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Archive for the tag “French GP”

Clark in an orbit of his own

Note: with the exception of the Month of May at Indy, all of Jim Clark’s 1965 season – from East London, South Africa through to the Belgian GP at Spa – can be read on one post (entitled “Jim Clark’s epic 1965 season”). The four weeks at Indy have all been posted separately – and we will be doing so for the remainder of this year. All can be found under the category “Jim Clark’s 1965 season”. We take up the story as Jim prepares for the French Grand Prix…

Clermont-Ferrand, June 27, 1965. French GP (Grand Prix de l’ACF) After Spa, Jim was finally able to spend a week in Scotland. The changes were dramatic. On the back of Jim’s Indy win – and of his most recent success in the F1 car – the Border regions seemed to have gone motor sport-centric. And with Roger Clark – no relation! – also winning the Scottish Rally over the same weekend as Spa, the two Clarks were in much demand. Jim allowed TV cameras on the farm; Edington Mainsentertained the famous Indy commentator, Tom Carnegie, together with his American film cameras and cameramen; added a postscript with Graham Gauld to Jim Clark at the Wheel; and welcomed Colin up in the Borders, reminding him, as he always did, to look for the “red roofs” on the farm barns when lining up the grass runway near Edington. There was also an approach from Hollywood: with John Frankheimer well advanced with pre-production for MGM’s upcoming movie, Grand Prix, starring James Garner, Jim was approached by Warner Bros and Brookdale Films about lending his name to a rival F1 film starring Steve McQueen. Day of The Champion was to shot primarily at the 1966 German GP and possibly after that at Oulton Park. Jim agreed to the proposal.

Racing-wise, there were other details to finalise. There was talk about running the Indy Lotus at Reims, ostensibly as a demonstration but also in an attempt to break the lap record there; thankfully that fell through due to a lack of starting money. Then came an idea to run the 38 at Silverstone, before the British GP. Jim quite liked this idea but again it came to nought: Ford, the new legal owners of the car, decided it would be of more use at the New York World’s Fair. Eventually Chapman signed a relatively lucrative deal to run a 38 in two Swiss hill-climbs at the end of August. Jim liked the sound of that. He’d last competed up a hill at Rest-and-be-Thankful back in 1958.

Too soon, it was back down the A1 – to London in the Lotus Cortina – first to Cheshunt, to go through the accounts with Andrew (now more complicated than ever due to the Indy win), and then to nearby Panshangar Airport to fly with Colin, Sally and Mike Spence to Clermont Ferrand. The glorious mountain circuit – home of Michelin – had never before staged the French GP. Now it was to play its role in F1 history as the “mini-Nuburgring”.

Upon arrival at the low-key Clermont airport, Jim and Colin were drawn to a crowd outside in the car park. Cameraman and newspaper journalists were in abundance, all focused on one man.

And, for once, it was not Jim Clark.

“That’s Yuri Gagarin!” said Colin, fascinated. “Come on. Let’s go and say hello…”

The Russian cosmonaut, at that stage on a USSR-sponsored world tour in honour of his 1961 orbit of the earth and other exploits, quickly appreciated the stature of Clark and Chapman. He invited them, indeed, to a reception being held that night in Clermont’s civic centre. Colin and Jim looked at one another, worked out that they could easily drive to their hotel in Charade later than night, and agreed to attend.yuri-gagarin-timeS1420011

The evening sparkled. Jim and Yuri spoke through interpreters and quickly formed a bond: Jim was as fascinated by the space programme as Yuri was by the Lotus racing cars.

Then, later, the group of four set off in their rented Peugeot for the race hotel. Colin drove, with Sally him and Mike and Jim in the back.

Suddenly, in the middle of a slow, innocuous corner, the Peugeot swerved and lurched down a bank. “Is everyone all right?” gasped Colin as the car came to rest, windscreen shattered. “I think I’ve strained my thumb…”

Jim, uncoiling himself in the middle of the front seat, where he’d landed, replied in the affirmative. As did Mike, who had squashed up against the back of Colin’s seat.

“Sally?”

“I’m ok but I think I’ve cut my head or something,” she said, looking at the blood on her blouse and hands.

Jim looked across and began swaying from side to side. Then he fainted at the sight of the blood.

Eventually the Peugeot was pushed back onto the French road. The hotel was found; Sally was treated by a doctor in the dead of night; and Colin promised the medic a pit pass for the weekend in return for keeping the incident away from the media.

Despite a few light-hearted jibes from Jim about his suit being ruined, Sally recovered well enough to perform regular timing duties in the pits at Clermont. Colin’s thumb, however, remained a race weekend talking-point…

Jim showed no signs of the incident when practice began on Friday. Of far more import was the failure of his 32-valve Climax engine out on the circuit: Jim hitched a ride back to the pits, straddling the engine cover of John Surtees’ V8 Ferrari. As a result, Chapman decided to concentrate on the 1962-built R6 two-valve chassis (still in Lotus 25 form) rather than the 1964-built Lotus 33B R11.

29578 1965FrenchGP Jim qualified the old car on the pole, his 3min 18.3sec lap shading Jackie Stewart’s best for BRM by a mere half-second. Ferrari qualified three and four, with Lorenzo Bandini again controversially racing the faster flat-12 car and leaving the V8 for Surtees; and Denny Hulme, who had subbed for Dan Gurney in the International Trophy and at Monaco, celebrated his second Championship GP start by qualifying an excellent sixth for Brabham (and quickest on Friday). His compatriot, Chris Amon, would dominate (until a puncture intervened) the 1972 French GP at Clermont with the Matra V12, but gave clear indication seven years earlier of what was to come by qualifying a brilliant eighth in the evergreen Reg Parnell Lotus 25-BRM.

As he had done on several occasions since 1964, Jim wore a white handkerchief over his face for this race: stones and rubble lay trackside. The Dunlops and Goodyears of the time were stiff enough and strong enough not to be hugely puncture-prone but there was a real risk of being injured by the local flint. Best place to be, of course, was out in front….

A brass band and a shower of Michelin balloons lit up the grid as heavy clouds assembled on the horizon. Morning rain gave everyone déjà-vu but then out came the sun over the Auvergne as the 2:00pm start time appraoched. Jim anticipated the Toto Roche twitch but Lorenzo nearly lost the Ferrari as he floored the flat-12 in first. With clear air behind him, Jim Clark thus set off for the first of 40, daunting Clermont laps – a potential race time, in the dry, of some 2hrs 10min.

29579 1965FrenchGPJim’s lead over Lorenzo at the end of his opening lap was 3.5 sec; by lap two, with Jackie now in second place, he was ahead by six seconds. And so it went on. Perfect poetry in motion. Twin high-level chrome exhausts (rather than the 33B’s low, wide-spaced exhausts) distinguished Jim’s car on this occasion; otherwise, it was 1965 at its Jim Clark best: by half-distance, with Jackie still second, Jim was leading by 14 sec; by the end, heading another one-two for the Scots, Jim’s winning margin was nearly half a minute. John Surtees finished third after a quick pit stop (and after Lorenzo shunted in the closing laps!), and the brilliant Hulme was fourth after dropping as low as 14th on lap one. Overall, though, it was another consummate Clark performance. Pole position. Led from start to finish. Fastest lap.

And with not the hint of a whisper about what had transpired on the Thursday…Win No24; images: LAT Archives

Here are two short videos from the race, courtesy of British Pathe and British Movietone News. Apologies for the way the Pathe video has obviously been speeded-up. That’s also Jochen Rindt shunting the works Cooper-Climax (not Lorenzo in the Ferrari); and you can see Chris Amon briefly in the Parnell Lotus 25 after being lapped by Jackie Stewart’s BRM. The second video, the Movietone News film, has only recently been uploaded to YouTube and contains some excellent footage from the race

29705 1965FrenchGP

 

The Battle of Reims

20172.tifJim Clark makes it three-in-a-row

The drive down to Reims was the usual cavalcade.  They left Zandvoort, after a celebratory dinner/cabaret at the Bouwes Hotel, early on Monday morning.  First practice for the French GP would commence on Wednesday afternoon (or just one clear working day from the Dutch GP.  As with Monaco now, there was a “free” day within the French GP schedule back then.  At Reims, this was on the Saturday, following three successive afternoons of official practice.  No thought, apparently, was given to the ‘double-header’ pressures facing the mechanics.)  At some point in the road trip Ian Scott-Watson joined Jim and Colin in their rental car and allowed Trevor Taylor behind the wheel of his yellow Elan.   Ian would thereafter spend much time telling the French police that, no, it wasn’t he who had been driving the English sports car at the time in question and that his friend, the culprit, had since flown to Canada…or anywhere…

This wasn’t the usual sun-baked French Grand Prix.  Showers muddied the paddock on Thursday, leaving the Wednesday and Friday sessions for grid-shaping;  Taylor, indeed, set his fastest lap on that Wednesday – and on Thursday, in the rain, neither Lotus driver completed a lap.  (One significant casualty that day was Ludovico Scarfiotti, who crashed heavily in the works Ferrari.  He was for the most part uninjured but shortly afterwards would announce his retirement from racing.  Rescinding this a few months later, he went on to win the 1966 Italian GP for Ferrari at Monza.  He would sadly lose his life in 1968, in a hill-climbing accident.  He was a good friend of Jim’s.)

Wet or dry, flying stones were always an issue at Reims, inducing Lotus to revert to standard windscreens for this race.  With the aeroscreen, it was thought, there was always a risk of debris finding its way into the “jet”.  Slipstreaming on the long, ultra-fast (160mph) French public roads could gain you seconds per lap;  the trick in practice, if you were searching for the pole, was to keep your mirrors free.  Despite a considerable straight-line speed deficiency to the BRMs (including Innes Ireland’s BRP-BRM) and also to the Ferraris, Jim took the pole – and the local champagne that came with it.   In the 25, running the same set of Dunlop R6s he had raced at Monaco, Spa and Zandvoort, Jim found a sweetness in the balance on high-speed corners that he had not felt before – or would feel again in 1963.  “I could set the car up in a whacking great drift around the back, keep my foot it it and achieve cornering speeds that I wouldn’t have thought possible,” he would say later.  Very few photographers – if any – seemed to venture out to these corners in those days (they focussed on the “long” shots on the pit straight and the 90 deg right hander leading on to it) so we are left only to imagine what Jim describes as that “whacking great drift”.  To my mind, given the understeer with which he lived at the International Trophy race at May, the 25 at Reims was now far more neutral – neutral leading to oversteer.  I think it’s also probably significant that by this race Team Lotus seemed to have found some sort of fix for their gearbox drams.  Jim, at last, was able to drive the 25 with both hands on his red leather-rimmed wheel.1963 French Grand Prix. Ref-20133. World © LAT Photographic

Saturday was support-race day, which meant big sports cars and Formula Junior.  Jim was at the track, of course, primarily supporting the Normand Lotus 23Bs (Mike Beckwith and Tony Hegbourne) and Peter Arundell in the FJ race.  There had even been talk of Peter racing the third (spare) 25 in the Grand Prix but ultimately it was felt (when balancing prize money against running expenses!) that Peter should race the works (“mini-25”) 27 FJ.  Denny Hulme again won the FJ battle in the works Brabham, pulling away definitively from the second-place slipstreaming group and finally finishing ahead of Peter, Richard Attwood (MRP Lola), fellow Lotus drivers, Mike Spence and John Fenning, and David Hobbs (MRP Lola).  (As the 50th anniversary of the formation of Bruce McLaren Motor Racing Ltd approaches, it’s also worth noting that the talented American, Tim Mayer, finished eighth in this Reims FJ race in one of Ken Tyrrell’s Cooper-BMWs.  Tim and his brother, Teddy, would in the months that follow become an integral part of the new McLaren team.)

Tall and talented Mike Parkes should have won the sports car event with his formidable 4-litre Ferrari but a clutch problem early in the one-hour event effectively handed victory to Carlo Abate (also of powerboat fame) and his 3-litre Ferrari.  Lucien Bianchi (great uncle of Jules) placed third behind Dick Protheroe – and the tough Australian, Paul Hawkins, finished fifth overall with his Ian Walker Lotus 23.  Mike Beckwith had been right up there in third place in the early phase, when Jo Schlesser was leading with his 4-litre Aston, but he fell back a little after a slight “off”.  The small-car class was won by Jose Rosinski, who would go on to become one of the greatest of all French motor racing journalists.

On Sunday – another overcast day – Jim prepared for a torrid French GP as a fighter prepares for a bout, applying white masking tape across his face for extra protection.  Even in the dry, this race would run for well over two hours.

The start, as they say, was the usual shambles.  A fuel vapour lock killed the engine in Graham Hill’s BRM.  Push-starts were forbidden by the regulations…but “Toto Roche”, the autocratic leader of French motor sport and official starter, instructed the BRM mechanics to push Hill’s car nonetheless.  The V8 now revving purely, Roche then quickly stepped away and dropped the flag – except that he dropped a red flag rather than the French national tricolor.   No-one was exactly sure what to do – but they went for it nonetheless.

Jim Clark accelerated hard through the gears to 9,600 (with a max set at 9,800) and then focused on driving the perfect lap:  “Before the race,” he would say later, “I had said to Colin that if I could make the fast corners in front I felt I could open a gap and break the tow.  If I wasn’t in front we agreed that it would be better if I just sat back for a while and let them get on with it…”

Jim was in the lead by the time he reached the first, quick right-hander.  And the second.  And the third.  Full tanks or not, he four-wheel-drifted the 25 with fluid inputs and pin-sharp judgement.  By the time he reached Muizon, the right-hand hairpin, he had free air behind him.  He could forget about his mirrors.ACT

Jim’s standing lap was completed in 2min 31.0sec;  his Indy team-mate and friend, Dan Gurney, lay second a full 2.7sec behind.  Richie Ginther, powered by probably the best engine on the circuit that day, catapulted his BRM up to second place on lap two.  Even so, Jim was leading by nearly four seconds as he passed the Team Lotus signalling board, the 25 sitting on 9,600rpm.

And so it went on.  John Surtees (Ferrari), Dan and Jack (working together in the Brabhams), Bruce McLaren (Cooper), Trevor and Graham Hill scrapped over second place, swapping track space either in top gear, in the tow – or under braking.  At the front, Jim continued to pull away.   By lap 12 of the 53-lap race, he was 19 seconds ahead of Brabham.

Then, for Jim, it all seemed to go wrong.  His Climax engine began to mis-fire at 9,600rpm.  Jim immediately throttled back to 8,000 rpm, where he found a “sweet spot” around which the engine seemed to be half-ok.   He then concentrated even harder on those fast corners but was forced to sit back helplessly on the straights, waiting for the engine to blow – and/or for the next round of bad news on the pit board, for  Brabham was now catching him.  All around the circuit, what’s more, Jim could see parked cars.  Reims was forever tough on all mechanical components – so why was this circuit, on this day, going to be any different for him?

Because on this day – as it had been all week – it would rain.  Jim felt the grease on the track even before his goggles went smeary, for the grooves of the R6s were now worn virtually to slicks.  He was dancing on ice – focussing once again on those fast, very drifty corners where still the 25 felt perfect.  His lap times climbed by ten, 15 seconds;  Graham Hill’s ballooned by 20 seconds.  Maximum revs became irrelevant;  it was all about delicacy.

And so, maintaining that lead, Jim Clark crossed the line, acknowledging Toto Roche’s chequered flag with a raised left arm.  In the grandstands, umbrellas dominated the visage.  On the rev-counter of Jim’s 25, the tell-tale needle sat resolutely at 9,600rpm.  On the work bench later, back in Coventry, Jim’s engine was found to have two broken valve springs.  Trevor (who for this high-speed race, like Jim, raced without a peak on his helmet) might well have finished second had the crown-wheel-and-pinion not failed.  As it was, Graham Hill’s second place was subsequently disallowed due to that push start (subsequently, as in “by the time they got to Monza”.)  Tony Maggs therefore finished an excellent second for Cooper, catching and passing Hill in the closing stages when the monocoque BRM ran into both clutch and brake issues.  Jack took Graham’s third place, with Dan finishing fourth.

Post-race, there was more pandemonium:  a policeman suffered an epileptic fit as he was attempted to clear the crowds from the pit area.  Through the melee, though, Jim and Colin found their way opposite to “the press box”, where they chatted to journalists like Gregor Grant (Autosport), Philip Turner (Motor), Peter Garnier (Autocar) and several of the Fleet Street types.

Thus it was done.  A new era had begun.  Jim Clark and Team Lotus had won three in a row – Spa, Zandvoort and Reims – and had changed the face of Formula One.  The driver lay low in his monocoque car.  The speed, and the suppleness of that speed, was extraordinary.

Next:  the British Grand Prix at Silverstone.FH000006

Captions from top: face taped to provide at least some protection from flying stones, Jim Clark readies for battle at Reims;  Reims practice shot of Jim in the aeroscreened 25; for the race, the conventional screen was used.  This was also the last race for a 25 sans yellow stripe; Jim and his friend, Ludovico Scarfiotti, photographed at the Rockingham NASCAR race in 1967  Images: LAT Photographic; Peter Nygaard Collection; Peter Windsor Collection

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