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…chance doesn't exist; there's always a cause and a reason for everything – Elahi

Archive for the month “April, 2012”

The Unforgettable Jim Clark

He was nibbling his nails the first time I saw him – just as they said he would be.  Not absently-mindedly but seemingly with aggression, palm turned upwards, free hand inspecting frequently.  He wore black sunglasses, square of frame – Rayban Wayfarers – fawn slacks and no shirt.  His shoulders were as broad as a boxer’s, yet he was short, even by my schoolboy standards.

And he walked with that amazing twinkle-toe lilt, springing upwards, like a Scots sword-dancer, with every step.  Jackie Stewart did likewise, we noticed – although his feet were splayed outwards.  (Was this their secret, we wondered?  Were these gaits the key to all that brilliance?)

Jim was lilting now towards the Lotus camp – to the tent which shaded his Lotus 32B-Climax.  The air was surprisingly still, the tempo unhurried.  There was no Colin Chapman in Australia – just Jim and the boys, led by Ray Parsons, the Team Lotus Cortina/Elan/F3 driver.  Standing there, on the Warwick Farm lawn, it all seemed like Fun in the afternoon Sun, not practice for the International 100.

Yet a Clark performance it was.  First there were the powder-blue Dunlop overalls, clean and freshly-ironed.  Then, for protection against flying stones, Clark tied a checkered handkerchief around his mouth and nose.  Next were the Pioneer goggles, heavily taped from the mid-point upwards.  Finally came the legendary helmet, the dark blue Bell Magnum with the white peak.  Clark stepped sideways into the red seat, pulled on a pair of his own-make red gloves and fitted the goggles over the famous eyes.  Down the side of the car, on flanks of emerald green, ran the neat yellow lettering:  Team Lotus.

That afternoon, in Australia, I watched him qualify on the front row, alongside the Brabhams of Graham Hill and Frank Matich.

And then, on Sunday, I saw him win.  He followed Hill for the first phase of the race – while he adapted to a car without third gear – then passed his friend under braking for Creek Corner.   “Copybook Clark” the headlines said the next day.

A few years later, still in Sydney, I joined a small band of people saying goodbye to him at Kingsford Smith Airport.  The last Tasman race had been run;  Jim was flying to Indianapolis via Chicago to test the new Lotus 56 turbine Indy car.  After drinks in the VIP lounge he disappeared through Customs; the crowd disbanded.  Clark had gone for another year.

Or had he?  His Qantas 707 halted at the threshold, then taxied back.  I was standing with my father in the Arrivals hall when Clark re-appeared, stewardess at this side.

“Plane’s been delayed,” he said.  “Come and have a drink.”

I asked him about why he’d used a dark blue peak (instead of white) in the 1964 Dutch and 1966 Mexican GPs.  (He said he’d broken the white one and that had been all that was available.)  I asked him about the wet race he’d just driven at Longford in the Lotus 49 (“It was crazy.  Only Piers Courage had the right tyres”) and about his chances in the F1 season to come.  I remember him talking wryly about soon having to drive a Ford Taunus down to Monaco for a Ford publicity stunt and, yes, I remember him describing what it had been like to have been hit in the face by a bird at Reims, 1966.  “It felt like a bloody great crow…” I recall him saying.  I told him that I wanted above all to work in motor sport – perhaps as a journalist.  “Just work hard and never give up,” he said.  “That’s the key.”

At the time, though, my appreciation of Clark’s talent, of his standing, was too youthful.  For me, live motor racing began with Clark – and the fact that he was so statistically successful was hardly the point.  I revered his character, his way of speaking, the way he presented himself, his home town of Chirnside, his shyness, his desire to drive anything, anywhere, his honesty, his respect for others.  I revered everything about Jim Clark.

Jim was not only a good person;  he was a genius amongst his peers.   The Standard.  When someone else won a race, they said, “So what happened to Clark?”  When you arrived late for practice, and you wanted to know the lap times, you asked, “So what’s Jim doing?”

I am not alone;  I know that.  Mention Jim Clark to your average racing person and even the most ardent Michael or Ayrton fan will say, “Yes.  Jim Clark.  He was another.”

As we record yet another anniversary of his passing, then, it is tempting to mark April 7 with some solemnity.  Equally, so many people still want to talk about Jim – to learn about him.

Here, then, are some views of people who knew him well – colleagues to whom I have spoken over the years in order to glean just a little more about the man and the driver who just might have been the very best we’re ever going to see. Read more…

From the desk of Jim Clark

This was the Girling brakes letter folder that Jim Clark used for many years on his desk at Edington Mains.  Inside I keep a few of my favourite Jim Clark items and pictures…

Left: Jim was a diligent letter-writer and thus carried his own notepaper when travelling.  This missive  was written from the Rushcutter’s Bay Travelodge on the eve of the 1968 International 100 at Warwick Farm, Sydney (which Jim won)

Below: So there he was, preparing for the big race – and what should cross his mind but the expired licence disc on his Lotus Elan , which at that time was garaged in Paris?  One wonders if any of today’s World Champions, in their hotel rooms before a race, would be similarly diligent about small, but important, details..

Above: This was a letter I received from Jim’s mother, Helen, after an article I wrote for Competition Car magazine in 1974.  I had just bought the red Lotus Elan S3 Coupe formerly owned by Jim’s manager, Ian Scott-Watson. As a result of this invitation, I drove it up to Edington Mains to meet Mrs Clark and to see the farm and Trophy Room. The Elan, which I still drive, ran like clockwork

Below: As ever, the Indy organizers did a great job with the 500 race tickets for 1966 

Jim made the front cover of Time – which was a huge thing in those daysI always liked their choice of words – “quickest” rather than the more predictable “fastest”

This is the edition of The Indianapolis News that Jim was able to hold in Victory Lane after winning the Indy 500 in 1965

…and this is the not-so-famous photograph of that Victory Lane celebration.  Jim has already handed the newspaper to David Lazenby.  I love this shot because it includes two of my best buddies from Australia, both of whom worked on Jim’s car at Indy in 1965.  Second mechanic from the left is Jim Smith – and to his left is a young Allan Moffatt, the Canadian driver who would become an icon in Australian racing circles. Jim Smith was a marine engineer by trade and joined Lotus earlier that year after replying to an ad in the newspaper.  When Colin Chapman realized he was a transmission specialist he was quickly flown to Indy!

Panshanger Aerodrome, in Hertfordshire, North London, from which Jim and Colin Chapman did much of their flying in the Cheshunt Lotus factory days

One of my favourite pictures of Jim.  It’s taken after the 1968 International 100 at Warwick Farm, which he won from his GLTL team-mate, Graham Hill.  Stirling Moss was present to help with the awards – and so two of the greatest F1 drivers of all time were able to smile and to laugh and to enjoy the moment.  It would be Jim’s second-last win

I took this shot of Jim with my Kodak Box Brownie camera just before Friday practice for the 1965 International 100 at Warwick Farm.  Jim is about to don his Bell Star and climb into the Lotus 32B-Climax.  That’s the brilliant photographer, Nigel Snowdon, on the left (much of Nigel’s work is now in the Sutton Images archives) and, to his left, in the white t-shirt, is Ray Parsons, sometime Team Lotus F3, Elan and Cortina driver, who on this occasion was acting as Team Manager

The left-hand-drive Lotus Elan S3 Coupe that Jim drove throughout Europe in 1967 – and about which he was concerned in his letter to Jabby (above).

The red, ex-Ian Scott-Watson Elan with Jim’s mother, Helen Clark, in September, 1974.  This car was beautifully built in kit form by Jock McBain’s mechanics in 1965 and was used regularly by Jim whenever he was up in Scotland in 1965-66

Over the years there’s been plenty of discussion about whether Jim liked to be called “Jim” or “Jimmy”.  Personally, I’ve always favoured “Jim” on the basis that he called his autobiography Jim Clark at the Wheel (and not Jimmy Clark at the Wheel).  Anyway, perhaps this reply card settles the argument.  Invited by Ecurie Ecosse to receive an award at the end of the 1959 season, Jim signed his RSVP “James Clark Jnr” – the name by which he was known in Scots Border farming circles before he became a celebrity.  Jim’s father was of course “James Snr.”  (It is also characteristic of Jim, I think, that he took the trouble to reply formerly to an invitation that in reality was only about him in the first place!)

Photos: The Colin Piper and Peter Windsor Collections

Michael Lewis – an American abroad

I was intrigued by the Wind Tunnel interviews conducted by SpeedTV at the end of last year with the young American F3 driver, Michael Lewis.   Asked about his recent test in the Ferrari F60 F1 car in Italy, Michael’s response was that of an enthusiastic Californian kid with no “side”; it was both refreshing and enticing.  And so the questions began buzzing inside my head:  from where did Michael Lewis emerge?  What was his background?  And – anyway –  what was an American college kid doing in Italian F3 (and, in 2012, Euro F3)?

I spoke to him recently to find out.   This will be a pivotal year for Michael Lewis;  no doubt about that: the Euro F3 Championship has yet to begin.  It will be tough and it will be difficult, even if it won’t be full of cars.   I get the feeling, though, that Michael is going to be both a major force – and someone who is going to enjoy every foothold of every step of the Euromountain he has challenged himself to climb.

Inside Michael’s race bag:

“Always in my helmet bag I have a photo of my grandfather (Ben Chavez, who passed away when I was 15). In the picture he is standing next to me at a kart track (Moran Raceway, which is now closed). On the back of the photo is my famous, Michael Lewis, “California Soul” logo, which is always on my racing helmet (developed by KAOS-DESIGN.IT) and the Mac Miller “Thumbs Up Kid”, which is also on all of my helmets (Spa P1 is written there because that was the exact sticker that accompanied me when I won my first F3 race….in spa…in the wet).

“In addition, I have a set of dice, purchased from the Las Vegas Rio Casino, that have the text ‘Ben’s Casino’ (a way of commemorating my grandfather). The dice are significant, as my grandfather showed me the special way they are taped together: any opposite facing side adds up to the value seven.”

(Quantity: 2) Bell Carbon HP3 F1 helmets…provided by Bell, as they are my sponsor

(Quantity: 5) packs of Bell tear-offs

(Quantity: 6) visors, split between the two helmets….2 dark, 2 medium, 2 clear visors….basically I never use the clear visor.  Even when it rains, I use the medium

(Quantity: 2) Sparco custom xlight racing suits…provided by Prema Powerteam

(Quantity: 2) Pairs of Sparco white leather racing boots

(Quantity: 3) sets of Nomex underwear…you can never have too much Nomex

(Quantity: 2) pairs of Sparco white gloves

(Quantity: 1) HANSdevice, white, painted by KAOS-DESIGN.IT

(Quantity: 1) drink bottle, gold, painted by KAOS-DESIGN.IT

(Quantity: 1) lunch box/bag full of vitamins, minerals, snack bars, etc. to keep me hydrated and fit whilst I drive during the day

(Quantity: 1) small portable fan, used when I am on the grid if it’s hot, and to dry out my helmet after races

(Quantity: 1) set of volleyball knee & elbow pads…..used if I ‘kneed’ a bit more than the standard padding applied in the car for comfort/less pain

(Quanitity: 3) sets of tennis racket grip…..putting it on the steering wheel for extra grip, and to make the steering diameter a bit larger for improved leverage to aid in turning

(Quantity: 1) canister of Mud-X helmet cleaner….it’s literally the best cleaner you can get

(Quantity: 1) Rain-x for improved visibility in rain conditions

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