The Irony of Danger

10 November 2022

At the 1969 Le Mans 24 Hours, a racing driver decided to walk across the track to get into his car and start the race. Traditionally, drivers had to run from the opposite side of the track to launch themselves into their cars.

The driver walked across the track rather than run in protest of the dangerous starting procedure for Le Mans. The driver: Jacky Ickx. Jacky said he hadn’t considered the danger he was in until he heard engines revving as the cars started to rocket away from the grid.

Ironical really, swapping danger for danger.

Motor racing is dangerous; historically, it was very dangerous. It was an act of bravery or recklessness.

For context:

On June 11, 1955, a racing car in Le Mans went out of control and crashed into stands filled with spectators, killing 82 people. The tragedy in the famous 24-hour race led to a ban on racing in several nations.

In the mid-twentieth century, an average of two drivers died each season – and even spectators weren’t safe.

Between 1952 and 1970, a staggering 32 drivers died during Grand Prix races, many in horrific circumstances.

Back to Mr Ickx, in addition to the danger of the ‘running start’, a driver could lose significant time if he tried to buckle up his six-point seat belt harness before pulling away. The net result was that the racing driver either drove without the safety of the harness or tried to buckle it whilst driving. An altogether unacceptable arrangement, change was essential. So Jacky Ickx decided to take matters into his own hands.

It wasn’t until John Woolfe crashed towards the end of the 1969 Le Mans 24 Hours’ first lap that he was thrown from his car without his seat belt fastened and died. The rules were immediately changed, thankfully.

As to Mr Ickx with his ‘walking start’, it meant he was last to leave the grid. Along with team-mate Jackie Oliver in their Ford GT40, he won the 1969 Le Mans 24 Hours.