A pilgrimage to the site where Jim Clark died surprised our former staffer who reported on that fateful race at Hockenheim. It was harder to find than he expected
By Andrew Marriott
The weekend of April 6-7 1968 was somewhat hectic for me. As a Motoring News staffer it was my task to head off to Hockenheim to report and photograph, for both MN and Motor Sport, the opening round of the European Formula 2 Championship – the Martini Gold Cup. The week before I’d been in Barcelona for the Formula 2 meeting but that was a non-championship race, although I’d enjoyed my first real in-depth chat with my hero Jim Clark.
Hockenheim was where I wanted to be because I was also the de facto team manager of a fledgling new F2 organisation we had called the London Racing Team. The drivers in the Brabham BT23Cs were my flatmate, the hugely talented Chris Lambert who was entering his second year in the series, and a newcomer to single-seater racing, the reigning Clubmans Champion and a barrister-at-law. His name – Max Mosley.
The previous year Lambert, a top karter and Formula 3 racer, had used an uprated F3 chassis in F2 and the cut-price machine hadn’t matched the pace of the regulars’ BT23 Brabhams. Plus, we’d decided that a team-mate would be a bonus and Mosley was keen to make the step up and reckoned he could learn from Chris.
So we’d acquired two new BT23Cs and a transporter – much more professional than Chris’ Jaguar Mk2 with trailer. Anyway, the Jag still bore the scars of me dancing on its roof during a successful night out after the Jarama meeting the previous October.
I’m not really sure what the redoubtable Mr Wesley Tee, proprietor of Motor Sport, thought of my double life but he can’t have been too worried because at the end of the season he packed me off to Argentina for a month to cover the Temporada F2 Series, and then promoted me to be MN’s F1 reporter the following year.
Hockenheim was firmly in the grip of one of those grey, cold and wet spring weekends. But I was in heaven. This event is often referred to as a “minor race meeting”, which always irks me. Take a look at the entry list – a factory Ferrari for Chris Amon, factory Matras for Jean-Pierre Beltoise and Henri Pescarolo, factory Tecnos for Clay Regazzoni and Carlo Facetti, a factory Lola for Chris Irwin, factory McLarens for Robin Widdows and Graeme Lawrence, Frank Williams’ Brabhams for Piers Courage and Derek Bell. Then, of course, in their new Gold Leaf Team Lotus colours were the two 48s for Graham Hill and Jim Clark. Not to mention the likes of Peter Gethin, Jo Schlesser and a host of privateers.
Back in Britain there was the BOAC 1000 sports car event, but as far as I was concerned this was where it was at. For some reason the race was run over two heats of 20 laps and the result decided on aggregate.
Chris loved the new Brabham and qualified near the front of the grid, while Max was coming to terms with the huge jump from a U2 Clubmans car. On race day I left Paul Vincent and the small crew from P & M Racing Preps in the pits and headed off into the Hockenheim infield. The plan was to photograph as much as I could but also keep a lap chart – no electronic timing in those days – and this would be the basis for my MN report. I did this by taking photos as the leaders turned into the Stadium section, then swinging round and trying to lap chart them as they poured into the final corner before the pits. Pretty dexterous I admit, and it worked reasonably well, except my photos weren’t up to much. The real problem came when I had to change the film…
The Matra M5As were the class of the field and they roaredinto camera view with poleman Beltoise ahead of Pescarolo. Clark was somewhere near the front and so was my mate Lambert. Max was near the back but not disgracing himself.
Lap three and I raised my camera and got a good shot of Jim in the Lotus, although he seemed to be dropping back. Chris was up to third place – this former chemistry student had Formula 1 potential. The next lap and I reckoned I hadn’t seen the Gold Leaf car with No 1 on the side.
A lap later I scribbled ‘Clark out’ in the lap chart book. I was oblivious to the crushing fact that my hero and, for me, the most naturally gifted driver of all time lay dead in the crumpled Lotus.
From my photographer/lap charting piece of German turf I couldn’t see the pitlane; I didn’t see any ambulances or safety vehicles which might have headed into the forest and the crash site over two miles away. Instead I was excited that Chris was heading for a podium behind the two Matras. Jim, I thought, must have stopped somewhere with a mechanical problem.
As the race ended I headed back to the paddock and quickly heard the news that
“Jim had had a big one”, but the details were pretty scarce. I talked to Chris and Max. They hadn’t really seen much, but Chris said that early in the race Jim had waved him by, and commented, “He must have known there was something not right with the car, he wouldn’t normally do that.”
Ugly rumours were starting to float around and I think I caught a quick word with Lotus mechanic ‘Beaky’ Simms, still in racing to this day running the Risi Competitzione Ferraris in the American Le Mans Series. Soon I needed to be back in position for heat number two.
This passed off without incident and Beltoise in the Matra won again, but only just from Courage, with Pescarolo third this time. Ominously Graham Hill had not started the race. Lambert finished fifth for an aggregate fourth behind the Matras and Courage.
But we weren’t thinking about that. By then it was pretty clear that Jim Clark was dead. I conferred with Autosport’s reporter Paul Watson and it appeared that Clark’s Lotus had speared off into the trees and Jim had been killed instantly. Deaths in the sport were a regular occurrence in those days, but surely not someone of Clark’s sublime talent and skill? People reckoned a rear tyre had deflated, and there was another theory that the mechanical metering unit on the Cosworth FVA engine had seized and this had caused Clark to crash.
I drove back to the hotel and started to write the race report in something of a daze, beating the little portable typewriter’s keys with an extra ferocity. Then a short night’s sleep, and the hire car drive to Frankfurt Airport. But strangely the enormity of it all didn’t really hit me until we landed at Heathrow and saw the national newspapers on display, with the Clark news splashed across them.
Last season, 41 years since that black day, I found myself back at Hockenheim, still a motor racing journalist. I’m the English language commentator for the DTM touring car series’ world TV feed. I’d been back to the circuit a number of times since 1968, and this time – as always – I returned with a heavy heart.
The Euro F3 race had been run and DTM qualifying was over; Timo Scheider looked as if he would clinch the title for Audi but Gary Paffett would make it as difficult as possible. I was in a nostalgic mood, having just looked at a magnificent display of Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix cars assembled in the busy paddock. What next? It was too early to go back to the hotel. Then it came to me, I would go and seek out the spot where Jim Clark had died. I knew there was a tribute and had seen photographs of a stone cross. But I’d never made the pilgrimage.
Of course, Hockenheim is so much different these days, the track shortened in 2002 with the forest section abandoned and, as I was to discover, re-planted with trees. I walked into the spectator area and, as I got to the spot where the new track deviates from the original, I spotted the Clark tribute but on the other side of a chain-link fence.
Backtracking so I could get closer, I had time to reflect that my flatmate Chris Lambert had died just four months after Jim in an avoidable accident at Zandvoort; that Max Mosley had continued into a second season of Formula 2, only to quit mid-season to follow a career in team ownership, the governance of the sport and controversy.
Now I was in front of the Jim Clark Memorial, complete with the stone cross I had seen in photographs, but this was definitely not the spot where Jim had died. It was a rather more elaborate tribute because on either side of the cross were two ‘tourist’ explanation boards – one in English and the other in German. Alongside this was a much smaller tribute to another man I knew and who had perished at Hockenheim in a 1972 F2 race, the tough Irish-born Kiwi Bert Hawthorne. But there was nothing to mark the death of Patrick Depailler.
I read the information about Clark’s death, well-written by respected historian and Motor Sport contributor Doug Nye, plus the explanation on why the tribute had been moved from the original spot. Pointedly, it said it was because of the “re-forestation”. It inferred it was now impossible to reach the actual spot where Jim had perished.
I still had some time on my hands, so I decided to try to get as close as possible to the crash area. I reckoned I’d have to walk about a kilometre into the forest and it was possible to follow the line where the old track went. That’s what I did, occasionally pushing through brambles. After I had walked for a while I thought I might be in the right area, so I took a few photos of nothing but small trees and shrubbery. Then I decided I hadn’t gone far enough and trotted further along the line of a raised bank, which must have been for spectators. No sign of anything, so a little disappointed I turned round and started to walk back towards the paddock.
Then something caught my eye. Two tall pine trees on their own and between them a wooden cross where the stone one had been originally. It was a much simpler but certainly more poignant tribute than the official one. I stood for a while thinking that the Lotus had careered much further off the track than I ever imagined. Then I headed back to the paddock, on the way finding out that, actually, there is a much easier route to the tribute (see sidebar).
Jim Clark’s death remains a mystery, but now there is another one. Why have the Hockenheim authorities decided to dupe fans into thinking you can’t reach the original site? And who placed the wooden cross there?
A cross marks the spot
It takes dedication and a good sense of direction to find Clark’s crash site
To find the new Jim Clark memorial, drive along the road called Ernst-Wilheim-Sachs-Strasse that runs along the north side of the Hockenheim circuit. Once the new track bends away from the road, you’ll see it on the right.
Sadly, finding the old memorial isn’t as easy, but it is still very much possible. Carry on down this road, over a crossroads, and a few hundred metres later on the right is a tree marked with a green number seven (1). If you reach a bridge over a stream you’ve gone too far.
Turn right at the seven and head down the forest track which leads to the old circuit – now planted with new trees. The path bends to the left and starts to run alongside the old circuit; carry on along here and soon the trees will stop (2) and you’ll reach a stream with grassy banks (3). Walk alongside this and you’ll see two pine trees in front of you (4) and, between them, the wooden cross marking the site of Clark’s crash.
The locals aren’t too keen on having cars parked by the ‘number seven’ tree, as we discovered, so it’s better to leave an hour to walk there and back from the new circuit.