1964 Solitude Grand Prix

Jim Clark wins the non-championship 1964 Solitude Grand Prix, which began in hard rain that turned the circuit into an "ice rink"


Although it had the makings of a rousing good Grand Prix race the event at Solitude was really only a make-weight for the German Motorcycle World Championship meeting, which included classes for 50 c.c., 125 c.c., 250 c.c., 350 c.c., 500 c.c. and Sidecars. With over 300,000 spectators attending the two days’ racing to see the motorcycles, it was not surprising that the Formula One cars came on after the serious business was finished.

Practice on Friday and Saturday was held in blazing sunshine that was almost too hot to bear, and though there was a fair amount of hard driving, times did not get down to the 3 min. 49.1 sec. set up in last year’s race by J. Clark, Esq. Team Lotus had their three cars with them, the Type 33 having altered rear suspension to match up with the previously altered front suspension, and the Brands Hatch winning Type 25B (or C, D, E or F), with 1963 steering and 1964 back suspension, as a spare for Clark, while Spence once again replaced Arundell in the Type 25 with 1964 steering and 1963 rear suspension.

As this race did not count for any sort of Championship, Clark was concentrating on the Type 33, which was using a “flat-crank” Climax V8 engine, and on the second day of practice Gerhard Mitter was loaned the spare car. The B.R.M. team had intended to enter G. Hill and Attwood, but the latter was already committed to a Formula Two race in France and Ginther was having a week-end off, so Graham Hill was on his own with his regular 1964 B.R.M. car and also the latest one, Number 2516. Brabham was also on his own, with his Brands Hatch car, as Gurney was having time off like Ginther.

The Ferrari team made a last-minute entry of Surtees and Bandini with the cars they had used at Brands Hatch, Surtees in the V8 and Bandini in the V6. The more successful private teams and private owners were also entered, the B.R.P. team with their two cars from Brands Hatch, Ireland in the B.R.P. monocoque and Taylor in the old Lotus-B.R.M. V8, while Hailwood and Amon had the Parnell Lotus-B.R.M. V8 cars. Anderson and Siffert had their Brabhams and, as usual, Bonnier had Rob Walker’s two cars, hopping from Cooper to Brabham during practice, and finishing up in the Brabham. Revson was with the Parnell team driving his Lotus 24-B.R.M. V8, and to complete the entry of eighteen there were two old Lotus 18 cars fitted with racing Borgward engines and driven by German drivers, and de Beaufort with one of his old 4-cylinder Porsches, the last three making up the back row of the grid.

Although not entirety convinced about the handling of the Type 33 Lotus. Clark nevertheless set up fastest practice lap in it, but was only a fraction ahead of Surtees, who got the V8 Ferrari going well on the second day, while Graham Hill was not really happy about either B.R.M. but settled for the newest one. Brabham should have been mixing it in with these three but on the second day of practice he had hardly got going when the engine’s scavenge pump stopped working, the crankcase filled with oil, and the lack of oil to the pressure pumps caused the bearings to break up. Fortunately he had a spare engine with him and overnight work got it installed.

The Parnell team were in terrible trouble, for both cars broke their gearboxes before they even set off for the circuit on the first day of practice, due to what seemed like faulty hardening of gearbox shafts, and on the second day Hailwood’s B.R.M. engine broke a tappet, which bent a valve, just after he had made quite a quick lap. For those needing time for repairs it was useful that there were all the motorcycle races to be run first and the Grand Prix was not until late on Sunday afternoon. Clark’s engine was opened up as it seemed to be losing water, but nothing could be found wrong, and Hailwood’s engine was rebuilt.

After the fantastic heat of the previous days it came as a bit of a shock to find it raining steadily on Sunday morning, but the heat returned and conditions were dry again after lunch, but as the cars assembled for the start the rain came down again. Clark was using the Type 33, actually starting in its first race since the Aintree crash, Spence was using the Type 25 normally driven by Clark ,and Mitter had the car normally driven by Arundell. The Ferrari team were a lot happier for Surtees had really challenged Clark in practice, and the V8 engine had an electrically en

energised switch operated by the left-hand throttle slide when it was fully shut, to control the injection mixture strength at small throttle openings. Graham Hill was using the latest B.R.M. monocoque car and, with the exception of Bonnier, all the others had no choice of car, having to race with what they had and make the most of it.

In view of the rain the organisers let everyone do a reconnaissance lap, and they all returned visibly shaken, for the surface of the Solitude circuit is very smooth and with three full days of high-speed running it was coated with oil and rubber. The previous long spell of dry weather and blazing sunshine had really dried the surface, so that Sunday’s rain made it incredibly slippery. As all the fast boys were on 13-in. diameter Dunlop tyres with very wide treads, it was like trying to walk across an ice-rink in snow-shoes. The rain was still sprinkling down so the start was delayed for 20 minutes as sunshine and clear skies could be seen approaching from the west, but just as it was announced that the start would be in three minutes the rain really fell down.

When the start was actually given the sun was shining, but rain was still arriving at ground level from high clouds that had long since passed over. On the warming-up lap Hailwood had spun off into a ditch and bent his left rear suspension, and Revson had spun but done no damage, and the delayed start enabled some frantic work by the Parnell team to fit a new radius arm and straighten everything out on Hailwood’s car. Had the start been given on time or delayed even longer, disaster would have been prevented, but as it was, when the flag fell the roadway was awash and the eighteen cars ran away in a sea of spray and only Jim Clark, who took the lead, had any hope of seeing where he was going.

With visibility and adhesion at a minimum the wide-tread Dunlops did not help, as it seems they are very bad at draining the water away from the tread. The field had not reached the highest point of the circuit, a short way from the start, when Bandini found himself sideways near the front of the pack: someone nudged him, and then cars went in all directions. Brabham, Amon, Miner, “Parker” and Bandini all being involved, with wrecked cars everywhere but luckily no personal damage. Only two or three corners further on, Graham Hill “lost” his B.R.M. on a sheet of water and crashed into the woods, taking down a telegraph pole and smashing the car, and someone spun in front of Ireland, who went-off the road in the B.R.P. while taking avoiding action, while Anderson spun off into a ditch but managed to get going again.

Along the back straight Surtees plunged into Clark’s spray and went by into the lead, and Clark dropped back until he had some visibility, and these two ended the disastrous opening lap way out on their own but going unbelievably slowly. It was only the intense concentration on their faces and the finger-tip touch on the steering wheels that gave a real indication of the slipperiness of the circuit and the reason for the low speed. A cat walking about on a shell full of Dresden china would have looked clumsy by comparison, After a time, Spence, Bonnier, Taylor, Anderson, Hailwood and the rest came trickling through, but seven cars had crashed on that opening lap and by a miracle no one had been injured.

For four laps Surtees led Clark, displaying a remarkable sense of finesse and balance which must have stemmed from years of experience in balancing powerful motorcycles in similar conditions. He pulled out a 20-sec. lead over Clark in those first four laps, but then the track started to dry in places and in one lap Clark knocked off five seconds, and on the next lap he gained back a further seven seconds. He was obviously feeling his way from dry patch to dry patch, until Surtees saw him in the Ferrari mirrors and held the gap at eight seconds for a whole lap.

Meanwhile, Spence had been holding secure third place until on lap four the left-hand steering arm broke: and he slid into a ditch and ripped off that front wheel, hub and brake, and slithered to a stop. The leading pair were out on their own, and with so many factory cars eliminated the private owners were in the money, and as the track dried Anderson sailed past Bonnier into third place. On the tenth lap, which was half-distance. Clark got by Surtees, but the Ferrari driver had also found the dry patches and not only stayed with the Lotus, but got back in front on lap 12, and pulled out 3 1/2-sec. lead. At this point there was more dry track than wet track and Clark decided it was time to change from a wet-weather driving technique to a dry-weather technique, using lower gears and more r.p.m. out of corners. He was soon up with the Ferrari and shortly after starting lap 16 he took the lead again, the Ferrari being in trouble, with violent wheelspin when the power came in, which it seemed to do rather suddenly. From then on Clark motored away to victory, the two of them haying lapped the rest of the field, which was being dominated by Anderson, driving very confidently after his excellent showing at Brands Hatch. Bonnier’s. BR.M. engine in the Brabham was running on a lot less than eight cylinders and he dropped further and further back, being passed by Person, while Hailwood was delayed by a spin and an ignition wire corning adrift.

What had started off with the potential of being an exciting race, for 11.47-km. Solitude circuit in the dry is one of the best in Europe. turned into a veritable holocaust on account of a few moments’ hard rain, and was one of the most expensive as regards material damage. Surtees had shown uncanny skill at “tip-toe” driving on ice, but Clark has won yet another Grand Prix race.