Clark-Beckwith 1-2 at Oulton
Jim Clark paid a quick visit to the farm at Edington Mains after Snetterton – with emphasis on the quick. His new Lotus Elan S1 loved the empty roads – particularly as Tom Fraser’s 70mph speed limit was still two years away. Next on the agenda once the farm’s admin had been completed: his first outing in a new Lotus 23B prepared and raced by Normand Motors.
Easy to say, to write. The reality is that Normand Motors had come into being only a year before, when an aspiring young racing driver named Mike Beckwith had timidly asked his boss if he’d like to buy a racing car. Stan Hepworth, the debonair Managing Director of Normand Motors (sited at the junction of Goldhawk Road and King Street, Chiswick, London – not far from the mews garage occupied by Tony Settember’s Scirocco F1 team) looked long and hard at his motor racing-mad showroom salesman before saying that he’d think about it. The rest of the story you can hear from Mike Beckwith’s own words in the adjoining video.
Here, we can but be impressed – but not surprised – by the faith Jim Clark obviously placed in Mike Beckwith. An unknown team, a new car – it mattered not at all. Jim trusted Mike and the two mechanics with whom he had worked for a couple of seasons (Colin Knight and Gerry Southby) – and so, obviously, did Colin Chapman. Despite the snow that drifted across the Cheshire hills, and the battle the Elan’s fan was losing with its de-misting system, Jim had no worries at all as he drove into the tree-lined Oulton Park circuit on Friday, April 5. This would be a fun couple of days in a fun car. He had seen Mike and Tony Hegborne race the Normand 23Bs over at Snetterton the week before. Now he would be driving Tony’s car, fine-tuned since its nudge with the bank at that very wet Snett. And he liked Mike Beckwith: he was low-key and in no way pushy. He was Jim Clark’s sort of guy. The 1.6 litre Ford twin-cam 23Bs were painted in Normand’s revised colours of white, with blue and red striping. Jim, though, was still with his regular, dark blue, peakless Everoak helmet, light blue Dunlop overalls, complete with Esso and BRDC badges, string-backed leather driving gloves and Westover shoes. These he carried in a “track pack” that fitted nicely into the boot of the Elan. His “changing room” was the new Normand transporter. There was no “Normand” identification on his helmet or overalls – nor was there any “Team Lotus” lettering on the cars. “We just never thought of doing that,” Mike Beckwith would say later. “I suppose we could have done. We were the works Team Lotus sports car team, in much the same way that Ron Harris-Team Lotus ran the Formula Junior outfit.”
Transporters, trailers and road cars were parked at random on the Oulton Park paddock grass. The focal point was Geoff Murdoch’s Esso caravan, where hot tea and biscuits were in constant supply. Jim was competing only in the main race of the day at this BARC-organized Spring meeting – the 37-lap (100-mile) British Empire Trophy race for sports cars – but plenty of his mates were there in the support races, including Trevor Taylor (Lotus Elite), Graham Hill (Jaguar 3.8), Jack Sears (Ford Cortina GT), Sir John Whitmore and Christabel Carlisle (Austin Coopers), Peter Arundell (Lotus 27 and 1.1 litre Lotus 23), David Hobbs (having only his second FJ race in an FJ Lola), Paul Hawkins (FJ Brabham) and Richard Attwood (FJ Lola). In his event, Jim was up against his nemesis, Innes Ireland. Innes still harboured resentment after being dropped from the Lotus F1 team at the end of 1961 and his relationship with Jim was still frosty. On paper, moreover, Innes was going to be virtually impossible to beat, his 2.5 litre Lotus 19 Monte-Carlo being both well-sorted and substantially quicker in a straight line. A number of 23s were also entered (Mike Beckwith’s, of course, plus those of future Brabham team manager, Keith Greene, Rodney Bloor, Alan Rees, who would go on to form March and Arrows, Chris Williams, and Julian Sutton), plus Roy Salvadori’s rapid Cooper Monaco, the Elva of Bill Moss and Frank Gardner’s beautiful (factory) Brabham BT8.
Although Friday, April 5, 1963 was, as I say, about as cold as it would be on Friday, April 5, 2013, Saturday, race day, was altogether better. Innes used the 19’s Climax power to out-accelerate Jim into Old Hall and thereafter gradually pulled away at about 0.7 sec per lap. Salvadori was an early retirement and so Jim quickly established himself in a comfortable second place – comfortable in the sense that no-one behind him was able to give him any serious trouble. For Jim, it was a delight to be back in a 23 again – to finish some “unfinished” business. He had led the 1962 Nurburbring 1000km in an Essex Racing 23 only to end up in a ditch when a leaking exhaust manifold made him sick; he had run into clutch trouble at Brands with the same car in the 1962 Guards Trophy; and he had been disqualified for receiving a push-start at Snetterton in late September, 1962, after carving his way through from the back of the grid to “win” with the 23. This new 23B was a beautiful refinement of last year’s car. There was more power, obviously – but the chassis was stiffer, too. Around Oulton, it fitted like a glove.
Innes pulled into the pits with gearbox trouble after eight laps. Jim was left in an unassailable lead. The Normand 23s thereafter ran perfectly, and looked glorious as Jim and Mike drifted them around the undulations of Oulton Park for about an hour or so. Jim won first-time-out with the team – and headed a Normand one-two. In itself, it was another Classic Clark performance in a well-prepared Lotus racing car; out of context, it was as if Lewis Hamilton or Sebastian Vettel had quietly decided to drive for a brand new team in the Blancpain Championship…and had won with conviction, but with only minor interest from the national media (and only brief coverage on BBC TV).
After Oulton, Jim for most of the winter had been planning to race the following (Easter) Monday at Goodwood, in the 42-lap international 100-mile Glover Trophy F1 race. Just before Oulton, though, Andrew Ferguson rang to say that much more prize money would be at stake if Team Lotus instead raced the 25s first at Pau and then, just six days later, at Imola. Having raced R3 at Snetterton, Jim would now be back in Lotus 25/R5, the car with which he would have won the 1962 South African GP (and, thus, the 1962 World Championship) but for an oil leak. Trevor Taylor would be racing R3 – but of other major opposition there was no sign. No matter. After another short spell on the farm, Jim would leave on Friday, April 12, for the lovely old town of Pau in the foothills of the Pyrenees. Jim had scored his first F1 win there in 1961 and had been quick there in 1962 before the gearbox went on the Lotus 24. He loved its Monaco-like demands. Now, in the 25, it would be more fun still.
Mike Beckwith doesn’t remember any prolonged celebrations after the Oulton win. Jim was away relatively quickly, guiding the Elan up towards the Borders, again the sheep-farmer who loved to go motor racing.
Press play now to hear Mike Beckwith’s story of Normand Racing and Jim Clark.