Voice of the #F1 Fans: Le Mans 1977

Voice of the Fans

Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor bruznic

Note from the Editor: bruznic submitted this even though it’s not strictly about F1. It’s a wonderful history of how he became an F1 fan as well as an excellent recounting of the gripping 1977 Le Mans race. How did you get started following F1? Give us a shout in the comments and let us know

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Le Mans 1977

First, an introduction… I know this is an F1 site, but I wanted to do a piece about Le Mans because I’ve been in love with Le Mans from way before F1. My first recollection of a race was Le Mans 1990. I was born January 1986, so I was four and a half at that time. I was watching it with my dad and knew nothing about it except that my dad was a mad Nissan fan who, up until a few years, back only bought Nissan cars. But for me this was an amazing experience despite the fact that I didn’t really understand what was going on.
None of the Le Mans cars on TV looked anything like I had seen before. They were big, low, very loud and had massive wings. On the street where I lived, cars at the time were black, grey, white or blue and if you were lucky you’d spot a red one. But then on TV, there was this purple one. That blew my mind. As a kid I didn’t know it was a Jaguar, but it was a vivid purple and you couldn’t see the rear wheels. Crazy! I couldn’t understand it, but I liked the concept of it. Right then I knew crazy cars were my deal. In fact, I couldn’t understand most of the things that the commentator said, yet the cars were still enough to keep me hooked to the screen. For someone with ADD, that’s something rare – even when @WTF_F1 thinks I’m also on autism spectrum :D. What a wonderful experience it was for me as a young boy.
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A year later there was a new player in town, even when Jaguar brought a car which was completely purple instead white and purple. Mazda had one which spoke more to the eyes of a little boy. Deep orange and green? Hold on! Later on I learned that Jacky Ickx had some input in this car. To further clarify my connection with Le Mans, my first memory of an F1 race is a little later in time, and again I watched it with my dad as he used to be a fan, born in ’59 he experienced the golden age of it… But he had three little boys in the nineties and that made it harder to really follow the whole F1 circus. So it was watched more sporadically. And since Le Mans was a single race it was a bit easier. But I digress. Note to Bernie: it’s the dads who sacrifice their first born to your sport. The more you put them off, the more fans you’ll lose on a generational level.

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Back to the Le Mans story… now with the legendary Jacky Ickx, of course!
Some of you already know that Jacky is my favorite driver of all time. He’s raced anything, anywhere, anytime and always fast! You’ve gotta wonder if that versatility is there in F1 today. Sure we have Vettel in the race of champions but what is that really worth? And Hamilton is yet to be seen in anything like that. Anway, I first learned about Ickx, again, through my dad. My dad used to have Michel Vaillant comics (‘used to’ because they are mine now haha). Now I don’t know how famous they are outside of Belgium and France, so I might have to explain them. They’re about a fictional character who’s essentially the best driver to ever walk this earth. Or better yet, who ever drove on it. But the best thing about them is that they are historically accurate and have real personalities of the racing world, and their cars, in them. Starting in 1960 and working their way trough the decades. So that was the first time I heard about Ickx; but not the last time. I went and read up about him. Quite easy finding something of the best belgian racer ever, in Belgium.

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And now I want to tell you about the Le Mans race of 1977.
The ’77 year had it all. Big players, drama, underdog story, sensation – the lot. At the qualification it was the beautiful Renault Alpine A442 of Jabouille and Bell that took pole position. And Renault meant business that year. Not only pole, but p2 and p4 were secured and that showed their strength that year. They desperately wanted that first Le Mans victory and they brought the weapons to win the war. Four Alpines and two mirage concept cars with Renault power. But no great war is won without a great opponent. So Renault was up against the mighty empire of Porsche. Porsche only brought three cars: the no.3 of Pescarolo and Ickx and the no.4 of Haywood and Barth – both of which were 936’s – but also the older 935 for Schurti and Stommelen.
Ickx and Pescarolo started third, whilst Haywood and Barth couldn’t get a better place than seventh. Press, fans and the whole of France favored Renault for the victory, and Renault executives wanted nothing less. But after the race started those same executives looked pretty worried given both Porsches were in the top three, which wasn’t the start they wanted. Of course Le Mans wouldn’t be Le Mans if nothing happened. Drama struck for the Porsche team. Before the third hour Pescarolo had to retire his no.3 car with a broken conrod. After that the no.4 of Haywood lost half an hour in the pits when they had to replace the fuel pump. Gone were the chances of victory for the German team. So the team decided to join forces by adding Ickx to the Haywood and Barth line up – which is within Le Mans regulations. At that time they were driving around p41, nine laps down from the leader.

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Cue nightfall… my favorite time of the legendary 24 hour race that makes up one third of the triple crown of motorsports. Nighttime is when the men get separated from the boys and my favorite driver was one who was king of the night and difficult circumstances tout court. Ickx got in the car and drove three stints in a row. A whopping three hours and forty minute drive! He showed clearly to all why the Porsche tactics favored him over the other two drivers and as a result at midnight the Porsche was sixth. Even when they still were a long, long way down from the leading Alpine Renaults there was optimism, thanks to Ickx.
As the thick fog gathers on the track, visibility worse than ever, Ickx gathered in the laps 10 seconds faster than his closest rivals. During the night he had overtaken more than twenty rivals and moved up to the fifth spot in the seventh hour. By the tenth hour of the race came the trouble for Renault. Tambay loses oil pressure and had to retire his car. Meanwhile Ickx did what was asked, one flying lap after another. It seemed as he had never driven better than that night. At sunrise Ickx found himself in third place, six laps behind the leaders. And then at a crucial moment in the race, intervention from the racing gods helped him a bit as the Alpine Renault of Laffite and Depailler had to give up due to a transmission problem. This development moved him up into second place by the mid-race point. This meant there was only one Alpine Renault left in the race – the one of Jabouille and Bell and they were driving in front of Ickx, leading the race.
Meanwhile the other drivers did their work in the car, Barth driving good times but never bettering the ones Ickx drove. A struggling Haywood trying to keep up, but failing to be a real match for the times his teammates produced. So after a short rest, to recover from the long night, Ickx takes over the steering wheel again, early in the morning, ready to catch the last Alpine Renault. At that time the circuit is pretty damp. Conditions are bad and the racing is hard. Both drivers are now driving the fastest they and their machine can. Pushing everything to it’s limits it is Jean- Pierre Jabouille who cracks first. He makes a driver error and spins the car. As a puff of smoke ascents to heaven at the end of Les Hunaudières (the long straight at Le Mans) signaling the end of the Renault power plant in the back of his car. All Alpine Renaults out of the race so the victory for grabs… but to finish first, first you have to finish.

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At Le Mans, that is a harder task than at most races, if not ANY race. So to add a little more drama the Porsche comes in the pits for a non-planned stop. Engine trouble. Could the victory really slip trough their fingers now? At this stage, driver and car exhausted. The Porsche mechanics removed the ignition and injection of a failed cylinder and send the 936 back out on only five cylinders! Giving Barth the hard task of bringing home the wounded, but not defeated, beast. The smoking car limped around the track. Luckily, their lead on the Mirage Renault was big enough to make this the fourth win of Jacky Ickx at Le Mans. Greeted with a standing ovation of the fans and lyrical articles by the press a day later, this edition of Le Mans comes to an end. Fellow drivers are impressed with what the Belgian driver showcased, which makes him the second driver to win Le Mans 4 times – the other one being a Belgian too, coincidentally.

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Maybe to end this article I can type a statement made by the man himself that I have in a book he wrote. (Written by Pierre Van Vliet)
“it was the race of my life. Without a doubt the biggest moment of my career. I’ll never ever forget that night. Due to the early technical problems we had nothing to lose and could only go flat out. Without thinking or calculating. The circumstances were extreme; not only was it dark, it rained heavy and there was a lot of fog. But we took every possible risk. Every lap I drove on the limit, although the rev counter was broken and I had to concentrate even harder to change gears pure on hearing. And the higher we climbed in the ranking, the stronger we felt. I remember that strange feeling I got when we again had prospects of a victory, when everything looked like a lost case a couple of hours earlier. None of us could believe it. That night I did go to the limits of my abilities. Did exactly what the team asked of me, drove on the limit constantly and made no mistakes. I put the pressure on the Renault boys so hard that they eventually broke their cars. That’s the magic of Le Mans: the race is only over when the checkered flag falls. And that’s only 24 hours after the start.”

Special thanks to @WTF_F1 for proofreading and editing.7LM77

Disclaimer: TheJudge13 provides a platform for Formula 1 fans to publish their voice on matters relating to Formula 1. The views expressed in Voice of #F1 Fans are those of the contributor and not those held by TJ13.

36 responses to “Voice of the #F1 Fans: Le Mans 1977

  1. Great job, bruznic, telling an interesting story. Agree that Ickx was a heck of a driver.

  2. Thanks Bruznic, a wonderful story. F1 seems to have forgotten we need heros more than simply winners.

  3. Fantastic read, l really enjoyed it. Have to know, which of these cars was your fave when you were a lad? I remember bits and pieces from earlier times as some of my earliest memories, and that Gulf livery is iconic. But it was really Mario Andretti that got me into car racing, because they didn’t cover much WEC back then on this side of the pond.

    • Yeah the jaguar was the first catalyst. For a le mans racer… but that mazda, that was the one. Back in the day we had these card games, quartette, don’t know if they have these things worldwide? But if you had the mazda nothing could beat you. And that jaguar was a close second.
      And the first car I could really remember, cuz I had it to play with, is the lancia Rallye 037. What an awesome car

      • Funny that Mazda was really something special, though I’ve always been a big fan of the Ford coming in and just sticking it to everyone, but maybe a bit of national bias there. Couldn’t get away with that today, for sure.

        • Oh yeah the gt40 with the gulf colours is the no 1 car in my all time favourites. But I only learned about it much later. And it’s a great story. But you can still do that. Come in and conquer everything. Remember Bentley?

  4. Great piece, make you realise that if it has an engine we will probably watch it race. One thing that F1 has forgotten is the parent/offspring package. My daughter was just the same, she was born a few days before the loss of Senna and Roland and this was the first race we watched together.well me watching,her cradled in my arms and this has been the norm since. She is now over 20yrs but still comes and has a Sunday afternoon with her old man and we still fall out over teams but has the pay to view curtain stopped this for many? I couldn’t get her to watch a full WEC but we did go to the six hour a Silverstone a few time..she has even arranged her wedding this year so it doesn’t fall on a GP day…I love her but there are limits😎

  5. Thanks…that was a great story and an amazing race!

    As well as his six 24 hours of Le Mans victories…Ickx also won the Dakar…and the Bathurst 1000…truly an all round driver!

    • Indeed he was. Could have picked a thousand stories. Picked this one because it was his most impressive.

      • I had just read about his duel with JYS at Montjuic for the Tyrrell’s first win…

        I’m having trouble finding a good biography of Ickx…most of them seem to be written in German…the only English one seems to be mainly race reports/results…and I’d like something more personal.

        • I’ve got some books but unfortunately for you they are dutch. I do not believe you are able to read/understand that?

  6. Enjoyed reading this, Bruz. As a result, I researched Ickx a bit more and you may count me as a fan of his. He was a very versatile driver, as @Jennie Mowbray touches on.

    • After reading Wiki I started looking for a biography because I wanted to know much more…but so far I haven’t found what I wanted…probably just spoiled from the amazing biographies I’ve read already…but surely someone wrote one…

  7. So would the respect for alonso, that we all more or less, have be bigger on our part, if he would have put his money where his mouth was and actually said goodbye to f1, went to porsche and won Le Mans and the wec championship?

    • Yes for me. Always felt like it was a good way to settle the real drivers from the rest. Also raised Hulk up in my eyes after his performance there last year. And speaking of, you should add Indy 500 as well to find best all round IMO. Like him or not, JPM coming closest ATM. If it weren’t for VW scandal, he’d be racing a Porky at LM this year.

      • Indeed it did for hulk. That’s why I’m pretty certain alonso kicked himself watching that race.

  8. Ickx remains one of my all time favourite drivers. Teamed up with my favourite car the 1970 Ferrari 312b – or driving the 312PB.

    A measure of the man? After Rindt had been killed at 1970 Monza race, Ickx rejoiced that his run of races after Monza didn’t allow him to win the drivers title.

    Vastly underated

    • And then went on to win the non championship f1 race ” Jochen Rindt memorial” to honor him even more.

      • definitely a motor racing great, even if he did quite win the WDC – often wonder if he was glad when he only finished fourth at Watkins Glen
        also agree – my hero is Jim Clark. not only because of his GP results but because of his exploits in the Lotus Cortina – watching him hound, often on 3 wheels, the big American v8s, sold it to me

        • And Ickx said to ferrari that his car had a problem. upon which ferrari turned his car upside down to find a problem but didn’t find any. Many years later ickx would say that he never had a problem. He just didn’t want to beat a man who was not able to defend himself.

        • And Ickx said to ferrari that his car had a problem. upon which ferrari turned his car upside down to find a problem but didn’t find any. Many years later ickx would say that he never had a problem. He just didn’t want to beat a man who was not able to defend himself.
          Just like ickx one time broke his leg when he said he had a problem with the throttle staying open. Ferrari didn’t find anything send him back out. Same problem. Ferrari telling him they checked everything. Actually didn’t. Send him out and he crashed because of a throttle problem. Broke his leg. It wasn’t until years after, when the head mechanic wrote his book, that this came out. Although ickx said he always had a suspicion about it.

  9. Michel Vailliant!
    I thought of him when Kimi switched to rain tyres on a dry track. A move that seemed to be overseen (invented) by Michael Schumacher on the pit wall.

    I yelled to my tv: “fucking Michel Vailliant strategy!”

  10. Nice piece, bruznic!

    For someone with ADD, that’s something rare – even when @WTF_F1 thinks I’m also on autism spectrum

    I agree that ADD could be closely linked to the autism spectrum… If you haven’t done so already, you may want to look into Irlen tinted lenses (irlen.be/). In my understanding these can be a surprisingly effective long-term approach to such issues, and can help alleviate ADD and related discomforts in those affected. The potential mechanism at play is as follows: those on the autism spectrum can exhibit hypersensitivity to light (namely, to specific wavelengths) which tends to overpower the brain (i.e. take away brain processing power because of light-induced noise) and thus result in difficulty concentrating on just about anything, unless it comes with a hook (e.g. crazy cars). The tinted lenses are chosen to screen the individual from the specific wavelengths that distract them, thus removing this unwanted interference and freeing the brain to focus on other processing tasks, and thus alleviate attention difficulties. These centers are nothing but a fancy optician (they work on color correction, not sight correction), and it’s easy to find one in Belgium, e.g. in Brugge. It’s really worth a try, but it should be noted that this is a long-term solution, and it can take more than 6 months to start noticing improvements if any…

    • Never heard of that approach. Very interesting. I’ve been diagnosed pretty late. So I had to learn to live with it. When they finally diagnosed me they gave me meds but I stopped with that after a year or 2. The trick is to only do things that interest you. Hahah. But I take it you had to do with it yourself? Or someone close to you. Thanks to wtf_f1 I’ve been reading up about misdiagnosis, add that should be autism and vice versa.

      • Yeah, the whole autism spectrum is pretty novel, and many in the medical establishment are completely clueless about how to deal with it (accurate diagnosis, understanding or even acknowledging the peculiar symptoms, etc.). Many refuse to believe that there might be something out there that they weren’t taught in school 50 years ago… Oh, well. 🙂

        From what I read meds don’t help much if at all in these cases. The tinted lenses is certainly a pretty curious approach, but one that makes sense if you get a hang of the mechanisms at play (it won’t be 10-15 years before the academics in the medical establishment catch up, and if). One thing’s for sure: wearing slightly colored glasses can’t really do much harm (they’re basically very, very light sun glasses), and you can easily stop using them at any point. Still, I’ve heard about some pretty spectacular results with them (e.g. people with dyslexia overcoming visual difficulties, veterans of the Iraq war overcoming PTSD, etc.), so definitely worth a try…

        BTW, if you’re curious about understanding these things more here’s a very informative discussion on the latest scientific understanding on autism:
        http://www.ideasroadshow.com/issues/uta-frith-2013-03-29

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