Jacky Ickx: the Grand Marshal of Sebring

The honorary title of Grand Marshal was awarded to the original 'Mr Le Mans' at the 2022 curtain raiser, who took time to talk about the experience

The Grand Marshal for the 1000 Miles of Sebring was none other than Jacky Ickx, six-time winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, twice a winner at Sebring and twice a winner of the World Sportscar Championship, ancestor of today’s WEC. We caught up with Jacky in the paddock after he had performed his lap of honour.

“The last time I was in Sebring was 1972, winning the 12 Hours with Mario Andretti in the Ferrari 312. And the first time was 1968 with Brian Redman, driving the GT40 of John Wyer in the colours of Grady Davis, the president of Gulf Oil,” Jacky said.

“The car I drove this morning was also his car and the Gulf colours were originally dark blue and orange. The John Wyer cars were not ready [in 1967] and I drove that car, which had been modified quickly to do the race, and my co-driver was Dick Thompson who was the dentist of Grady Davis. But obviously he was a better dentist, I think, than a race driver!”

Despite Ickx’s teasing, however, the pair won their class together at Daytona. That result was the precursor to 27 more years of sustained success in endurance racing, Formula 1, touring cars and rallying. After a 50=year gap. Ickx was intrigued to see what Sebring was like with such a pivotal part to play in modern WEC history as home to the opening race of its first season in 2012 and its tenth season in 2022.

“My first win here was 1969 and I’m not going to say that it was the middle of nowhere but… almost! When I first raced here I met Mr. Ullman [the founder of the circuit], but already the great names like Fangio, Hawthorn, Collins and Gendebien had been there. Roger Penske raced here in 1959. Jim Hall, Carroll Shelby… already these guys were here and already it was a classic. 

“This group of people made the legend of Sebring but the judge of the success is the public. Their philosophy here this weekend is the same that it was when I first came here 55 years ago: the tents, the barbeques, the parties. I went around yesterday and I didn’t recognise anything, not even the track when I did one lap this morning, but the people are the same. Only the size of the mobile homes has changed!”

Even from behind the wheel of a car in which he achieved so much, Ickx was more inspired by the huge crowd and the enthusiasm for racing for which Sebring is synonymous. 

“I have to be honest, I didn’t recognise much of the circuit when I drove round,” he said..

“A few spots, yes, the hairpin, although it’s been modified because then there was a banking of sand like at Mulsanne corner at Le Mans in those days. If they went off people had to dig with a shovel to get out of it. 

“But I recognise the smell of the barbecues and the beer and the loud music.”