Ickx: “The Nürburgring was like an aerodrome”

From the impressive array of illustrious guests at the AvD Oldtimer Grand Prix, one, who’s making history come live here, stands out: Jacky Ickx (75) entered his name on the winners’ lists at the Nürburgring again and again – in Formula One, in sports cars and in other categories. What’s more, in the round of the Formula One legends, he drives a car in which he celebrated a stellar triumph in his career: in 1972, in a Ferrari 312 B3, he won his eighth (and last) Grand Prix – outperforming the entire field of competitors by claiming pole position, a lights to flag win and the fastest race lap.

Not only this victory established a special relationship between the circuit and the driver. “I have a lot of memories of the Nürburgring – including some very special ones,” the Belgian says with a telling smile. He already laid the foundation for his reputation as a Nordschleife specialist in his younger years when, in just his early twenties, he participated twice in the equally legendary and feared Marathon de la Route. “A non-stop race that lasted 86 hours! I drove the daytime stints and my co-driver the ones at night: each one lasting a straight 14 hours,” Ickx says, describing his participation in the successor of the legendary Liège – Rome – Liège rally of the 1950s. He drove a Cortina Lotus and a Ford Mustang – once with subsequent Ford and BMW Motorsport Manager Jochen Neerpasch as his team-mate. As a participant, you’d obviously know the route inside out after that.

Needless to say, when Ickx returned to the Eifel in the year of his second Marathon, he no longer had to get used to the Nordschleife. “At that time, I was racing in Formula 2, which had been included in Formula One to fill the F1 field that was low on participants back then. That’s how I came to contest my first Grand Prix in a Matra MS6-Cosworth. But I also drove in the 1000-km race here. It was completely normal in those days for drivers being permitted to compete in different series and teams.” Years later and with competitive hardware, he confirmed what he’d previously proved in sports car racing: the Belgian coped really well with this special circuit. Finally, in 1969, he won the Grand Prix at the Nürburgring in a Brabham-Ford. Plus, there was 1972. For Ickx, it marked a smooth race and a stellar triumph clinched ahead of his team-mate Clay Regazzoni and March-Ford driver Ronnie Peterson. The time sheets impressively documented Ickx’s dominance: in the race he beat the fastest previously recorded lap time by seven seconds and in qualifying even by 12!

So, now the Belgian racing icon is returning to the cockpit of the car in which he clinched victory in 1972. “The car is still in superb condition,” he says, enthusing about the Ferrari 312 B3, “but it’s also an old lady by now. You have to handle her gently – even though she’s a very powerful old lady.” What the drivers in those days dared to do in these cars is hard to imagine. Ickx describes it like this: “The Nürburgring always had the reputation of being the longest and most difficult race track in the world. And talking about the Nordschleife today, that’s still the case – even though the track has continuously been improved especially in terms of safety. For anyone who loves racing, having driven here at least once is a must. In my early Formula One days the ‘Ring’ was not just a race track – in some respects, it had the character of an aerodrome because you’d be airborne at least 17 times per lap – and in cars that weren’t built to be airborne!”

© AvD / Gruppe C

© AvD / Gruppe C

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