A Tragic Time for Team Lotus
April 1968 - A Tragic Time for Team Lotus
Being an avid Lotus fan, every year as the month of April approaches, my mind wanders back to the tragic racing accident Lotus driver, Jim Clark, had at the Hockenheim circuit in Germany on Sunday, April 7, 1968. Jim Clark, a well-liked and naturally gifted driver, was killed in a Formula 2 race. Clark had won 25 of his 72 Formula 1 Grand Prix starts. He was a Scottish sheep farmer when he was away from the racetracks.
His racing career began in 1956 in his Sunbeam-Talbot in local road rallies and hill climb events in Scotland. On Boxing Day in 1958, Clark raced against Lotus Company founder Colin Chapman, the man who would later hire Clark to drive his Lotus racecars. As time went on, Chapman developed a close relationship with Clark and eventually put Clark in the seat of the Lotus 18 Formula 1 car for the Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort in 1960. Clark’s first Formula 1 win came in 1962 at the Spa Francorchamps circuit in Belgium driving a Lotus 25. In 1963, Clark won seven Formula 1 races and claimed his first world championship. He went on to win his second world championship in 1965 along with winning the prestigious Indy 500. In Clark’s last race at Hockenheim, a race he was not originally slated to drive in but drove primarily due to contractual obligations with Firestone, he crashed in a Lotus 48 on the fifth lap of the race. His car veered off the circuit and crashed into trees. The car was a total loss and Clark sustained fatal injuries. He was only 32 years old at the time of his death.
Colin Chapman was devastated. Chapman later said that he had lost his best friend. The motoring world was stunned, as were Clark’s family, friends and fans worldwide. Chapman, not knowing why Clark had crashed, had the car brought back to Hethel. Chapman was extremely distraught. He was haunted by the thought that he had in some way contributed to Clark’s death by way of a flaw in the design of the car, causing the fatal crash. Chapman asked Peter Jowitt, Senior Engineer of the Experimental Aircraft Department at Farnborough, to assist in the investigation of the accident. Chapman was obsessed with finding the truth. The investigation took three weeks with Keith Duckworth doing the engine teardown inspection and Chris Parry of Firestone conducting the tire analysis. The results of the investigation showed that Clark had more than likely picked up a small piece of debris that cut thru the right-rear tire causing it to deflate. As per Colin Chapman’s request, the results of the investigation were not published at that time. Jim Clark was buried in the village of Chimside in Berwickshire. He was an inaugural inductee into the Scottish Sports Hall of Fame in 2002.
Happy Motoring…Ron Couturier