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Jim Clark – Rookie of the Year

As we continue Jim Clark’s 1963 season as it happened, race by race, we find Jim back at Indy – this time for the 500 proper.  Monaco, on May 26, already seems an age away…S2580001

They made it back to Heathrow, Jim Clark, Dan Gurney and Colin Chapman – and then onwards to New York, Chicago and Indianapolis.  The frustrations of Monaco, by the time they checked-in to the Speedway Motel, already seemed an age away.  Now Jim was in another world – a world he wasn’t sure was him but which he saw as part of his professional life.  Interview after interview, autograph after autograph.  At the Team Lotus garage in Gasoline Alley the talk, as the race approached, was of pit stops, tyre wear and fuel consumption.  Lotus were set on a one-stop race.  The quick Offys, they knew, would probably have to stop three times.

In practice, Jim Endruweit and the boys had been changing three tyres (not the inside-front) and adding 40 gallons of fuel in about 20 seconds; now the Ford Motor Company decided to provide two additional wheel-changing “experts” for race day.  This unsettled the boys.  Mistakes began to creep in.

At this point I can do no better than to hand over to Jim himself and the lucid interview he gave to Alan Brinton shortly after the race:

“The race came upon me rather as a surprise.  All of a sudden we were there with the thousands of spectators in the grandstands and all the promotion that goes on to make up this amazing event.  We all paraded round for one lap behind the Pace Car, which was driven at a very slow speed.  I couldn’t get the Lotus to run properly in bottom gear, so if we had used only third and fourth, like the regulars, we could have well been in real trouble right at the start.

“Jim Hurtubise, whose Novi was ahead of me on the front row, got stuck in gear as we crossed the start line, and I suddenly found myself right up his exhaust.  I backed off and slammed on the brakes.  There was a mad rush all around me.  Hurtubise got his gear sorted, disappeared into the distance, and I found myself right in the thick of the pack.

“Our cars are a lot lower than the Offys, and this meant that it was extremely difficult to see what was really going on.  There was also a great deal of smoke and dust (as well as a heck of a lot of noise!) and all this made for confusion.

“Anyway, all hell was let loose at the start, with 33 cars rushing round in a tight bunch.  After a couple of laps trying to keep out of everyone’s way I found myself sitting right behind Dan Gurney, who had made a good start in our other car.  This was something of a help, because, since his car was as low as mine, I could at least see what was going on ahead, and could keep an eye on the leaders.

“At this stage there were about a dozen of us going round together in the leading group.  This was a good position to be in, because we reckoned on picking up some useful time in the pit stops.  I found that I could run with the Offys on the straights and, being so much smaller and lower, I was getting a great tow.  Getting through the corners was an entirely different matter:  the Offys have one groove for the turns and there is no chance of beating them during the actual corner, even though our cars could have gone quicker through the turns.  So the general programme was to rushing up the straights and then go relatively quietly – for us, that is – through the corners.S2580003

“Throughout the race I was given signals about Parnelli Jones and his Watson-Offy because there is no doubt that he is far quicker than any other driver in these big Indy specials.  At one point it was obvious that he was getting away from me, so I pressed on for a bit to make up time.  I got past Dan after about 100 miles, and when Parnelli made his first stop after 62 laps we moved into first and second places.

“Parnelli’s stop was very quick and so he began to catch us again.  I held the lead until I came in after 95 laps to change three wheels and take on fuel.  We found we still had eight gallons left, so we could have started with less, as it turned out.  My stop took 33 seconds, however – and it felt even longer.  By the time I was back I had dropped to third.

“One of the extra chaps brought in by Ford was a huge, burly fellow with a long background with the Offys.  This chap forgot that I had a four-speed gearbox and tried to push me away from the pits as if I was in second.  As I shot forwards I could see him rolling over in my mirrors – he had gone flat on his face when I let in the clutch.  For a moment I thought I’d run over him!

“Parnelli extended his lead to about 40 seconds as he began to run on lighter tanks again and I worked my way back to second.  Unfortunately, the yellow light came on just as Parnelli was due in and he made his second pit stop without losing the lead.  We worked out later that he had gained something like 20 seconds on the road during that yellow light period!

“For his third and final stop Parnelli did the same thing – came in during a yellow period, when the rules say that no car must alter its position.  Now I realized that we had really gained nothing from our one-stop strategy.  It was plain that I was going to have to try to race Parnelli for victory.  The car was running beautifully and I got right up to him, catching him at about a second a lap.

“Then I noticed that his car was smoking.  My immediate thought was that he wasn’t going to last….but he just kept going, throwing out oil and smoke and leaving a trail around the track that made things incredibly slippery.  I had a big sideways moment and only just managed to collect the car.  On the next lap, Eddie Sachs spun right in front of me, also on the oil.  I managed to avoid him but it was close.

“I decided it would be more prudent to settle for second place.  From what I could work out, Parnelli’s car threw out a lot of oil for a short period and then pretty well stopped once the oil level had reached a certain point.

“Anyway, it was a disappointing finish to the race.  We might also have done better if we’d had a bit more local knowledge.  For example, when I was leading during a yellow light period, I had to put in nearly a whole lap before I got the green – even though the rule is that the leader should get the green first.  There’s also a question of whether you can improve your position under yellows in relation to the car in front of you or the car which is actually one ahead of you in the race as a whole.  “We didn’t protest – and I’m glad we didn’t.  I would have liked to have won but I wouldn’t have felt happy to have done so by getting Parnelli black-flagged.  Having said that, I don’t think Parnelli would even have been on the same lap as me at the end if there hadn’t been any yellows.   There were a lot of rows after the race.  Eddie Sachs came to blows with Parnelli but Colin and I were satisfied that we had at least shown that the Offys can be beaten by a European design.  As for Parnelli – and remembering that he, too, had to drive on his own oil – I think he did a damn fine job.”S2580002

I would add that Jim’s performance must also be seen in the context of the power differentials.  His modified Ford Fairlane engine developed about 350bhp.  The Offys and Novis produced about 400bhp – as seen by their one-lap pace in qualifying.  The post-race fisticuffs to which Jim refers actually occurred on the following morning, when Eddie “The Clown Prince” Sachs accused Parnelli of causing his spin.  Rufus Parnelli responded by whacking Sachs in the mouth.  In protest, neither Sachs nor Roger McCluskey attended the prizegiving.

David Phipps, who worked closely with Team Lotus at Indy in 1963, calculated later that the yellows were on for a total of about 50 minutes in the race and that in one yellow-light period Jones gained 27 seconds on Jimmy (not 20 sec).  Colin Chapman additionally reckoned that Jim lost about a minute in all the yellow light periods combined.   That’s unheard-of by today’s standards;  back then, though, with Team Lotus pioneering a new era, Jim and Colin were very wary of expecting too much too soon – politically speaking, at any rate.

Jim’s second-place prize money amounted to $56,238.00, or just over £20,000 at 1963’s rate of exchange.

Flying straight to Toronto, Jim left Indy immediately after that prize-giving, for he was scheduled – amazingly – to drive a poorly-prepared Lotus 23 at Mosport on Saturday, June 1.  From a Lotus 29-Ford to a Lotus 23 in two, hectic days.  Such was now the life of the sheep farmer from Duns, Scotland. In his Leston track bag, in company with his new Bell Magnum, smeared with oil, lay his Pure jacket and his Dunlop blues, neatly ironed and ready to go.

Captions, from top: Jim, in the middle of the second row, with his engine coughing a little, is concerned by the slow speed of the Studebaker Pace Car.  A few minutes later he would be boxed-in behind Jim Hurtubise’s slow-starting “Hotel Tropicana Special”;  flashback to late 1962, when it all began:  Jim peels his Indy Rookie stripes from the F1 Lotus 25-Climax; a traditional Scots welcome for Indy’s runner-up Photographs: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Peter Windsor CollectionUSA-Canada 2006 149

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4 thoughts on “Jim Clark – Rookie of the Year

  1. Another great post in your 1963 series. Im also partial to vintage race by race summaries as I am attempting to do the same thing for the entirety of F1 on my blog.

    I’m curious how you feel about circle track racing formally being included in the F1 championship standings. Do you think it ever stood a chance of surviving the test of time? Follow up question, would F1 be a more complete championship if it included at least a single circle track race on the circuit (I acknowledge that reality precludes this from happening this day in age).

    Anyway, just curious as to your thoughts on the Indy 500 and its F1 connection.

  2. It’s a great question – and one we often talk about over long dinners. It’s hypothetical these days, of course, but it would be good, I think, to see the current F1 drivers out of context at least once or twice a year. I used to love the International Race of Champions, for example. James Hunt on an oval! Shame it’s all over.

  3. jimmy on said:

    My! What pressure he must have been under … says a lot he settled for 2nd … the temptation to go for it must have been immense.
    One stop! did I read that right ? This was a race for petrol tankers … right?

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