L&T Motorsport

Motorsports most versatile competitors – Jim Clark

We move on today from Dan Gurney to look at the career of Scotland’s Jim Clark. Seen by many as one of the most natural drivers ever he was adaptable to many different machines. This skill means that even today, almost 50 years since his death, he is still talked about amongst the greatest F1 Champions ever.

We all know Jim Clark as double Formula One World Champion in the 1960s but there is a few who don’t know just how good Clark was. Born on 4th March 1936 he was a farmer’s boy and the youngest of five siblings. He was also the only boy and was born at the family farming house in Kilmany, Fife. He would start racing early in his life, much to his family’s dismay. His racing activities was not the kind of thing the family wanted for their boy, who was expected to take over the family farm.

He started with local road rallies and hill climbs driving his own Sunbeam-Talbot. Straight away he was a fearsome competitor and it didn’t take long before he took part in his first event in 1956. He was driving a DKW sonderklasse, an Auto Union made car (Auto Union would become what is now Audi). Two years later he was driving for a local team, Border Reivers. With Reivers he would take part in national events in Jaguar D-Types and Porsches, winning 18 races in 1958. It was on Boxing Day of that year that his rise to super stardom would being properly.

That day he took part in a 10 lap GT race at Brands Hatch in a Lotus Elite. He would finish second in that race to one Colin Chapman, Lotus founder. This race caught Chapman’s attention and during 1959 Clark would race at Le Mans, finishing tenth, and win the Bo’ness Hill Climb, both in an Elite. This prompted Chapman to offer a ride in one of his Formula Junior cars for 1960. Clark would win the first ever Formula Junior race at Goodwood, winning from John Surtees who was second. This would start the relationship between Clark, Chapman and Lotus that would last his entire career.

During 1960 Clark would also make his Formula One debut at the Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort on 6th of June. He would replace Surtees who had gone to the Isle of Man to take part in the TT racing (we will come to Surtees in more detail at a later date). However his debut was one that ended in retirement with final drive failure taking him out on lap 49. Later that year at the Belgium Grand Prix Clark would, for the first time in his motor sport career, come face to face with reality. During the race there was two fatal crashes that claimed the lives of Chris Bristow and Alan Stacey. Clark was quoted as ‘driving scared stiff pretty much all through the race’. The race was also his first points finish as he took fifth place.

He continued in F1 in 1961 and was again close to reality at the Italian Grand Prix. This time he was caught up in the accident. The Ferrari of Wolfgang von Trips collided with Clark’s Lotus. The Ferrari became airborne, colliding with the barrier and earth banking at the side of the track, throwing von Trips from his machine. The car broke apart and debris went everywhere. In the end von Trips and fifteen spectators were dead, another grim reality check for the Scottish farm boy. Clark would usually attribute himself as a farmer first and a driver second, spending time between races at the family farm. It would be something that Clark himself insisted on, even to the point his head stone shows farmer before race driver.

By now Clark was a fully fledged F1 driver but, like a lot of drivers in his time, he dabbled in other categories as well. In 1960 he would finish third overall at the Le Mans 24 hours and would dovetail his F1 commitments with running in F2 and Formula Junior that year too, winning the British title for the latter. His first F1 podium was also 1960 at the Portuguese GP where he finished third. 1961 seen him also add the World SportsCar championship to his list of drives, something which he would continue the following season. Before long Clark and Chapman would take part in Indycars and, of course, the Indy 500 with his first attempt in 1963 where he finished second. Clark first championship success in F1 came in 1963 also when he dominated with 7 wins from the 10 races that season.

Clark, Chapman and team at the Indy 500 in 1965.

During this time Clark also took part in British Saloon Cars, winning the championship in 1964, as well as Formula 2 and the Tasman Cup. Clark would be crowned champion of the British and French F2 championships in 1965 as well as being a three time Tasman Cup champion (1965, 1967 and 1968). His second F1 title came in 1965, a year after he agonizingly missed out on the 64 crown due to an oil leak, handing Surtees the title. Clark, Chapman and Ford were so determined to win the Indy 500 that he would miss Monaco in 1965 as well. But the move paid off as Clark qualified on the front row and led 190 of the 200 laps to take the win. It was the first win for a rear engined car at Indianapolis, no front engined car would ever win at the Brickyard again. Also it represented the first, and likely only time, that a driver would win Indy and the F1 title in the same year.

Clark would have a harder time in 66 defending the title due to the new 3000cc engine regulations. An overweight and over complex H16 BRM engine wasn’t ready for the start of the season and meant the Lotus was under powered till it came along. Normally it would struggle as well but Clark would manage to take a win in the US GP regardless as well as nearly defending his Indy crown, finishing second to Graham Hill. There would be one final attempt at another Indy in 67 but piston failure seen him retire after 35 laps.

Clark was always near the front in anything he raced. His final F1 win was also to be his final F1 race at the South African GP in 1968. A few months later the quiet Scot was dead.

Clark had come to Hockenheim on 7th April 1968 for what was technically a minor race meeting despite a field of F1 drivers. Clark had been due at Brands Hatch for a 1000km World Sportscar race but went to Hockenheim due to contractual obligations with Firestone. It was a damp and miserable day in Germany that day, something that would not normally bother Clark. The meeting was in two heats and in the first heat Clark headed off on his fifth lap but never returned. His Lotus 48 veered off the track and crashed into the many trees lining the track. Emergency services reached him but he was pronounced dead before he reached the hospital with a broken neck and skull fractures. The cause of the crash has never been fully identified but a deflated tyre was blamed.

The remains of Clark’s Lotus after his fatal crash at Hockinheim, showing the amount of forces the Scot endured in his final moments.


Even now though this theroy is disputed. Some initial reports put it down to driver error but Clark’s peers like Jackie Stewart, Hill, Jack Brabham and Surtees didn’t agree. They felt it was either a tyre or, more likely, a mechanical issue. Reason for their thoughts was due to Clark’s deft touch and control and that the Lotus cars, albeit very fast, were also fragile, Chapman pushing the limits in search of his next unfair advantage. All that is known is the farmer’s son from Scotland had died in that forest in Germany that day.

Clark was, and still is,  seen by many as the greatest due to his smooth car control and finesse that meant he didn’t break cars like others. He was also diverse as we have seen with championships in single seaters, Indy 500 success, saloon cars and even taking part in rallies like the 1966 RAC Rally of Great Britain and even a NASCAR event in 1967 at Rockingham.

“He (Clark) was so smooth, he was so clean, he drove with such finesse. He never bullied a racing car, he sort of caressed it into doing the things he wanted it to do.” was a quote from his friend and fellow Scot Jackie Stewart. Clark could take any car and be competitive, no matter the set up. While others struggled he excelled and this has to see Clark as one of, if not the most, versatile driver in motor sport history.

Andrew Campbell
Photo Credits: Main: f1-grandprix.com
Indy 1965: hemmings.com
Crash: the-fastlane.com


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