped mercifully.
In this respect, we cannot forget Ickx being involved in Stefan Bellof’s death at Spa in 1985, when the extremely talented young German tried a very overzealous move on the outside at Eau Rouge. This resulted in the two hitting each other halfway up the hill, pitching Bellof’s Porsche off-track as the car was sent headlong into the barriers on the outside of the corner. The youngster from Giessen had no chance of survival, and, unfairly, Jacky is still held responsible by some. Yes, he did seem to leave a gap, but the two had been battling for the lead for over five laps, the experienced master of Spa in his works 962C against the reiging sportscar world champion in his customer Brun 956, racing for fun while waiting for a Ferrari drive in 1986 but also very determined to show who was boss at the old fox’s home track. Anyone in his right mind would know that going side-by-side through Eau Rouge is madness, and Ickx thought so too. He later confessed that it was the last thing that he expected before turning in. Suggesting foul play, like some did, is ludicrous considering the fact that Jacky could very well have hurt himself too if he had come up to one of the most daunting corners in the world with the malice aforethought of teaching Bellof a lesson.
To make matters worse, German magazine Auto Zeitung led a disgraceful campaign against Ickx, using amateur footage to ‘prove’ that Ickx moved aside on the straight between La Source and Eau Rouge, only to cut back onto the racing line at the very end, while also ignoring blue flags. This led to the shameless suggestion that Ickx was being lapped by Bellof, a revisionist act which is still upheld by some sources, when comtemporary live commentary and the bare facts prove otherwise.
The fact is that Jacky was distraught by the accident’s fatal consequences, just as he felt responsible for Christian Tarin’s perishing in the Egyptian desert. And while his retirement from sportscar racing by the end of 1985 was greatly influenced by the events at Spa earlier that year, it was no coincidence that Ickx competed in just one more rally raid in 1992. Now paired with co-driver Dominique Lemoyne, the old ex-Metge and ex-Tambay navigator, Ickx finished sixth in that year’s Dakar-replacing Paris-Capetown raid.
And so that was it? Well, never say never again. Jacky was back for the Granada-Dakar in 1995, driving a Toyota to a class win, and returned in 2000 when the opportunity arose to co-drive with daughter Vanina, who is now a DTM driver for Audi. He also got involved in historic racing events, competing at a more leisurely pace. Having done the 1989 Mille Miglia revival with friend and Chopard co-president Karl-Friedrich Scheufele, the pair driving a Mercedes 300SL, they re-united for the Argentinean Mil Milhas in 1997, this time using a Porsche 356B. The Mille Miglia then became a regular fixture from 1998 on, as the two entered Porsches, Ferraris and an Aston Martin. Jacky is also seen at Goodwood these days, as is almost inevitable for one of the greats who managed to survive several of the most dangerous but also most evocative Grand Prix and sportscar eras in the history of the sport.