SINGAPORE (Sept 10): The way legendary race car driver Jacky Ickx talks about Chopard co-president Karl-Friedrich Scheufele, it is clear they are BFFs. The duo met in 1988, when Chopard became the official timekeeper sponsor of the Mille Miglia, the famous open-road, endurance race in which over 440 teams of classic, vintage cars dash across 1,000 miles (hence the name) of the enchanting Italian countryside from Brescia to Rome and back in four days.

The Belgian driver was then in his prime, dominating competition podiums from Formula 1 to the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the world’s oldest sports car endurance race.

A year later, Ickx and Sheufele teamed up as co-pilots for the Mille Miglia, establishing a 30- year friendship and driving partnership that continues to this day. The pair participates in the demanding race together every other year, with Ickx vacating the seat for Scheufele’s wife in between.

Interestingly, Ickx is usually the one in the passenger’s seat; he takes over when it rains. “All my life, I have driven. [Scheufele] gave me the opportunity to see Italy as I never saw it. Because as a passenger, I have plenty of time to see Italy in a way I don’t [normally] see it. We go on small roads [on the way] to Rome; it’s fantastic,” says Brussels-born Ickx in a French accent, having lived in Monte Carlo for the past 35 years. “Usually, a race [car] driver does not like to be driven. But with him, no problem. He is a very good driver; so good sometimes I can fall asleep in the car,” he adds.

The friendship blossomed as an extension of both their passions and, quite naturally, it evolved into a brand ambassadorship, with Ickx lending his celebrity to Chopard in a collaboration that has produced several “Jacky Ickx” special-edition watches. “Friendship is the key to everything in life,” says the 73-year-old, who considers himself “family” to the Scheufeles, who have owned the Chopard brand since 1963. Scheufele and younger sister Caroline have been helming the last family-run watchmaking business for over three decades.

“I have a lot of admiration for him,” notes Ickx. “It’s a large company; it has a history, it’s [run by] the fifth generation, and it has a very special atmosphere. The difference between Chopard and others is that it’s fully a family business with a unique team. It’s not like a company with shareholders. They are a large family and globally, they have huge respect. People feel happy about the way the team is working, especially the watchmakers, jewellers and artists, and that explains the soul and atmosphere [of the brand]. It’s all about human interest and respect. And I think that also explains the success [of Chopard],” he observes.

The Mille Miglia GTS Power Control Grigio Speciale flaunts a finely stippled anthracite dial with striking ‘Rosso Corsa’ red accents via the arrow-shaped Mille Miglia logo framing the date aperture and on the tip of the central sweep-seconds hand.

Limited-edition mileage
Borne of Scheufele’s fascination and enthusiasm for classic cars, Chopard’s association with the Mille Miglia was a trailblazing union between the world of horology and automobiles back then, with a common thread of fine mechanics, extreme precision and exceptional style between them.

For 30 years, Chopard has presented Mille Miglia limited-edition timepieces, embodying the passion, style and precision of the legendary Italian competition once described as the “world’s most beautiful race” by Enzo Ferrari himself. 

“Chopard has really found something that matches them well. In racing, it’s always a matter of time,” says Ickx.

At the heart of Chopard’s eponymous Mille Miglia collection are always the chronographs. Marking the 30th anniversary of the partnership, the Mille Miglia 2018 Race Edition features an anthracite engine-turned dial inspired by classical automobile dashboards, with the distinctive red Mille Miglia logo proudly stamped at 12 o’clock. Its three dashboard-inspired counters are driven by a mechanical chronograph movement chronometer-certified by the Swiss Official Chronometer Testing Institute (COSC).

Nothing is left to chance in the game of precision, with a frequency of 28,800 vibrations per hour and a 42-hour power reserve guaranteeing the regularity of this self-winding watch and maintaining a variation in rate ranging from minus-four to plussix seconds per day. The high-performance mechanism is housed in a 42mm case with an exhibition back bearing a transfer-printed inscription that reads “Chopard & Mille Miglia — 30 anni de passionne”, matched by a red-stitched leather strap and limited to 1,000 pieces in steel and 100 in 18k rose gold.

Then, there is the ultra-contemporary Mille Miglia GTS Power Control Grigio Speciale, flaunting a finely stippled anthracite dial with “Rosso Corsa” accents — the “racing red” international motor racing colour of cars entered by teams from Italy — and oversized numerals reminiscent of 1950s car dashboards. The cool grey dial is lit up by the flamboyant “Rosso Corsa” red tip of the central sweep-seconds hand, as well as the arrow-shaped Mille Miglia logo framing the date aperture.

Powered by the 01.08-C Chopard calibre with a 60-hour power reserve, the COSC-certified chronometer is housed in a 43mm case in shotblasted titanium — an extremely light and resistant material — with its screw-in caseback engraved with the inscription “Brescia > Roma > Brescia”, bordering the tinted crystal that offers fascinating glimpses of the Chopard movement and its openworked oscillating weight. The 1,000-piece limited-edition watch is complemented by an integrated strap in Cordura, a high-performance fabric used for driver race suits.

The Mille Miglia Racing Colours edition celebrates the national colours of the five countries that traditionally excel in motor racing: Rosso Corsa (Italy), Speed Silver (Germany), British Racing Green (the UK), Vintage Blue (France) and Speed Yellow (Belgium).

National colours for motor racing were first attributed in the 1910s, with one colour allocated to each country to easily identify the nationality of the competing drivers.

Inspired by the cars that competed in the Mille Miglia between 1927 and 1940, Chopard’s Mille Miglia Racing Colours chronographs offer collectors the opportunity to acquire a limited-edition model (300 pieces in each colour) that matches their outfits or the bodywork of their car.

On the dial, the arrow-shaped Mille Miglia logo appears at 12 o’clock while the sweep-seconds hand features a bright red tip ticking off the precious seconds of the race, and the slim cursive fonts and counters recall the typical dashboards of the late 1920s. Beneath, the 42mm COSC-certified chronometers beat at 28,800 vibrations per hour throughout the 42 hours of its power reserve.

“Through the 30 years of [passionate association] with the Mille Miglia, the Mille Miglia watch has become a must. It’s known worldwide as the Mille Miglia watch and it’s nice to be a part of it,” Ickx acknowledges, referencing the cult following for the collection that has become one of Chopard’s most iconic.

“But my favourites are still my editions,” he adds with a smile.
Over the years, Chopard has rolled out several “Jacky Ickx” editions in limited series that, according to Ickx, have all sold out.

In 2014, Chopard became the “Official Timing Partner” of Porsche Motorsport for the German racing team’s grand comeback to endurance competition, and launched a Superfast chronograph inspired by the Porsche 919 Hybrid competing in the World Endurance Championship LMP1 category that same year.

The following year, Chopard unveiled the Superfast Chrono Porsche 919 Jacky Ickx Edition chronograph, celebrating the legendary driver who won the 24 Hours of Le Mans four times with Porsche

In tribute to Ickx, the dial of the handsome watch features an inner bezel ring and counters in dark blue dotted with white touches — the colours of the helmet worn by Ickx during his illustrious career.

The Mille Miglia Racing Colours celebrates the national colours of the five countries that traditionally excel in motor racing with a limited edition of 300 pieces in five colours: Rosso Corsa (Italy), Speed Silver (Germany), British Racing Green (the UK), Vintage Blue (France) and Speed Yellow (Belgium).

The rise of a legend
In person, Ickx exudes an extraordinary amount of charisma, not unexpected for a sportsman of his success and stature. He is personable, has a fantastic sense of humour and shares pearls of wisdom gleaned from a life richly lived. He is a dream to interview and one can only imagine how he would have charmed the ladies back in the day.

He talks about how he was “not supposed to be a race car driver” and “would have loved to be a gardener”, enjoying the peacefulness of nature instead of the roar of engines. But, alas, life had other plans for him.

How then did Ickx become the accidental legend in the world of motor sport racing? “You have to be very bad at school. You have to disappoint your parents terribly. And you have to have very special parents where each time it is a disaster, they gave you a nice present to encourage you to be better next time,” he confides, tongue-in-cheek.

One year, they punished him with a motorcycle and the rest is history. From winning motorcycle racing competitions, Ickx progressed to the glamorous and exciting world of Formula 1 racing in the 1960s and 1970s, where he clocked eight wins and 25 podium finishes, in parallel with endurance racing that stretched to his later career in the 1980s.

His most memorable victory was that of the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1969. As with tradition, the cars were lined up at an angle on one side of the track and all the drivers were preparing to rush to their speed machines and drive off. All except one: Ickx.

In protest against this type of start, which Ickx considered dangerous and pointless within the context of a 24-hour race (with drivers hurtling off at dizzying speeds without buckling their safety belts), he decided to walk to his car. He simply strolled across the track as the other drivers sprinted ahead to jump into their cockpit — and still won the race. More importantly, he secured a greater victory in improving drivers’ safety, as his demonstration prompted the rules to be modified the following year, changing the course of history and earning Ickx the famous nickname “Monsieur Le Mans”

“I believe I had a very good guardian angel who worked very well for me because he really saved me through these years,” he acknowledges.

Ickx’ gratitude for all his success comes through clearly and he attributes it to being surrounded by the right people throughout the course of his career — the right mechanics, engineers and teams.

“Timing plays an important role in your destiny. It’s the people who cross your path. The mystery is the timing; the mystery of the circumstances where you meet people you don’t expect. It’s the mystery of a sentence in a book that gives you some thoughts or dreams. It’s the mystery of having a good teacher who gives you the passion to study this or that. All these people who give you direction,” he says philosophically.

His daughter, Vanina, is carrying on her father’s legacy, also competing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, among other races.

“I regret that she discovered she likes racing much too late,” he says. Vanina, who has a university degree in biology, entered her first race at 21, considered a relatively late age to begin competing in the sport.

“She’s one of the few girls who race in highspeed cars at 330kph and who upset many men because she is faster than them,” says the proud but concerned father. He adds that he was “not involved” in her decision to go down this path.

“You share her success, you share her disappointment. Although racing is much safer today, there is still potential risk. I dislike that she offered me the pleasure of having weekends following her and being unhappy the whole weekend because I was just…” he trails off, motioning a nervous, nail-biting gesture. “But you cannot stop your children from doing something you disapprove of. It’s their life. The parents are there to support their children to reach success in their passions,” he recognises.

Ickx’s own father was a motoring journalist and amateur driver, who did not “push” him to become a race car driver either.

“The lives of my mother and father were much more dreadful than mine considering racing was really a dangerous sport in my days. I never thought about it [then], but they thought about [the risk]. Their weekends were total disasters.”

Jamie Nonis is a lifestyle journalist with an appreciation for all things beautiful.