Roger Clark MBE (1939 - 1998)

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Roger Clark MBE (1939 - 1998)
Roger Clark MBE
Roger Clark's competitive spirit was always fiercely displayed - he was an outstanding natural competitor at his exciting, and frequently sideways, best. As the son of a garage proprietor, Roger's upbringing on the outskirts of Leicester (UK) provided a fitting background for an enthusiast.

Born on August the 5th, 1939 Roger made his debut at club level in 1956, and went on to win the first of four British Rally Championship titles in a Ford GT Cortina in 1965, and then a Ford RS Escort in 1972, 1973 and 1975, all with co-driver Jim Porter. He was a well rounded sportsman, reaching county standard at both Swimming and Rugby.

Amazingly it was during that time that both Roger and younger brother Stan (a well known racing driver in his own right) managed to ensure that their father's business continued to expand. In 1975 there were four Roger Clark Cars Ltd. garages in the Leicester area, retailing Renault, Ford, Jensen, Porsche, Lotus and Alfa Romeo. Stan Clark raced a pair of Alfa's for Penthouse magazine, while Roger was a Ford specialist since 1966.

Roger Clark did dabble with other marques, such as at the 1974 BOAC 500 where he was to drive a Porsche Carrera, but the car did not start the event. As much as he loved rallying in a Ford, it seemed many sighted him at the wheel of a Porsche, usually a Carrera demonstrator carrying his old rally car plates, 2 ANR.

On the road Clark was a very safe and undramatic driver, quite happy to take the wheel of whatever happened to be in stock; earlier in his career he would equally compete in pretty well anything with wheels, or what he happened upon in the garage. Clark's competition driving began almost immediately after he passed his driving test in 1956, having driven from a tender age and having spent any spare time polishing his enthusiasm on private grounds.

The Leicestershire CC provided the club rally events needed, as well as introducing him to the navigator who was to become synonymous with Clark's name as a winner, Jim Porter. The pair's first events of a strictly road-going nature were in a Y-type Ford, succeeded by a 100E van. Roger later recalled, "we won a few pots and things locally, but I had a Mini in 1960 and I really established myself in those".

In fact Roger won the East Midlands Rally Championship in 1961 and 1962 with his BMC mount, though the latter years also witnessed Clark's Mini-Cooper hurtling around the International Circuit of Ireland event to record fourth overall as well as a fine class win. "I remember what really made a few people talk was when we took a Mini to third overall on a Motoring News Championship round in 1963, because the event was run on sheet ice (it was the Welsh Marches) and I didn't have studs in my tyres, while all the others did".

In the same year Clark took the well-thrashed Mini out on the Scottish, showing speed and car care skills by completing the rough-and-tumble event with a resounding second overall. Clark's performances on the British home Internationals were always outstanding. For example, he took three outright victories on the Circuit of Ireland (1968/1969/1970), five wins in the Scotish (1964/1965/1967/1968/1973), three WeIsh International wins and, in 1972, was until then the only British driver to win the RAC Rally since it had began using the special 1 stage forest track format.

Works teams started to show an interest during 1963 and he drove once for Triumph (Spa-Sofia-Liege TR4, which broke its gearbox) and for Reliant, when he managed a second in class on the Alpine in one of the stratight-six Saibres. The following year was the one in which Clark began two years of private rallying in his GT Cortina between works drives for Rover, and he won his first Scottish straight away in the mildly tweaked Cortina.

Roger Clark In His RS Escort
Roger Clark at the helm of the RS Escort winning the 1968 Acropolis Rally...
In 1965 he showed real international flair for Rover, twirling the ungainly 2000 into sixth overall in the Monte Carlo Rally, all through terrible road conditions, as was recorded by John Davenport, then of Motoring News, who stated "He (Clark) netted the plaudits of the assembled journalists, for no-one could believe that a Rover 2000 could be driven that far sideways and still stay on the road".

In 1965 Clark continued his home record with a second Scottish win in the Cortina and closed his Rover career with 14th overall in the RAC. Initially teamed with Bengt Soderstrom and Vic Elford in the Ford team Cortina's, Clark went on to see many of the best come and go in international rallying, no doubt one of the better drivers being Ove Andersson from the Ford team.

During the early 1970's Clark was often the only Briton to line up alongside the Ford Finns, a selection that had included three of the quickest rally drivers in the world, Markku Allen, Hannu Mikkola and Timo Makinen.

Internationaly Clark was sometimes nicknamed "Albert" (his middle name), although he was not able to emulate his home turf success quite so well overseas, the Escort's best rallying year being 1968 when he won the Acropolis Rally and Tulip rally: two years later he came fifth in the Monte Carlo. In 1973 Roger Clark led the East African Safari by over an hour, when forced to retire at the halfway stage with a disintegrating car.

After over 20 years in rallying, Clark was asked what he thought of the sport after such a long time..."I think stage rallying is quite sophisticated now with excellent marshalling, a good standard of cars and drivers, providing lots of competition in RAC Championship rounds. The standard was poor when Ford first backed me in an Escort for the RAC series (1972, when he won the title with Tony Mason, backed up with a repeat in 1973: he first won the RAC Championship in 1965 with the Cortina!) but it has improved to the point where we have close competition now. About the only improvement I can think of for the RAC series would be the use of digital timing clocks to ensure accuracy."

Spectators Stand In Stupid Places

On the vexed issue of safety, Clark declared the following..."we haven't got a high accident rate in stage ralllying, in fact rallying in this country (UK) has been very safe, but we can't be smug. I think the spectators should be disciplined - educated in every possible way if you like - not to stand in stupid places".

At the beginning of the 1975 season Clark was left without his traditional sponsorship from Esso Uniflo. He remained always the cool customer, a trait common to great rally drivers. When questioned on the impact of Esso pulling out of the sponsorship deal, Clark commented..."we've just had no pocket money to go out with! Ford made sure I had a car, including the new model Escort, but we have the Cossack hair-spray people to help Ford do other things in their plans, which would have been limited without his sponsorship".

Other events of note include rallycrossing in 250 horsepower, four-wheel-drive Capris, where he won the 1971 Castrol Championship. An indication of his potential on tarmac came in the 1967 Oulton Park Gold Cup. Ford at Boreham built a very special Mk. 2 Lotus Cortina and Clark drove it very quickly in the supporting salloon car event against Graham Hill in the Ford-backed Cortina's from Lotus. Then a halfshaft broke. When Ralph Broad was entrusted with preparing the 1,300 c.c. Gp 2 Escorts, Clark joined Craft in one such car for a class victory at Nurburgring.

The combined circuit and grassy surfaces of the Avon Tour of Britain were contested twice by Clark, and in 1974 he took an outright victory in a factory Escort RS2000, his sideways style defeating the identical car of temporary (on loan from Vauxhall) Gerry Marshall in a series of six extremely exciting circuit encounters, one of which Marshall won, but according to Clark "we couldn't be separated on time".

In 1975 he was one of two recipients of the Segrave Trophy, bestowed upon "the Briton who accomplishes the most outstanding demonstration of the possibilities of transport by land, sea, air, or water." Then came another stellar performance in the 1976 RAC Rally, where he piloted his car with cnavigator Stuart Pegg to victory. Clark was awarded the MBE in 1979. Both of his sons followed their father into motorsport. Olly Clark became a competitor in both the Network Q Rally of Great Britain and the FIA Cup for Drivers of Production Cars, while Matt Clark became chief engine builder at the family-owned tuning company.

In 2004, a historic rally event was established to recreate the route of the "classic" RAC Rally, since the current race is now restricted to south Wales. The event was named the Roger Albert Clark Rally (also RAC Rally) in his honour. Competitors are limited to vehicles released prior to 1972, and traces a route through stages in Scotland and northern England which are no longer part of the modern itinerary.

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