When it comes to the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Jacky Ickx knows better than almost everyone else what it takes to be a success.
From 1969-1982, the Belgian speedster claimed six gruelling editions of the prestigious race to place second on the list of all-time winners – only Denmark’s Tom Kristensen with nine betters him.
What makes this achievement even more remarkable is the fact it was contiguous with a fine Formula One career, containing eight wins band 25 podium finishes.
Sport360 caught up with the venerable motorsport figure at the Circuit de la Sarthe to talk about his cherished Le Mans memories, the event’s future and the prospects of his country’s latest great hope.
Q) How do you rate the health of the Le Mans race, compared to other years?
A) I think it has been a great show and when you produce a great show, you have a lot of spectators. The level is about the same, as that. The reason it is so special is because you are living some moments that we are living. The leading car just stopped and now it is out of the race, so there are plenty of surprises. In the Le Mans Prototype (LMP), there was a big battle. In the GT class you have Aston Martin, Corvette etc. all fighting. Within a minute, there are three or four cars fighting after three or four thousand kilometres – that is Le Mans.
Q) How important is Le Mans to the motorsports world of today?
A) Long distance racing, a long time ago, was considered to be more important than Formula One. They then became professional before endurance racing and they took the whole show. One survivor is the Le Mans race, partly because it always has big constructors. It is also a race where amateurs can participate, as you need a large number of cars –you need about 60. This gives the people plenty of emotions and there are plenty of emotions when you do it.
Q) Of your six triumphs, which was your most memorable and what does it take to become a Le Mans winner?
A) If you offer a driver to win Le Mans once, I am absolutely convinced he will sign the paper and say, ‘I am ready’. So you can imagine, if you win six times. You have to be grateful to the people who give you the right chance.
My number one win was 1977, this is because we were far away and thought the race was lost. We went flat out for probably 10 hours. The lesson is never give up. There is no limitation or strategy, the only rule is go as fast as you can.
Q) You have people like Mark Webber, who also jumped from F1 to endurance. Why don’t people often do this transition?
You can only do one thing at a time. The difference before was that there was no exclusivity. You were not linked to a sponsor exclusively, or a car. You could drive many different things at the same time. Endurance today is a grand prix for 24 hours, it is flat out.
Q) Your fellow Belgian Stoffel Vandoorne is currently in Formula One with McLaren-Honda. Are you close to him?
Stoffel (left) is a very talented driver, he did everything right to reach Formula One. He won all his classes, very talented. But the misfortune is that he arrived at McLaren at the wrong moment. I have no advice to give him, as he is very talented. McLaren are fighting for their survival at the moment. The team is concentrating number one on Fernando Alonso, Vandoorne is just secondary.
Interview by Elias El-indari.
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Porsche floored Hong Kong actor and stuntman Jackie Chan’s audacious bid for Le Mans glory as Toyota suffered fresh torment in a gripping 85th edition of the 24-hour endurance race.
Timo Bernhard overtook Ho-Pin Tung in Chan’s LMP2 class Oreca-Gibson with less than an hour to go to claim a 19th Le Mans title for the German constructor.
While Bernhard, who won with Audi in 2010, and his New Zealand co-drivers and childhood friends Earl Bamber and Brendon Hartley were celebrating, Toyota’s wait for a maiden title continued.
As night fell on Saturday, Toyota, who made their Le Mans debut in 1986, were sitting pretty with the car of Kamui Kobayashi, Mike Conway and Stephane Sarrazin holding a comfortable lead.
But with Kobayashi – who had set a record lap for pole – behind the wheel his hybrid car limped out of contention with clutch problems.
A little later, the Toyota of Japanese rookie Yuji Kunimoto, Nicolas Lapierre and Jose Maria Lopez was also kyboshed after a shunt in the Dunlop Chicane.
“Le Mans is a truly ruthless race,” said Pierre Fillon, president of race organiser Automobile Club de l’Ouest.
That twin disaster left Toyota with one car still out on the track, driven by Sebastien Buemi, Anthony Davidson and Kazuki Nakajima.
Last year Nakajima’s Toyota had the race at his mercy only for his car to give up the ghost on the final lap, handing victory on a plate to Porsche. He and his co-drivers had to settle for ninth this time around.
The impish Le Mans gods that wreaked havoc on Toyota also poked fun at Porsche, the constructor’s No1 car with Andre Lotterer driving breaking down while leading by a massive 13 laps and only three hours to run. Lotterer said: “We were driving really conservatively but suddenly the oil pressure dropped,” said Lotterer. “To retire this way is hard, but this is Le Mans.
“It’s a pity, very sad. You almost wanted to not believe it.”
As Lotterer – teamed up with last year’s winner Neel Jani and Nick Tandy – climbed out of his stricken machine and broke down in tears, Chan was dreaming of a historic first ever Le Mans success for a privately entered team.
But the remaining Porsche 919 Hybrid, dead last on Saturday evening, reeled in the film star’s surprise leader, pouncing to seize control on the fastest section of the fabled Sarthe circuit on lap 348.
As a bleary-eyed and sun-baked 250,000 crowd watched on, Bernhard crossed the line with a lap to spare over Dutch-born Tung with Nelson Piquet Junior in another Oreca in third.
Quite a reversal of fortune for Porsche’s No2 car after a one-hour pit stop on Saturday.
“I was driving at the time when I heard it go ‘bang’ and I thought it was our race done,” Bamber, the 2015 winner, said. “I brought it back to the pits and the guys looked into it, and we were back out in under an hour. It was a matter of fighting back into the top five at first, then that became a podium and then a podium became a win.”
This was Porsche’s third successive win in endurance racing’s Holy Grail, first staged in 1923.
The team admitted later their calculations had predicted the race would go down to the final lap, so close were the leading teams in terms of speed.
Hartley said: “It was really tight. From the calculations we made it was going to come down to the last lap. The pace that they predicted, we were looking at not passing all of the LMP2s, so the plan was just to push as hard as we could for the remaining 18 or 19 hours.
“Before I hopped back into the car they were not even expecting us to be fighting for the podium.
“Maybe the P2s ran into some problems – my three stints are potentially some of the best I’ve done, I really attacked as hard as I could.”
“You don’t choose to win Le Mans, Le Mans chooses you. We hope one day it will choose us. We’ll be back,” said Toyota.
Chan, who was absent from the race, is the latest silver screen star to be seduced by Le Mans after Steve McQueen, Paul Newman and Patrick Dempsey.
Chopard are the Official Timekeeper of Porsche Motorsport
Prema Team manager was impressed by Amna Al Qubaisi’s efforts during her maiden unofficial Formula Four testing at Yas Marina Circuit on Wednesday evening.
The 17-year-old Emirati completed 60 laps at a top speed of 209km/hr around the iconic track for the first time in her new car since signing the deal last month.
The Abu Dhabi-school girl, who has excelled in karting, will become the first Arab female driver to compete in Formula Four in Europe in 2018 and while her timings were not important, she made a big impression on her new team.
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“It’s too early to say but she’s doing a good job and isn’t doing any mistakes and didn’t stall the car so it’s a positive step,” said René Rosin, Prema team manager. “We’ll now start working on her in driving the right lines. It’s still too early (of her potential) to make a judgement but not doing making any mistakes in the beginning is something very positive.”
He added: “These testing sessions was the first opportunity for her to see how to work with a car and deal with mechanics and engineers and we want to take things step by step.
“It was a chance for her to being in the car and how to brake and get the best possible speed.”
“It can be difficult but she’s done a great job. She progressed lap-by-lap and that’s the most important thing that she has to do. We’re not looking into her lap times at the moment but it’s just about building her knowledge and confidence. In the future, she’d start learning more about the techniques and how to approach a qualifying session and race weekend,” added Rosin.
Amna, who will be able to earn FIA Super Licence points in the fourth-tier of the championship in her bid of driving in F1 one day, hopes more Arab drivers, especially females, can follow in her footsteps and win a seat with other teams.
Rosin believes there’s every possibility that could happen in the future.
“What Amna is doing is exceptional as it’s a new beginning of a generation of drivers from Middle East coming up in Europe and I’m sure it will be a market that will be opened up.
“It’s still in the early stages and I’m sure it will grow in the next couple of years.”