Reflections with Nigel Roebuck

Short-sighted F1 policies, rivals remember Jim Clark’s Indy victory

In the middle of May there was a meeting at Bernie Ecclestone’s Biggin Hill spread of the Formula 1 Strategy Group. In addition to the 18 statutory members – six from the FIA, six from FOM and six from the teams – representatives from the engine manufacturers were also invited. And present, too, was Donald Mackenzie of CVC Capital Partners.

According to a subsequent press release the purpose of the meeting was, “To exchange views on the current challenges that F1 faces”, or, to put it another way, “To try to sort out the mess we’ve got F1 into, and win back the fans who have given up on it.”

It would never do for the powers-that-be to use a word like ‘panic’, but quite obviously realisation has at last dawned that something must be done: one thing for empty grandstands to look bad on the screens of a diminishing TV audience, quite another for them to bring about financial concerns for the sport’s ‘owner’, CVC Capital Partners. Why else would Mackenzie – a man considered publicity-shy even in the opaque world of private equity – have attended the meeting? To this point, after all, his company has barely scratched the surface of Formula 1, having leeched no more than four or five billion dollars from it.

Four or five thousand million dollars…perhaps you’d like a moment to think about that, and then another to wonder anew what the hell it would have taken for Max Mosley’s much-vaunted ‘Don King Clause’ to be invoked by the FIA. In case it had slipped your mind, that, by the way, is the governing body of the sport.

So what did it achieve, this meeting? A cost cap? No, that old chestnut got nowhere. Well, what about a ban on those edifices – loved only by engineers – into which hundreds of millions go at one end, and a hideous front wing comes out at the other? No, we’re not getting rid of wind tunnels, thank you – too much invested in them.

Well, what of the product itself? Not so long ago the clarion call was for 1000bhp, as if this were a magic cure-all for the sport’s many ills, but what’s the big deal about ‘a thousand horsepower’? We had that – and more – 30 years ago, as Nico Rosberg’s old man can tell you. As Patrick Head remembers, in the mid-eighties Honda didn’t actually know how much power their turbo V6 was producing: “Their dyno only registered up to 1000 horsepower – which they were reaching at 9300rpm. We were revving them to 13,500 or so…”

Come to that, we were edging towards 1000bhp with the 3-litre V10s, which is why so many records from a decade ago still stand – and also why Mosley told us that – ‘in the interests of safety’– a move to 2.4-litre V8s was necessary.

In 2015, though, the focus is all on waning interest in F1, and in their wisdom some appear to believe that even more emphasis on ‘The Show’ is the cure, rather than the disease – a little like Ken Livingstone’s declaration that the Labour Party had lost the election because it wasn’t sufficiently Left Wing. Back on planet earth, if the recent Holy Grail of 1000bhp has fallen by the wayside, there remains a determination for the cars to be appreciably quicker – to the tune of five or six seconds a lap.

I think back now to a conversation with Gerhard Berger, wherein he remembered his first experience of an F1 car, this an ATS with BMW turbo engine in 1984. “Honestly,” he said, “it frightened the shit out of me, and I wasn’t sure I could handle it. In my first race, at the Österreichring, I nearly lost it going off the grid – in a straight line!”

In the post-race test at Barcelona Pierre Gasly had his first F1 run – in a Toro Rosso – and afterwards had this to say: “Even though the gap to GP2 is not so much, everything feels better. Under braking the g forces are higher, but for me the big surprise was the power steering – that was the main difference. It’s really easy to turn the car how you want…”

I can see the sense of power steering – you shouldn’t need muscles like Garth to be a racing driver – but nothing else should be ‘really easy’ in a Grand Prix car. If the public has become disenchanted with Formula 1, I suggest, one reason is that the gladiatorial aspect has been subsumed by science – by endless control systems on the car, together with radio instructions as to how they should be applied.

In the early laps at Barcelona Lewis Hamilton was trapped behind a slower car, Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari, and ‘trapped’ is the right word:

“I can’t get near him,” he said, “and it’s hurting my tyres…” When advised by his pit that he needed to get on with it, he said that was impossible: “We need to find another solution…”

There, in a nutshell, was contemporary Grand Prix racing for you. Time was when the only ‘solution’ available was to drive faster, and pass the guy in front, but that approach went out of the window when some dolt thought it would be a great idea to have tyres with a life expectancy of about five minutes. Good for the show, the argument went. Might be artificial, but who’s counting?

Well, the public, that’s who, and they don’t like it. Racing aficionados can spot anything bogus at 50 paces, which is why, for example, they loathe the principle of DRS, and are offended by attempts to turn Grands Prix into the Mobil Economy Run, wherein the drivers are consequently required to ‘save’, be it fuel or tyres.

If the powers-that-be are serious about addressing the problem of the public’s diminishing interest, they should abandon the search for yet more silly gimmicks, and try as much as possible to return the sport to its simple days of mano a mano. Anyone old enough to remember the sight of Rindt or Peterson skittering through the old Woodcote will know what I’m talking about: you were witnessing genius, and you knew it. One can’t easily imagine Jochen or Ronnie – had they had the use of radios – saying to Colin Chapman, ‘We need to find another solution…’

There was no need of ‘a thousand horsepower’ to excite the fans in those days – the drivers had less than half of that – because the cars still conformed to Tony Brooks’s simple recipe for good motor racing, expressed to me 35 years ago, and never bettered: “A Grand Prix car should always have more power than its chassis can comfortably handle...”

That, Brooks said, was not only satisfying for the drivers, but inevitably pleasing for those who watched them: “I think most people would say that cornering on rails isn’t very exciting…”

I once asked Frank Williams to define his ideal GP car, and he replied immediately: “Oh, about 1000 horsepower – and no wings!” That was never going to happen, as Frank acknowledged, but he had responded like the enthusiast he is, and I think most hard-core fans would go along with his thinking. If anything has damaged the spectacle over time it has been greater emphasis on ‘aero’, on brute downforce.

“Motor racing’s kind of becoming obsolete, isn’t it?” Dan Gurney remarked to me recently. “When I think back now, I reckon the first mistake we all made was ‘wings’ – the over-emphasis on aerodynamics has done so much to damage our sport...”

For good motor racing, surely what’s required is a correct balance between power and grip – with the emphasis on mechanical rather than aerodynamic grip. For years it’s been way out of kilter. That is why it so depressing, in the Strategy Group’s press release, to learn that this quest to speed up the cars by five or six seconds a lap is to be achieved, not only by wider tyres and a reduction in minimum weight, but also by ‘aerodynamic rules evolution’ – in other words, yet greater downforce.

On top of that, it is proposed to bring back refuelling, and that frankly astonishes me. Have these people forgotten that when it was banned, mercifully, at the end of 2009, the whole paddock rejoiced, and with good reason? First, in an age otherwise obsessed with ‘health and safety’, it had been a wholly gratuitous danger; two, the carting of all that cumbersome equipment around the world had hardly been cheap; three – although it was never said – refuelling had spawned that dreary sprint-stop-sprint syndrome, when drivers routinely said that, instead of trying to pass the guy in front, it was easier to ‘wait for the stops…’ One can only hope that this recommendation is not taken up.

After recently trying Senna’s 1988 McLaren-Honda MP4-4, Fernando Alonso wistfully said he wished he could have raced in Ayrton’s era.

Is anyone surprised?

Visiting Indianapolis years ago, for a function previewing the inaugural Grand Prix, I did something I had long meant to do: I stayed at the Speedway Motel. Built in the early 1960s, this was by no means the swankiest of hostelries, but it served a great breakfast and had a million stories in its walls: through what many consider the golden era of the Indianapolis 500 every driver of consequence at some point stayed here.

Therefore I booked a room, and on checking in was handed not, as it turned out, one of those occupied by The Beatles when they played Indianapolis in September 1964, but something better yet. “Here you are,” said the beaming lady on the desk, handing over my key. “We’ve given you Jimmy Clark’s room…”

For all I know, this may have been the line trotted out to every Brit who ever stayed at the motel, but I preferred to believe otherwise, and I still do. Whatever else, I clearly remember the reverence in her voice when she said, ‘Jimmy Clark’…

Sadly they have now razed the Speedway Motel, just as years ago they did fabled Gasoline Alley, but for all the alterations so deleterious to its history, Indy remains one of the great happenings in sport. I was pleased to sidestep Monaco to be there for the 99th running of the 500, and delighted that Juan Pablo Montoya won it, 15 years after his first victory there.

At a Penske dinner a few days before the race, I asked him – in jest – what he had been playing at, qualifying only 16th? “Listen,” he said, “I’m not interested in out-and-out speed in qualifying – I’ve been concentrating only on the race. What I need is a car that isn’t going to give me any surprises on Sunday – and I’ll do the rest.”

The same old self-confidence from Montoya, then, but more of a reasoned approach than we might at one time have expected from him. I’ll always regret his departure from F1, and lament even more that – in my opinion – he squandered seven of his best years to NASCAR, certainly earning well, but spending most of his time in midfield with a second-rate car.

Once he and Chip Ganassi had come to the end of that particular road, Roger Penske offered the chance of a return to single-seaters, where Juan Pablo’s innate pace and deft touch were always seen to best advantage. If, after all that time in stock cars, it took a while to acclimatise – “Jesus, at first everything seemed so fast!” – he is now fully back on his game, as the 500 proved.

Incidentally, when JPM passed Will Power with three laps to the flag, it was the 38th lead change of the afternoon, and for a seasoned Formula 1 watcher such things are always a shock to the system. Earlier in the day, over breakfast at the Honda motorhome, I watched the Monaco Grand Prix with Stefan Johansson, with other drivers, mostly retired, sprinkled about. During a lull in proceedings, which seemed to constitute most of the race, one of them – a Brit – offered his thoughts: “Are you telling me,” he murmured, “that people pay money to watch this?”

For those of a certain vintage, however, perhaps the most significant aspect of the Indy weekend was that it fell 50 years after the race Clark won, thus becoming the first non-American to do so since Dario Resta in 1916. Goes back a fair way, the Indianapolis 500.

The 1965 race was perhaps not the most exciting in Speedway history, but – after the traumas of the year before – probably that was just what was needed. In ’64, for the first and only time, the race had been stopped after a cataclysmic accident on the second lap, which involved many cars and cost the lives of rookie Dave MacDonald and veteran Eddie Sachs.

The fiery disaster plunged the hierarchy of American racing into a period of intense self-examination. Rubberised fuel cells were made mandatory, and the use of gasoline – which gave better mileage, if less power, than methanol – was discouraged by a new rule requiring every car in the 500 to make at least two stops.

Another regulation change called for gravity-fed, rather than pressurised, refuelling systems, and someone at Ford had the inspired idea of asking the Wood Brothers, whose pitstops in NASCAR were legendary, to venture up the road to Indiana.

“Ford asked us if we would pit Jimmy Clark,” said Leonard Wood, “and we didn’t hesitate. We didn’t know if these people would accept us or not, but in fact they welcomed us, and gave us complete control of the pitting part of the operation.

“Back then we sometimes had AJ Foyt driving for us in NASCAR, and when he saw us at Indy he rolled out the red carpet and invited us in. He’s showing us his car – how he’s got his gas tanks fixed, and how he’s got a spare tank, and so on – and he says, ‘Anyway, what are you guys doing here?’ We said we were there to pit Clark, and he said… well, you can guess what he said!”

I could. Foyt, together with most of what Colin Chapman referred to as ‘the roadster brigade’, assuredly did not roll out any red carpet when Lotus first came to town in 1963. Dan Gurney, who had first put the idea in Chapman’s head, and partnered Clark in the team, allowed that, yes, there was some hostility towards them.

“By nature, all race teams are competitors, and if they see a threat on the horizon they don’t like it. If you’re a dominant manufacturer – like AJ Watson was in the roadster era – and you’re proud of that, and of the heritage of the race, I can understand why there was hostility. Here was I – an American – working with this new stuff, and half the time I felt almost like a traitor!

“I said, ‘Look, this revolution – the move to rear-engined cars – already happened in Europe, and just like Chapman had to follow Cooper’s lead in Formula 1 there’s no way you’re going to stop it here, so you might as well get used to it. It’s not that I’m trying to wreck you guys – this is where racing’s going…’

“Of course they didn’t want to hear any of that, and some of the journalists – what these days they call ‘the media’ – thought it was great to pour gasoline on the fire. Chris Economaki, the most influential journalist back then, was very much a ‘roadster type’, and if he could write a headline that made us look bad, why, he’d love to do it! I was a… turncoat, I guess – that was how they saw me…”

In Formula 1, as Gurney said, John Cooper put the driver in front of the engine long before Colin Chapman did, and he also beat him to Indianapolis, running a car for world champion Jack Brabham in 1961.

“When the Indy boys came over to Silverstone in 1978,” Cooper told me long ago, “I went up to watch, and during qualifying I saw AJ Foyt. ‘You don’t remember me, do you?’ I said. ‘Damn right I do!’ he replied immediately. ‘Hey boys, come over and meet John Cooper. This is the guy that started all the trouble at the Speedway!’

“In fact, if they wanted to blame anyone, they might have gone for one of their own – Rodger Ward, whom we met in 1959 at the first US Grand Prix, where he entered his midget. God knows how it ever got through scrutineering for an F1 race, but there was much less red tape in those days and nobody objected. Ward had won Indy that year, and everyone was pleased to have him in the race.

“Now, Rodger is a friend of mine, and I have great admiration for him… but I think he believed he was going to blow everyone off with his midget. He really didn’t know what road racing was all about – but after one day of qualifying he did, and what’s more, he was big enough to admit it! You must, he said, take your car to Indy…

“To be honest, I’d never even thought about it – Indy was a different world, and we had our hands full trying to win Grands Prix. For 1961, though, there was an F1 rule change coming, with a cut in engine size, and we all knew we hadn’t a hope against Ferrari, who were way ahead on engine development. And that was when I started thinking again about Indy. We had a couple of races in the States towards the end of ’60, so it seemed like a good opportunity to give the car a run there…”

Thus it was that one autumn day a station wagon pulled into the Speedway, towing a trailer on which sat this tiny green car with two white stripes down the nose. The Cooper was just as it had left Watkins Glen, where it had taken part in a lucrative Formule Libre race.

“Some of the Indy drivers came over to see us,” said Cooper, “including Ward and Foyt. Jack, world champion or not, had to take a rookie test, and his first flying lap was 141mph or thereabouts – when he should have done about 90! The pole that year had been 149.

“Harlan Fengler was the man in charge in those days, and he gave Jack a real bollocking, told him he was mad and didn’t he realise that this was the Indianapolis Motor Speedway? Brabham genuinely couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about. ‘What’s the problem?’ he said. ‘It’s only four left-hand corners.’ I’ll never forget the sight of Fengler’s face when he said that…

“Anyway, Jack got up to about 144 and then Ward asked if he could try the car. Afterwards he came to me: ‘John,’ he said, ‘that is the Indycar of the future, that concept. You must do the race next year – but you’ve got to find some more power from somewhere…’”

The speeds achieved by Brabham during that brief test spoke volumes for the Cooper’s ability in the turns but, with only 230bhp from its 2.5-litre Coventry Climax engine, it was obviously going to be blown away in a straight line by the roadsters with their 4.2-litre Offenhausers.

“I talked to Climax about building a 4.2-litre engine for Indy,” said Cooper, “but they weren’t interested, so what we got was an F1 motor bored out to 2.7 litres, which gave about 255bhp, still obviously nowhere near an Offy. Jack was going through the corners virtually flat out – quite a bit quicker than any of the roadsters – but horsepower was always going to be our problem. Still, we qualified 13th and finished ninth, and weren’t too unhappy with that – we got about $9000 and at that time you got $3000 for winning a Grand Prix!”

Cooper adored the whole Indy experience, and remembered with gratitude the treatment his team received. Everyone, he said, from officials to mechanics to drivers weighed in with help and advice for this curious little foreign outfit.

From speaking to Chapman, I said to him, it seems to have been rather different for Lotus two years later. “Oh,” John chuckled, “that was because Chapman was a threat! We went simply to have a look, and although our little car was quick enough not to be a joke everyone knew it wasn’t going to win. Colin and Jimmy Clark were a threat, though, very obviously. They had engines from Ford, tyres from Firestone and so on. It was a very serious effort – and it really did spell the end of the roadster era, however much some people tried to pretend otherwise…”

My fellow journalist and friend Robin Miller, an Indianapolis native marinated in racing as long as I, speaks of Gurney, Foyt, Parnelli Jones and Mario Andretti as the ‘Mount Rushmore of American motor racing’, and a more fitting description there never could be. More than 20 years may have gone by since the last of them – Andretti – retired, but at the Speedway they remain revered figures from an iconic era.

Rufus Parnell Jones allows that he didn’t particularly welcome what became known as ‘the British Invasion’ at Indianapolis. “At first I didn’t give those F1 guys a lot of respect, and neither did AJ. We were the rough, backyard bullies, and they were the polite road racers with funny accents who gave the impression they were better than anyone else.”

Like everyone else in the Indy community, though, Parnelli soon warmed to Clark. “Jimmy was just extremely likeable – very quiet, and not too outgoing, but I thought he was a fabulous guy and, believe me, he was some race driver! When he first came to Indianapolis in ’63, we were all running the roadsters, and backing off into the turns, but in that Lotus, boy, he really stuck it down there!

“Jimmy learned how to drive ovals remarkably quickly – including Milwaukee, my favourite track, which was definitely more difficult than Indy. Was he better than the other Formula 1 drivers who came here? Yes, of course he was, and why wouldn’t he be – I mean, he was better than they were in Formula 1, too! What impressed me about him as much as anything was what a good sportsman he was. He was never bitter about anything – at the end of the race in ’63 I don’t think Chapman was too happy, but Jimmy came by to congratulate me – very classy, which was how he always was…”

If the first Lotus foray to the Brickyard did not end in victory, certainly it gave notice of intent, Clark leading a number of laps before finishing second to Jones’s roadster. The day was not without controversy, though, for a crack in Parnelli’s oil tank could have led to his being black-flagged. “At one point I almost spun because the oil was pouring on my left rear tyre,” he said, “but eventually it stopped, and I still had quite a bit at the end…”

Gurney chuckled at the memory of it all. “The Americans didn’t want to see some Brit win the race, which was understandable – probably if it had been in England, the decision would have gone the other way. It’s just the way the mop flops!”

The following year Clark started from the pole, and if most drivers kept faith with their roadsters, others had started down the rear-engined path, including the brilliant, doomed Bobby Marshman – described by Chapman as ‘a sort of American Jimmy’ – whose team had acquired a 1963 Lotus.

Following the terrible accident there was of course a lengthy delay, but once the race was restarted Marshman soon built up a sizeable lead over Clark. By quarter-distance, though, both were out and Foyt went on to win his second 500.

It would be the glorious roadsters’ last shout at Indianapolis. There had been 23 of them in the starting line-up, but in 1965 a mere six made it, and both Foyt and Jones were in Lotuses.

“After ’63, the first year, when Chapman started selling cars to American teams,” said Gurney, “people found it wasn’t as easy to win with them as some had thought. It was a huge learning curve for both sides…”

Through practice in ’65 Clark looked a shoo-in for the pole, but although – in front of more than 200,000 spectators – he became the first man to qualify at more than 160mph, ultimately he was pipped by Foyt. “Afterwards I said over the PA system that I was happy to have brought the track record back to the United States,” grinned AJ, “and I got a huge ovation from the fans. Chapman didn’t like it – particularly as I was in the older Lotus – but Jimmy was fine with it, and came over and shook my hand, which I thought was pretty damn nice. He was just a racer, and if you beat him you beat him, and he could deal with that.”

It just may have slipped Anthony Joseph’s mind to mention over the PA that day that he had brought the record back to the USA in a British car, but Gurney says that hostility towards ‘the Brits’ undoubtedly lessened over time. “We knew it existed, but today you look back and think it probably got magnified a little bit. We could joke about it, but we were there with the intention of winning the race, and worrying about what happened afterwards! We had plenty to do, because we were pioneering. We were the only two drivers involved in the project, and the fact that our limits – according to the stopwatch – were awfully close also brought us closer as team-mates and friends.

“I think initially the whole Indy experience was a bit of a culture shock to Jimmy, but he was not one to waste a lot of time moaning about things – and, you know, he was not so reserved. Maybe he didn’t reveal his emotions as much as some people did, but he had a terrific dry sense of humour, and a great ability to press on in difficult circumstances. I don’t think we spent much time talking about the politics of the situation…”

The impression I’ve always had, I said, is that the Indy establishment came to hold Clark in great affection, as well as esteem, and to a rather greater degree than with other Formula 1 interlopers.

“Yes, I think that’s true,” said Gurney. “I mean, they liked Graham and Jackie well enough, but not like Jimmy. He had a way of winning people over that was natural and unforced, and the other drivers – particularly when they started running rear-engined cars themselves – realised that, ‘Hey this guy is bloody good!’ Of course, some were a little more humble than others!”

Foyt, still tough and gruff, but perhaps mellower these days, told me in Indianapolis that he had only good memories of Clark. “I got to be very fond of him. Chapman was always nice enough to me, but I think he thought he was… on a higher scale than everyone else, and I don’t respect nobody like that, whether it’s a driver, an engineer, whatever. But Jimmy was just Jimmy. He didn’t think he was any better than you, me or anybody – and he could drive! I got to like Jackie Stewart and Graham Hill, but Jimmy was one on his own.

“What really impressed me about him over here was that he came to Indianapolis, but he also went to Trenton and he won at Milwaukee – much more of a driver’s track than Indy. Of course Jimmy didn’t have the oval experience I did, or Parnelli did, but he caught on damn quick! As well as that, he drove a stock car at Rockingham – it wasn’t that good a stock car, either, and Rockingham was a son of a bitch race track, but he ran good there. A pure out-and-out racer.

“It seemed like he could adapt to whatever you put him in, wherever you took him. I know you had some great Formula 1 drivers, but I’d say he was the greatest that ever was – to me, the other Formula 1 drivers never proved themselves here like Jimmy Clark did. On the race track he ran hard, but I remember how smooth he was. It never seemed like he was over his head on the ovals – he was always very comfortable with what he was doing. Just a super guy, and a fantastic race driver.”

As Foyt said, mention of Clark invariably triggers memories of a silky-smooth style, but interestingly Gurney suggests it wasn’t always like that. “Yes, he usually was silky-smooth – but, you know, silky-smooth is great until it’s not good enough! So in that situation what do you do – give up or try and get a little more? What I’m saying is that Jimmy didn’t give up – ever – and if he had a problem with understeer or whatever, why, he’d just toss it in there! Believe me, he could run at the edge as well as anyone I ever saw. As for ovals, well, he came to terms with them pretty well – even early on he was right there with the top handful. And something else about Jimmy… he was a respectful race driver – he was so good he didn’t need to go about intimidating people. As a man he may have been humble – but, trust me, a fighting humble guy is quite something!”

Although Foyt beat Clark to the pole in 1965, come race day he allows that he had nothing for Jimmy, and neither did anyone else. On the second lap AJ squeezed ahead, but a minute later the green Lotus was back in front, and proceeded to disappear into the distance. At the flag, 3 hours and 19 minutes later, Clark was followed in by Jones, with a rookie – one Mario Gabriele Andretti – in third place.

In 1964 Andretti had been offered a RIDE IN THE 500 – and a rear-engined one at that – but turned Mickey Thompson down. If his decision was a brave one, it was also wise. “I absolutely knew I wasn’t ready for Indy in ’64 – especially not in a difficult car, and those Thompson cars were spooky-handling things. That’s what Dave MacDonald was driving when he was killed.

“By ’65, though, I was driving for Clint Brawner and couldn’t wait to get to the Speedway. For sure the new wave was beginning by then, and the move to rear-engined cars was filtering into some of the US teams, like Brawner’s. I could understand the standpoint of USAC: ‘Are these guys coming in with an unfair advantage – and is this what we want?’ Their world was changing, and they weren’t sure they wanted it to, but pretty soon guys like Foyt and Parnelli were in, because this was obviously the future. They were able to buy Lotuses, and race them. It was a changing of the guard, and I was lucky to have a chassis like the Brabham – or Brabham copy, anyway – to compete with Lotus even in my rookie year.

“At the track I took every opportunity I could to get next to Jimmy Clark – on my favourite wall in my office is a photo of us in the pits at Indy, with our arms crossed, just chatting. Moments like that are treasured in your mind for ever.

“Jimmy’s whole demeanour was so attractive. For all his phenomenal ability, for all he had achieved, he was a modest guy – and for me, the rookie, not at all intimidating. I had so much reverence for him – that was what he commanded because of who he was. A very, very rare individual. He was friendly from the beginning – shy, but very approachable – and he answered all my questions: all we talked about was Formula 1!

“Colin Chapman knew that was my ultimate goal, and at Indy he said to me, ‘Mario, whenever you think you’re ready, give me a call…’ That was one of the great moments in my life – I mean, this was the team Jimmy Clark drove for!

“As for his style… yes, he won at Indy, and he was always going to, but actually more impressive to me was that in his first year of running ovals, 1963, he had won at Milwaukee. I always say that Milwaukee is where you separate the men from the boys, and actually I think it was there that Jimmy gained the most respect from guys like AJ and Parnelli. The driver comes into play much more at Milwaukee than at Indianapolis, and I believe that’s what cemented his position with the troops on this side – they said, ‘Boy, a hundred per cent he’s a racer…’

“Actually, what we wanted to do was get Jimmy in the Hoosier 100! I remember saying, ‘We need to get you in some of the dirt races – that way we can compete on a more equal basis!’ He laughed but, I tell you what, he didn’t dismiss the idea – and in the right circumstances I think he’d have been up for it. Think of Jimmy Clark on a dirt mile… talent always speaks loudest, and once he’d gotten used to the car, he’d probably have blown by everybody!”

In the 500 Clark had no need to do that, being almost two laps up on Jones and Andretti when he took the flag: the Lotus 38 – so clean and elegant in those wingless days – was the first car to average more than 150mph for the 500 miles.

Much has been made of the Wood brothers’ contribution to Clark’s victory that day – too much, in the estimation of Leonard Wood. “From our NASCAR experience we knew how to make the fuel flow into the tank – the key was getting it to flow to start with, and we had that really worked out – I think it caught everybody by surprise: the first stop was 19 seconds, compared with 45 for Foyt and Parnelli! Everyone assumed we didn’t get all the fuel in, but that car just kept runnin’ and runnin’…

“Maybe we made a contribution but, you know, Clark just ran so well on the race track. Before the start he says, ‘I’m not going to run hard’, but even so on the second or third lap he just drives away – no one even got close to him. As for the tyres, we checked them both times Jimmy came in, and they were perfect – at the finish they weren’t even half worn.”

These days Indycar racing may be the poor relation of Formula 1, but back then very much the opposite was true. “Chapman never paid Jim proper money,” said Alan McCall, who worked on Clark’s Lotus at Indy the following year. “It wasn’t that he was mean with him – the money just wasn’t there. In 1965, when Jim won Indy, he also won his second World Championship, and I think he got about £7500 for that! It wasn’t surprising he liked the money at Indy…”

Indeed it wasn’t. Jim Hurtubise, the first driver to retire in the ’65 race, collected $8626 for 33rd place, and the winning Lotus came in for $166,621, of which the driver’s share will have been sizeable.

At Indianapolis – as everywhere else – Clark is remembered well. “I don’t think there was ever anyone who had a bad word for him,” said Andretti. “He let his work do the talking – he didn’t have to say a thing. I remember Jimmy with great affection. As a driver and as a man, he had it all, and in my opinion he stands alone.”

When I asked Gurney if Clark was the greatest driver he had known, he hesitated before answering, and I wasn’t surprised. In all my years in the racing world I have never come across a nicer guy than Dan, and what concerned him was the thought of offending friends and fans of other drivers.

“You know,” he said, “I competed with some amazing drivers, both here in the States and in Europe. For example, I drove against Moss, and although there aren’t many left who remember Stirling’s driving talent, let me tell you it was absolutely the real thing – and he could back it up over and over, no matter where he was, or what he was driving. I think all his fellow competitors would acknowledge that.

“Going into a race, more often than not you’d know that the guy you had to try and deal with was Stirling, and later it was the same with Jimmy. If we had a time machine, and we lined all these people up, and put them in similar cars, those two would still be at the top level, but I guess… if I had to pick one, it would be Jimmy, OK? It’s too bad he didn’t last longer…”