A chance discovery of previously unpublished images sheds new light on Jim Clark’s fabled time competing in the Indy 500
It was just one of those serendipitous things. I was searching in our photo archive when I came across an old brown envelope with ‘Indianapolis’ scrawled on it. I looked inside and – hey – it was packed with wallets of gorgeous colour transparencies, taken at Indy during the 1960s by our late friend ‘Jabby’ Crombac, founding editor of the French magazine Sport Auto. The envelope had evidently been amongst the stuff we acquired from his estate at an auction in Paris – and I, for one, had clearly overlooked its existence.
Shuffling through the contents, I found ‘Jabby’ had taken several shots of his friend – and sometime Parisian flat-mate – Jimmy Clark in his Indy Lotus-Fords. Of course Team Lotus’s Indianapolis 500 forays with the world’s finest road racing driver added extra gloss to the adored Scot’s racing legend.
That set us thinking about how to commemorate Jim in this, the 50th anniversary year of his tragic death, aged only 32, at Hockenheim in 1968. And how better than to finally publish some of those atmospheric colour shots which ‘Jabby’ captured back at Indianapolis during the 500-Miles ‘Month of May’.
The background to Jim’s momentous arrival was of course the tentative move towards Indy racing’s rear-engined revolution. Isolated from contemporary Grand Prix racing technology in the 1940s and ’50s, Indy had developed its own design genre. Initially it was ahead of Europe, leading the way in adopting disc brakes, fuel injection, roll-over protection, seat belts and nerf bars. But innate mid-west conservatism and a dumb resistance to NIH – ‘not invented here’ – lagged behind the Grand Prix racers through 1959-1960. The front-engined Indy Offenhauser roadster was standard, but when Jack Brabham ran a 2.7-litre F1-derived Cooper-Climax at Indy ’61 those with the wit to see noted his turn times, and wondered. In 1962 Dan Gurney drove one of Mickey Thompson’s rear-engined cars, while his guest Colin Chapman looked aghast on the roadster establishment. He told me “It was like being at the Tripoli Grand Prix or somesuch in 1938 – all these old dinosaurs wallowing around”. His eyes lit up at this earning opportunity, and the result of Dan’s invitation was the 1963 Lotus-powered by Ford programme. And here is what the road racers witnessed at Indy.