Emerson Fittipaldi stepped onto the F1 throne near the end of the reign of Jackie Stewart. And, for a while out there, he was every bit the JYS. Polished and classy at the wheel of Lotus 72s and McLaren M23s, Emerson also emerged as a major crusader for circuit and car safety. Many drivers spoke the right words in Barcelona,1975, when the guardrails provided only casual protection…but it was Emerson (plus his brother, Wilson, and Arturo Merzario) who took the first flights home in protest. It was only when Emerson arrived at Geneva airport on Sunday afternoon that he heard that five bystanders had lost their lives in Rolf Stommelen’s horrendous accident. Emerson’s legacy therefore says it all: Carlos Pace, Nelson Piquet, Ayrton Senna, Rubens Barrichello, Felipe Massa…plus 24 others. The Brazilian Grand Prix has been a firm fixture on the F1 calendar since the day Emerson almost-won that non-championship race at Interlagos, 1972. David Phipps’ race report in Autosport the following Thursday said it all: ”It was as if Pele had missed an open goal,” wrote David of the last-lap drama that robbed Emerson in front of his home crowd. He would make up for that disappointment by going on to win three Grands Prix in his native country – two at Interlagos and one (non-championship) in Brazilia. On a frantic Thursday in Sao Paulo prior to this year’s edition, I spoke to Emerson in his downtown office. As is always the way with Emerson, his eyes did most of the talking. Call it infectious enthusiasm for a sport he has always loved.
Last week being US GP week – one of the biggest events on the F1 calendar, with a history going back to Sebring, 1959 – we ran a decidedly American-themed edition of The Racer’s Edge. It begins in the UK with Jim Clark’s 1966 US GP-winning Lotus 43-BRM and it continues on to Austin Texas, where we looked at some of the elements of the latest US GP venue, at the positioning of F1 in the USA – and where we caught up with a Hollywood actor with more than a passing interest in F1. Here are all four segments. The show begins up near Liverpool, not far from Aintree, as it happens.
When I was a kid in Sydney, Australia, there were, for brief periods of time, very few grey areas. You were either a “widgie” or a “bodgie” – although thankfully I was well into my early teens when that choice became null and void. You either played football (rugby union) or else you played soccer and were forever cast as a reject. You were either a “surfie” or a “bikie” – no explanation needed there – and, yes, you liked either Holdens or Fords (although the Chrysler Valiant was in there for a while, causing confusion). Then the Jaguar E-type arrived and a whole new battle began. You could pick your opponent without fear of retribution. MGB? TR4? Sprite? Mini Cooper S? Healey 3000? Many of my mates, believe it or not, preferred any of these five to the super-snooty E-type, and many a beach barbie was spent with detailed analysis of how the mighty E-type would be slain by any of the smaller, more nimble, opposition. Me? I became an avowed Lotus Elan man overnight. For one thing, Jim Clark drove one. For another…I loved them. (I loved Honda S600s and S800s when they came out, too, plus Fiat 124 Coupes, but they comprise another story). I was pretty much alone amongst my mates, although Freddy Gibson and Niel Allen very quickly supported my claims with some brilliant drives at circuits like Warwick Farm and Catalina, where their lightweight Elans were every bit a match for Bob Jane’s lightweight E-type.
Anyway, in early 1967 I was lucky enough to join my parents on a three-month trip to Europe (“it will be good for his education,” my Mum said to my unamused Headmaster). Their itinerary included things like the Parthenon in Athens, the Louvre in Paris and Westminster Cathedral. Mine included Edington Mains farm in Scotland, Brands Hatch, Snetterton, Motor Books and Accessories in St Martin’s Lane, Charing Cross Road (sadly closed as recently as this month)…and the Lotus factory. I mentioned all this, on a sunny Australian Sunday in late February, to our local vicar in Manly, the Rev Bryan King.
“We’re going to the Lotus factory,” I said, after a particularly uplifting Matins. ”Ah. In that case,” replied the Rev, “you’ll be wanting to meet my brother. He works there.”
It was one of those moments with which you will always live. I can still see the glint in his eye, the smile on his face as he saw my legs tremble in shock and surprise.
Indeed Warren King worked there. He welcomed us. The Rev’s brother was one of the key accountants at Lotus, working under Fred Bushell. Even then, before Bill Gates, the world was very small.
So here’s a picture of my Mum talking to Warren outside the still very new Lotus factory in Norfolk in March, 1967. That’s a very early, Renault-engined Lotus Europa in the foreground – I always thought it would be mine, given its registration – and below that is a shot I took of what for me just about constituted my idea of heaven – a line-up of yet-to-be-finished Elans. They were in S3 form then (soon to be S4) and had come a long way from the 1962 prototypes and then the big-production S2s of 1963-64. I also took (with my new Fujica Half-frame) a shot of the new building and of my Mum standing by the new headquarters. I was very impressed, of course, that Colin Chapman had built it in green and yellow. It made me treasure even more the green pullover with the yellow stripe down the middle that my Mum had knitted for me the previous winter. I never did get to buy a Europa – although I still might, because the attraction remains strong – but I did finally buy my Elan. It was 1974, shortly after Nigel Roebuck so kindly hired me to write for Competition Car magazine in England. I found it in the Classic Car classifieds and paid £750 for it. It was only when I opened the log book that I discovered that its first owner had been Jim Clark’s manager and mentor, Ian Scott-Watson – and that Jim had driven the car many times. I’m chatting here in my Williams days to another great Jim Clark man from the Borders, Bernard Buss.
Yes, I did persuade my Mum and Dad to drive all the way to the Borders. Here’s one of the highland cattle I saw very near Edington Mains; below that is the view of the Clark farmhouse as we drove past; and finally I’m saying good-bye to God’s Own Country, with a tear in my eye, peering out the back of our rented Ford Cortina at the famous red barns. Note our “Australian Visitors” roundel – UK drivers beware! – and my Clark-esque “Esso put’s a tiger in your tank” sticker
Laguna Seca was Jim Clark’s next temporary home, for the LA Times and Pacific GPs were held over consecutive weekends. The entry for Laguna, then, was as enticing as it had been at Riverside – with one major exception: Jim Clark was now a major contender for overall victory. The Arciero Brothers had rebuilt the 2.7 litre Climax engine in their famous Lotus 19 and Jim was now all set to go. At one stage an Indy Lotus 29 development test had been planned for this weekend – new Dunlops to be tried, together with new engine ancillaries prior to the arrival of the overhead cam Ford V8 – but this test had now been postponed until after the October 27 Mexican GP. Good thing too. The Monterey coast was a nice place to be in late October – and the Arciero Lotus 19 was going to be a nice car to drive. Jim had until now never raced a 19 but he’d heard lots about the speed of Innes Ireland in the Rosebud 19 (now badly damaged following Innes’ serious accident at Kent, Washington, a few weeks earlier) and Stirling’s mastery, of course, of the BRP 19. It would be the one and only time he’d race a 19 in the States but he would win again with one at Oulton Park in 1964.
It was no surprise that Jim adapted quickly to the car and to the new circuit. That Arciero 19 was loved by all who drove It – and a fair few drivers sat in the car. He knocked half a second off the lap record after only a few minutes of practice and would have started from the pole but for Bob Holbert’s pace in the much quicker, Cooper-based Shelby King Cobra; team-mate MacDonald, on this occasion, was way back on the grid after various problems necessitated an engine change.
I am delighted to publish more classic photographs from this Laguna meeting, courtesy of The Henry Ford – and to be able to catch a flavour of the event on the adjoining video. Poor Chris Ekonomaki is so excited about seeing AJ and Parnelli in the same race, let alone other heroes like Dan Gurney, Bob Holbert, Dave MacDonald, Pedro Rodriguez, Graham Hill and Jim Hall, that he plain forgets even to mention Jim Clark in his opening salvo.
Suddenly, though, after a slowish start, there he is, pushing Holbert hard and then taking the lead when the King Cobra’s engine begins to overheat: Holbert had nudged a back-marker whilst lapping it and had crumpled a radiator inlet.
Driving beautifully in the 19, sliding the rear in best Dave MacDonald tradition, Jim then looked set for victory.Then he, too, fell victim to the sort of incident that would never happen today. Slightly off-line whilst lapping Richie Ginther’s Porsche, Jim suddenly found a half-tyre marker right in his path; another car had flicked it up only a few seconds before. Rather than swerve to avoid it – and thus either hit Richie or risk a high-speed trip into the infield – Jim chose to run over it. There was a loud THWUMP and then smoke, lots of it, from a broken nose auxiliary oil cooler. Jim pulled off the track. Chris called it as an engine problem but Jim’s immediate examination of the front of the car tells the real story. He sees the oil and he knows his day is over.
Dave MacDonald eventually won this race, too, spearing his rebuilt King Cobra up through the field in another epic drive. AJ Foyt was second in the gorgeous Scarab, Jim Hall third in the curious Chaparral and “Corporal” Tim Mayer (for he had been in the army) an excellent sixth with his ex-Normand Lotus 23B. It’s also worth noting that a certain Ronnie Bucknum dominated one of the support races at Laguna with his MGB. Less than a year later he would be making his F1 debut at the Nurburgring at the wheel of the brand new Honda!
Thus ended Jim’s Californian interlude. Now it was time to re-jig and to fly to Mexico City, where Jim had won the year before in the non-championship F1 race, when he’d taken over Trevor’s 25 after being black-flagged for receiving a push-start. (As well as splitting the prize money, Jim had given Trevor his Breitling watch as a way of saying ‘thankyou’.) Ricardo Rodriguez had been killed in practice for that race in ‘62. Now, 12 months on, Ricardo’s brother, Pedro, would be Jim’s team-mate for the second time.
Captions, from top: Jim in typically relaxed pose in the Lotus 19. Note the ironed creases down the arms of his Dunlop blue overalls and – as ever – the absence of seat belts. The Pitt 19 Jim raced in ’64 was fitted with wire wheels rather than the Lotus wheels on this car; a Pacific breeze induced a pullover for Friday practice; Jim bites some more nail prior to qualifying; drivers briefing. Jim enjoys the fall sunshine. On his left – Richie Ginther, Walt Hansgen, a very young Peter Revson and Jim Hall. On his right – the driver he most admired in the late 1950s: Masten Gregory; below – Jim turns it on, MacDonald-style, as he exits the last corner of the Laguna lap Images: The Henry Ford http://www.thehenryford.org