Jacky Ickx will be honoured during this year's Belgian Grand Prix. The 73 year old is not only the best (Belgian) driver ever, he is also my favorite driver. Therefore I would like to say that this celebration should have happened a lot sooner!
Finally Ickx will get a corner named after him. The Zolder track (where G. Villeneuve died) has had the 'Jacky Ickx chicane' since 1975, so it's only fair to say that Francorchamps is catching up... 43 years later! In August the corner, known today as 'Speakers corner', will be renamed after the legendary Belgian. Very fitting, nevertheless, since it's a corner underestimated by many when rain starts to fall. And Ickx was at his best when the track was soaked.
Ickx drove his first Belgian GP in 1968. Back then Spa Francorchamps was one of the most notorious tracks in the world. Deemed to be only for the brave and feared by many. One of the fastest road courses in the world, but also one of the deadliest. Flowing fast corners through the Belgian Ardennes forest and countryside would be taken at speeds in excess of 290kph (180mph)! Lifting here meant losing seconds, unlike other tracks where you would only lose tenths of a second... It pushed drivers in to taking massive risks, so that they would not lose any time.
This meant that up until 1970 (when safety became more important) there were many big crashes with severely wounded and/or fatalities as a result. It was so bad that the 1969 GP had been boycotted by the drivers, because of the high number of fatalities. In all of the 60s Belgian Grand Prix' 10(!) drivers had been killed. As the French would say; Trop c'est trop!
For his first Belgian GP Ickx would end up on the podium, finishing third. Alongside Pedro Rodriguez, in second, and Bruce McLaren on the top step. And it would not be his only good result there. He would win the 24h of Spa and the 1000km of Spa even before his first Belgian GP (and a couple of times after, haha). Of course, he would not go on to win it each time he drove there... There were some second places and dnf's too, hahah. Needless to say that Spa's history is also a big part of Ickx' history. All the more reason why I think this honour is long overdue.
Did you know that the Ickx/Francorchamps combo is also one that holds THE ultimate record? Ickx set the absolute fastest lap on a road course there. Most people think Juan Pablo Montoya has this honour with his 2004 Monza lap. But most people would be wrong. Even tough Montoya had an average speed of 262.16kph (162.9mph), Ickx did it marginally better, in qualifying for the 1973 1000km, with an average speed of 263.41kph (163.679mph). At Spa, not Monza; 14.12km instead of 5.793km... It can not be illustrated in a better way just how fast the old Spa circuit was. If you ever make it to Belgium I can give you the pro tip that most of the old track is still open roads today. It's unreal to drive there, thinking how the F1 and sportscar drivers did it at twice or trice the speed, back in the day.
The honouring of the original Mr. Le Mans will bring a very special treat to the fans that are going to attend this year's Belgian GP. Where as renaming a corner holds little to no value for the casual fans, the way Ickx will celebrate it surely will. Remember how they send Mick Schumacher round Spa, last year, in his dad's championship winning Benetton? Well, Jacky Ickx will do it in his 1970 Ferrari 312B! Considered by many as one of the prettiest Ferrari F1 car, and most definitely one of the best sounding.