A record-breaking (seventh) win
It seems strange now but in 1963 it was part of motor racing tradition: Christmas and New Year meant South African sunshine. Fifty years ago, as Jim Clark was setting out to become the first driver ever to win more than six World Championship Grands Prix in one season – and therefore to register a success rate of 70 per cent for the year – the South African Grand Prix was staged on December 28 in East London, right by the Indian Ocean. As in 2013, December 28 was a Saturday….which merely added to the party feel. Practice for the race began at a leisurely hour on Boxing Day (Thursday); on Friday the first of two sessions started at 6:00am (when undoubtedly the track would be quick); and on Saturday night, after the race, everyone could relax because Sunday meant a day at the beach.
A huge crowd was therefore drawn to this gem of a surfing town. Very few expected a close race; most were there for the holiday fun and also to pay homage to the man who had dominated the 1963 season (and who should have won at East London in 1962). Jim Clark had had a frustrating time at Kyalami, two weeks before, but plenty of water-skiing, swimming and general sun-larking with Bruce McLaren, Tony Maggs and Trevor Taylor had quickly expelled the memory. Colin Chapman’s (and Len Terry’s) new fuel pump mods seemed likely to resolve the vaporisation problems encountered in the Rand GP; and Jim’s regular mechanic, Cedric Selzer, was very much on home ground, ensuring that plenty of local strings were being pulled for the benefit of all. Even so, no-one in F1 took Ferrari one-twos for granted. John Surtees was looking stronger and stronger. He had won twice now in 1963; he could very well win again.
Colin returned to South Africa to spend Christmas lunch with Team Lotus and, even before the turkey, to initiate perhaps the most widely-spread bun-throwing contest in the sad history of F1 debauchery. There was a tinge of sadness, too, for this would be Trevor Taylor’s last race as a Team Lotus driver. The boys loved him; Jim did, too, although he did reflect a year later that Trevor’s series of accidents in 1963 (very few of which were his fault) had led to a loss of confidence.
Jim wasn’t quick on Thursday afternoon. The new fuel pump mounts worked well in the southern hemisphere’s heat but the gearbox, again, proved troublesome. “The truth of the matter,” Cedric would write in his autobiography (published in 2013), “was that the gearboxes were getting old and second-hand. It was a good job that Derek Wild, our ZF specialist, was with us to effect a few quick mods. All the improvements we had made during the season were now having a detrimental effect on the gearboxes overall. They were never intended to cope with the strain now being imposed on them. Although we’d improved the gearchange it was not 100 per cent correct. We had our work cut out on Thursday night trying to get the bearboxes in both cars working correctly. Thankfully, this was to be the end of those gearboxes, for ZF were going to supply new purpose-built transmissions for 1964. These were going to be five-speed gearboxes with a gear change interlock system built into the gearbox itself. This meant that in future there would not be a critical alignment between the gear lever and the gearbox – a huge step forwards.”
The boys gave Jim a good car for that early Friday burst. He took the pole before the sun and the wind could deaden the track. Lotus 25/R4 looked superb through the medium- and high-speed corners as Jim set it up with pure four-wheel-drifts, particularly through the fourth-gear Potters Pass Curve after the pit straight. Reference to the overhead shot of the track (top) shows a little bit of grass run-off area on this section before an earth bank looms into sight.
Cedric had organized some free pick-up trucks from Mobil South Africa (who owned the Esso brand in that region) and there was talk after that morning session of towing the two 25s back to the team’s main garage/race shop in town: final practice would not be held until late on Friday afternoon. In the end, though, despite the only flat surface being in the pit lane itself, it was decided to keep the cars at the circuit. Thus the boys worked away again in the heat of the day whilst some of the other teams, including Ferrari, found respite downtown.
It was academic, as it turned out. The wind picked up, hurting top speeds into the exotically-named Copacabana Corner and covering the track surface with grit and sand. Jim’s morning time would remain. Jack Brabham and Dan Gurney (now finally over their chronic Climax engine problems) would line up alongside him. The Ferraris filled the second row.
I wrote and spoke during the weekend of this year’s US GP about the very poor support-race programme in Austin. Well, how about this: at East London in 1963 there were two support races for cars and two for motor-cycles. With most Tilke circuits these days also being designed with bikes in mind, why shouldn’t we re-introduce this idea in 2014? Anyway, getting back to East London, Jim enjoyed the saloon car race immensely, featuring, as it did, a Willment Lotus-Cortina driven by the very quick South African, Bob Olthoff, and Paul Hawkins in a Willment-prepped Ford Galaxy. Bob won. Sir John Whitmore was also on hand with his Stirling Moss Lotus Elan prior to spending the next few months in South Africa with Bob and Paul. John was already well-connected in the area, having provided accommodation for both Tony Maggs and John Love on his Essex farm during 1963.
Then all the drivers were paraded around the packed (55,000-spectator) circuit in locally-made GSM (Glass Sport Motors) Darts (powered by Ford, who co-sponsored this South African GP with Caltex). Being an Elan man, Jim felt pretty much at home in these little glass-fibre two-seaters, even if they didn’t share the Elan’s gorgeous looks.
Jim’s 25 was beaten away from the line by both Jack Brabham and John Surtees (making a lightning start from the second row in his Ferrari) but he picked off first John and then Jack before the opening lap was over. Thereafter he won as he chose, pulling away at about a second a lap before conserving his car once the margin was comfortable. It was Classic Clark; it was the race – and the win – that he should have had in 1962, when the championship had been at stake. He’d been leading with similar ease that year before. Then, with victory and the title in sight, an oil leak had forced his retirement.
Not so in 1963. Colin Chapman greeted Jim as he crossed the line – and a swarm of Vespa Scooters, forming a circle, protected him from the crowd as, sweat- and oil-smeared, he climbed from the 25 and received the garland and trophy. Cedric Selzer, something of a local hero himself, had never been more exhilarated: “Team Lotus had now won seven out of ten Grands Prix; it was time to celebrate,” he recalls. “I decided it was better to tow the cars back to the centre of East London (rather than drive them) because of the traffic. Once there, we just dumped the cars and spares in our allotted area of the garage and went back to the hotel. Apart from us, it seemed that the whole of East London was celebrating Jim’s win. The only thing I can compare it with is a football match, with 50,000 spectators chanting. Wherever we went, people were shouting Jim’s name. All you heard was ‘Jim Clark’ this and ‘Jim Clark’ that. This went on until about 2:00am. It was the most moving experience. Not just East London but the whole of South Africa loved him. This was the highlight of my motor racing career, coming back to South Africa as World Champions and winning the South African Grand Prix.”
And so Jim had done it – broken the record held by Alberto Ascari and Juan Manuel Fangio. Seven wins in a year. The World Championship had been clinched by Monza. He’d squeezed Indy qualifying into his pre-Monaco schedule – and he’d finished second in the Indianapolis 500 on the Thursday after Monaco. He’d won at Milwaukee. He’d won non-championship F1 races at Pau, Silverstone, Karlskoga and Imola. He’d won every race he started with the Normand Lotus 23. He’d won in Alan Brown’s Galaxy. And he’d won late in the year with the new Lotus Cortina. It was a year to remember, a year on which it was going to be difficult to improve. 1964 would bring new challenges – a much bigger, grander, Ford programme. The new European F2 Championship. The Lotus 30 sports car.
At last he could genuinely relax. Graham Hill, Bruce McLaren and Jack Brabham left immediately for New Zealand, for the opening rounds of the new Tasman Series. Dan Gurney returned to California to prepare and race his sports and stock cars. Jim, with John Surtees (who had retired from the SA GP with a blown engine), flew back to the UK. He had no racing commitments until possibly late February, when there was talk of him racing a Cortina-Lotus in a support race at Sebring.
Captions, from top: Colin Chapman prepares to greet his driver at the end of a long, victorious season. Jim’s seventh win of the year broke the records of Ascari and Fangio; East London circuit from the air and in (Afrikaan)map form; Jim leads team-mate Trevor Taylor through Cox’s Corner during practice. This was Trevor’s last race as a works Lotus driver. Now with an unfamiliar Bell Magnum (but still in yellow!), Trevor again drove well but was again delayed by something trivial – in this case a broken gear lever. He raced a new Lotus 25 (R7) – a car that would eventually be used by John Frankenheimer in the film “Grand Prix”; with the rolling surf to his left, Jim brakes for Beacon Bend; no doubting the wind from the Indian Ocean as fans watch the action in very (cool) ’60s attire; Sir John Whitmore, Bob Olthoff and Paul Hawkins pose by the Willment Galaxy; Jim balances a slide en route to victory; and, back on Edington Mains, the other Jim Clark Images: LAT Photographic, Peter Windsor Collection, Bob Olthoff . Many thanks to AP for the following video highlights: