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Jim Clark – The Best of a Dangerous Era

James (Jim) Clark Jr. was born on the 4th of March 1936 into a farming family at Kilmany House Farm, Fife, the youngest child of five, and the only boy. Although his parents were opposed to the idea, Clark, on 16 June 1956, started his racing in local road rally and hill climb events driving his own Sunbeam-Talbot, and proved a fearsome competitor right from the start. However, it was on Boxing Day 1958, when Clark raced against Colin Chapman, founder of Lotus Cars, who would launch his motorsport career.

Although Clark finished second to his Chapman, his race to tenth on debut in 1959 at Le Mans was enough to sufficiently impress Chapman who decide to give Clark a ride in one of his Formula Junior cars.

“In March 1960, the first race for the newly introduced Formula Junior took place at Goodwood. The winner was J. Clark (Lotus Ford), from J. Surtees (Cooper B.M.C) with T. Taylor (Lotus Ford) third.”

Clark made his F1 Grand Prix debut, part-way through the season, at the Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort on 6 June 1960. His first Drivers’ World Championship came driving the Lotus 25 in 1963, winning seven out of the ten races and Lotus its first Constructors’ World Championship. Clark’s record of seven wins in a season was not equalled until 1984 when Frenchman Alain Prost won seven races for McLaren, and was not broken until Brazilian Ayrton Senna won eight races in the 1988 season

In 1963, he raced in his first Indianapolis 500 and finished in second position behind Parnelli Jones and won Rookie of the Year honours. In 1964 Clark came within just a few laps of retaining his World Championship crown but, just as in 1962, an oil leak from the engine robbed him of the title, this time conceding to John Surtees. Tyre failure damaging the Lotus’s suspension put paid to that year’s attempt at the Indianapolis 500. He made amends and won the Championship again in 1965 and also the Indianapolis 500 in the Lotus 38. He had to miss 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 the Indy 500 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. This included winning the 1968 Australian Grand Prix at the Sandown International Raceway in Melbourne where he defeated the Ferrari 246T of Chris Amon by just 0.1 seconds after 55 laps of the 3.1 km (1.92 mi) circuit, the closest finish in the history of the Australian Grand Prix. 

The FIA decreed from 1966, new 3-litre engine regulations would come into force. From the Italian Grand Prix onwards Lotus used the highly complex BRM H16 engine in the Lotus 43 car, with which Clark won the U.S. 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.

During the 4-month gap between the first (which Clark won) and second race of the 1968 Formula One season, drivers would compete in other racing formulas. Clark was originally slated to drive in the BOAC 1000 km sportscar race at Brands Hatch, but instead chose to drive in the Deutschland Trophäe, a Formula Two race, for Lotus at the Hockenheimring, primarily due to contractual obligations with Firestone. Although the race has sometimes been characterised as a “minor race meeting” the entry list was impressive with top-running Matras for the French drivers Jean-Pierre Beltoise and Henri Pescarolo, Tecnos for Carlo Facetti and Clay Regazzoni, Team Brabhams for Derek Bell and Piers Courage, a Ferrari for Chris Amon and McLarens for Graeme Lawrence and Robin Widdows. Team Lotus drivers Graham Hill and Clark were in Gold Leaf Team Lotuses and a young Max Mosley was also in the race, moving up from the Clubman series. On the fifth lap of the first heat, Clark’s Lotus 48 veered off the track and crashed into the trees killing him almost instantly.

Clark’s death affected the racing community terribly, with fellow Formula One drivers and close friends Graham Hill, Jackie Stewart, Dan Gurney, John Surtees, Chris Amon and Jack Brabham all being personally affected by the tragedy. People came from all over the world to Clark’s funeral. Colin Chapman was devastated and publicly stated that he had lost his best friend. The 1968 F1 Drivers’ Championship was subsequently won by his Lotus teammate Graham Hill, who pulled the heartbroken team together and held off Jackie Stewart for the crown, which he later dedicated to Clark.

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