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Motor Racing Legends: Jimmy Clark

Posted in Motor Racing Legends by Wheels Near U Team on the October 19th, 2007

Jimmy Clark Motor Racing LegendThis series follows but a few of the motor racing legends of all time, we have already seen Stirling Moss the Formula One Champion and Mike Hailwood the Grand Prix Motorcycle Champion. Motor Racing Legends this week looks at Jimmy Clark, the Scottish Formula One Racing Driver that made his mark in the 60’s.

Jimmy (or Jim) Clark OBE was born on the 4th March 1936 in a country farming family in Kilmany, Fife. Jimmy was the only boy out of 5 children and although his parents did not really agree, Jimmy started his racing career in local road rally/hill climb events. He drove his own Sunbeam-Talbot (pictured) in the local races and proved his driving ability from the beginning. It took Jimmy 2 years from his first ever race (16th June 1956 behind the wheel of a DKW sonderklasse at Crimond, Scotland) to get start racing for a team. Clark drove Jaguar D-Types and Porsches for the local Border Reivers team in national events, claiming 18 wins that year.

By boxing day that year, Jimmy had met the man who would catapult him to super stardomColin Chapman. Chapman was driving a Lotus Elite and beat Jimmy, however was impressed with Jimmy’s driving and so let me take a ride in one of his Formula Junior Cars.

Sunbeam Talbot like Jim Clark Raced

Jimmy’s first year of Drivers’ World Championship (1963) was a phenomenal one, driving the Lotus 25 he won seven out of ten races which in turn gave Lotus its first Constructor’s World Championship title. In the same year he had also one rookie of the year honours for coming a close second in the Indianapolis 500, as he was slowed by oil on the track left by the winner (Parnelli Jone’s) car. The next year he had similar problems, loosing his World Championship title due to oil on the track and the Lotus’s fouled suspension meant Indianapolis 500 was not achievable.

Jimmy Clark in Lotus 1962This didn’t stop Jimmy Clark, who by the following year (1965) won both the Drivers’ World Championship and the Indianapolis 500. He also entered the history books for driving the first mid-engined car to a win at “Brickyard” – a famous track, this year was a good year for Clark, he was at this point the only driver to ever win both that race and the F1 title on the same year.

From 1966 the FIA decreed that new regulations would come into force, limiting engines to 3Litre Capacity. As a result Lotus lost some of its competitive spark and starting with a 2litre Coventry Climax engine (in a Lotus 33) were not very successful. But after the Italian Grand Prix Lotus started using the highly complicated BRM H16 engine (in a Lotus 43). Coupled with this car Jimmy Clark won the United States Grand Prix and second place at the Indianapolis 500.

1967 saw three completely different drives as Lotus used the Lotus 43, Lotus 33 and the Lotus 49. The Lotus 43 performed badly at the opening South African Grand Prix, which led Clark to use the older Lotus 33 in the next race at Monaco. However this car then retired with suspension failure. However these two unimpressive cars led to the use of the most successful Formula 1 engine in history. Lotus began its association with Ford-Cosworth, the resulting car was the Lotus 49 featuring the Ford-Cosworth DFV (the most successful Formula 1 Engine in history). Driving this car to its first win at the Dutch Grand Prix, Jimmy Clark then went on to win the British, United States and Mexican Grand Prix and in January of the following year (1968) the South African Grand Prix.

Jimmy Clark’s drive in the 1967 Italian Grand Prix makes Clark a motor racing legend, and is regarded by many as the greatest ever drive in Formula 1. He started in Pole Position, leading in the Lotus 49, when he encountered a punctured tyre, he lost an entire lap while having the wheel replaced. He then rejoined the race in 16th position, from which point he Jim Clarkpushed his driving to its limits, lowering the lap record consistently until he was equal with his pole time of 1m 28.5s. He had made his way back to the lead and completely recovered his lost lap, unfortunately just before the finish he was to realise that his car had not been filled with enough fuel to maintain his limit pushing racing performance. He coasted across the finishing line in third place. Jimmy Clark’s performance on that race is still considered unmatched in Formula 1 history.

Unfortunately Jimmy Clark‘s life and career ended in early April 1968. A tragic car crash saw the conclusion of a motor racing legend, Clark was supposed to have driven in the BOAC 1000km race at Brands Hatch but decided differently. He chose to race in a minor Formula 2 Race for Lotus. The race was held at Hockenheimring, Germany and he chose it largely due to his contractual obligations with Firestone. On his 5th lap tragedy struck as his Lotus 48 veered off the track and crashed into the trees, Jimmy Clark died instantly. The exact reason for the crash was put down to the rear tyre deflating, although never formally announced. Fellow racing driver Colin Chapman was devastated by the crash and publicly noted that he had lost his best friend. In respect Chapman ordered the traditional Lotus Badge (Yellow and Green) to be replaced with a black badge for the month following. The Lotus Team then won the 1968 Formula 1 Drivers’ Championship, Graham Hill was driving, pulling the heartbroken team together and holding off Jackie Stewart. He dedicated this win to Jimmy Clark.

Jimmy Clark was a Motor Racing Legend, he achieved 33 pole positions and won 25 races out of 72 Grand Prix starts. A great driver in whatever car he sat in, from a Lotus Cortina (with which he won the 1964 British Touring Car Championship), NASCAR (driving a Ford-Galaxie), IndyCar, RAC Rally (in 1966 he almost won until he crashed the Lotus Cortina.) Also driving in Le Mans 24 Hour race in an Astom Martin DBR1 he achieved a second and third place in 1959 and 1960.

Loved by many Clark left a wake of sorrow across racing. Chris Amon a fellow racing driver was quoted with 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.” after Clark’s death. A life-size memorial of Jimmy Clark racing stands by the bridge over a small stream in the vilage of Kilmany, Fife.


This weeks Motor Racing Legend – Jimmy Clark. If you would like to see more photographs of Jimmy Clark click here to go to our motor racing legend gallery, where you will find more info and photo’s of all the racing legends in this series. If you would like to read more on other Motor Racing Legends Click here to visit Stirling Moss’s article or here to read about Mike Hailwood.

Or if you would like to read more about Jimmy Clarke, we would recommend the following books –

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One Response to 'Motor Racing Legends: Jimmy Clark'

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  1. on October 27th, 2007 at 12:12 pm

    […] last weeks look at the motor racing legend that was Jimmy Clark, this week we take a look at Ayrton Senna. Senna is the forth motor racing legend in this series […]