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Archive for the tag “Nice”

La Bananeraie

1963 Monaco Grand PrixJim Clark’s 1963 season (continued)

From Indy Qualifying, Jim flew to Nice from London, where he had been staying on Monday and Tuesday in the apartment of his friend, Sir John Whitmore.  They had first met in 1959, when they had shared Ian Scott-Watson’s Lotus Elite at Le Mans, and they had stayed in touch ever since.S2520004  Their bond, ironically, had been their shared despair after Alan Stacey’s death.  A farmer like John and Jim, Alan had been hugely helpful to Whitmore in the early years.  At Le Mans in ‘59, with Alan now on the verge of a full F1 career and driving at Le Mans a factory Lotus 17 with Keith Greene, the three of them had had a ball, with Alan very much playing the role of the mentor. Early in that Le Mans week, over dinner at the Team Lotus hotel in a little village away from the main town, John had read aloud a report in L’Equipe about one of the drivers having an artificial leg.  Jim, still very new to motor racing, was both appalled and disbelieving.  “Disgusting,” he said, making it unclear whether he was talking about the lies in the article or the concept itself.

Jim was up bright and early the following morning, in his usual way, and knocked on the door of the room being shared by John and Alan.

“Come on.  Wake up.  Rise and shine.  Time to get going.”  Then silence.  Jim had seen Alan’s prosthetic leg lying on the floor by the bed.  The next sound was of Jim’s feet, running as far away as possible.

A few days later, John and Alan were still laughing at Jim’s embarrassment…

Alan was killed at Spa the following year in a Team Lotus 18 – in the second Grand Prix of Jim’s career – when, it is said, he hit a bird at high speed.  (Some people close to Team Lotus are convinced that the steering column broke on Alan’s car and that the “bird” story was merely a cover.)  Jim was of course devastated – but thought instantly of John, who had been even closer to Alan.  Thus the mateship.600112_22

John’s small two-bedroom, two-bathroom flat was in Balfour Place, Mayfair – an ideal location for racing drivers on the move.  The Lotus factory at Cheshunt was half an hour away.  And London was great for Heathrow and Gatwick airports, Crystal Palace, Brands Hatch and of course the A1 – the road to Scotland.  After days – weeks – of non-stop travel, these two days in Mayfair for Jim offered a welcome break.  John’s wife, Ghinsella, caught up with Jim’s washing – including his blue Dunlop overalls – and Jim finalized the detail arrangements of his travel over the next few weeks.  He would return immediately to Indianapolis after Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix;  then he would race at Mosport; then, two days later, he would race at Crystal Palace.  He’d return to Balfour Place at that point before leaving for Spa, for the Belgian GP.

Nice was bright and sunny when Jim and Colin arrived on Wednesday, May 22.  They drove out to Monaco by the coast road, stopping on the way to check in to their regular hotel in Eze sur Mere.  S2550010Little more than a railway station and a small café today, Eze in 1963 was somewhat more prosperous, boasting a couple of good restaurants, a garage and a small market.  The Team Lotus hotel, La Bananeraie, was perfect for the group’s needs, boasting a spacious, secure, three-car garage out the back in which the Lotus 25s could be housed.  Towing race cars to circuits on public roads was not only normal back then;  it was a part of the show.  Spectators would line the streets, awaiting their favourites – and sometimes, if the travel distances was short, the cars would be driven under their own power.  Nothing clears a crowd faster than a quick blast of Ferrari V12…20179.tif

Jim had brought with him to Europe his newly-painted Bell Magnum helmet and wore it for the first time at Monaco on Thursday, when he was fastest.  The overall look was completely different:  it was as if the slightly thicker Bell had been specifically designed for the gorgeous, slow-slung lines of the Lotus 25.  And Jim again wore a white peak!  It was as if the ’63 season was entering a new phase, and the Jim Clark era was now upon us.

Jim was unnerved for a second or two on Thursday when he spied a black cat running across the track by the pits.  He wasn’t about to label himself “superstitious” but, in that world, back then, he wasn’t going to go out of his way to walk under ladders or spill salt on the table.  He was delighted, then, to see the car suddenly freeze and scamper back the way it had came.  Nor was he reluctant to tell a few of his friends about it, either!

Practice over – and the temporary pole secured – Jim then joined his fellow drivers in a GPDA meeting at the Hotel Metropole.  These gatherings had been a regular fixtures at F1 races ever since the drivers had first got together in a formal way at Monaco, in 1960.  As a group, they were now respected by the team owners and by the circuit organizers – something that couldn’t be said about the drivers’ group of the 1950s, the UPPI (Union of Professional Pilotes International).  Jo Bonner presided over the GPDA meetings;  Autocar’s Sports Editor, Peter Garnier, recorded the minutes for posterity.  As well as discussing important safety and organizational issues, the drivers also took time to talk to one another.  In Jim’s case, he was keen to learn about Dan Gurney’s first drive in the new Brabham (Dan had been eighth quickest on a troublesome day) and to discuss the growing shortage of Coventry Climax Mk 111 engines.  Just as Dan had been obliged to miss Silverstone, now Jack Brabham himself was flying straight back to England to pick up a replacement for the engine that had failed that morning.  There was also general chit-chat about the new, sticker Dunlop R6s, now re-designed around the 1962-spec 28 deg cord angle.  In theory, this greatly improved the tyre’s breakaway without detracting from its better adhesion.  A bit like Pirelli reverting to Kevlar casing in 2013!

Problem was, the new Dunlops were also in short supply.  The bulk of them would only reach Monaco, by truck, late on Thursday night.

Matters of Moment in that GPDA meeting:  the prize for the best-run Grand Prix would go to Zandvoort.  The Taffy von Trips trophy for the best private entrant would go to Count Carel de Beaufort; and Graham Hill would receive a Roy Nockolds painting for winning the 1962 World Championship.

F1 practice was also held on Friday back then – but at the absurdly early hour of 7:30am, by which time two Formula Junior sessions had also been staged.  The idea was to have everything over by 9:00am, thus allowing the town to go about its usual business.  The track was cold but Jim was faster still.  Then, with the day still ahead, it was all over.  Jim  joined other drivers on Carribee, the yacht hired by Ken Gregory (Stirling Moss’s manager) and the former driver, Mike McKee.  S2560001After a few hours in the sun, enjoying life with his mates Bruce McLaren, Dan Gurney and Lorenzo Bandini,  it was back to Eze for a look at the cars and an early dinner at La Bananeraie.S2550013  It turned out that Cedric Selzer and the boys had had a relatively easy day with the 25s – particularly as a nice blonde seemed to have joined the team as wheel-polisher and go-fer.  Jack Brabham, meanwhile, had flown his own single-engined Cessna 180 back to England to pick up a replacement Climax engine.  He planned to be back in Monaco by late afternoon but was held up by bad weather in France.  He didn’t make it until about 5:00pm on Saturday – by which time the Climax in Dan’s car had also burned a piston.

Jim was again quick on Saturday afternoon, when the session was run from 2:00pm – 3:15pm.  Perenniel gearbox worries aside, the 25 was running perfectly – so much so that Jim was happy to run full tanks for most of the afternoon while he pushed the R6s to the limit.  (With more grip on line, he was only a second slower than his Thursday, empty-tank, pole time.)  Jim also completed a few laps in the spare car (fitted with the old carburettored Climax engine), lapping as quickly as the Ferraris and fourth-fastest overall.  The Brabham engine issues remined dire but everyone was deeply moved when Jack stood aside to let Dan have the only spare Climax for the race on Sunday.  Drawn to Jack because of his decision to run a Lotus 24 for the first half of the previous season (while he was working on his own car) – and also because of the Indy ties with Dan – Colin Chapman then offered the spare Team Lotus 25 for Jack to race on Sunday.  The 1959-60 World Champion readily agreed, even though he would be unable to put in a single lap with it before the flag dropped.

Serious work over for the day  – Jim was on the pole from Graham Hill, John Surtees, Innes Ireland and Dan Gurney – everyone settled back to watch the Formula Junior race. An electrical problem had ruined his day when he was leading the FJ race by a mile in 1960, so he was not really surprised when Peter Arundell, who had won his heat in the Team Lotus 27, retired from the final early with a blown engine.  Richard Attwood went on to win in the MRP Lola from an excellent Frank Gardner (Brabham).S2550014

Sunday, May 26, 1963 was a gorgeous day – much like May 26, 2013.   There were no support races;  instead, great F1 drivers from the past were paraded in open sports cars.  Prince Rainier drove a few laps of the circuit in his Porsche Super 90.  The drivers, staring at 100 laps of Monaco, gathered in the pits beneath the trees.

Louis Chiron, Clerk of the Course, presided over a shambolic drivers’ briefing on the grid.  Photographers pushed and shoved;  some drivers listened, others joked with friends.  “Remember it is a sport,” said Chiron.  “Good racing, good driving, good amusement and God bless you.”  As Bruce McLaren later, “We knew how hot it was going to be and we knew that it wasn’t exactly going to be very amusing…”

Jim was instantly in trouble.  In total contrast to his full-tanks run on Saturday, his engine coughed badly under acceleration.  He couldn’t believe it.  Perhaps it was a plug or something.  Perhaps it would clear itself over the opening lap.

It did not.  The mis-fire persisted.  Graham had unsurprisingly out-dragged him into Ste Devote and down out of Casino Square, and into Mirabeau and the Station Hairpin, he was all over the BRM.  Out on the seafront, however, and on the fast run through Tabac and towards the Gasworks Hairpin, the BRM pulled away as it was a 2-litre car.

Jim couldn’t understand what was happening.  And so he just drove with the problem, trying to apply the power in different throttle loads – and trying, of course, to find ways of braking so late that he could sustain an attack.

It’s interesting to note, I think, that very, very few reports of the day mention Clark’s problems in this early phase of the race.  Observers and spectators were enthralled, instead, by Jim’s attempts to outbrake Graham and his BRM team-mate, Ritchie Ginther, into the Gasworks Hairpin – and by the BRM drivers always regaining the initiative under acceleration.  It never occurred to reporters that Clark was adjusting his driving in order to compensate for a problem.  They saw Jim hit the cement dust bags protecting a fire hydrant with the left rear wheel on about lap 15 and they put it down to “Clark under pressure”.   They saw Jim throwing the 25 around with armfulls of opposite lock and they just assumed he was having fun…

It was when the engine problem began to go away that Jim worked out for himself what had been happening:  “The trouble stemmed from the two little pipes which stuck up behind my head and above the engine.  These were fuel tank breathers and at the start, with full tanks, they tended to blow excess fuel out of the top whenever I accelerated hard.  This would blow fuel straight back down the injector pipes and thus richen the mixture.  The engine would bang and splutter.  It was murder.  Whenever I was out on my own with no-one around I could scramble through the corners and have the car running properly before anyone noticed but when, in the early phase of the race, I was fighting both Graham and Ritchie, I kept losing places.  I’d pass Ritchie into a corner and then there would be this bubble, bubble, snort, bang and while I was trying to clear the system Richie would pass me again.  Eventually, though, I managed to get with it, pass Ritchie and pull away.  Of course, as the race progressed, less and less fuel came up the breathers and the trouble gradually disappeared.”

Jim was leading easily – just as he had led the FJ race in 1960 and then again the Grand Prix in 1962 – when it all went suddenly, finally, wrong.  Wary of the gear selection trouble that had coloured the early-season races, he was now changing gear nice and precisely, easing the lever into the next slot without any strain.  Suddenly, into Tabac, changing from fourth to third, the gearbox jammed.  He still had drive – in fourth gear – but the gear lever was in “neutral”.  He tried the lever again – and suddenly the car was in second, spinning itself to a standstill in the middle of the Gasworks Hairpin. Declutching did nothing.  The car was locked in second.  Jim’s first reaction was to jump from the 25 and thus to warn a fast-approaching Graham Hill, who at that point was ten seconds behind.  Then, drained, he walked quickly back to the pits.

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Thus ended Jim’s first Championship Grand Prix of 1963.  The gearbox problems would continue (both Trevor Taylor and Jack had transmission problems in the race) but Cedric Selzer was not slow in coming up with solution to the fuel mixture issue:  he fitted a motorcycle tap to the cockpit for Spa and gave Jim an instruction he would never forget:  “It’s like a factory.  It opens up and it closes down!”

They had an early night at La Bananeraie:  on Monday, May 27, Colin, Jim and Dan flew from Nice to London on the 6:00am BOAC Comet. From there, via New York and Chicago, they would fly again to Indianapolis.  The 500 would take place on Thursday, May 30.

Captions, from top:  Lap one, Monaco, 1963.  Graham Hill leads for BRM, with Jim lying second in the mis-firing Lotus 25-Climax.  Then come Ritchie Ginther (BRM) and John Surtees (Ferrari);  Jim Clark and Sir John Whitmore compare notes at Le Mans in 1959 while Ian Scott-Watson’s Lotus Elite is given unscheduled attention.  Ian can be seen to the right of Sir John’s legs – and that’s Jabby Crombac with arms folded; Jim shares a laugh with the very excellent Alan Stacey;  La Bananeraie as it is today, now run by the grandson of the of the original owners.  It’s overgrown but Bohemian:  the bulk of the hotel is now an artist’s studio but the bar is still pretty much as it was; F1 cars often split the everyday traffic en route to the track.  This is (I think) Bernard Collomb’s Lotus 24; Louis T Stanley’s shot of Jim aboard the good ship Carribbee after early practice on Friday.  Note the Dunlop race trousers!; the garages around the back of La Bananarie; the bar/restaurant where Team Lotus refreshed in May, 1963; Cedric Selzer (right) and Colin Chapman (checked shirt) shepherd Jim back to the Lotus pit after his retirement. Photos: Sir John Whitmore, Louis T Stanley, LAT Photographic, Peter Windsor CollectionWEB-Monaco1963-PDL

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