Jim Clark OBE (1936 - 1968)

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Jim Clark OBE (1936 - 1968)
Jim Clark
Sometimes words alone are not enough to describe the brilliance and talent of a man or woman. Such is the case with Jim Clark, who's life was cut tragically short on the 7th April, 1968 in a Formula Two race at Hockenheimring in Germany. What made it even more difficult for race fans to accept was that Clark should have been driving in the BOAC 1000 sportscar race at Brands Hatch, but had to switch to the Formula 2 event due to contractural obligations with Firestone.

To this day, many believe Jim Clark to have been the most naturally talented dirver to have graced the Formula One stage. His entire F1 career was spent driving for Colin Chapman's "Team Lotus", during which time he built a formidable record of achievement. This included two Formula One World Championships, the 1965 Indianapolis 500 and in all 25 GP wins - beating the record set by the legendary Juan Manuel Fangio.

Clark's entree into the racing scene was not without controversy. During the 1961 Monza event he was involved in an accident that claimed the life of Wolfgang von Trips, giving the World Championship to American Phil Hill and his famous shark-nosed Ferrari 156. The following year mechanical failure would see Clark beaten by Graham Hill, who was then driving for BRM (British Racing Motors), but who would later become a Lotus team mate.

His 1963 achievement of seven wins in a Championship year gave him his first World Championship - and bettered the previous record of six, held jointly by Fangio and the late Alberto Ascari. In 1964 Clark came within just a few laps of retaining his World Championship crown, but as had occured in 1962, an oil leak from the engine robbed him of the title, this time conceding to John Surtees. Tyre failure damaging the Lotus' suspension ended the 1964 attempt at the Indianapolis 500.

In 1965 came his second World Championship, with six GP wins, five of them in a row (taking the maximum possible championship points in both seasons). That year, too, brought him victory at Indianapolis in a Lotus 38 - the first-ever victory for a British car or driver in what to many motor sports fans was the toughest race of all; the previous year he might have won too, but for inexperience of the complicated rules. Every award available to a racing driver came his way that year, including recognition with an OBE.

Clark may have missed the prestigious Monaco Grand Prix in order to compete at Indianapolis, but made history by driving the first mid-engined car to win at the fabled "Brickyard," as well as becoming the only driver to date to win both that race and the F1 title in the same year. At the same time, Clark was competing in the Australasia based Tasman series, run for older F1 cars, and was series champion in 1965, 1967 and 1968 driving for Lotus. He won fourteen races in all, a record for the series.

The FIA decreed from 1966, new 3-litre engine regulations would come into force. Lotus were less competitive. Starting with a 2-litre Coventry-Climax engine in the Lotus 33, Clark did not score points until the British Grand Prix and a third place at the following Dutch Grand Prix. From the Italian Grand Prix onwards Lotus used the highly complex BRM H16 engine in the Lotus 43 car, with which Clark won the United States Grand Prix. He also picked up another second place at the Indianapolis 500, this time behind Graham Hill.

During 1967 Lotus and Clark used three completely different cars and engines. The Lotus 43 performed poorly at the opening South African Grand Prix, so Clark used an old Lotus 33 at the following Monaco Grand Prix, retiring with suspension failure. Lotus then began its fruitful association with Ford-Cosworth. Their first car, the Lotus 49 featuring the most successful F1 engine in history, the Ford-Cosworth DFV, won its first race at the Dutch Grand Prix, driven by Clark. He won with it again at the British, United States and Mexican Grands Prix; and, in January 1968, at the South African Grand Prix. Jim Clark's drive in the 1967 Italian Grand Prix is regarded one of the greatest ever in F1.

Jim Clarks Last Race...
After starting from pole, he was leading in his Lotus 49 (chassis R2), when a tyre punctured. He lost an entire lap while having the wheel changed in the pits. After rejoining sixteenth, Clark then showed his genius by driving at his own limit, something which was not required when leading. He ripped back through the field, progressively lowered the lap record, eventually equalling his pole time of 1m 28.5s, to regain the lost lap and the lead.

He was narrowly ahead of Brabham and Surtees starting the last lap, but his car had not been filled with enough fuel for such a performance — it faltered, and finally coasted across the finish line in third place.

Clark achieved 33 pole positions and won 25 races from his 72 Grands Prix starts in championship races. He is remembered for his ability to drive and win in all types of cars and series, including a Lotus-Cortina, with which he won the 1964 British Touring Car Championship, IndyCar, NASCAR, driving a Ford Galaxie for the Holman Moody team, Rallying, where he took part in the 1966 RAC Rally of Great Britain in a Lotus Cortina, and nearly won the event before crashing, and sports cars.

He competed in the Le Mans 24 Hour race in 1959, 1960 and 1961, finishing second in class in 1959 driving a Lotus Elite, and finishing third overall in 1960, driving an Aston Martin DBR1.

He was also able to master difficult Lotus sportscar prototypes such as the Lotus 30 and 40. Clark had an uncanny ability to adapt to whichever car he was driving. Whilst other drivers would struggle to find a good car setup, Clark would usually set competitive lap times with whatever setup was provided and ask for the car to be left as it was.

He apparently had difficulty understanding why other drivers were not as quick as himself. After his death, Clark's father told Dan Gurney that he was the only driver his son ever feared. When Clark died, fellow driver Chris Amon was quoted as saying, "If it could happen to him, what chance do the rest of us have? I think we all felt that. It seemed like we'd lost our leader."

Jim Clark is buried in the village of Chirnside in Berwickshire. A small plaque — now located behind a protective Armco guardrail — is set in the trees to mark the spot of his tragic death. A life size statue of him in racing overalls stands by the bridge over a small stream in the village of his birth, Kilmany in Fife, Scotland. A small museum, which is known as The Jim Clark Room, can be found in Duns. He was an inaugural inductee into the Scottish Sports Hall of Fame in 2002.
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