Thursday, 6 January 2011

Jim Clark Part Three

Spa had once again left its mark on Jim, his F1 debut at the circuit had served only to deepen his disdain of arguably the most dangerous track in the world, out of the five Lotus' that started the race his was the only one to make it to the chequered flag, he had finished a respectable fifth but the events of the Belgian GP had made him question for the first time, if only very briefly, his previously unshakable desire to drive racing cars.

Jim taking the DBR1 to third overall
Any doubts he may have had though he quickly put aside, because almost immediately after Spa the Reivers announced he was to drive the Aston Martin with Roy Salvadori at Le Mans. The pair performed superbly in terrible conditions to place the Aston third over-all and become the fly in Ferrari's ointment, preventing their cars finishing 1-2-3-4-5-6. For an amateur team like the Reivers this was an incredible result, the pit crew was partially composed of Jim's farmer friends and the car was Moss’ fire damaged cast off, to be the only team capable of pinching a podium spot off the six cars entered by the works outfit who clinched the world sports-car championship at that event was remarkable indeed. 

Clark, Surtees, Chapman and Ireland take shelter in Portugal
The remainder of 1960 brought mixed F1 results for Clark, he finished last at Silverstone after running in third when the suspension collapsed, Retired at Brands, Third in Portugal in a completely rebuilt ‘Starting money Special’ after a practice crash, second at Snetterton and another retirement at Oulton park.  All this was good enough to put him Joint 8th with Richie Ginther and Jim Rathmann at the end of his first year in F1. He enjoyed considerably more reliability and success in formula Junior though, winning five events and finishing joint champion with team-mate Trevor Taylor. Not too shabby for a first year as a full professional.

With a matter of days left in 1960 Colin Chapman packed Jim, Innes Ireland and John Surtees along with Reg Parnell and John Cooper off to New Zealand for the winter races, after a short three race tour culminating in the shambolic, rain soaked Lady Wigram Trophy race they returned to England to Focus on testing the new Coventry Climax MKII 4 cylinder engines.

The European season began in April and Clark duly gained his maiden F1 victory in the first Grand Prix of the season at the picturesque circuit of Pau in the foothills of the Pyrenees’. The Ferrari's were the class of the field in ’61 though and it proved to be a tough year for Jim on every level. It was the first year of the new 1 ½ litre un-supercharged formula and Ferrari who had been developing their vee 6 engines the previous year hit the ground running, whereas the Lotus, Cooper and BRM had to wait until the season was almost over  for Coventry Climax to bring in their Vee 8’s.

Phill Hill wins le Mans for Ferrari
Even Sports-cars proved to be hard work for Jim in 1961. A break between Zandvoort and Spa gave Jim the chance to drive one of John Ogier’s Essex racing Aston Martin DBR1’s in the Nurburgring 1000kms but despite being paired with Bruce McLaren the engine let them down. Little more than a week later it was back to Le Mans with the Reivers  for the final time, but it proved to be another Ferrari walkover and another retirement for Clark in the now very long in the tooth ex-Moss Aston. It was another race he was beginning to view as unnecessarily dangerous, Stating  ‘’There just aren’t  a hundred and twenty good enough drivers to compete together at Le Mans, and this is the plain and simple fact of the matter.’’ This, coupled with such a inherently fast and dangerous track, not to mention everything from terribly slow to incredibly fast cars on the circuit at the same time, and having all this compounded by the fact that half the race was run at night, meant Le mans was starting to lose some of its appeal for Jim. Spa followed shortly after and once again proved difficult, this time it was Cliff Alisson’s turn to suffer a career ending accident, and Jim, who missed first practice came home a lowly twelfth after a first lap pitstop.

Muscling the Aston to 4th in the Goodwood TT
Rheims provided an unexpected third and Innes won the south German Grand Prix at solitude shortly followed by Stirling winning the Nurburgring for Lotus with Jim in fourth followed by Surtees. Jack Brabham had finally received one of the long awaited Coventry Climax vee 8’s for his Cooper and qualified in second, but put it in the weeds on the first lap. Back to brands for the Guards Trophy race and a promising second. Things were looking up. Another outing in one of wealthy chicken faremer John Ogiers vehicles Provided Jim with a break from GP cars, this time it was the TT race at Goodwood, the car was the Faboulusly beautifull Aston Martin DB4 GT Zagato, in my humble opinion one of the finest looking cars ever made. The chequered flag was famously comfortably taken by  Stirling moss listening to the race on the radio in his Ferrari 250 GT Berlinette, But Jim confessed to have a grand old time wrestling the Aston into fourth.

Two more Retirements befell Jim in the Sweedish and Danish Grands Prix, Modena yeilded a fourth and then Monza. The events leading up to the death of  Wolfgang Von Trips and fourteen spectators in the 1961 Italian GP will certainly never be fully made clear, but suffice to say the crash itself and the circus that proceeded it was the low point of Jims carreer. So I'll start part four with that and try and end it on a high.