WORDS: ED SWART | PHOTOS: COTERIE PRESS
This story first appeared in Magneto issue 15.
My wins in the early 1965 races with the Abarth 1000TC attracted the attention of Carlo Abarth, who invited me by telegram to drive for his Works team at the Nürburgring Six Hours FIA Touring Car event in mid-June. This was a very exciting moment indeed, bringing with it a big change from being a private amateur racer to becoming a professional factory driver. When I confirmed that I’d accept the drive, the Abarth team manager Dottore Renzo Avidano asked me if I had ever raced on the Nürburgring. I answered truthfully – only once, one lap in reverse direction during the 1963 Tulip Rally – so he requested that I spend a week at the ’Ring to learn the track… the right way around.
In June ’65, I took my Fiat 2800 saloon to the ’Ring and started driving. Predictably, after a few laps the brakes and tyres overheated, so I went over to the Sport Hotel restaurant to get a coffee and figure out what to do next. There I bumped into a young Belgian driver, Jacky Ickx, who was also learning the track and had been having the same problems with his car. Jacky said that he had called Ford Belgium to get him a well prepared rally Mustang so he could continue practising. He invited me to join him, which was a very generous offer. Jacky and I started driving with the Mustang, and every lap we swapped turns in the driver’s seat. We started to scare each other when we were going faster later in the week, so on the Thursday we did laps alone and started to get more familiar with the circuit.
On Friday the teams began arriving, and Abarth had three cars entered for the event. The first car was for the Germans Kurt Ahrens and Klaus Steinmetz to share, the second one for the German Fritz Jüttner and me, and the third one for Italian duo Calascibetta and Virgilio. The Germans all knew the track, the Italians had driven there before, and were talking about “11 minutes or so” lap times. I was the only one who hadn’t actually raced on the track.
Friday was practice day, and Abarth allowed each driver to do two laps. Although I was getting faster on my second lap, I knew that I still had much to learn. I predicted that I would be the slowest of the six team drivers, and I asked Dottore Renzo Avidano what my lap time was. Avidano looked at his time sheet and he said “tredici” (13). I thought my lap time was 13 minutes and the others were doing 11 minutes, so I was sure to be the slowest.
In the garage, Avidano had put down his clipboard, so I had a quick look at it – he had not told me the minutes but the seconds. I was very pleased to see that my second lap had been 11 minutes 13 seconds, making me the third fastest of the six drivers. That gave me a huge amount of confidence for my first race with the factory team. Fritz Jüttner was a good co-driver, and we finished the race second in class behind Kurt Ahrens and Klaus Steinmetz, who placed sixth overall. We placed tenth overall which, given the quality of the opposition, was pretty decent. After my first race at the Nürburgring I raced with the Works five more times that year. I had collected 61 points driving in six races and become European Champion.