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Archive for the tag “snetterton”

…And now for a bit of fun

21676.tifJim flew from Newark straight back to the UK…even though the USGP was to be run at Watkins Glen on October 6.  Jim’s 707 probably passed in the night the BOAC Canadair CL44 heading in the opposite flight path with 19 F1 cars on board – the largest single F1 airlift yet seen.  As tempting as it might have been to spend a few days in the States – perhaps even to test one or two of the sports cars he was now scheduled to drive  there in a month or so – Jim stood by his obligations.  He was entered to drive the Normand Lotus 23B in the Autosport-sponsored Snetterton Three Hours and also to have his first race in the works Cortina-Lotus on the same day (Saturday, September 28).

In today’s parlance, that roughly amounts to Sebastian Vettel flying back to Germany after the US GP in Austin to race a Mini and then re-joining the F1 circuit in Abu Dhabi.  The thing is, Seb would cause a sensation if he did that.  Jim Clark?  Even though he had just won the World Championship, and was setting records all over the world in a variety of different cars, an astonishingly small number of spectators actually travelled to Snetterton to see him drive.  And it wasn’t only Jim who drove up the A11 this weekend 50 years ago:  Jack Brabham, a double World Champion, would drive the Alan Brown Galaxie;  Jim’s team-mate, Trevor Taylor, would race a Team Elite Lotus Elan and Sir John Whitmore the Stirling Moss re-bodied Elan;  Denny Hulme was there in the works Brabham FJ and both Mike Parkes and Jack Sears were out in Ferrari GTOs.  Today, we can only drool at the line-up;  at the time, it appears as though the British fans were disappointed that the Three Hours would be run as a day race rather than as the traditional day-nighter.  One can understand this to some extent – but to boycott a race for which Jim Clark had flown all the way back from Trenton?  Fifty years on, it defies belief.

On the plus side, of course, there were few traffic jams and race day was free and easy, with Autosport organizing sumptuous hospitality courtesy of Martini and Rossi.

And it’s nice to record that Jim’s travels – and jet lag – were entirely worth it:  he sliced past Jack’s GTO on the opening lap, lost out to the superior power of the Tommy Atkins Cooper Monaco driven by Roy Salvadori but then took over a commanding lead when the Cooper blew its engine.  Jim then won as he chose, drifting the beautiful little 23B through Coram and Riches with fingertip precision.  Jim had won this event in 1959 at the wheel of Ian Scott-Watson’s Border Reivers Lotus Elite and now he had returned as World Champion in one of the nicest racing cars yet built by Lotus.  He loved every minute of it.

There was more to come, too:  Jack Brabham won the Slip-Molyslip Trophy race for saloon cars but Jim finished second overall, and won his class, with the new Lotus-Cortina.  Supported by new transporters and tow cars, the Ford-backed Lotus-Cortina programme set new standards in every department, not the least of which was pace: Jim was approx three seconds quicker than the fastest Jaguars.  He also introduced to the public for the first time the concept of three-wheeled cornering:“I again drove a saloon car,” he wrote in Jim Clark at the Wheel, “this time a racing Lotus Cortina at Snetterton towards the end of the 1963 season.  This proved to be a real laugh.  I kept finding the inside front wheel lifting off the ground.  This set me thinking, so I started going closer and closer to the semi-circular rubber tyres which mark the inside of one of the bends.  Eventually I found that I could tricycle the corner with the front wheel well over the tyres on the inside.  When I had practiced the car at Oulton in the gold Cup meeting I had had another odd experience.  I found that if I went into Cascades hard enough, both inside wheels would come off the ground but this was a very hairy thing, and not to be recommended if you wanted to stay on the road in one piece.”1963 British Saloon Car Championship.

How did Jim remember weekends like Snetterton?  “I had a lot of fun on these occasions.  It was a great relief to find that I could still enjoy light-hearted dicing after the tremendous strain of the Grand Prix battles which had won me the Championship.”

imageFor the record, Jim not only won the Martini and Rossi Trophy for his victory in the Three Hours but also the Daily Mirror Cup for being the best-placed driver of a British car in the saloon car event and the Autosport trophy for winning his class in that championship during the season overall. With his engine losing power in the closing stages of the saloon car event, Jim did try to stage another dead-heat with his Team Lotus F1 team-mate, Trevor Taylor (who drove the other factory Lotus-Cortina) but the verdict went to Jim by a couple of feet (reported the excellent Mike Kettlewell in Autosport).  Denny Hulme duly won the FJ race from the talented David Hobbs (MRP Lola), Alan Rees and Timmy Mayer; and Sid Taylor, featured recently in The Racer’s Edge (interviewed by Alain de Cadenet, Episode 28) drove his Elite home to second in class in the Three Hours.  Jack Sears, who had driven Willment’s Galaxy and Lotus-Cortina (finishing behind Jim and Trevor at Snet) also clinched the British Touring Car Championship at this meeting.

Racing over, Jim had time for a day in Scotland before leaving again for the US.  For this race, Team Lotus would be entering a third car for the winner of the recent Canadian GP (for sports cars) – Pedro Rodriguez.

Captions, from top:  Surrounded by well-wishers, Jim sips a bottle of Perrier after his win in the Snetterton Autosport Three Hours with the Normand Lotus 23B. Neither of his team-mates – Mike Beckwith and Tony Hegbourne – finished the race but Jim enjoyed a trouble-free afternoon. Note the absence of seat belts. Amazing to think that Jim had only a few days before raced the Lotus 29-Ford at Trenton, fully strapped-in;  Jim’s first race with a Lotus-Cortina.  Sadly here, at Riches, there are no half-tyres over which to lift the inside front wheel, so Jim can only drift the car in his usual way. In the Cortina Jim did wear belts but there was no roll cage  Images: LAT Photographic 

Clark second in Lombank Trophy

1963 Lombank Trophy.Jim Clark’s first race meeting of 1963 did not go particularly well.  After several hectic weeks in the US (at Ford’s proving ground in Arizona and then at Indy, where he lapped at just over 150mph) and, before that, at Snetterton, testing the gorgeous Lotus 29 Indy prototype car, 1963 Team Lotus Factory.Jim drove back along the A11 to the Norfolk circuit  for the Fourth Lombank Trophy F1 race.  Probably at some point, I  suspect, the new Honorary President of the Scottish Racing Drivers’ Club would have been smiling at the thought of the Club Lotus dinner he’d attended a few weeks before at the Taggs Island Casino, near Hampton Court. He, Jabby Crombac and Mike Beckwith had driven one of the new Elans onto the stage and the evening had ended with Colin Chapman being spruced up in a pair of blue nylon knickers… As would become the norm for races at Snett, Jim would be staying with Jack Sears in Jack’s farmhouse near the circuit – and he would refrain, of course, from making any long-distance calls to the US.  (On Saturday, March 30, 1963, it became possible for the first time to make direct calls between the UK and the US.)

This would be the second Snetterton race meeting promoted by the circuit’s new owners – Motor Circuit Developments (the first was a club meeting held on March 17) – and therefore by John Webb, whose airline, Webbair, had become a regular part of motor racing logistics since the late 1950s.  As a journalist, manager and, as I say, race promoter, Webb would in the 1960s and 1970s become one of the most influential figures in British motor sport.  With support from Grovewood Securities, the Grovewood Awards, to name but one of Webb’s creative ideas, would eventually pave the way for today’s Autosport Awards.

The Lombank Trophy was the first F1 race of the year – a non-championship race, to be sure, but a significant one nonetheless.   Lombank was one of several London-based financial “institutions” (as investment banks were known then!) to see the benefits of motor racing sponsorship, although by a certain irony this Snetterton race would be the first since one of Lombank’s major competitors – UDT Laystall – announced their withdrawal from F1.

Today we go into internet-fed panic mode whenever teams or sponsors pull out of the sport, or change hands, but 50 years ago the usual ruptures of the winter were accepted with good grace in the belief that something – or someone – better would come along.  One thing was clear, however:  Stirling Moss’s retirement now seemed permanent (following a test at Goodwood in early May, Stirling would make the decision final) and he was busy now re-inventing himself as a team owner/team manager/Ogle Associate Director; and gone, too, were the factory Porsche and Lola F1 teams.  Although General Motors also announced a unilateral withdrawal from motor sport in early March, 1963, one of the private entrants at Snetterton (Jim Hall) no doubt read this notice with a smile.   (Even as Jim drove his BRP Lotus 24-Climax with not a little natural speed, the idea of a secret GM-supported Chaparral was formulating in his fertile mind.  Jim had raced his be-finned and be-spoilered front-engined Chaparral at Sebring the weekend before;  and many, he knew, were the ideas he could take to GM. Looking back now, and remembering for how long Jim was a fixture at F1 races, it is staggering that no-one in F1 took serious note of the winged Chaparrals of 1966-67.  Even Jim Clark’s attempt to mount a rear spoiler on his Lotus 49 at Levin, in 1968, was immediately quashed by Colin Chapman.)

Porsche’s loss was Jack Brabham’s gain:  Dan Gurney signed over the winter to drive a second factory Brabham in 1963, and John Surtees stepped from Lola to Ferrari.  (I can’t help reflecting here that Jack Brabham “lent” Big John his personal Lotus 24 to race in the end-of-season, 1962, Mexican GP, for Bowmaker Lola were by then concentrating on the upcoming Australasian Series and entered only one Lola in Mexico for Roy Salvadori.  John promptly qualified the 24 on the second row, only fractionally slower than Trevor’s Lotus 25.  Brilliant. Surtees drove most of the New Zealand-Australia series for Bowmaker Lola but his place at Sandown Park, Melbourne, interestingly enough, was taken by Masten Gregory.  Tony Maggs finished third at Sandown in the last appearance of a Bowmaker Lola entry.)  ATS, led by former Ferrari engineer, Carlo Chiti, would also be entering F1 in 1963 with drivers Phil Hill, Giancarlo Baghetti and (for testing) Jack Fairman;  and this would also be the first race for Coventry Climax since being bought by Jaguar Cars Ltd.

The Lombank Trophy race (won in 1962 by Jim Clark) was held on Saturday, March 30, at 3:00pm, with practice taking place on Friday.  Public address commentary was in the care of the excellent Anthony Marsh, the recently-appointed Publicity Officer for Brands Hatch, Mallory Park and Snetterton and the lynchpin, of course, of the Springfield Charity that still exists today.

Jim and Team Lotus had only recently lost the 1962 World Championship to Graham Hill and BRM.  No-one doubted that the monocoque Lotus 25 had been the quicker car in 1962 – but, since August, BRM’s Tony Rudd had been hard at work on his version of the Lotus “bathtub”.  Quickly, though, work at Bourne fell behind schedule.  The demands of the ’62 season in part accounted for the delay but in addition England was plagued by a ‘flu epidemic over the arctic-spec winter:  factory staff were thin on the ground and there was little or no back-up to replace them.  On top of that, BRM also began work on the radical Rover-BRM turbine programme for Le Mans.  As a result, BRM began the year with lighter versions of their reliable and very driveable P578 space-frame cars, albeit with slightly more powerful V8 engines.  They brought two to Snetterton, for Graham and for Richie Ginther, both of whom had been racing in the Sebring 12 Hours the weekend before.  Hill finished third there, sharing a Ferrari 330LM with Pedro Rodriguez, and Ginther sixth (Ferrari GTO, shared with Innes Ireland).   (These were the days of Boeing 707 intercontinental air travel, although turbo-props, such as the Lockheed Electra and Vickers Viscount, were still very much in use.)

Team Lotus entered two Lotus 25-Climaxes for Jim and his regular team-mate, Trevor Taylor but a shortage of engines (ie, one Climax V8 only!) rendered Trevor a non-starter.  Jim’s race engine, indeed, was way down on power.  Climax had planned to bring the new, 200bhp fuel-injected V8s to Snetterton for use by Lotus and Cooper but, like BRM, ran out of time.  Speaking of the Cooper Car Company of Surbiton, Surrey, Bruce McLaren flew from Sydney to the US after winning his fourth Australasian series race at Sandown Park, Melbourne with his Intercontinental Cooper-Climax – (this is a sad story, but I’ll tell it less we forget:  Bruce sold that car to Lex Davison, who raced it successfully in 1963-64 and who in turn then used it to enable the young and talented Rocky Tresise to make his career breakthrough in 1965.  Tresise died in a start-line accident at Longford with the Cooper, as did the talented Australian photographer, Robin d’Abrera;  it was Robin’s pin-sharp images that captured Bruce’s Sandown win in the Cooper for Autosport back in March, 1963) – and at Sebring raced the Briggs Cunningham Jaguar E-Type.  He finishing eighth there, partnered with Walt Hansgen.   Cooper entered only Bruce at Snetterton – again in a 1962 T60 car.   The interesting Cooper entry from Morris Nunn failed to appear;  and Jo Siffert pulled out after hitting a bank on the very wet practice day in his Filipinetti Lotus 24.

Jim, in  battle-scarred, dark blue, peakless Everoak helmet, 1965 Formula One World Championship.
was easily fastest on Saturday, lapping in 1min 44.4 in the torrential rain despite trouble starting the car (due to a lack of warm-up spark plugs).  Eventually the 25 was tow-started  into life. With Graham Hill’s BRM suffering from chronic fuel injection problems, Richie Ginther was next quickest (1min 46.8sec), followed by Bruce (1min 48.8sec), Innes Ireland in the BRP Lotus 24 and Innes’s team-mate, Jim Hall.

On Saturday the weather continued.  Snetterton became a quagmire of mud, rain, wind and spinning wheels.  There were no branded jackets back then, there was no North Face, no Timberland.  Instead, long raincoats, cloth caps and Wellington boots ruled the day. Les Leston’s racing umbrellas – each segment representing a marshal’s flag – were also at a premium.

Richie led from the line, using the superior torque of the BRM engine to full advantage, with Bruce second and Jim an initial third.  Jim quickly took second place at the hairpin – the left-hander at the end of the long back straight that runs parallel to the A11 – and passed Richie at the same place a few laps later.  Significantly, though, Richie was able to out-accelerate the Lotus.  All were running on the new Dunlop R6 but the traction advantage was with the BRMs.  Graham Hill had meanwhile flown through from the back of the grid.  He quickly passed Bruce and, now on a spray-free road, quickly caught Jim and Richie.  Jim took the lead and began to pull away – but then ran wide onto the grass while lapping a back-marker;  Richie again ran at the front.

There was no stopping Graham Hill.  Driving superbly in the rain, he passed both Richie and then Jim to win decisively.   Unhappy with his engine, and finding the 25 surprisingly skittish in the wet, Jim backed away and settled for second place.   Innes Ireland eventually finished third, although not without incident.  During his battle with Bruce, the pair of them had lapped Innes’ team-mate, Jim Hall.  Innes slipped past without problem but then, with hand signals to Hall, made it clear that he wanted his team-mate to hold up Bruce for a corner or three.  You can imagine if Fernando Alonso today suggested to Felipe Massa (running a lap behind) that he hold up Seb Vettel for 20 seconds or so.  As it was, Bruce afterwards dismissed the episode as “a legitimate team tactic”.  Such was Gentlemen Bruce.

The Lombank meeting boasted a superb support-race programme.  The World Champion was also victorious in the 25-lap sports car race with John Coombs’ lightweight Jaguar E-Type (ahead of the Cooper Monaco of Roy Salvadori, now retired from F1); Roy made up for that by winning the Jaguar 3.8 battle in the 25-lap Touring Car race, gaining revenge on Graham Hill (who fought his way back from sixth place).  Mike Salmon, also in a 3.8, finished third.  Both Normand Racing Lotus 23s (driven by Mike Beckwith and Tony Hegbourne) had looked quick in the sports car event but eventually, in the wet, had to cede position to Alan Foster’s amazing MG Midget.  It should be noted that Frank Gardner also raced the new Brabham BT8 sports car at Snetterton, winning the 1151cc-2000cc class.

I mention the Normand Lotus 23s because Jim signed over the winter to race for Normand whenever his schedule allowed.  Just such an opening would appear at the BARC’s Oulton Park Spring Meeting on Saturday, April 6.

Full report next week.

Pictures: LAT Photographic and writer’s archiveS2390001

It’s 1963 and the season’s under way…


Eagle-eyed readers may have noticed that the countdown widget on the right, entitled “Fifty Years Ago”, is actually keyed to an upcoming race that happened in 1963 – in this case the Lombank Trophy race at Snetterton on March 30.

The reason for this is twofold:  one, it’s 50 years since that amazing year when Jim Clark won 70 per cent of the F1 championship rounds to secure his first World Championship.  Along the way, he also finished second in the Indy 500, won numerous non-championship F1, sports, GT and touring car events and, together with Colin Chapman’s low-line, monocoque Lotus 25, changed the face of motor racing in general.

The second reason is because 1963 and 2013 share the same days – ie, February 15 was a Friday in both years.  Because of that, and because I’ve always been fascinated by how a driver like Clark managed to cram so much racing into such a tight schedule, I’m going to try to take us through Clark’s 1963 season as 2013 unfolds.  Thus the reference to Snetterton on March 30: it was Clark’s first race of the season.  We can think of it as we think of it now – as a Saturday in (hopefully!) the early British spring.

Let me begin, then, by bringing you up to speed:  the 1962 season ended with a classic showdown in East London, South Africa.  Jim and Graham Hill went into the December 29 finale knowing that only one could win – and the title went to Hill.  Jim was leading when a bolt worked loose.  The engine slowly lost its oil.  Jim, Colin and Hazel Chapman and the Team Lotus mechanics could only sit and watch from the pits as Graham cruised to victory.

There was little time, though, for post-mortems – not that they happened much in 1962.  For most drivers, a mechanical retirement was more likely than a reliable finish;  and, after a while, as Dan Gurney once said, you got used to the disappointments.  “It was just one of those things that happen in motor racing and it couldn’t be helped,” said Jim at the time.  “Graham had become World Champion deservedly.”

Jim returned immediately to the UK while many of his peers travelled on to New Zealand and Australia for the international series.  (Graham, as newly-crowned World Champion, was obliged to spend 12 hours in quarantine in Karachi due to a flight delay – he had no yellow fever inoculation – and then contracted tonsillitis in New Zealand.  He returned to England for an operation, leaving his Ferguson in the hands of Innes Ireland, and then flew back to Australia for the Feb 10 AGP at Warwick Farm.)  I’m not exactly clear why Jim didn’t compete in the Antipodies that January/February.  Team Lotus had given him a one-off drive in a Lotus 21 at Sandown Park, Victoria, in March, 1962, but didn’t enter the 1963 series in either New Zealand or Australia.  I suspect this was because Colin Chapman had decided to put a massive effort into the new Indianapolis 500 programme and had scheduled early-year tests for the new Lotus 29 in both in the UK and the USA.   The Ford-powered Indy car ran first at Snetterton in February, where it was set up with normal, symmetric suspension.  “To my mind, the engine we had in for that first test didn’t go too well, because the timing was a little out,” Jim told Alan Brinton.  “But though we were a trifle disappointed with the power, the car was certainly quicker on the straights than anything I’d driven before.  Even in this state the prototype comfortably broke my existing 2.5 litre lap record by a couple of seconds.”

Almost immediately afterwards, Jim flew to Ford’s high-speed proving ground in Kingman, Arizona, a circuit Jim described as “a beautiful track, about five miles around, with two banked curves each of about 1.25 miles.”  Dan Gurney, who had instigated the Lotus Indy programme, and who was to race a second Lotus 29 at Indy, was also present at the Kingman tests.  “We lapped at about 165 mph without using much of the banking,” recalled Jim.  “It was quite a change after the F1 Lotus and made for exciting driving.”

Those runs complete, Jim then returned to the UK – to Edington Mains, his farm on the Scottish Borders. 08-26-2010_53 He would move to a London base in 1964 but in 1963 his home was still in Scotland – and frequent were his road trips to and from the Lotus factory in Cheshunt.  The Lotus Elan had yet to be released so, for now, Jim was driving a prototype Lotus-Cortina.  “A number of development Lotus-Cortinas were built but when the model was announced in January, 1963, there was just the one vehicle built to the proper specification,” he wrote in Jim Clark at the Wheel.  “As it turned out, the Lotus-Cortinas were not raced until late in the season – but they proved to be worth waiting for.   I had already tried the Harry Mundy-inspired twin-cam engine in an Anglia in 1962 and I first drove a Cortina with a 140bhp version of the same engine in October, 1962.   It really surprised me and gave me just about as much of a thrill as the F1 car.  On the way to Snetterton for trials I thought the acceleration was out of this world for a family saloon but on the circuit for the first time I found the handling a bit odd.  That afternoon we had a good chuckle at Colin.  He decided to take the car round just after a short rain shower.  He left the pits and then suddenly there was silence.  We climbed into our cars and tore around the circuit to find Colin standing there, peering under the bonnet of the Cortina, muttering something about the engine cutting out.  I happened to notice some criss-cross tyre marks on the road behind him, so I sidled up to him, suggesting that perhaps an ignition lead had probably come loose when he had spun the car.  He turned bright red and admitted that he hadn’t been sure which had happened first!”

We’ll report next from the 50-lap, 133-mile non-championship F1 Lombank Trophy at Snetterton, where the entry includes two works BRMs for Graham Hill and Richie Ginther, a single Team Lotus entry for Jim Clark, Bruce McLaren in the works Cooper and two BRP Lotus 24s for Innes Ireland and Jim Hall (of future Chaparral fame).    I see also that Morris Nunn is entered in a Cooper;  it’ll be interesting to see how he gets on.  Graham Hill and Roy Salvadori head the Saloon Car field with their 3.8 Jaguars (although Sir John Whitmore should be spectacular in the works Mini-Cooper) and the new World Champion will be out again in the 25-lap Sports Car race, this time in the John Coombs Jaguar E-Type.  Can’t wait.

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