F1's great drives: Jim Clark - 1967 Italian Grand Prix

F1

Jim Clark battled back from several setbacks to achieve a top-three finish at Monza in the 1967 Italian Grand Prix. It may be one of his finest drives James Elson tells the story

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Jim Clark had a habit of crushing the opposition – providing his Lotus didn’t fall apart.

In a grand prix era plagued by harrowing accidents, reliability issues and driver error – not to mention seasons with ten championship races or less – Clark’s 25 wins from 72 starts was an incredible return.

So used to winning was Jim Clark that he only actually finished second in an F1 race once, at the 1963 German Grand Prix.

All this makes his run to third at the 1967 Italian Grand Prix all the more significant. One of his best-known drives was in a race he didn’t even win.

Motor Sport readers have shortlisted it as one of the greatest grands prix in the 70 years of the F1 World Championship, and you can have your say on the winner by voting for your choice now.

The 1967 season was indicative of the Clark/Lotus form of the era. The team spent the year working through teething problems with its new Cosworth DFV power unit, but in spite of the reliability issues they were hampered with, still managed to win three races.

“He drove it up and down the main street two or three times and that was it before practice.”

Former Chief Mechanic at Lotus, Gordon Huckle, recalls trying that year’s Lotus 49 out for the first time at the Dutch Grand Prix.

“He’d never even sat in that car until we got to Zandvoort.

“We literally ran it up and down the high street. We got himself settled in the car, then drove it up and down the main street two or three times and that was it before practice.”

Limited running time meant eighth on the grid, but he soon made progress in the race.

Huckle remembers, “He took it steady for a few laps, got the feel of things and then just worked his way through and that was it.” Having not even sat in the Lotus 49 prior to qualifying, Clark went to win in its first time out at Zandvoort.

Despite the obvious potential of this driver/car combination, the rest of the season wasn’t so straightforward. A win at the British Grand Prix was a rare highlight in between three DNFs and a sixth at Spa.

By the time the grand prix circus rolled into Monza, Clark had scored pole at four of the preceding five races. Speed was present, just not the reliability.

First on the grid proved the pace of the Lotus 49 once again, Clark taking pole by 0.3sec from Jack Brabham. The latter had made history the previous year by becoming the first person to win the World Championship in a car of his own construction.

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In ‘66, Brabham’s Repco engine had been the power unit to have. With Monza being a power circuit, Clark’s prime grid position confirmed that, on pace at least, the DFV engine was looking a wise choice for’67 and beyond.

The entry that day was a roll call of grand prix greats. Along with Clark and Brabham, Bruce McLaren (McLaren-BRM), Chris Amon (Ferrari), Dan Gurney (Eagle-Weslake), Denny Hulme (Brabham-Repco), Jackie Setwart (BRM), Graham Hill (Lotus), John Surtees (Honda) and Jochen Rindt (Cooper-Maserati) also lined up. Opponents not to be underestimated.

The start procedure became slightly confused. Normal protocol was to roll the cars forward from a “dummy grid” once an initial flag was waved, then wait for a second flag to signify the start of the race proper.

In his race report, Jenks remarked “there was a tension in the air that said ‘this is going to be a fantastic start’”. The tension proved to be a bit much for some on that day at Monza, as experience and composure seemed to go out the window.

Clark was typically unruffled by early setbacks. On lap two he passed both Hill and Brabham, then set his sights on the lead.

As the first flag fell, Jack Brabham decided to throw caution to the wind. The Australian simply put his foot down and went for it.

In a flash the rest of the grid followed suit, blasting off before the start signal was actually given. The only driver who didn’t, was Jim Clark.

Not having his car at peak revs for what was supposed to be a short trundle to the real grid, the Scot found himself swamped by his competitors. He collected himself and regained some ground as they sped round the circuit. By the time things shook out on the first lap, he was fourth.

Brabham had hared off at the start but Dan Gurney hunted him down and took the lead halfway through lap one. Graham Hill was close behind in third.

Clark was typically unruffled by early setbacks. On lap two he passed both Hill and Brabham, then set his sights on the lead.

Start of the 1967 Italian GP

Jack Brabham speeds into the lead as Jim Clark slips back from pole

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On the next lap Clark took Gurney. In the space of three laps he’d already gone from pole, to near disaster, to retaking the lead once again.

For one lap Gurney kept up with the Scot, his Weslake engine not short on power. However the all-out blast at the “Temple of Speed” proved too much for the American’s power unit and it failed on lap four.

Clark’s mastery behind the wheel combined with the superiority of his car and engine made it look like things might well be straightforward from here on in. He had a clear road ahead of him on a sunny day in Monza.

It was not to be.

Many would have considered the Lotus driver’s race dead in the water. The Scot had other ideas.

On lap 11, Clark’s Lotus 49 began to develop some unusual handling characteristics. The gap he had built over the chasing pack began to shrink.

As was usual for Clark, instead of pitting, he decided to adjust his driving style to the problem.

Hulme, who had moved into second, then passed the stricken Clark on lap 10. Clark, despite an ailing car, managed to squeeze back in front on the next lap, but it became apparent he was fighting a losing battle.

Brabham soon closed in also, nipping inside Clark’s Lotus at the Parabolica. As he did so, the Australian pointed to the Scot’s right-rear wheel, alerting him to a puncture.

This incident was a re-enactment of one which had occurred at Rouen earlier in the year during an F2 race. Clark had tried to soldier on that time but eventually spun out as a result.He had learnt his lesson and on lap 13, Hulme, Brabham and Hill emerged on the start/finish straight with no Clark in sight.

The Scot had finally admitted defeat and was bringing his car in for the wheel change.

When Clark emerged, he was in fact not far behind the leading trio of Hulme, Brabham, Hill, or at least it appeared like this on track. So long had his pitstop taken that in actuality, he was one lap down– and 15th.

Many would have considered the Lotus driver’s race dead in the water at this point. The Scot had other ideas.

As well making up actual places in the race, he would also have to negotiate this formidable leading group to unlap himself. Clark was immediately on a faster pace, catching the trio quickly. By lap 21 he was right behind them, and up to 11th in the order having passed four other cars along the way.

Jim Clark, 1967 Italian GP

Clark leads Graham Hill and Denny Hulme on his recovery through the field

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One lap later Clark got himself between Brabham’s. On lap 24 he was past both Hulme and Hill.

Clark’s pace compared to the rest of the field was searing. On the 26th tour he set a new lap record of 1min 28.5sec, 0.4sec faster than the previous benchmark set by Hulme on lap five.

He then caught and passed the Cooper of Jo Siffert and the BRM of Mike Spence to move up to ninth.

The relentless pace on a power-thirsty track began to have its effect on other cars, the leading pack beginning to fade as result. Running at such high-revs for so long was damaging the Repco engine of Brabham’s eponymous car and he began to slow. His team-mate Hulme then was forced to retire on lap 30 with overheating in his engine.

Clark pounded on whilst others fell away going at a lesser pace. Bruce McLaren’s BRM engine blew on lap 46, gifting the Scot another place.

Before too long he had got past Tifosi hero Chris Amon as well. Clark was getting ever closer to the front. He now had fourth-placed Jochen Rindt in his sights and was closing him down fast.

The Austrian fell victim to Clark’s charge on lap 54 whilst Hill, still being merrily towed along, followed his team-mate through.

As Clark moved into fourth, so Brabham and Surtees came into view. The Honda driver had sidled up behind the slowing Australian and was looking to take second place.

So rapid was Clark’s pace that first-placed Hill, in drafting behind the Scot, had pulled out almost a lap on the second and third cars in the race. His lead was looking unassailable.

Jim Clark and Graham Hill in the 1967 Italian Grand Prix at Monza

Behind Clark, Hill managed to pull out a leading gap of almost a lap

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The appearance of these four cars running line astern on track was slightly confusing on first glance. As they went past the finish line on lap 58, the running order as they appeared on track was Brabham (second), Surtees (third), Clark (fourth) and Hill (first).

Suddenly, on lap 59, all hell broke loose. Hill’s engine cried enough, the pace that he and Clark had been setting proving too much for the Cosworth DFV.

As Hill coasted back to the pits, his Lotus team-mate carried on relentlessly. What had changed now though, was that the Scot wasn’t just closing in on the podium places, he was going for the race lead.

Clark blasted past Surtees, his Cosworth power far superior to that of the Honda’s, then set about closing down Brabham.

On lap 60, Clark and Brabham headed into the Curva Grande. Wasting no time, Clark seized the initiative and dived down the inside. When they emerged from the corner, the Lotus was ahead.

It may have taken 46 laps, but Clark had conquered what seemed at one point like an insurmountable challenge. He had made up a whole lap on the field and then retaken the lead.

As the trio embarked on the final lap, it seemed like the drama might finally be over – or was it?

Clark’s gap began to reduce – it was down to 2.8sec as they passed the start/finish line as his two pursuers began to close on him once more.

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Then, as the cars headed into the Curva Grande, his engine cut out completely.

In the blink of an eye, Clark’s Lotus twitched alarmingly with Surtees and Brabham both displaying lightning quick reactions to avoid – and pass – the Scot.

The two carried on dicing for the rest of the lap. As they approached the final corner, Brabham threw his car up the inside of Surtees’ Honda.

Surtees, knowing that the inside line offered little grip due to being covered with sand to cover an earlier oil spill, felt that Brabham was more than welcome to it.

“Black Jack” duly ran wide and Surtees successfully performed a textbook cutback, getting his Honda ahead as they sped onto the pit straight. It was a drag-race to the finishing line.

Brabham followed Surtees all the way to the flag. He pulled out from the slipstream and nearly managed to get ahead, but Surtees just pipped him – by 0.2sec. It was one of the closest finishes in F1 history.

Surtees wins '67 race in Monza

Surtees wins by 0.2sec

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So where was Clark? The Lotus hadn’t completely died on him, and the Scot managed to coax his ailing car round the last lap and come home third – 23 seconds after the leading pair.

The Team Lotus pit were at a loss when the Brabham and Honda cars appeared sans Clark, “It was just a sort of total disbelief when he didn’t cross the line first, when he didn’t appear,” says Huckle. “We thought ‘what’s happened?’ Then he comes trundling over the line, spluttering and popping and that’s where he ended up – third!

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“The Italian crowd went absolutely mad and surrounded the car. The Italian fans, they rated him as a driver, really appreciated what he did. There was a great crowd of people around the car, they just hoicked him out of it and carried him off shoulder high. We couldn’t get near him!”

It had been a thrilling race, with journalists and fans alike proclaiming it one of the greatest, if not the greatest, World Championship grand prix ever seen.

Once the chaos subsided, the Team Lotus inquest began and the fault that prevented Clark from taking victory was traced to a fuel feed issue. Huckle says that they also found another less well-documented mechanical problem that he’d been contending with for most of the race.

“When we checked the car after the race, the near-side front wishbone mount had fractured,” he said. “The front wishbone was moving backwards and forwards (as a result). He was that sort of driver, he would adapt to what it was, to how it was.

“He never gave up. You knew that while he was still going, there was still a chance. That’s how the feeling was,” his mechanic, Huckle puts it.

Never had this been more demonstrated by Jim than in this, one of F1’s Great Drives.

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