One of the changeless facts of sport is that champions, no matter how lovable they may seem to their mothers, wives and public, are the choicest of fair game to their fellow craftsmen. Give Mickey Mantle one wish and it would be to strike Sandy Koufax' best pitch so shrewdly that the ball would part his wavy hair on the way out of the park. Give one to a Grand Prix racing driver and it would be to drive Jimmy Clark, in a nice, motorized way, right off the course.
Last week, perhaps the best-armed band of Clarkhunters ever to take on the new world champion (SI, Oct. 7) beset him at Watkins Glen, N.Y. in the U.S. Grand Prix—and they got him. They got Clark because, by a ghastly stroke of bad luck, his racer would not start when everyone else's did. By the time Clark finally got going, he was an impossible lap and a half behind. By the end of the race, he was only a lap back of the winner, Britain's Graham Hill, who has suffered his own tribulations since winning the world drivers' title last year. Clark raced the fastest lap and, for a substantial part of the 253 miles, he was the quickest driver. But it was a happy, vindicated Graham Hill who drank the victory champagne.
As played by these sharp-toothed and heavy-footed men, the Grand Prix game consists of two days coffee-housing and one day racing. The Glen, a hamlet in New York's midstate Finger Lakes region, is a sort of shrine. It is the place where the American postwar road-racing revival began, and its racecourse, in rough, scenic country, is 2.3 miles of tight, tricky, rather bumpy motoring.
Last Friday, as the game began amid the scarlets and golds of The Glen's autumnal foliage, Clark was running scared. He had already put the 1963 championship out of his opponents' reach. His great natural talents—a rare, instinctive affinity for taking fast corners at the limit of tire adhesion and competitive, crash-proof courage—were intact. Yet he drove his fierce grass-green Lotus-Climax racer through trials as if he had it all to prove for the first time. There were two reasons for his haste: his pride, and the fact that the elite among his friendly enemies were taking the trials apart.
Plainspoken Reg Parnell, manager of Britain's Lola racing team, poked a finger toward a cherry-red Ferrari from Italy and said, "The winner might be right there." It was the racer of his countryman Johnny Surtees, former world champion motorcycle rider and winner of this year's German Grand Prix. "Surtees will make the rest hurry and no mistake," he said. "He is completely dedicated to racing, and he will be the world champion one day. Count on it." Surtees could have won Sunday, but on the 82nd of 110 laps he had engine trouble and was forced out of the race while running first.
In truth, there probably was more talent in the field of drivers, pound for pound, than any before. It included no fewer than four champions past and present: Clark, Hill (1962), America's Phil Hill (1961) and Australia's Jack Brabham (1959, 1960).
The cars were as formidable. For the first time this year, the majority of the first-rate ones were reasonably healthy. It had been a season of awful attrition. "This," said Rob Walker of Scotland, patron of a private team (Joakim Bonnier driving a Cooper-Climax), "was the year of engine unreliability." Gremlins got into Britain's Coventry-Climax and BRM V-8s and, with a nice impartiality, into Italy's Ferrari and ATS units as well. Clark, fortunately for his championship run, was spared—until The Glen—but he deserved such luck after his many mechanical breakdowns of the past. In Germany, minus one of eight cylinders, he gave Surtees a whale of a struggle, capturing second place.
At The Glen the BRMs of Graham Hill and America's Richie Ginther were so strangely fast in practice that Team Manager Tony Rudd sniffed about for rats. Followers of racing will recall that Hill won last year's championship on BRM reliability. This season the BRMs have reverted to the kind of fragility for which they were notorious. "I don't think there is any doubt," Rudd said, "that the Lotus was fastest last year. But it was unreliable. Now the Lotus is reliable, and that's torn it. We are going very quickly here, but I can't bring myself to believe that means we have actually caught up with the Lotuses. I suspect that the Lotuses haven't been working properly."
When they were not talking speed, The Glen's dedicated types discussed hardware and styles in chassis. You are out of it around the racecourses these days if you cannot speak knowledge-ably about monocoque and space-frame chassis. This is because Colin Chapman has a monocoque that works, and all other builders are going to feel underprivileged until they possess one, too.
Monocoque is a highfalutin word for single-unit and, as translated by Chapman, it means a chassis-frame made of super-light metal boxes. To oversimplify, the Lotus resembles a banana that has been halved lengthwise, with the pieces spread apart. The driver sits, roughly, amidships, with his legs between the forward elements, which also serve as fuel tanks. The engine is aft. This design produces a car lighter, smaller and stiffer, more resistant to flexing, than the older space-frame racers, and since these are all extremely desirable qualities in racing cars, everybody wants a monocoque. The hitch is that monocoques are tricky and expensive to perfect, while anyone, it seems, can build a pretty good space-frame car, the main feature of which is a three-dimensional frame of small-diameter tubing.
BRM has a monocoque that has not yet been debugged. Ferrari has a very promising one. Unfortunately, Surtees, after lapping superbly in it, limped in Saturday with something broken in the suspension and had to switch to an older space framer. Friends prayed that the new car would be repaired by race time, although Surtees looked menacing enough in his space-frame vehicle.
"We have spent a lot of time experimenting with the monocoque," said BRM's Rudd, mournfully, "and in the meantime haven't been able to do justice to the other ones. So here we are with last year's cars."
But, oh, how they flew. On Friday Graham Hill, whose luxuriant guardsman's mustache endears him to Anglophiles, lowered the Glen's lap record from 1:15 to 1:13.4 and in all the remaining practice time no one else, not even Jim Clark, did as well. Officially, that is. Clark was credited with 1:13.5, but watches held by his own pitmen caught him in slightly better time than that given Hill.
Surtees' red streak earned a 1:13.7—all the more welcome since the enduringly .glamorous Ferraris had been absent from the two previous U.S. championship races. Ginther's BRM did 1:14 flat. Jack Brabham and Dan Gurney, driving Brabham's own cars, completed the ring of potential Clark-baiters by lapping in 1:14.2 and 1:14.5 respectively.
If the less well-mounted 15 drivers posed no real threat, they at least promised lively scrapping among themselves for lesser positions. Among them were Phil Hill, still struggling, as he has been all year, to get the ATS going, and Rodger Ward, the former Indianapolis "500" champion, who likes to take an occasional flyer in road racing.
Thus, confident of a fine fast fight, 58,000 persons, the largest crowd in Watkins Glen's history, gathered Sunday afternoon, many of them drawn there by Clark. Their confidence was abruptly shaken at Clark's failure to start. The cars were lined up two by two. Engines came alive. All but Clark's. A high-pressure fuel pump was not functioning and, as Clark called heavily on the battery, not only did the car not start but the battery went dead. The car was given a push start, but that is not legal for a race start, and the engine soon had to be shut off.
Had the battery been revived? The thousands who could see these frantic gymnastics devoutly hoped so, but seconds before the green starting flag was to fall, the Lotus, sickeningly, had to be pushed aside and a new battery installed.
By the time wee, woeful Jimmy got away, Graham "Hill in the car that had seemed so suspiciously fast to Rudd was far ahead, and the other elite drivers were pushing him as rudely as they had wanted to molest Clark.
A bright, clustered race
There followed, for many laps, as beautiful a race as one could want. Bunched at first like a cluster of bright, tiny waterbugs were Hill, his teammate Ginther, Surtees in the space-frame Ferrari and then the Brabhams of Gurney and Builder Jack.
Graham Hill led precariously for six laps as Surtees and Gurney made big moves behind him. Then, as they completed the seventh lap, Surtees in his red racer had the barest advantage over Hill's green car and Gurney, acting like the jungle animal he is reputed to be, was snarling close behind Hill.
If only Clark had been among them...but say this for the little Scot: he drove as if he were, picking off stragglers with unbelievable rapidity.
Until the 18th lap, Gurney stayed with the top three. Then fuel starvation on the straights put him back a bit, and his fight was ended after 43 laps when his car's front suspension broke.
Meanwhile, Hill hounded Surtees and, on the 32nd lap, rousingly led him past the pits. He had already nudged ahead four or five times on the back part of the course—"A bit dicey, that was"—only to be quickly repassed. But suddenly, in the midst of the excitement, Hill's rear sway bar began to come adrift. It broke. The BRM's handling went just sour enough to take the closeness out of the duel. Surtees pulled nicely ahead. Hill's chances of winning seemed lost.
But—ah, the scythe of attrition was still swinging. It butchered—Surtees. Just when he looked untouchable, his engine expired. Surtees came into the pits, swallowed some soda, received a consoling look from his gorgeous brunette wife, who had kept vigil on the pit counter with stopwatch in hand, and reported that probably he had burned a piston.
It gives one the willies when the five or six original hotspurs in a race have been reduced to one or two. Could the general epidemic remove Hill? Many other cars were already out. Only eight of the 21 starters were to finish and, of those, several were clattering invalids.
Rumpled Tony Rudd stood worriedly in the BRM pit with huge stopwatches in both hands. Toward the end his cars were nothing less than first and second, Ginther trailing Hill by half a minute.
The scythe spared the BRMs. Hill took the checkered flag first, having averaged 109.91 mph, a record, and Ginther next—and then, as St. Andrew himself would not deny, it was Jim Clark third. Clark has often said that some of his best races are those in which he has had to try to overcome a staggering misfortune, and this was one to remember.
But how pleasant for Graham Hill, and how popular a victory. He won the world championship last year—and everyone said, "Oh, well, Jimmy was faster. He just had bad luck." But let no one believe that Hill was not then, and is not now, a brilliant and brilliantly tenacious racing driver. Everything has been hard for him. Not a natural talent like Clark, he has fought to perfect a winning style, starting out by actually paying for lessons in race driving.
He is also cool and articulate in any company. After sloshing some New York State champagne from a big silver trophy, he conceded that Surtees was "that shade quicker" when both cars were healthy. "I appeared to be a bit down on the speed I was able to manage in practice. But needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed the day."