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Autocourse back in time: interview with Jim Clark

Thanks to Autocourse, the world's leading Grand Prix annual, we're going back in time with this exclusive interview that legendary Jim Clark gave to David Phipps in 1967.

Jim Clark, Lotus Climax
David Phipps and Jim Clark
Jim Clark, Lotus Climax
Podium: race winner Jim Clark with Keith Duckworth to his right
Jim Clark in the cockpit of his Lotus 49 with the Ford DFV V8 engine behind him; Clark won the 1967 Grand Prix of Holland at Zandvoort with this engine in its debut race
Lotus 49 Ford Rollout, Lotus Factory: Maurice Phillippe (Designer), Keith Duckworth (Engine Designer), Graham Hill (Driver), Mike Costin (Cosworth Engineer), Colin Chapman (Lotus Owner and Designer)
Jim Clark

DAVID PHIPPS. How different is the Lotus 49-Ford from previous Formula One cars you've driven?

JIM CLARK. Well, the first thing is that it has twice the horse power of most Formula One cars I have driven before, or fact any single seater apart from Indianapolis cars, which are rather different in that they are very high geared and never normally drop below 140 mph. In itself the extra power isn't really a problem, but it does have a tendency to come in with a sudden rush at about 6,500 rpm, and although people say the revs shouldn't drop this low it is sometimes very difficult to avoid it with a fixed ratio gearbox. Life can be a bit hectic when you are coming out of a corner and it suddenly hits on all eight.

DP: Would you rather have the engine detuned to have less power at that 6,500?

JC: I think this all depends on the circuit. On some circuits obviously it would be an advantage-at Monaco and some of the other slow circuits it would definitely be an advantage-but as the season has progressed we have learned to cope with the power and it was nothing like as bad as I had expected in the wet at Mosport. I must admit that before the start of that race I was convinced that I was going to be dropping right to the back of the field, but it was possible with very judicious throttle control to get the car through this period. I'm not saying it wasn't difficult to drive-it was very difficult when the track started to dry out and there were still some wet patches- but this wasn't so much to do with the engine as with the tyres and chassis.

DP: Do you feel that the chassis is as good as previous Lotus chassis you've driven?

JC: That's very difficult to answer. It's impossible to think of the chassis separately from the engine and tyres. We're running on a pretty rigid sort of tyre, which is fairly unforgiving, and in many ways we are back to the sort of conditions we had in 1960 with the Lotus 18. If you got the 18 out of line, except on full power, you were liable to be in trouble, and it's much the same with the 49. However, I think this is as much to do with the tyres as with the car, because when I tried Goodyears at Mosport it was possible to get much more attitude on and still feel completely under control. This made it easier to brake into a corner, or throw the car through a tight corner to keep the revs up- something we can't really do normally. And we've had the same sort of problem with the Formula Two car.

DP: You've always specialised in going deep into a corner with the brakes on. Have you found this a bigger problem in the 49 than in earlier Lotuses?

JC: Yes, definitely. It feels as if the car gets up on its back wheels, and as you turn into the corner the back end tends to flick out very suddenly. This obviously is nothing to do with the engine, but is purely a question of chassis and tyres.

DP: Has the fixed ratio gearbox actually been much of a disadvantage?

JC: There are times when it has been very frustrating, because it was just not possible to gear for certain corners. But it was a big problem on the Formula Two car, and really ruined our chances on some circuits. In the Formula One car we didn't notice it so much, but I think we would have done if people with variable ratio gearboxes had had as much power.

DP: Have you been happier with the brakes since you changed over from ventilated to solid discs?

JC: Yes I'm happier with them now, at least in a straight line, but there is still something about them which is not quite right. We are still using ventilated disc calipers with steel spacers in them, and when the brakes get hot these are tending to stick a bit, which makes the pedal very inconsistent; sometimes it's fully back and sometimes there's a lot of free play, so it's necessary to pump the brakes to make sure they are going to work.

DP: Which doesn' t really promote confidence I assume?

JC: It doesn't promote confidence and it isn't always easy to do, especially if you are trying to change gear at the same time; the way the revs go up on this engine when you are in intermediate gears you don't get much time to do it.

DP: Are you still having any trouble with the clutch?

JC: Yes, both Graham and I had clutch trouble at Mosport, and Graham's went again at Watkins Glen. At Mosport everything was fine while the track was wet, but as it dried out and everything got hot the clutches went.

DP: How do you fancy having automatic transmission on this engine?

JC: If you could keep it above 6,500 it would probably work very well. And it would do away with the clutch problem of course.

DP: Are you annoyed that it has taken so long to get the clutch right-and that in fact it till isn't right?

JC: Yes. We keep changing things but we don't seem to get to the bottom of the trouble. I have a feeling that the fault may be at the pedal end- and the same goes for the brakes. One of the big problems is that we haven't done any testing. Several times we have arranged test days, but for one reason or another they just haven't happened. This might not have been so bad if we had had a spare car, but as soon as we had a spare car then Colin had somebody driving it. And quite apart from this, it was hopeless trying to have a spare car that both Graham and I could use. I couldn't see over the windscreen and Graham couldn't get in it. Graham likes his car set up much stiffer thap I do, and he also likes to have the pedals and steering wheel arranged differently. The only answer is to have two spare cars - one for each driver- and to do all the testing in them and keep the race car for the race.

Although I have never liked Spa, the 49 was just incredible there.

Jim Clark

DP: Are you very concerned about other people having Ford engines next year?

JC: Well, I'm not very keen, particularly as we haven't really scored when we should have done. One way and another the car hasn't quite lived up to its original promise, though it's difficult to pin the blame anywhere because the things that have gone wrong with my car have been different every time, and generally have not been major faults which could be blamed on either the car or the engine. At Spa, a plug popped out. At Le Mans the final drive housing wasn't stiff enough. At Nurburgring I got a puncture and at Mosport I got water in the electrics At Monza I ran out of fuel. (There was still three gallons in the car but the system wouldn't pick it up because we had put foam in the tanks to prevent surge.) It was just like 1962. The car didn't quite come up to expectations then either, and all because of a lot of stupid little faults.

DP: Do you feel you would have kept going at Nurburgring if you hadn't had a puncture?

JC: I tried to tell myself all along this wasn't just a puncture. I'm not sure about it even yet, but there was something wrong right from the end of the first lap; the car started acting rather peculiarly and I felt that a rear hub bearing was going. On the fourth lap it got much worse and I slowed right down, but when I got to the Karussel the whole front end just collapsed. This may have been because we had packed the front suspension up to prevent the car bottoming; we also had the original 20 gauge rocking arm levers on the top, whereas now I've got 18 gauge and Graham's got 16.

DP: You must be rather tired of having tyres go down during a race.

JC: Well, I seem to have had more than my fair share of it this year, because quite apart from Nurburgring and Monza I had several punctures during Formula Two races. The worst of these was at Rouen, where a rear tyre went down on a 140 mph corner and I had a big spin, in the middle of which I collected Jack Brabham. Then there was the lump of concrete at Langlenlbarn, which not only burst the tyre but dented the wheel rim and broke the rear upright casting.

DP: How do you feel about tyre developments generally during the past year?

JC: Well it's been a bit exasperating really, because Firestone promised us at the beginning of the year that by April or May they would be in full production in England. There have always been problems of communication between Brentford and Akron, and it hasn't helped that Akron has been on strike for months. We didn't get the first British made tyres until Monza in September, and then it took over 30 laps to bed in the centre of the tread, but even so I can't really say that we have lost any races because we had inferior tyres. But it is infuriating that time and again we have not had the right size or the right compound even at Mosport, which is almost on Firestone's doorstep, we had to wait for tyres which had been delayed in shipment.

DP: How do you rate the various tyres in terms of performance?

JC: At present I think Firestone tyres are as good in most conditions as Goodyear. They may even have a little more in the way of ultimate cornering power, but the Goodyears are more progressive and therefore quite a bit easier to drive. And now Dunlop have a very good Formula Two tyre, so it should not be long before they are back in competition in Formula One.

DP: Have you changed your philosophy this year? In the old days you always liked to build up a big lead and demoralize the opposition. This year you've seemed content to be just a few seconds ahead.

JC: Well, this year I have been so conscious of the fact that the car is new and a little brittle that I've been quite happy just to be in the lead. I have always felt that the car would go quicker if it was really necessary, and it certainly proved this at Monza, but normally I have preferred to try and nurse it as much as possible.

DP: When you say the car is brittle, are you thinking of the car itself or the engine?

JC: Although I have never had any engine trouble at all, I am probably still a little suspicious of it. I can't say that I expect anything in particular to fall off, but I'm not a hundred percent happy with the handling and I'm always a little doubtful about the brakes, I'm just not completely confident that the car is going to finish.

DP: Did you normally have confidence in the 25 and 33?

JC: Yes, towards the end I had tremendous confidence in them.

DP: Even though in those days you sometimes had more trouble in practice than you do now.

JC: Yes that's so, but somehow we generally used to get them sorted out by the time the race began. In reflection though, those cars were not as easy to drive as some people used to think. They were very light, and they probably had better traction than any of the other cars, but on some circuits you really had to work hard to get the best out of them. And, of course, some handled better than others. R6 was the best handling chassis of the lot, and some of the later cars were not as good for some unknown reason.

DP: Do you basically find that 3-litre cars are more rewarding to drive than less powerful ones?

JC: Yes, on a circuit like Monza or Spa there's no doubt about it, they are fantastic. Although I have never liked Spa, the 49 was just incredible there. It was very quick up the hill, very quick almost everywhere in fact, though on the second half of the straight I sometimes began to think "why doesn't it get going?"

DP: Even though it was doing nearly 200 mph?

JC: Well, 190 + .

DP: It looked as if you were taking things very easily in the race.

JC: Yes, the race settled down quite nicely. I was determined on the first lap to keep Jackie out of my slipstream, and once I'd done this I was able to concentrate on keeping the car in one piece. Unfortunately I forgot all about holding the spark plugs in.

DP: At Le Mans, were you expecting to have final drive trouble?

JC: No. I was pussy-footing it because I didn't think my tyres would last if l went any faster. After Graham dropped out he pointed to the gearbox as I went past, so I had a fair idea of what the trouble was but there wasn't very much I could do about it.

DP: At Silverstone, what were you planning to do about winning the race when you were running second to Graham?

JC: I hadn't really planned anything at the time. I wasn't very happy about the way my car was handling at the beginning of the race with full tanks, and for some time I was quite content just to stay ahead. I got it sorted out in practice when it wasn't too oily, but in the race it was a completely different car. Graham decided I wasn't going quick enough for him and he passed me, so I just hung on to him and waited to see what would happen. In the event Graham's car broke, and that settled the issue.

DP: Going back to Formula Two, how good or bad was your car in relation to the opposition?

JC: Basically I think the 48 was a fairly good car, but it had very little development. As with the 49 this was partly my fault, because I wasn't able to do any testing and I wasn't able to chase things up at the factory. The car I ordered after my first Formula Two race was still not ready at the end of the season, and various suggestions I made part way through the season just didn't come to anything. Formula Two doesn't get the same attention from Colin as Formula One, and there wasn't anyone with real authority in charge of the Formula Two team. I wouldn't put any blame on the mechanics because they have done a very good job, but the Formula Two operation as a whole simply lacked direction. Then there was the gear ratio problem. I didn't realise it was going to be a problem at the beginning of the season because we used to get away with it in 2-litre cars, but the fact is that these cars were going anything from 8 to 10 miles an hour faster on a lot of circuits and yet the rev limit was 1,000 rpm lower, so we were effectively running a much higher final drive ratio than we did with the Coventry Climax engine.

DP: Despite all this your car was quite competitive, and in the major races it was either you or Jochen almost every time.

JC: Yes, it was more Jochen than me though. The car went fairly well at times, but I still think it needed quite a bit of work done on it. In the first part of the season I had the magnesium car. This handled very well- I still think it was the best handling car we had, but I was never able to get the brakes to work properly. We also had a bit of engine trouble at times, and I kept on having trouble with fuel surge on fast corners; we never really sorted that one out.

DP: In spite of all this, don't you think it is a good Formula, at least for the spectators? 

JC: Yes, there has been some very good racing, and even though the cars all look alike they do go very quickly.

DP:  Why is it then that they don't attract big crowds?

JC: I think it's only in Britain that they don't attract big crowds. There have been big crowds at a lot of the Continental races, particularly in areas where they don't have many races, but there is so much racing in Britain that spectators get choosy and either go to Formula One events or to club meetings with lots of saloon car races.

DP: Finally, Jim, what are your plans for 1968?

JC: Well, nothing's settled yet, but I shall probably continue on much the same lines as in 1967, and just hope to win a few more races.

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