Feature: When Jim Clark took part in the RAC Rally

Fotograaf Onbekend / Anefo [CC0]

We, for the most part, can rely on Fernando Alonso to keep us entertained. And he has been doing so for tangible reasons just lately, during the usually-slow January news days, by having a go at the Dakar Rally.

Alonso as is readily noted is rather a modern-day outlier in that, in a throwback, he’s one willing to take to the wheel in pretty much any motorsport discipline. Something to be thankful for.

2020欧洲杯体育投注软件Yet he’s not alone in making the Formula 1-to-rallying journey. Kimi Raikkonen competed in the World Rally Championship’s top class for two seasons during his F1 hiatus in 2010 and ’11, while Robert Kubica is another who has long been a fan of taking to the stages.

We also can add to the list the name of none other than Jim Clark.

As intimated, in Clark’s day the norm was for even the most decorated F1 pilots to live a peripatetic motorsport existence, jumping between cars and disciplines from one weekend to the next. But even so Clark’s range – and his ability for his star to shine through no matter what the car or the category – was extraordinary. And to a degree even underappreciated.

We all know that in addition to his towering F1 success he bagged Indianapolis 500 victory, the first non-American to do so for nearly 50 years. His saloon car exploits in the Lotus Cortina are well-documented too. As are, to a lesser extent, his Formula 2 and sportscar efforts – indeed he finished third in the 1960 Le Mans 24 Hours.

But it goes even further. Clark also did a one-off NASCAR drive in the 1967 Rockingham 500 in a Ford Fairlane, and again showed up rather well.

And it doesn’t stop there either. As Clark took part in the 1966 RAC Rally, as Rally GB was then known. What’s more, he again put in a stunning display. You could make a case that it was even Clark’s most sensational showing of all from his vast array of motorsport exploits.

Clark took part in the 1966 RAC Rally, as Rally GB was then known. What’s more, he again put in a stunning display. You could make a case that it was even Clark’s most sensational showing of all from his vast array of motorsport exploits

2020欧洲杯体育投注软件Ford, which would power Clark’s Lotus in F1 from the following year with its famous DFV, offered Clark a spot in its RAC Rally line-up with one of its four works Lotus Cortinas. A model with which, as noted, Clark was familiar.

2020欧洲杯体育投注软件Brian Melia – vastly experienced and respected as well as a fine driver in his own right – was offered as his co-driver, and drove to Snetterton in October ‘66 – where Clark was testing the Lotus Indy 500 car – to persuade him to accept the offer. After a go in one of the Cortinas at Ford’s Boreham test track, Clark was convinced.

Graham Hill, who was joining Team Lotus as Clark’s F1 stablemate for ‘67, took part in the rally too, in his case in a Mini Cooper. His approach to the task however lingered somewhere between that of a jolly and a PR stunt, evidenced by him having a journalist as his co-driver in the shape of the Sunday Times’ Maxwell Boyd.

2020欧洲杯体育投注软件Hill further didn’t apparently show too much regret at retiring from the event on its second day, with a broken gearbox and cracked sump.

2020欧洲杯体育投注软件But Clark’s approach could hardly have stood in starker contrast. He definitely was taking it seriously. He’d tested rigorously in advance at Bagshot with his famous rally namesake Roger, plus as noted had a high-quality co-driver.

2020欧洲杯体育投注软件And it showed in the times. Clark stunned all during the rally with his immediate and consistent pace. He finished fifth fastest on both of the first two proper stages. All told he took three stage wins, seven more second places and four more third places, plus for the most part sat comfortably within the top 10 times of the 146 entrants.

2020欧洲杯体育投注软件All told Clark took three stage wins, seven more second places and four more third places, plus for the most part sat comfortably within the top 10 times of the 146 entrants

2020欧洲杯体育投注软件Just how big a departure was the rally from the circuit racing Clark was used to? As noted, F1 drivers doing other things was the norm back then. Also Anthony Peacock reminds us that, in rather a reversal of today, 1966 was “the truly feral era of Formula 1,” while “the RAC Rally was as seen as something of a safe busman’s holiday for Clark compared to the widow-making weekends that formed the F1 calendar.”

Yet, on the other hand, saying this was the equivalent of today’s WRC Rally GB round does it a disservice. In 1966 the RAC Rally comprised 2400 miles and some 63 special stages over five days and three nights, with only one overnight halt. These days Rally GB has but 22 special stages over just over 1000 miles, and not to mention very little running after dark…

Then the event started at Heathrow – waved off by Jack Brabham, no less – went as far as Devon in the west, swung back via Bristol, the Severn Bridge and Wales, back across to the Lake District then up to Scotland, then, after a brief breather, back down through Yorkshire then to Silverstone.

2020欧洲杯体育投注软件In other words, Clark’s RAC performance is not to be underestimated. And various observers have not minced their words when praising what the Scot did. “I never knew Jim Clark was as good as that,” said Bengt Soderstrom, the eventual rally winner, also in a Cortina, and one of seven Swedes in the final top 10.

“As a debut, it was truly astonishing since back in those days rallying was so far removed from circuit racing that it was an entirely different planet,” added Peacock some years later.

“There are folk who rank his performance as highly as anything he did in Formula 1,” James Page concurred. “By any measure, it was a remarkable performance in this most specialised of disciplines.”

2020欧洲杯体育投注软件Sadly though Clark wasn’t able to convert his fine showing into a final result. Early on during the concluding day, and ironically having not long crossed into his native Scotland, Clark had an off which damaged his front suspension and heavily deranged one side of the bodywork.

2020欧洲杯体育投注软件This cost him 45 minutes while the service crew did its repairs. But Clark nevertheless was determined to resume even with the delay and having by now a very-patched-up Cortina – Jackie Stewart watching on noted its driver’s door was barely in connection with the rest of the vehicle…

2020欧洲杯体育投注软件And five stages later the hobbled car, at a fast left-hander following a flat-out crest, slid into a ditch and rolled. Clark, his Cortina buried in the scenery, was now out definitively.

2020欧洲杯体育投注软件“I just tripped over the border,” noted Clark. “I analysed the accident and I knew what I had done wrong halfway through the second roll. I wouldn’t do it again.”

2020欧洲杯体育投注软件I never knew Jim Clark was as good as that - winner Bengt Soderstrom

2020欧洲杯体育投注软件Even after this we got further measure of the man. Clark’s modesty as a person ranked alongside his majesty as a driver and, rather than stomping off after his retirement, he borrowed another Cortina and followed the service crew the rest of the way so to help out where he could. Then after the rally’s conclusion he treated everyone to dinner.

Prior to that, at the end of the first day, Clark had even claimed, almost certainly inaccurately, that the car would have been quicker if Melia was doing the driving. Later Clark’s Christmas card that year showed a picture of the dented Cortina with the caption: “Car by Ford and Lotus; coachwork by Clark”.

And even this mere few days of rallying effort led to a tangible legacy of Jim Clark the rally star which lives on, in the Jim Clark Rally, based in his hometown of Duns. It has run most years since 1970 as a highly-popular event and it returned to the schedule last year.

2020欧洲杯体育投注软件The 1966 RAC Rally was though to be the last time spectators in Britain witnessed Clark in anything other than an F1 car, as his tax arrangements meant that from the following year he had to minimise his time in the UK.

2020欧洲杯体育投注软件It also precluded a second go at the RAC Rally. And the tragedy that awaited in Hockenheim’s damp Formula 2 race less than 18 months on ensured that we never again got to witness Clark apply his magic on the rally stages, just as he did so often on the circuits.