1968 Spa 1000km
Posted 01 May 2004 - 15:26
having been introduced to it by Jim Thurman, the great author of
"This Date in Auto Racing". He and I have been racing
correspondent friends for some 10 years now, and he remembered a
post that I sent to our then racing BB (with GEnie) concerning
what I considered the greatest first lap lead in history, and
strongly recommended that I post it here. It's taken me awhile
to do so, but here it is.
A little about me - I'm an American, born in NJ (pls don't
hold this against me...), came to Europe on a temporary
assignment in 1966 and am still here. I'm a communications
systems engineer, work with the US military in Stuttgart,
Germany, and live about 6km from Hockenheim.
The subject of this post is the 1000km at Spa on May 26th,
1968, only a year or so after I got seriously interested in
motorsport. If anyone who reads this was at Spa that day I'd
just love to hear from you.
Naturally it was my first visit to Spa and, green as I was
to everything, I had no appreciation for the greatness of the
place, especially Eau Rouge.
Anyhow, here goes. In 1968 Spa was still the old 14km
course and dangerous as hell in the wet (moreso when parts were
wet, others dry, as was often the case). At that time there were
two classes of sportscars - up to three liters for prototypes and
to five liters for "production" models. 1968 was the first year
in which prototypes were limited in engine size. In order to
qualify as a "production" car, it must have been "homologated", a
term which means that at least 50 of them were made.
On raceday it was raining HARD at the start, and I'm quite
sure that the rain covered the entire track (not just parts of it
as is sometimes the case). The Ford F3L prototype driven by
Frank Gardner had the pole position. Jacky Ickx was next fastest
(at his home track) in a "production" John Wyer GT40, therefore
started in the middle of the front row. On the outside, I think,
was one of the Porsche 908s. Again, it was raining quite hard at
the start, and I was standing about 100m past the top of Eau
Rouge doing my best to stay dry. And not succeeding at all.
Ickx went by first, with Gardner second already about 100m
behind. The rest of the field followed, total silence about a
minute later as they all disappeared down the straight to Les
Combes and Malmedy.
A lap in the wet around Spa in 1968 would take around 4 1/2
to 5 minutes. From where I was standing, one could not hear the
cars return to complete the lap until they arrived at the other
side of the track, at a point I would guess to be around
Blachimont. In any event, before where today' "bus stop" is.
Now, after standing at Eau Rouge in total silence for what
seemed like forever after the field went by at the start (in
reality it was probably around 2 minutes) I first heard then saw
Ickx, all by himself, on the other side of the track completing
his first lap. For about a minute I was treated to the
continuous sound and occasional sight of his car, and only his
car, completing the lap, going past the part where the new pits
are, around La Source, past the old pits, through Eau Rouge, by
me, then finally out of my hearing again.
My guess is that it took about a minute from the time he
showed up near Blachimont to when he left my earshot as he
continued down towards Les Combes and Malmedy on his second lap.
And then I stood there in total silence. AGAIN. It is
impossible to describe my feelings, standing there in total
silence AGAIN, with Ickx long into his second lap and out of my
hearing, waiting for the rest of the field to show up on the
other side of the track to complete their FIRST lap. I was
convinced there was an accident of gigantic proportions.
Show up they did, eventually, as if they were all in a race
of their own, after what I would guess to be about a minute after
I couldn't hear Ickx anymore. I have never experienced a longer
minute in my life. I would guess his first lap lead was more
than two minutes in a lap which would normally take about five to
complete. To express this first lap lead in time, however,
totally takes away from the spectacle of SEEING it and
experiencing the two most absolute periods of silence I can
remember. In that second minute, the one after Ickx left my
earshot on his 2nd lap and before the rest of the field showed up
at Blachimont, all the rest of us spectators were looking at each
other with the same thought - "WHERE'S THE REST???"
I recall his lead being so great after the second lap that I
could still hear the tailenders having gone by me, at the
BEGINNING of their second lap, when Ickx arrived at the other
side of the track to COMPLETE his second lap. Remember, it's a
Once again he went by me, total silence again, this time
quite a bit longer, before the rest of the field showed up on the
other side to complete their second lap. I think he started
lapping cars on the third or fourth lap. It didn't take long for
the faster cars to catch the slower cars and begin lapping them,
so eventually the deafening periods of silence dissappeared.
Anyhow, this is as incredible a beginning to a race as I've
ever seen. I was there by myself that day, surrounded by people
I couldn't communicate with, and to this day 36 years later I
have never been able to explain this event to anyone and get the
feeling that they appreciated how incredible the beginning of the
1968 Spa 1000km was. It stands head and shoulders above anything
else I've experienced since following the sport of racing.
Ickx and his partner (Brian Redman) won the race I think by
a single lap. I think by the time they started lapping cars
their lap times increased to something more reasonable.
Back to the present (somewhat...) - Jim and I have another
racing BB friend, Bob Immler. Bob religiously goes to the
historical races at Lime Rock CT every year. Brian Redman was
normally there and Bob became friends with him. Bob printed this
post and took it with him on his next visit - Brian was there so
Bob showed it to him. Brian read it, then said no, that period
of silence was only 28 seconds.... Maybe from HIS vantage point,
down below Eau Rouge, it was...but I was impressed that he
remembered it so clearly. Brian autographed it and Bob sent it
back to me - it represents the only signed piece of memorabilia
in my possession.
I've gone to Lime Rock twice with Bob (2001, 2003), alas,
Brian wasn't there. I'd have LOVED to talk about this with
Anyhow, in closing this, I've been searching the web
unsuccessfuly for any historical reports of this race - if any of
you know where to find anything on it I'd really appreciate it if
you'd contact me...
Thanks, Don Lutes, aka Looteye
Posted 01 May 2004 - 15:46
According to the french "sport auto" magazine, Ickx's lead in the first lap was of 38", increasing to 52" by the second lap, 4'09" by the 20th lap (then having driven both Ickx and Redman) and 1 whole lap in the 40th lap, this gap being held until the finish (71 laps).
Posted 01 May 2004 - 17:38
That 1968 Spa 1,000Kms was a really important event for me too.
I covered it for the 'Motoring News' weekly, and I still rate that report and the one I contributed for that year's Formula 2 Eifelrennen as having been about the best I ever managed...
It really was p------- with rain, wasn't it? And young Ickx was - as you say - fantastic to watch.
However, various factors certainly assisted him in building his remarkable lead during those opening laps...
1 - Above all - as you say - his magical ability in the wet, on the circuit he both knew so well and upon which it was so personally important for him to excel...
2 - On the opening lap at least he was the only driver in the field with a clear(ish) view of the road ahead, unobscured by spray and mist raised by cars ahead (because of course there were none).
3 - For much of that opening lap, Frank Gardner and Vic Elford ran 2nd and 3rd in the Ford F3L (P68) prototype and Porsche 908 respectively, but on the spooky back section climb from Stavelot towards Blanchimont on that opening lap, the electrics in Frank's car became water-affected and the red-and-gold Ford faltered. This helped delay Vic Elford, whose throttle linkage was also - I believe - playing up, so when Ickx vanished from our sight in the pits over the crest of Eau Rouge to complete that opening lap, Vic in second place hadn't even got as far as the right-hand downhill kink just before the pits...
4 - Gardner retired the soggy Ford in the pits after just that single lap, and immediately after completing it in midfield John Raeburn - driving a GT40 owned by Andrew Cox, who I think gossip described at the time as being a football pools winner - had a brake lock on the downhill approach to Eau Rouge, and he immediately spun like a garden sprinkler, pirouetting down past us at the end of the pits for probably 150 yards before eventually crashing into the left-side wall. This spin and the general commotion and flurry had everybody around and behind him dodging and pumping their brakes desperately to avoid becoming involved, and it delayed the back end of the field very considerably.
So, according to my lap chart of that race, by the time Ickx completed his second lap - he had already lapped SEVEN cars.
By lap 4 Jackie's lead over Mitter's Porsche was 1 minute 29 seconds. When he stopped after 25 laps for Brian Redman to take over, Brian was able to rejoin still in the lead...
The reason the event was so important for me was that when it finished, soaked to the skin and chilled to the marrow, I had to charge around the paddock to ferret out everybody's story, blag all the race bulletins and results sheets from the circuit press office, extricate my Mark 1 Ford Cortina GT (with ritzy lowering blocks on the rear suspension and Speedwell exhaust) from the park and then - wet clothes steaming up the windows - drive like the clappers to Ostend to catch the evening ferry back to England.
Then straight to the printers in Chelmsford (I think) for 12 hours work in a pokey office like the Black Hole of Calcutta to complete my report and to help compile, proof read and pass for print the following week's edition.
It was fun - I will admit that - but I got to thinking that here I was doing this like a dervish for an obnoxious little shit - the company owner - who paid peanuts and who had in effect total control over my life, seven days a week.
I was enthusiastic - but I was also bloody-mindedly independent - and I thought "Do I want to sell my existence this way to that little -----..." and away from these great weekend race meetings have to commute to work in a grotty office in a scummy part of a horrible city (London)?
And on balance the answer was 'No'.
So just a few days after that Spa trip I resigned, went freelance - and I have, I suppose, been unemployed ever since.
Posted 01 May 2004 - 22:00
second that your figures are correct, perhaps after writing my
original report some 26 years after the fact that my memory tended
to exaggerate a bit. Still - it's really hard to believe, at least
on that first lap, and still imagining how long Jacky was out of my
earshot after he passed me to start his 2nd lap, before the rest of
the field showed up on the other side, that his first lap lead was
only 38 seconds.
How I wish I could relive that event again just to come to terms
with this. But somehow manage to remain dry...
And hello Doug - you're kinda famous in my book and I'm not only
honored that you replied to this but also IMMENSELY happy that you
were THERE, and as a JOURNALIST. Hardly anyone I know would be
able to appreciate and substantiate the things I saw than someone
No doubt Jacky was aided by a clear track, although I'd forgotten
about the F3L electrics getting soaked (now that you mention it I
remember reading it, probably in your Motoring News report..)
>so when Ickx vanished from our sight in the pits over the
>crest of Eau Rouge to complete that opening lap, Vic in
>second place hadn't even got as far as the right-hand
>downhill kink just before the pits...
My recollection was that Vic and the rest of the field were still
a looong way from Blachimont after he passed me at the top of the
hill. I'm having trouble placing the "downhill kink" you mentioned..
I spent all of 1967 in England which, of course, is responsible for
the bug called racing biting me - and HARD. I recall every
Thursday being "the first in line" buying Motoring News and
Also recall one Thursday evening being at one of the London
steakhouses and sitting at a table next to a gentleman who was
buried in both publications. The more I looked at him the more
familiar he became - finally I recognized him as Tony Lanfranchi.
Remember him? Anyhow, we chatted for a bit, can't remember what
about, probably his racing the previous weekend.
To close this - even though I'm not a journalist it's possible that
we might have a few common friends that go waaaay back to '67/68 -
to this end, if you don't mind, be ready for a private email from
Absolutely great to hear from you.
Posted 02 May 2004 - 20:26
Those were the days - just drive the Boucles de Spa in a Ford Falcon and the 1000 km race in a Ford GT one after another.....
Posted 03 May 2004 - 03:20
And Doug, nice to read of your experiences that day.
Posted 03 May 2004 - 07:58
I own some pictures but only with cars in paddock (GT 40, porsche 906, 908, matra, Lola T70, Marcos repco, ...). For now, these picture are on color slides, but it's possible to make print.
If you can be interested, let me know.
Posted 04 May 2004 - 16:39
Posted 21 May 2009 - 15:03
Don, nice to see you here
And Doug, nice to read of your experiences that day.
Color pictures from Spa 1968...wow... anybody knows how to have an hold on this guy? I saw his posts are all from 2004 so I doubt he is still here....
I am stuggling to find the color noses on the short tail 1968 Porsche 908s coupe.... anybody could help please?
Here is my list of cars:
Nurburgring 1968 #1 (red)
Nurburgring 1968 #2 (green)
Spa 1968 #5 (red?)
Spa 1968 #6 (dark yellow?)
Hockenheim #1 (red?) oddly enought this car just had the hood painted, not the whole front nose
Norisring Nuremburg 200 #21 (red) This car and the nose painted red...but not the hood which was still white...
Watkins Glen #1 (white)
Watkins Glen #2 (red)
Watkins Geln #3 (yellow)
Watkins Glen #4 (green)
Zeltweg #1 ???
Zeltweg #2 ???
Zeltweg #3 (red)
Zeltweg #4 ???
Thanks for your Help!
Posted 21 May 2009 - 15:32
Posted 21 May 2009 - 16:40
And it truly was p!$$ing down that day, too! My wife & I were pretty soaked.
Posted 21 May 2009 - 17:15
And I thought that Stewart at the German GP, also in 1968, did pretty well to pass everyone ahead of him on the grid and cross the Start / Finish line 8 seconds ahead of Graham Hill, and then motored off into the distance.
And it truly was p!$$ing down that day, too! My wife & I were pretty soaked.
Don't forget the fog and the fact that he finished 4 minutes ahead of Graham who is no slouch in a F1 car.