Caption: Chris Amon (left) and Jacky Ickx flank Swiss driver Jo Siffert at prizegiving for the 1968 British Grand Prix. Amon and Ickx were Ferrari team-mates that year, a special period that Ickx will discuss at the Chris Amon Celebration Dinner at Manfeild on February 12. (Photo: Sutton Images)
“His personality was amazing. He was an extremely good and human person – and also an extremely talented racing driver. One of the fastest.”
This memory of Chris Amon has compelled Jacky Ickx, often called the world’s greatest motorsport all-rounder, to come to New Zealand next month in remembrance of his 1968 Ferrari team-mate.
Opportunity to speak at Manfeild at a February 12 dinner dedicated to Amon, who passed away last August, is an honour because the Kiwi was special, the 71-year-old Belgian recalls.
In 1968 they were the youngest drivers in the sport, though whereas 22-year-old Ickx was relatively fresh to the F1 fray Amon, 18 months his senior, had been in the leading pack since 1963 and had become an international name from winning the Le Mans 24 Hours in 1966 then going to Ferrari.
Ickx has recounted since how he regarded Amon as a hero but, with the competitive nature of highest-level motorsport being what it was, had not expected any favours. But that was not the Kiwi’s style.
“It was amazing how open he was, how helpful he was. He was friendly, so friendly. And, of course, so extremely talented,” Ickx says now.
“He was a lovely person and he was, without any doubt, if not the fastest then one of the fastest ones.”
Amon knew how hard it could be as the new boy; having gone into Ferrari as a junior reserve, he’d become the team’s top hope after the death of his own mentor, principal driver Lorenzo Bandini. As the New Zealander said: “It was a growing up experience.”
“It was a difficult time in the sport,” Ickx concurs. “I think we were both lucky to survive that period. The success for all of us in that era was to survive. It was a really dangerous sport in those days.”
The Chris Amon Celebration dinner that wraps up New Zealand Grand Prix weekend will allow Ickx opportunity to also remind Kiwis just how proud they should be of their international motorsport pedigree.
“Your country has done really well in producing some great drivers,” says Ickx.
“Chris was a fantastic representative of New Zealand in motor racing in the 1960s’ and ‘70s. He was a strong competitor and a source of inspiration. The people who knew him in those days will have lovely thoughts about him.”
Ickx, of course, can be proud of his own impressively brilliant and diverse career.
Having earned his spurs winning several notable titles on two wheels as a teenager, his unrivalled record spans F1 – where he took eight Grands Prix wins, 25 podium finishes and was runnerup in the 1969 and 1970 world championships – and also endurance sports car racing, with six victories and three second place finishes at Le Mans and two World Endurance Championship titles. His outstanding record of 48 victories and 82 podiums in WEC remains unmatched.
He also won the European Formula 2 championship, the 1966 Spa 24 Hours, the 1979 Can-Am Championship, the 1983 Paris-Dakar rally and co-drove with Allan Moffat to secure Australia’s greatest race, the Bathurst 1000, in 1977.
Circuit chief executive Julie Keane says the announcement of Ickx’s involvement with the dinner has spread fast.
“Social media traffic since we announced Jacky as our guest of honour has been remarkable. We’ve seen lots of positive comment and, more importantly, we have begun to see good ticket sales.”
The dinner is the highlight occasion of a weekend celebration of Amon, who was born near Bulls and enjoyed a steadfast association with the circuit, even helping dictate its design. That link has been cemented with the 3km main track being renamed Circuit Chris Amon.
Now the impetus is on the New Zealand motorsport fan base to come to the party – and in force. Staging the dinner within the vast Manfeild Stadium reflects hope of meeting expectation of seating 1000 guests.
“Chris Amon was much admired for all that he did and for being a quintessential Kiwi bloke,” Mrs Keane said.
“He never boasted about his life and his connections – though he could easily have done so, because as Jacky Ickx’s involvement reminds, he was genuinely on very good terms with some very famous people.
“I think Kiwi motorsport fans will honour Chris’s memory by coming to the dinner and hearing Jacky’s stories.”
Details of the February 11-12 New Zealand Grand Prix meeting and the Chris Amon Celebration dinner, including ticket prices and purchase details, can be found on the Manfeild web site, www.manfeild.co.nz.