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In Conversation with racing legend: Jacky Ickx

An afternoon on all things cars.
by Robin Lim on July 22, 2018

To say that Jacky Ickx is a racing legend is perhaps an understatement. The Belgium race car driver is no stranger to the motor-sports scene, with a career that spanned more than three decades. Some of his racing highlights include winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans six times, achieved eight wins and 25 podium finishes in Formula One, won the Can-Am Championship in 1979, as well as the Dakar Rally. 

Deployant had the opportunity to spend some time with one of the most decorated racing drivers in the world of motor-sports. As a car enthusiast, the author certainly relished the chance of getting up close and personal with Jacky. We did not know what to expect, considering the it was the first time that we were meeting Jacky himself.

 

Jacky Ickx, with the delectable morsels that were served during the interview.

 

The session turned out to be a pleasant surprise, as Jacky is extremely charming and affable. There were quite a fair bit of topics on cars and motor-sports that were exchanged, and Jacky was rather candid and visibly excited to share his perspective on the subjects that we have talked about throughout the conversation. Here are some of the highlights that we have had from the session that was organised by Chopard, whom Jacky was here to launch the new Mille Miglia 2018 Race Edition last Tuesday.

 

On Becoming a Racing Driver

 

“I was not a good student – I always finish last. But when I started racing, for once I felt that I was really good at something.”

 

When Jacky was young, he admitted that he was not a very good student. The results were rather telling, as he had always finished at the bottom whenever he got his grades. Things started to change when he was 15 – the age when his parents decided to get him a bike to motivate him in school. Jacky started racing it, and for once he felt that he was “really good at something”. Jacky consistently finished the top few positions in these motorcycle races, and that subsequently became the direction that he had decided to pursue.

“Destiny” is a word that came up quite a bit during our conversation. “It was destiny that got me into racing”, quipped Jacky. Before he entered into Formula 2 racing, Jacky was signed by different teams, covering different race events such as Spa 24 Hours Race and Touring Car Racing. He felt that it was destiny that had led him to race for different things, and eventually bringing him to some of the most prestigious motor-sports events in the world, driving for some of the most desired and strongest car manufacturers in the world.

 

On Racing

 

“The drivers always get the credit and attention, but the truth is: Everyone is equally important in contributing to the victory.”

 

The conversation then naturally gravitated to racing. In an era when there are lots of accidents and lesser safety measure, luck plays a very important role in both victories and survival. This is especially in an era where many of his compatriots were seriously injured or have even died on the race tracks. Reflecting on that, Jacky commented that he was indeed “very lucky to be alive”.

On that note, we probed a bit further: Is that why racing drivers are often celebrated, not only for their talents, but also for their bravery in putting their lives on the line?

 

The No. 6 Ford GT40 Mk I driven by Jacky Ickx and Jackie Oliver at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1969. Ickx and Oliver ended up winning the event making it the fourth consecutive year that a Ford GT40 had taken the checkered flag at the famous endurance race. PHOTO BY LAT PHOTOGRAPHIC

 

“Maybe, but it is a team effort”. Jacky elaborates further by pointing out that the race crews and engineers play a huge role in the set up and ensure that the car performs at its optimum state. Everyone has a role to play, and if something is missing from the equation, the driver will not be able to win the race. This is even more so in today’s age, where the crew is important in determining how the car performs. For a 300-over kilometer race, where the victory is won by a few seconds, the mechanics and engineers are crucial in giving the driver and car an addition advantage over the others.

 

On Modern Race Cars

 

Jacky sharing his thoughts on the various topics that were discussed.

 

“The modern Formula 1 cars may be equipped with driving assistance, but that doesn’t mean that they have it easier. These cars are so much more complicated, making it tougher to operate”, he commented. That is true, and it does not only apply to the drivers. He go on by saying that engineers and mechanics must be even more skilful these days, in order to maximise the performance of the cars.

This brought us back to the correlation between the crew and team performance. Over the last few years, only a few teams dominated the Formula 1 scene. Jacky cited that with bigger budget, these teams were able to hire more individuals, and they can afford to pay top dollar to hire the best talents available. This reiterated his point that the entire crew, and not just the driver, is important in contributing to the success of the team.

 

On Autonomous Cars

 

“I do not like the idea of being driven around by machines or computers.”

 

“It is inevitable, but not in the near future. Give it a decade or so”. That was Jacky’s response to autonomous vehicles. While he certainly does not enjoy being driven around by algorithms and computers, but Jacky thinks that it will become part of the transportation ecosystem in the future.

Normal cars, however, still has a role to play. He cited examples of countries in Africa and South America where there is a lack of proper infrastructures for many basic necessities, let alone technologies that are required for autonomous vehicles. In short, he mentioned, that autonomous vehicles “will only exist in several cities or places, and that’s all for now”.

 

On Mille Miglia

The Mille Miglia is an important car racing event, but Jacky said that what makes it special is the fact that the event is a communal gathering of everyone who loves cars. What is beautiful is the fact that people from all social classes – regardless of whether they are rich or poor, young or old – are able to get near these classic vehicles and interact with them.

 

The Chopard Mille Miglia on Jacky’s wrist.

 

So, how was it like to participate in the Mille Miglia as a driver?

From hearing what Jacky had said, he certainly does enjoy it tremendously. He has been participating in the race with Karl-Friedrich Scheufele (Chopard’s Co-President) for many years, but often as a co-driver instead. The rationale? Karl-Friedrich does not have much time to enjoy his hobbies because of his various work commitments so Jacky will often let him have the pleasure of driving the cars. In addition, the scenery in Italy is gorgeous, and Jacky is more than happy to take his hands off the wheel and enjoy the views that the country has to offer. He also cheekily added that the race is not about achieving top speed, and that they often stop for a while to “enjoy a cup of espresso, eat panini, and maybe even prosciutto sometimes”.

 

Jacky signing off the Mille Miglia coffee table book.

 

Jacky has also added that Karl-Friedrich is a really special individual, and it is not difficult to see his passion for the Mille Miglia (and his loves for classic cars, for that matter). He had participated in most of the races (Jacky reckon that Karl had joined around 28 races, out of the 30 over editions that were held), and he is one of the sponsors that truly enjoys the experience and finds synergies with it.

 

Concluding Thoughts

 

The new Chopard Mille Miglia 2018 Race Edition. Full review soon.

 

Once again, we thank Chopard for arranging the interview with Jacky Ickx. Jacky was in town earlier this week to launch the new Chopard Mille Miglia 2018 Race Edition. The watch is finished in two-tone, and it retails at CHF 5,450 (approximately S$7,438).

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