Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Jim Clark Part Four

Wolfgang Graf Berghe Von Trips
1928 - 1961

The Italian GP at Monza in 1961 claimed the lives of 15 people when the Ferrari of Wolfgang ‘Taffy’ Von Trips left the track after making contact with Jim Clark’s Lotus and climbed a grass bank atop which a large number of spectators were standing, killing fourteen souls before being flung back onto the circuit. Von Trips was thrown from the car and lay dead at the edge of the track. Clark, miraculously, was unhurt.

The Sharknose ferrari in action at Monaco
Everyone had expected the Ferraris to maintain their dominance of the 1961 season at Monza and the old man was taking no chances, entering a total of five cars for Phill Hill, Taffy Von Trips, Ricardo Rodriguez, Richie Ginther and Giancarlo Baghetti. Stirling Moss for Lotus and Graham Hill for BRM had both received their vee 8’s from Coventry Climax but unlike Jack Brabham and his Cooper  they were unable to get convincing lap-times out of them in practice and had reverted back to the same four cylinder engine  Jim was using for the race.

Monza as it was in '61
Taffy was leading the world championship by one point from team-mate Phill Hill and made a clear statement of intent by taking pole position. Jim’s plan was to take as many Ferraris as he could off the line and try to hold onto the slipstream of whoever came past for as long as possible. That’s exactly what he did, capitalising on Taffy’s poor start to take the lead. Eventualy the inevitable happened and first Ginther then Phill Hill, Brabham and Baghetti went by. Taffy came through at the Lesmo Curves on lap two, intent on chasing down the leaders in this, the penultimate GP of the season.  Jim followed him through the then flat-out Vialone curve and was right on his tail and about to attempt an overtaking manoeuvre going into the braking zone for Parabolica. Clark was on the extreme left hand side of the circuit ready to take the fast approaching right hander, Von Trips was slightly ahead and to the right (inside) of Jim. Weather  he was aware of the Lotus Just behind him will never be known, it would not have been outrageous of him to assume that after a long period of flat out acceleration his two extra cylinders and some 30 extra horses had put some space between himself and the Scot. But when he too moved to the left to take up his line for the corner there was contact and both cars left the track at well in excess of 100mph. Von Trips’s beautiful sharknose Ferrari was utterly destroyed and the German was killed outright, as Clark helped to drag the wreckage off the circuit he was aware of the gruesome scene just feet away  and knew there was nothing that could be done to save Taffy. 
Moments from catastrophe
Phill Hill went on to win the race but was shocked and greatly saddened to learn of the death of his immensely respected friend and team-mate, he had clinched a bitter world championship, the first American ever to do so.
If this were a modern GP, both cars would have spun harmlessly into a gravel trap and both drivers would have walked away from a benign trip into the sand or the tyre wall, not worthy of further inquest by the stewards,  but with such a high number of fatalities the police wanted answers, they were heavily involved in the organisation of the race back then and were clearly looking for a fall guy. Jim was in a very difficult position, he was the handiest person for the police to hold accountable and Taffy wasn’t there to offer his side of the story.

Innes Ireland
The legal repercussions of the crash were to haunt Jim for some years to come but for now he had to overcome the same doubts that had plagued him after Spa the year before. He was deeply depressed when he left for the US GP at Watkins Glen and his nerves were further frayed when Innes’ steering collapsed during practise. The race was a different story though, Ireland won, giving Lotus and Scotland their first Grand Epreuve (championship Points paying GP) victory. Jim suffered from a slipping clutch and came home a disappointed seventh.

It was between Monza and the Glen though that he drove his last race for the Border Reivers bringing the DBR1 home in 2nd place in the Formula Libre race at his beloved home circuit of Chaterhall. 

Trevor and Jimmy
Even though he had given Lotus their Maiden Grand Epreuve Innes Ireland was dropped by Colin Chapman after the US GP to be replaced by Jims old GP2 hunting partner, Trevor Taylor. Come December, Jim, Trevor and Stirling went to South Africa for another  three race winter tour and it proved to be a turning point. Clark won the Rand, Natal and South African Grands Prix in short order and also took in some more relaxing persuits like safari and water skiing. The trip proved to be Just the tonic he, and the team needed at the end of a dismal season.