Brought to you by TheJudge13 chronicler Jennie Mowbray
“If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same.”
The “British invasion” of the New World initially appeared to be of little portent. The first indication of European interest in motor racing on the other side of the Atlantic was when Jack Brabham, the reigning Formula One World Champion, arrived in Indianapolis in 1961 with his diminutive Cooper-Climax – the first foreigner to dip his toes into the water of the American racing scene since 1952. It would be the debut appearance at the iconic race of a rear engine car but was a harbinger of things to come. He astonished the fans when he finished 9th. Not only that, but he was still on the lead lap. The Americans had not been usurped for decades at home…in fact, nobody had even tried. The last non-American driver to win the Indianapolis 500 had been Italian born British driver Dario Resta in 1916 – 99 years ago yesterday!
At the beginning the Europeans had been keen, Peugeot and Mercedes continuing their on track tussle for supremacy in the United States when war on the battlefields of Europe bought local racing to a halt. French and British drivers won four of the first six battles at the Brickyard, but after the war they quickly lost interest. Even during the ten years that the Indy 500 was an official round of the Formula One World Championship, only once did a European team and driver take part. Ferrari and Alberto Ascari denied to venture across the ocean during the 1952 season – he spun the car on lap 40 and finished 31st. The only other race that season he wouldn’t win would be the Swiss Grand Prix – which he didn’t actually attend as he was in Indianapolis qualifying for the Indy 500.
Dan Gurney coveted a competitive car, a potential race winning car…and he knew that Lotus was in a different class to the rest of the US manufactured field. Local design had stagnated over the years, no-one feeling the need to challenge the tried and already tested. Throwing a British car into the mix would be certain to create a stir. He sold the idea to Colin Chapman, his cause aided by the size of the winning purse…more money than Chapman could ever dream of making in Europe. Like all Formula One team owners the world over, he was constantly short of cash.
On their way home from the 1962 United States Grand Prix, Chapman and Clark made a detour to Indianapolis to check out the lay of the land. Clark took his Lotus 25 for a spin around the track. Despite having less than half the horse power of the Offenhauser engine that had dominated at Indy for the last decade, his average speed was over 143 miles per hour, only 7 miles per hour short of the pole setting speed of Parnelli Jones from earlier in the year. Then Gurney and Chapman got Ford onside and persuaded them to supply the engine. Chapman-Lotus-Clark-Ford: it was a marriage made in heaven. Even though he drove for Brabham in Formula One, Dan Gurney was rewarded for his efforts and got the seat in the second Lotus.
Notwithstanding the fact that he was in the top echelon of European racing, Jim Clark was still required to prove his skills in the mandatory Indianapolis rookie driver test. It didn’t matter how many races a driver had been in, or how many wins or even world championships he had attained, the skills needed to negotiate an oval speedway, with its banked corners and high speeds, were incomparable to driving on a road circuit. The cars raced side by side, only a few centimeters separating them, the track encircled with a solid concrete wall that had the alarming predisposition to turn any errant car into a lump of crumpled metal. It also required the audacious ability to keep the accelerator flat to the floor while hurtling through the banked curves, a completely unnatural response for drivers who had cut their teeth racing on tracks. There was some concern when Clark’s car had wobbled while going down the straight – until he told them he had swerved to miss a rabbit attempting to make its way across the track…a very dangerous activity for both driver and bunny.
In 1963 the Monaco Grand Prix and the Indy 500 were held one week apart and Chapman and Clark spent the month of May toing and froing across the Atlantic. Jim Clark came second. In 1964 the two races were three weeks apart, which helped cut down on travel. This time Clark placed his car on pole but was out of the race when his Dunlop tyre disintegrated and the resulting vibration demolished his suspension. In 1965 the Monaco Grand Prix and the Indy 500 would be on the same weekend. A decision had to be made and Chapman and Clark came down on the side of Indy rather than Monaco.
The month long practice and qualifying started and this time Chapman and Clark stayed at Indianapolis as they didn’t have the Monaco Grand Prix to concern them. The victory had been within their grasp the last two years and this year nothing would be left to chance. Setup of the new Lotus 38 commenced with long stints and full fuel loads to definitively test the tyres and the amount of wear they would sustain. The choice was between Firestone and Goodyear, Dunlop making the decision not to provide tyres this year. Firestone rubber had won every race since 1920 but Chapman and Clark put them both through their paces. After some minor chunking problems with Goodyear they eventually settled on Firestone.
Next on the agenda was the choice of fuel. The previous year there had been a tragic accident when Dave McDonald’s car exploded after it spun and hit the wall. Although the organisers hadn’t banned gasoline, they made the use of alcohol much more attractive. Everyone had to do a mandatory two pit stops and the tank size in the cars was limited to 75 gallons. Now that everyone had to pit twice it was more advantageous to go for the increased horsepower that alcohol provided over the better fuel economy of gasoline.
The car was then set up for speed, and not just for the speed of the car. Under the microscope came pit stops. With pressure refuelling banned for the first time it was estimated that it would now take close to a minute to refuel during the race. Aware that the race could be won or lost in the pits Ford hired the Wood Brothers, already famous for their lighting NASCAR pit stop work, to do Clark’s refuelling. Tyres would only be changed if they caused problems; as the tread wore down they usually got faster!
It didn’t take the Wood brothers long to adapt from sedans to open wheelers. Leonard Wood remembered that, “They turned us lose and let us prepare the car the way we wanted to and we began to streamline the system and make everything connect and disconnect easily so it didn’t hang up.” Their slow southern drawl did worry Colin Chapman who hoped their actions would be faster than their words.
Lotus designer Len Terry also had a major role as he was responsible for the innovative design of the whole fuelling rig. He later commented that, “When the gravity feed regulations became known, it was obviously a matter of vital importance to increase the replenishment flow during pit stops to gain an advantage, and it became clear that later that no one else within the other teams had considered a solution too deeply. I based my design on a venturi shape for the 3-inch-diameter outlet that fed into a “Y” from which two 3-inch lines individually fed fuel to each side of the car. My calculations promised a delivery of 50 US gallons in under 20 seconds, and if no one else thought of a similar scheme we would gain an enormous advantage. Fortunately, no one else did….”
Throughout practice A J Foyt and Jim Clark had traded fastest times, their average speeds steadily approaching 160 mph, but no-one knew who would be the fastest until qualifying. Mario Andretti set the bar with the first record breaking time of 158.849 mph. Next on the track was Jim Clark who broke the 160 mph barrier, but shortly after that A J Foyt went even faster and snatched pole with yet another new lap record. The front row was a Lotus lockout as Foyt had swapped his front engine roadster for a year old Lotus, and Dan Gurney placed the his Lotus 38 on third, pushing Andretti in the first non-Lotus car down to fourth.
As the pace car pulled in off the rolling start Jim Clark took the lead from the middle of the front row. On the second lap A J Foyt passed him, but, unable to pull out a gap, he was re-passed by Clark on the following lap. Clark then proceeded to pull out a ten second lead as Foyt now had to fight off Parnelli Jones threatening him from behind. Clark pitted on lap 66, stationary for a brief 18 seconds while being refuelled. The commentators were sure that the inexperienced pit crew had either made an error and not put in enough fuel, or were using gasoline which gave better fuel economy. The answer was neither. The Wood Brother’s reputation remained intact as they were able to put in more fuel faster than anyone else with their perfectly choreographed pit lane ballet.
Clark returned to the track in second place but regained the lead on lap 75 when it was Foyt’s turn to pit for fuel. Unfortunately Foyt was out of the race shortly after half race distance when his gear box expired and from then on no-one was even close to threatening Clark for the win. The only possibility of failure would be due to mechanical breakdown, always a risk in a long and hard-fought race. When he pitted for the second time on lap 137 he had a lead of over two minutes from Parnelli Jones, and he came out in front of the pack, able to coast to the end without stressing his engine or gearbox. At the chequered flag he was almost two minutes ahead of Jones and had led for 190 of the 200 laps.
One of the drivers at the race was at the very beginning of his open wheel career and was participating in his first Indy 500. Clint Brawner had seen that the future for racing would require a rear engine vehicle. He had been given a wrecked Brabham chassis which he copied, inserting a Ford engine in the rear and a young Mario Andretti in the driver’s seat. The Brawner-Hawk was the only car on the grid not offset to the left, a design feature to enable better left turn performance and even up tyre wear. Andretti wrestled the car into third place due more to his sheer talent rather than because of superb machinery. The Indy 500 was the car’s maiden race, and Mario’s first time in a rear engine car. Mario and the Brawner-Hawk would go on to win the USAC National Championship that year. He also met Colin Chapman who said, “When you’re ready, call me.”
When Jim Clark arrived at the Indy 500 in 1963 rear-engine cars were seen as an exotic species which everyone doubted could triumph over the might and power of the tank-like breed of American race car. Within two years the grid was full of Lotus-like cars – those who were unable to obtain “the real deal” replicated and built their own low and lightweight Lotus look-alikes. 1965 was the first Indy 500 victory for a rear engine car but despite two old-fashioned front-engine cars finishing in the top ten, the writing was already on the wall that the roadster’s time was up. From now on they would struggle to even qualify. It was the end of an era. The race and its cars had been changed forever.
I find it astonishing that Chapman and Clark went to Indianapolis instead of the Monaco Grand Prix. It was only the second race of the season and Clark was willing to get no points. He did go on to win six out of ten races that season and so won his second world championship, but it is interesting that he risked the world championship title to race at Indianapolis. Because of that he is the only driver ever to win the Formula One World Championship and the Indy 500 in the same year. Not even Mario Andretti would achieve this feat, because to win at Indy requires more than the best car. It requires a great driver in a great car with a great team of engineers to back him up as well as a heap of luck! Mario Andretti would compete for almost three decades at Indy, driving while at the peak of his long and illustrious career, and only win once. As Juan Pablo Montoya said after his second win at Indy last weekend, “There’s a hundred ways to throw this away, there’s only one way to win it. The guy who makes the fewest mistakes is going to win…If you’re going to make a mistake, make it early.” Fifty years ago today Clark, Chapman, Lotus and Ford made no mistakes…