1964 Belgian Grand Prix race report: Clark defies the odds at Spa

Dan Gurney and Graham Hill both retire whilst leading the 1964 Belgian Grand Prix on the last lap before Bruce McLaren runs out fuel in sight of the finish line, handing victory to Jim Clark

Jim Clark in his Lotus 25

Clark took his second win of the season at Spa-Francorchamps

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When practice began late on Friday afternoon the sun was still burning down on the wooded slopes of the Francorchamps circuit and, apart from the two works BRMs of Hill and Ginther, there seemed to be a reluctance for anyone to start practice, or perhaps it was that they were not ready. Ginther had his regular car, but now with a new gearbox, the casing being smaller and more compact, while Hill had the choice of two cars, that used at Zandvoort, also now fitted with the new type of gearbox, and a brand new car with the old type of 6-speed gearbox but new steering arms of beautifully machined H-section.

Since the fuel system trouble at Zandvoort more air has been ducted to the pump and fuel pipes that were near hot oil and water pipes have been re-routed. The BRP drivers were soon going round, Ireland in the original “monocoque” car that made its debut at this race last year, and Taylor in a brand new one with a slightly lower nose cowling. Both cars were fitted with BRM V8 engines and 1963-type BRM 6-speed gearboxes, and they started practice with full fuel tanks, to try the handling, and then stopped and had most of the petrol removed in order to make comparisons.

Team Lotus were late in getting going, Arundell appearing with his Zandvoort Type 25C, but now back on 15in wheels, and Clark being late due to having two cars to choose from and neither being as he wanted them. One was his Zandvoort car, also converted back to 15-in, wheels, and having Type 25 rear suspension instead of the later type and the other car was the 1964 Type 33 that he had crashed at Aintree. The Type 33 has the same chassis construction as the Type 25 but numerous detail changes, many of which have already appeared on the modified Type 25 cars. After a lap on the Type 33 Clark stopped and changed over to the modified Type 25, while Arundell had no choice and got on with learning his way round the high-speed Spa-Francorchamps circuit.

Jack Brabham.

Brabham was having gearbox trouble early on

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Brabham was not out for long, his Hewland gearbox giving trouble, but Gurney in the second Brabham car was really motoring and having no troubles or difficulties over choice of car, having only the one. Both Brabhams were as used at Zandvoort and Gurney’s was not only going fast but looked to be handling extremely well. Surtees and Bandini were out in V8 Ferraris, as at Zandvoort, but the former’s car was not happy in the fuel injection department, and the latter’s car sounded terribly rough and the gear-lever was not working properly in its gate. When Surtees was going he was going quite quickly, but the trouble was that he was not going for long and was in and out of the pits having the fuel system checked and inspected.

It seemed that the high temperature of the afternoon might be causing vaporising troubles in the Ferrari injection system and also in some of the Climax engines, but certainly not in Gurney’s engine for he had clocked 3min 56.6sec before anyone else had really got under way, and after a pause he went out again and did 3min 51.9sec, following this up with 3min 50.9sec, which was nearly five seconds faster than the next best. Cooper’s were not too happy but were sorting things out, though for a long time Phil Hill could not lap as fast as he had done in May with the AC Cobra coupe, when he did 4 min. 04.5 sec. Both Phil Hill and McLaren were driving 1964 Coopers, now fitted with new cast uprights for the front suspension, with strengthened extensions for the steering arms.

Of the non-works runners the Parnell team had only one Lotus 25 car, for Amon, as Hailwood was in bed with a throat infection; he had actually been up and ridden in and won the Senior TT motorcycle race, but afterwards returned to bed, instead of flying to Belgium to compete with his car. In view of this, Revson was loaned a good BRM engine for his Lotus 24 and the car was painted in the Parnell colours as he officially took Hailwood’s place.

Siffert and Anderson had their personal Brabhams, the former with BRM V8 engine and the latter with Coventry-Climax V8, and Bonnier had the choice of Rob Walker’s old Cooper-Climax or his new Brabham-BRM V8. Baghetti and Maggs were there to drive the Centro-Sud BRM cars, but they were car-less as the transporter had broken down en route; Pilette completed the active entry list with his Scirocco-Climax V8. The long-awaited Honda was entered, to be driven by American sports-car driver Bucknum, but it failed to materialise, and Trintignant was originally entered with his blue BRM V8 but withdrew and competed at the Mont Ventoux hill-climb instead.

When the first practice finished Gurney was looking very satisfied and a bit puzzled, wondering why everyone else was so slow, while the other top boys were looking depressed, a difference of five or more seconds seeming unreasonable, even though few of them had done many trouble-free flying laps. BRM had made numerous alterations to suspensions and shock-absorbers and Lotus had been trying to find more rpm from the Climax engines, and while cars are being worked upon in the pits the drivers are not making any fast laps.

On Saturday practice was earlier, being from 3pm to 5pm and the weather was even hotter, which did not help mixture problems. Ferraris were still running without the lower side panels on the engine bay in an attempt to cool things down a bit, and BRP had mounted their Lucas high-pressure fuel pumps on brackets outside the body on the right-hand side of the cockpit.

The Centro-Sud BRMs had arrived safely and Baghetti and Maggs were out practising, and Graham Hill was hurrying round in spite of the heat. Arundell was working his times down steadily, but Clark was not at all happy with either the 33 or the 25, confusing the timing issue at one point when he went by the pits in the Type 33 and appeared next time round in the Type 25!

Jim Clark, Lotus 25 Climax.

Clark was struggling to choose between the Lotus 25 or 33 model

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Team Lotus were garaged at Stavelot at the far end of the circuit and the 25 had not been ready when Clark began practice, but when it was his mechanic brought it to the Stavelot corner and he stopped and changed cars, leaving his mechanic to bring the Type 33 round to the pits via the circuit while practice was taking place.

BRM also did a quick-change act when Graham Hill stopped out on the circuit with ignition trouble and “thumbed” a lift back to the pits on the tail of one of the other competitors. He then got into his second car and set off with his mechanic on the tail, dropping him off at the broken-down BRM and continuing his practice in the second one. As Ginther was out as well, the BRM team had the odd situation of having brought three cars with them and two drivers, and now they had no cars or drivers at the pits!

Brabham was quietly getting on with some serious practice, lowering his lap times considerably, and McLaren’s Cooper was performing better, it having new rear wishbones which gave an entirely different geometry to that used before. Efforts were still being made to Phil Hill’s car to get the Climax engine to perform better, but they came to an exciting stop when a fire broke out among the injection pipes as he was leaving the pits, and though no serious damage was done it put a stop to his practice.

Meanwhile Bonnier had put a sudden stop to his practice with the Walker Cooper when he had brake trouble at La Source hairpin and spun backwards into a stone wall, luckily not hurting himself but forcing the issue as far as which car to use for the race. It was to be the Brabham-BRM whether he liked it or not.

Not long after this Taylor arrived at the hairpin and experienced the same lack of brakes and spun violently but luckily did not hit anything, otherwise he would have had to use the BRP team’s old Lotus 24 which they had in the van as a spare. At 4pm Gurney appeared briefly, did a few quick laps, including one at 3min 51.7sec, and then retired again, contented and wondering what everyone else was up to!

The works Brabhams were not worried about the heat and their fuel system as they had a small “header tank” in front of the engine and behind the driver’s seat, from which the injection system drew its fuel, and in this tank was a thermometer with the gauge on the instrument panel, so they knew all the time what the temperature of the petrol was before it went into the injection pump.

Dan Gurney in his Brabham.

Gurney put his Brabham on pole

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The Ferraris were anything but happy and Surtees did all his laps either starting off from the pits or stopping at them, never being able to get in a full flying lap, so was much slower than the first practice. Arundell had worked his way down to well under 4 min. for the lap when Graham Hill went by him and he tucked in behind the BRM and slip-streamed down the straights and got himself a very fast lap, well ahead of Clark, whose cars were not going quickly enough.

Anderson had finished the first practice with a very rough-feeling engine and, thinking the flywheel had come loose or something had broken in the valve gear, he had the engine stripped down, only to discover after all the work that it was ignition trouble that had been causing the roughness. Maggs had ended his practice when the drain plug of the gearbox had fallen out, and as the gearbox lost its oil it had jumped out of engagement and the engine had over-revved and damaged itself. Revson was making good use of his “borrowed” engine and was actually faster than Amon with the best of the Parnell cars.

Heavy rain on Saturday night cooled things considerably and Sunday proved to be fine but cloudy, with greatly reduced temperatures; in fact, ideal racing conditions providing one or two ominous-looking clouds didn’t drop their loads. Of the twenty cars that practised only eighteen were due to take part in the race, but as Maggs and Anderson were eliminated by practice trouble the question of who qualified was settled and Pilette was allowed to start even though he had made slowest practice time. Both works Coopers were running without their covers over the engines, hoping to keep the injection nozzles cool, and Phil Hill had the sides of the windscreen removed on his car, hoping to keep the cockpit cool.

Ginther had an extension fitted to the top of his screen to deflect the air higher, and the Brabhams were still using the abbreviated engine covers that they had used in practice. Graham Hill had decided to use the latest BRM and had had the new gearbox transferred to it, and Clark was using the old Lotus 25 with the rear suspension put back to 1963 pattern.

After the drivers had been taken round the circuit in a parade of open sports cars and roadsters, the Grand Prix cars were lined up on a “dummy grid” behind the starting line, and while the drivers were being briefed by the Clerk of the Course a few rain spots fell. The Team Lotus mechanics hurriedly changed the front wheels on Clark’s car and the BRP mechanics found a nail in the left front tyre on Taylor’s car.

Having no spare 5½in tyre to hand they changed both front ones for a pair of 6in tyres, leaving it to Taylor to find out about any change in handling on the opening lap. BRM mechanics were squeezing the last thimbleful of petrol into their cars and Lotus and Brabham were so confident about fuel consumption that they removed a small amount before sending the cars to the grid. With such high speeds being accomplished the race was to be over 32 laps, in order that it should last the requisite two hours, which is 451 kilometres, a much longer distance than most Grand Prix races.


All eighteen engines were started up at the two-minute signal and at thirty seconds the cars rolled down the hill to the proper starting grid and, with a quick flick of the Belgian flag, the starter sent them on their way and Arundell shot ahead between Gurney and Graham Hill and led the pack up the hill towards the Burneville woods.

It was not long before Gurney took command, as expected, and Surtees and Clark got by Arundell before the end of the opening lap, while Graham Hill was about to move ahead of the number two Lotus. On the second lap the situation was orderly and correct, with Gurney, Surtees, Clark and Graham Hill in the first four places, followed by Arundell, Brabham and McLaren, with the Cooper driver surprisingly about to move ahead of Brabham.

Peter Arundell, Lotus 25 Climax, leads into Eau Rouge at the start.

Arundell takes a surprise lead at the start

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Before the Malmedy bend Surtees had gone past Gurney with comparative ease and he was still leading as they started their third lap, the Ferrari sounding all right out in front, but by the time they reached Stavelot Gurney was back in the lead, and then the Ferrari slowed right up with a very sick engine. This left Gurney on his own, quite a way ahead of Clark, whose Lotus-Climax just could not match the Brabham for speed or handling on this super-fast circuit.

“Bandini was hampered by an injured left leg sustained while on holiday when someone’s shot-gun accidentally went off”

Graham Hill had at last shaken off Arundell and had caught up with Clark, and McLaren had moved up into fourth place, while team-mate Phil Hill was going well in seventh place, leading Ginther and Bandini, the Italian driver being hampered by an injured left leg sustained while on holiday when someone’s shot-gun accidentally went off. When everyone had gone past, poor Surtees came limping into the pits with what was most likely a melted piston due to the mixture being too weak. On the lap on which he had taken the lead he had done 3min 52.4sec, which was a new Formula One lap record, but it did not last long for Gurney did 3min 52.3sec and Clark, Hill, McLaren and Arundell were not far off that as they were only dropping one to two seconds a lap.

Already Amon had broken down with engine trouble and Pilette was so far behind he seemed to be in a different rate, while on lap five Bonnier came into the pits from his place at the back of the field. By now Gurney was really on his own, some 12sec ahead of Clark and Graham Hill, the Lotus and the BRM being side by side as they finished the sixth lap, with Clark nipping in front as they took the swoop down over the Eau Rouge bridge and up the curving “Raidillon.”

McLaren, Arundell, Brabham and Phil Hill followed in quick succession, and a little while later Ginther and Bandini went by followed by a splendid dice between Ireland, Baghetti, Siffert and Taylor, but next time round Ireland had lost ground and was leaning out of the cockpit looking at his right front wheel, as well he might for it was bobbling up and down, obviously out of balance, and, sure enough, on lap eight he drew into the pits to have it changed.

For three laps in succession Clark passed Graham Hill on the run down past the pits and led up the hill, only to be overtaken later in the lap and arrive back at the hairpin right in the slipstream of the BRM. While Hill was looking ice-cold and unruffled, Clark was obviously working fantastically hard to keep his Lotus with the faster BRM but the big surprise was McLaren, who had his Cooper right behind them all the time and on lap nine had it between the BRM and the Lotus, which really made Clark sweat for he could see his “tow” disappearing if McLaren did not keep up the pace. However, the New Zealander was very happy and stayed between these two for three laps.

“Hill was ice-cold and unruffled; Clark was working fantastically hard to keep his Lotus with the faster BRM”

This battle was rather overshadowing Gurney’s terrific driving out in front, for he was going faster all the time and now had well over 20sec lead and was looking absurdly comfortable compared with those who were trying to keep up with him. The leading Brabham-Climax was lapping at close to 3min 50sec, each lap a new record, and the pace was not only fast but was also furious, and on lap 12 Bandini coasted in with a sick engine, and two laps later Phil Hill stopped just after Stavelot with a blown-up engine.

Siffert, Baghetti and Taylor had been having a fine battle between themselves at the back of the field until the Swiss driver dropped out with trouble in his Brabham-BRM V8. On lap 12 Clark got back behind Hill’s BRM and for four laps in succession he rounded the hairpin with the nose of the Lotus almost touching the back of the BRM, and each time by the pits he passed on the outside and took the lead into the left-hander at the foot of the hill. Over the Burneville slopes the BRM got back in the lead and Clark was really having to work to stay in the slipstream.

At 16 laps, which was half-distance, Gurney was 27.5sec in the lead and looking completely safe and secure, but this time Clark just failed to get by Hill, so the order remained Gurney, Hill, Clark, McLaren, the Cooper losing nothing on the BRM/Lotus battle. With Gurney now turning in a new lap record at 3min 49.8sec it was obvious that the group dicing for second place must have recorded 3min 51.0sec, for Gurney was only gaining a second a lap now.

Arundell lay a comfortable fifth, but a long way back, and he was followed by Brabham and nearly a lap down came Ginther, while Baghetti and Taylor had been lapped but were still battling for the last decent position. Ireland and Revson were still running but pit stops had put them a long way behind. Brabham suddenly slowed at the hairpin and cast his fire-extinguisher overboard, and Arundell’s car began to give out smoke from the engine compartment, and on lap 19 he stopped to take on water, which dropped him right out of the running.

Jim Clark, Lotus 25 Climax, leads Graham Hill, BRM P261.

Clark and Hill battled throughout the race

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By reason of almost out-braking Hill’s BRM at the hairpin Clark was able to get alongside much sooner as they accelerated away down past the pits, and actually led the BRM across the finishing line for three laps in a row, but still Graham Hill was re-passing on maximum speed. This was a truly memorable battle, but the irony of it was that they were only racing for second place, the implacable Gurney was well over 30sec ahead of them, his driving being a study in concentration. It was difficult to see what the outcome of the Hill/Clark battle was going to be, for clearly Hill was not going to let his rival pass him on the finishing line, and Clark was doing his utmost to get in front as much as possible.

McLaren was still with them, watching closely, and on the twentieth lap this trio had to lap Taylor and Baghetti, and during the overtaking Clark and McLaren lost ground on Graham Hill and could no longer use the slipstream of the BRM to increase their own speed. On lap 21 they lost contact with the BRM completely and Clark let McLaren by to see if the Cooper could “tow” him back into touch again. It could not, so he retook third place and worked like mad to regain the lost ground, on one lap braking so hard at the hairpin that he nearly “lost it” completely. He left McLaren behind, but was not really gaining on Hill in spite of all the efforts, but he hadn’t given up.

Neither had Hill, and although Gurney now had some 40sec lead he could not relax. On his 27th lap the American turned in 3min 49.2sec, yet another all-time lap record, but Graham Hill was not far off 3min 50.0sec and at this pace it looked as though the race might be over in under two hours. Revson had stopped at the Club House corner and pushed his car along to the hairpin, being helped by track officials, and had then coasted to the pits and later rejoined the race, but disqualification was obvious even though not immediate.

On lap 26 Gurney had lapped Ginther, whose BRM was in sixth position, and on lap 28 there started what turned out to be a complete shambles. The order of the race was Gurney (Brabham), Hill (BRM), Clark (Lotus), McLaren (Cooper), Brabham (Brabham) and Ginther (BRM), Taylor, Baghetti, Arundell and Ireland all being a long way back. As Clark finished his 28th lap he shot into the pits at great speed, obviously not intending to stop for long, and McLaren went by into third place. The Lotus was running hot and the water temperature had reached the danger point, so in a matter of seconds water was poured in the header tank and Clark was back in the race before Brabham appeared.

On the next lap it was seen that Ginther was ahead of Gurney once more, on the road, having un-lapped himself, which meant that Gurney had slowed! In fact, he had almost come to rest for he was running low on petrol and surge had caused the engine to cut out.

On lap 30 Gurney was overdue and it was Graham Hill who roared by into the lead, much to everyone’s amazement and disbelief, and then Gurney arrived at the pits with cries of “Fuel,” and McLaren went by into second place but making despairing signals to his pit, for he too was in trouble as the battery was running flat, leaving him with no ignition or fuel pumps, and the engine was cutting out.

Unbelievably, the Brabham pit had no petrol to hand and sent Gurney back into the race, convinced he had sufficient to complete the distance, so now the order was Hill, McLaren, Gurney and Clark. As they went by the pits to start the last lap Gurney had McLaren in sight and Clark was still a long way behind, but trouble was not finished.

Before he caught the Cooper Gurney’s tanks ran dry and he coasted to a stop before Stavelot, and at the same time Graham Hill came to a sudden stop after Stavelot, something having gone wrong with the fuel system and the few gallons in the extra tank in front of the seat were not being pumped into the main supply. Meanwhile, McLaren’s car was spluttering and he was coaxing it along and keeping his fingers crossed, and Clark was still pressing on furiously, trying to make up for his pit stop.

“Pandemonium was breaking out for Hill was overdue and Ginther was given the chequered flag by mistake”

At the finishing line pandemonium was breaking out for it was realised that Hill was overdue and Ginther was given the chequered flag by mistake, then Gurney was overdue and Arundell received the flag a lap too soon, and then McLaren was overdue. It seemed that no-one was going to finish, but then the Cooper was seen approaching the hairpin slowly; the engine was dead but McLaren had sufficient momentum to free-wheel round the hairpin and it was then downhill to the finishing line and the chequered flag.

As he approached at 10-15mph Clark rounded the hairpin and came down the hill at 90-100mph, and within sight of the flag he passed the Cooper to win the race, even though he did not realise it, for he had not seen the stricken BRM by the roadside.

Jim Clark on the podium after winning the 1964 Belgian Grand Prix.

A surprised Clark took victory

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While McLaren stopped at the pits Clark went on for a “slowing-down” lap, but he did not return for he also ran out of petrol at Stavelot, so the organising and reception committee had not only lost two likely winners on the last lap but had now lost the actual winner. Arundell set off to look for Clark and eventually brought him back sitting on the engine hatch and the waiting crowds were at last able to applaud the winner.

The man they really wanted to applaud, the moral victor of the race, was Dan Gurney, but he failed to re-appear and who can blame him, for he must have wanted the ground to open and swallow him up with his grief. He had driven a superb race only to have victory snatched from him, not by “bad luck” but by “bad management,” and Jack Brabham must have felt awful finishing in third place.