The arrival of Lotus at Indy turned the Brickyard on its head. Jabby Crombac, who slept on Jim Clark’s floor at the track’s Holiday Inn, recalls the trials and tribulations of F1’s top team as it strove to win the world’s biggest race
Colin Chapman, to say the least, wasn’t impressed by his first visit to Indianapolis, in 1962— even though Dan Gurney had paid his airfare. To Colin’s eye, the traditional roadsters which formed the bulk of the 33 runners had been wheeled straight off the Ark. Dinosaurs. Huge front-engined machines with a live axle front and rear, towering 18or 20-inch tyres and a fighting weight of 16001bs. “I thought I’d travelled back in time and was watching a pre-war race,” he said upon his return.
However he waited around long enough to watch the race with Gurney who, fuelling his disbelief, egging him on, then took his guest on a visit to Ford. Dan wanted to obtain an engine and financial support for a Lotus Indy campaign. He got both. Jimmy Clark went to The Brickyard for the first time immediately after the 1962 grand prix at Watkins Glen (which he won from Graham Hill’s BRM) and ran his Lotus 25 Fl car there to gather data for the Indy car, to be called Type 29. The little 25 impressed with its cornering speed, but Team Lotus soon dis covered that on-track performance carried little truck with the Midwestern formal ism of Indy’s establishment, the United States Auto Club (U SAC). Lotus were there for real in May 1963 but, from the onset, things didn’t go well. Even the usually calm Jimmy was incensed: here was a driver in contention for the F1 world championship being requested to pass his ‘rookie’ test, with seasoned old warriors telling him how to do it. This was only the beginning of it
I arrived at Indy a few days before the race. Jimmy was going to start from the middle of the second row and Dan, who had crashed his race car and so had to qualify the ‘mule’, from the outside of the fourth rank. Team Lotus was based at the Holiday Inn, across the road from the Speedway, and I was sharing their room. ‘Their’ meant one bed each for Jimmy and Colin and a cot for Cyril Audrey, the RAC’s chief timekeeper. I slept on the floor.
Everybody was welcoming and friendly and we were constantly invited to parties. But this was only a front Underneath there was a deep resentment against ‘them foreigners’ with their ‘funny cars’ trying to beat ‘our boys’. To make matters worse, we were using Ford dollars to do it. Capping it all, however, was that Jimmy’s car was green, which is considered bad luck at the track. A rival driver told Chapman: “I’m gonna hate to pass a green car on the track,” to which Colin replied, “Don’t worry, you’ll never pass it!” The whole shooting match became a sort of crusade: the old world versus the new. Throughout the month of May not a trick was forgotten to try to curb Lotus’ efforts.
One of the many big arguments had been over tyres. Firestone had specially made a batch of 15-inch tyres for the Lotus, which was some 5001bs lighter than the roadsters. When they found out, the American teams insisted this rubber should also be made available to them, and Firestone became worried, fearing they would not be safe on their heavier cars. The company finally agreed, but this incident was to have an enormous repercussion upon motor racing: when it seemed unclear whether Firestone would bring their small tyres, AJ Foyt telephoned Goodyear and said: “Come, we need you”. A new giant had entered the scene. Apart from the politicking, I was tremendously elated by the whole thing. While the roadsters were outmoded technically, they were terribly impressive, each one possessing huge dimensions, a smell of methanol and an outstanding finish, with bright liveries and sponsor logos all over. Chapman learnt something from this and, at a time when Formula One cars were uniformly painted in national colours, he got the idea of the yellow stripe on the green body of his F1 cars to liven up their appearance.
The pre-race pageantry was fantastic, too: the big band from the university, the majorettes, not forgetting the pulpous Linda Vaughn or ‘Miss Hurst Speed-shift’ (a favourite of Team Lotus and its driver!), the song ‘Back Home in Indiana’, the thousands of balloons and, finally, Tony Hulrnan — a real gentleman, unlike some of his minions — saying those immortal words, “Gentlemen, start your engines!”
Jimmy should have won that year despite the power handicap of his stock-block engine (376 vs 420bhp), because he made just one pitstop to the roadsters’ three. Unfortunately, he lost time because he wasn’t used to the yellow lights procedure (no pace car then) and was too cautious in overtaking. But the worst came when Parnelli Jones’ side-tank split and oil was gushing all over the track. Jimmy, who was trailing him, had to slow down, while others crashed. At the drivers briefing, the Clerk of the Course, Harlan Fengler, had warned: “If you lose oil, I shall stop you with the black flag.” So Colin rushed to him, on the track at the bottom of the tower, to remind him of his own words. He was joined by JC Agajanian, an Indy legend and owner ofJones’ car.
It was Establishment versus Foreigners.
Guess who won? Fengler took his time, asked for a pair of binoculars and watched the leader for several laps. Finally, of course, the oil level in the tank dropped below the split, the car stopped leaking and Parnelli went on to win. The following year, Ford had built a proper twin-cam racing engine for the new Lotus 34 — which was really just a 29 adapted to the new engine and gearbox. By then, everybody knew who jimmy Clark was — and he hated it. On race morning at around 7am, I was having breakfast with him when a woman barged in. She said she knew the midwife who had been at his birth in Scotland and that she was on the ‘phone long-distance to her, and could Jimmy come over and talk to her. And so he found himself speaking to a midwife from Kelso — yet he was born in Fife.
Once again Jimmy’s 500 fate was out of his hands: Colin had decided to use Dunlop tyres which were quicker on lap times, but which weren’t up to the job. Jimmy was on pole and was obviously the quickest man. However, the race was stopped after only two laps because of the massive shunt in which two drivers, Eddie Sachs and Dave MacDonald, were burnt to death.
It took a very long time to restart the race because they had to refill all the fire extinguishers. Again Clark shot into the lead, but shortly after, his left-rear tyre threw its tread and the vibrations broke the suspension, the wheel collapsed and he narrowly missed hitting the pitwall. Gurney’s sister car was stopped as a precaution. It all came good, finally, in 1965. Perhaps, the best weapon of the new Lotus 38 was the refuelling system thought up by Len Terry, who had designed it in line with the new regulations: only alcohol fuel, no pressure refuelling. Dan had left the team and Jimmy’s co-driver was a fine stock car pilot, Bobby Johns, who brought with him the most famous team of refuellers from NASCAR, called the Woods Brothers. These guys were impressive: they arrived the day before the race and quickly built a wooden buck, shaped like the car, complete with coupling units. And they spent the whole afternoon practising refuelling, attacking this device with refuelling hoses, encouraging each other with guttural noises. Come the race, Jimmy made two stops, his total time in the pits corning tojust 44sec far less than his rivals. Most of this was due to Terry’s clever design, which the American media pointedly chose to ignore.
Jimmy was in the middle of the front row, with the modified Lotus 34 of AJ Foyt on his left and Dan Gurney’s privately-entered 38 on his right: an all-Lotus front row, only two years after arriving there! This time everything went very smoothly. And we enjoyed a celebration dinner with the whole team. The race was then held traditionally on Memorial Day, a ‘dry day’, but we found a restaurant, The Italian Village, which agreed to serve us Chianti in coffee cups!
We were less successful in 1966. Ford had stopped financing Team Lotus’ efforts and Colin had found a sponsor, the colourful Andy Granatelli, arch-enthusiast boss of STP oil additive. I don’t know if Andy ever had links with the mafia, as was rumoured, but he looked, talked and acted like he was in a Robert De Niro movie. He had managed to convince the organisers to allow the cars to use oil additives and, as he paid good cash, most cars were on SIP. With the unavoidable oil leaks, the track became like a skating rink.
Again Jimmy was in the middle of the first row (on his left was Mario Andretti in a Brabham clone), and again there was a big shunt at the start, when they all more or less ran into each other. This eliminated a third of the field including, much to the chagrin of the crowd, the only roadster that had qualified. The slippery track didn’t suit the Lotus 38’s suspension, which had possibly been bent when Jimmy hit the wall during the collision at the start. Six times he slid off. On four of those occasions he managed to collect it, but twice it looped into a full spin, fortunately without hitting the wall. The rules demanded tyres be changed after a spin, and these unscheduled pitstops allowed Lloyd Ruby to take the lead in an Eagle which, designed by Len Terry, obviously bore a close resemblance to the 38 he’d penned for Lotus. However, Ruby was sidelined by an oil leak more SIP on the track! and Jackie Stewart’s Lola led until its engine blew up, handing the lead back to Jimmy.
However, the other Lola of Graham Hill was going great guns after a cautious start, and he was close behind. Team Lotus, thinking Jimmy was a lap ahead, let him slow down and Hill overtook him and drove on to Victory Lane. And drank the milk.
There was real pandemonium after the race: who had won? Next morning we went to the track, where Granatelli got permission for Cyril Audrey to peruse the official timekeeping charts. When he returned, he announced sadly: “I missed a lap of Graham’s, probably at the time Jimmy arrived in the pit after one of his spins.” So that was that.
In 1967, things went from bad to worse. Colin had hoped to use the H16 BRM engine supposed to be much more powerful than the Ford V8 and BRM had agreed to make a special 4.2-litre version for Indy. Maurice Phiffippe (Terry’s successor) designed a car for it, the 42B, derived from the Fl Type 43, which Jimmy had scored the H16’s only victory, in the 1966 US GP. But Lotus soon found out BRM’s power claims were but a dream and the car was hastily converted to use a regular Ford V8. Graham Hill, who had joined Team Lotus that season, would drive this 42B, while Jimmy would pilot a revamped 38. This last-minute change of plan really threw away all chances for Team Lotus, for it meant they arrived late with three different cars: a symmetrical suspension 38, an offset one and a 42B with a Ford engine. It was a nightmare for the mechanics since the spares didn’t fit from one car to another. Jimmy only qualified on the sixth row and it was worse for Graham, who had a string of engine blow-ups, forcing him to qualify on the second weekend. He ended up on the inside of the last row.
Jimmy remained cheerful throughout this ordeal, because he was sure he had no chance to win anyway. In April, he had been testing at Indy and Granatelli had asked him to try the Paxton turbine-driven car which Parnelli Jones was going to drive for him. After taking up the offer, Jimmy left immediately for Pau to compete in a Formula 2 race. There he told me: “I have driven the car which is going to win the Indy 500 this year.”
Jones, like Clark, hadn’t qualified well but his turbine had been in race trim while others were running more nitromethane than they could use for 500 miles. On race day, he soon took the lead.
The race was stopped after only 14 laps, however, because of rain and the restart was postponed until the next day. The car parks were soaked and it was decided all spectators should park their cars in the city the next morning, from where they would be brought to the track by shuttle buses. These would be the local school buses, and to make them available, the governor of the State declared it a school holiday. The Hulman family is quite powerful in Indianapolis. When the race restarted, both Team Lotus entries soon retired with holed pistons. As for the turbine, it dominated until, four laps from the finish, a small bearing in its transmission let go leaving AJ Foyfs Lotus 34 to take the laurels. Throughout May, AJ in line with many others had questioned the legality of the turbine, and when he reached Victory Lane, declared: “Like I said, cheaters can’t be winners!” Jimmy was all set to race Lotus’ turbine, the Type 56, at Indy in 1968.1 was at the track in March, immediately after Sebring, to see him test it and suffer from a defective fuel pump. He never raced it, of course, and I did not attend the race. An era had ended.