24h Le Mans
20/07/2019 - 10:01

24 Hours of Le Mans – Ickx marches to victory at the 1969 edition

This upcoming weekend in July 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the first man on the moon, and in honour of the occasion, we will be sharing a series of articles devoted to unique parallels between the legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans and various space missions. In June 1969 at Le Mans, racing icon Jacky Ickx chose to walk, not run, to his car at the start. A few small steps for man, a giant leap for the history of the 24 Hours.
24 Hours of Le Mans – Ickx marches to victory at the 1969 edition

50 years after that fateful start on 14 June 1969, when asked about his decision to walk to his car while every other driver ran and took off without taking the time to attach their seatbelts, Jacky Ickx responds with a pirouette: "I had heard that man was going to walk on the moon, so I said to myself, why not walk at Le Mans?" More seriously, he adds: "Of course, I hadn't told anyone of my intentions, I kept it a surprise, otherwise they would have locked me in a motorhome during the start. I don't think my few steps (about 20 meters, Ed.) are what changed the start procedure at the 24 Hours of Le Mans or its history. Unfortunately, it was the horrible accident of John Woolfe in the first turn that year (not secured by his seatbelt, he was ejected from the car and lost his life, Ed.) which ended that type of start with drivers running, jumping into their cars and taking off."

The Belgian driver started in last position after walking to his car in 1969 and yet won the race. He had always considered the Le Mans start to be dangerous and never hid his opinion. Did it take even more guts to drive a racing car back then? Were drivers heroes defying death? "I don't think we the drivers thought of ourselves as heroes or gladiators. No one forced us to drive. The risk and danger didn't really matter. I didn't race for a love of speed, but to be the best and to win." 

What does Ickx remember of the moon landing in July 1969? "I remember staying up all night, watching the coverage on TV. What the Apollo 11 mission accomplished, that was a whole other dimension! In Belgium on 20 July that year, we had Eddy Merckx, winner of the Tour de France."