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Clark: Gentle farmer, race driver

2012-08-06 07:11

ETCHED IN F1 HISTORY: A painting by British artist Andrew Kitson shows Jim Clark leading Graham Hill through Paddock Hill Bend at Brands Hatch, England, in the inaugural GP held there in 1964.


With the 2012 Formula 1 season having its mid-year break, I thought I’d write about arguably one of the greatest champions of all time. Was Jim Clark the greatest driver yet? 

Forty-four years ago – back in 1968 – Jim Clark’s life was brought to an early end. Having been F1 World champion* twice over, it was an even greater tragedy to find that he should die in a nondescript F2 race in Germany.


Jimmy Clark was born in Scotland in 1936, the son of a wealthy farmer where farm tractors were to provide formative driving experiences for the youngster. By the age of 20 the shy young man began competing in local motor racing – much to the chagrin of his parents who preferred that he rather take sole interest in matters farming.

Clark was a natural talent, it seemed. Wealthy friends would give him all manner of cars to drive in which he would usually cross the line first. Ecurie Ecosse was arguably the top driving stable in Scotland but Clark preferred to join up with the lesser-known Border Reivers racing team, alongside Jock McBain and old friend Ian Scott-Watson. Clark was hired to drive the team’s D-Type Jaguar and didn’t he go!

In April 1958 at the Full Sutton airfield circuit in Yorkshire, England, Clark became the first sports-car driver to lap a post-war British circuit at more than 160km/h. Flushed with success, Border Reivers entered Clark and the Jaguar at Spa-Francorchamps, a race in which he finished eighth – but was marred by the death of fellow Scotsman and close friend Archie Scott-Brown.

Later that year Clark was to become something of a man revered in motor racing circles. He seemed capable of winning in any type of car. A borrowed Lotus Elite saw him despatch the Lotus manufacturer himself (Colin Chapman) way down the list of finishers that day. Border Reivers was determined to hang on to its talented driver, offering him rides in a Lister Jaguar and even a full-blown, ex-works, Aston Martin the following year.


Clark had struck up a friendly relationship with Chapman by then and was contracted to drive F2 for Lotus, battling it out with the likes of Graham Hill and Jackie Stewart - two real characters of the F1 circus – in complete contrast to the reluctant hero that would describe Clark’s persona.

Over the next four seasons the Clark-driven Lotus was only beaten by mechanical breakdowns and there wasn’t too many of them. In 1963 everything held together for Clark to take the first of his World championship F1 titles. The following year he was pipped at the post in the last race by an oil leak costing him the 1964 title - but he was back with a vengeance in 1965 - winning six out of 10 races for Lotus.

Though never particularly technically minded, Clark had the happy knack of getting his point across to Chapman who then knew where the car could be improved. The cherry on the cake for Clark that year was winning the famed Indianapolis 500 race in a Lotus 38 – he was now famous on both sides of the Atlantic!

By then other manufacturer teams had caught up with Lotus and victories for the brand slowed down a little for a season or two, but it was still a tremendous shock to learn of the death of  “Gentleman Jim” on April 7, 1968 in a race at Hockenheim, Germany. (It was later discovered that he had in fact been “double-booked” to drive that day, preferring to honour a commitment to his old friend and mentor Colin Chapman and drive the ill-fated Lotus Type 48 F2.)

*Grands Prix entered 72, wins 25, pole starts 33, front-row starts 48, lap records 28. 

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