Albi ’67: just another F2 race…
Thanks to the excellent Richard Wiseman, I was recently able to sit back, relax and enjoy the 1967 Albi F2 race in its entirety. And I mean entirety. The French TV coverage begins with Jim Clark and Jochen Rindt chatting pre-race, takes in the complete drivers’ briefing (translated in situ by Jabby Crombac, the co-promoter) and then takes us through every lap of the race. I’ve always been interested in the Albi event for the simple reason that it took place only two weeks after the Italian GP that year – and that Jim Clark’s drive at Monza unquestionably rates as one of his greatest. If you want a modern parallel, it would be Sebastian Vettel racing an FIA F2 car at, say, Paul Ricard ten days after his drive up to third place in the this year’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. I always wondered whether the whole thing would have been anti-climactic for Jim or whether Monza would have been quickly confined to history when Albi loomed fresh and clear.
As it happens, Jim appears to be usual, brilliant self throughout the race coverage. He jokes in the pre-race assembly area with Jack Brabham: “C’mon Jack, we’re not at Monza now”; and he wanders down to chat to Piers Courage and Jean-Pierre Beltoise. Again he’s all smiles. And then he drives beautifully, of course. Quickest in practice on Friday but unable to improve his time on Saturday, he starts second in his Team Lotus 48. His biggest handicap, obviously, are his Firestones: Jackie Stewart, in Ken Tyrrell’s Dunlop R7-shod Matra is in a class of his own and wins easily from the pole. On the grid, Stewart is the only driver I could see who needed to strapped into his cockpit (just shoulder and lap belts; no crutch strap). All the others just slid into their bolides and went racing. No belts.
Jim never gives up. He is lying third behind Jochen Rindt’s Winkelmann Brabham BT23C when he loses the twitchy, green-and-yellow 48 early in the race and narrowly misses a concrete wall; he then tigers through the field to regain third place at the finish. After races and weekends like this, no wonder that Hockenheim, 1968, would for Jim be just another F2 race…
We see the start procedure of the legendary “Toto” Roche in all its slapstick. He warns the drivers beforehand that he will drop the flag any time after the five-second board – and this he does, with semi-chaotic results. I think it’s Graham Hill, in the other works Lotus 48, who almost gives Toto an aerial view of the proceedings.
Impressive is the early-lap pace of the English privateer, Robin Widdows; and glorious is the pass that takes Jackie Stewart into the lead from Jochen Rindt. Stewart, Rindt, Clark and Brabham: the large French crowd, luxuriating in late-summer sunshine, saw race driving at its highest level. Were any of those Names afraid or ashamed of being beaten by lesser names in a relatively minor F2 race? Not at all. They just wanted to go motor racing. It was what they did.
I mentioned all this to Brian Redman the other day. Brian finished a typically-classy sixth at Albi (behind Stewart, Rindt, Clark, Jacky Ickx in the second Tyrrell Matra, and Chris Irwin in John Surtees’ Lola) and thus underlined all the promise that would land him an F1 drive for 1968. Brian actually had to qualify his maroon David Bridges Lola for Albi – and did so comfortably, of course, lapping only a shade slower than Ickx and matching Piers in the John Coombs McLaren M4A.
This was Brian’s reply: