Le Mans and Canada

What a weekend’s motor racing; a close finish at Le Mans and an epic drive by Jenson Button from 21st place to win the Grand Prix of Canada. Eurosport’s TV commentators cheerfully admitted they weren’t born the last time Le Mans was that close. Well, it was 1969 and it was 1.5sec or so, against a yawning 14sec this year. It was not quite the first time a driver has come from last to first in a grand prix. Jim Clark did not win the Italian Grand Prix of 1967 but like Button’s drive yesterday, it was perhaps his best race ever. Button won on almost the last corner. Clark lost.

Ickx and Oliver snatch victory in tight finish

From ERIC DYMOCK : Le Mans, June 15: The Guardian

Amid scenes of excitement almost unprecedented in motor racing, Jacky Ickx of Belgium and Jackie Oliver of England won the Le Mans 24 hour race today on the Circuit of the Sarthe. In the final hours they raced neck-and-neck with the survivor of the German Porsche team, driven by Herrman and Larrouse, for one of the most prestigious wins in the whole 47-year history of the race.

Incredibly, the two cars battled wheel-to-wheel for the final two hours, the Slough-based, Gulf-sponsored Ford snatching victory through reliability in the face of the German team’s superior speed. Porsche led until 11 o’clock this morning and with 21 hours of high speed running behind them, the car driven by by Vic Elford and Richard Attwood looked sure to win, with its team-mate, the German-crewed Lins-Kauhsen car, in second place. Then, within the space of 20 minutes, both cars failed with transmission trouble.

Porsche still take the annual world manufacturers’ championship, but the Ford GT 40, the same car with which Pedro Rodriguez and the late Lucien Bianchi won this race last year, battled to the finish against the remaining fragment of Porsche s most determined effort to win Le Mans…

With the final refuelling stops between midday and the end of the race at 2 p.m., the Porsche and the Ford closed on each other. When the Ford called at its pit, the Porsche passed. Then the Porsche refuelled for the last time and, with Herrman and Ickx driving, the two cars went round the 8½mile course with first one in front, then the other.

Two cars still racing after 23 hours is like extra time in a Cup Final or winning the Open on the last green. The enclosures were packed to capacity and the crowd in a ferment as the two cars sped round, cropping fractions from their lap times, out-braking each other for the corners. They caught up momentarily on Mike Hailwood in the second GT 40, who was fighting off the Beltoise-Courage Matra for third place and might have detained the Porsche to take pressure off Ickx.

Victory in the tyre war was at stake, with the Porsche Dunlop and the Ford on Firestone, and the fuel giants battled it out with the Porsche on Shell, and the Ford on Gulf. The Ford won virtually by a decimal place - a tenth of a kilometre, or a second-and-a-half - after 5,000 kilomctres of racing.

I took this picture of the start at Monza from the press tribune at the top of the grandstand. Clark (Lotus-Ford 49) is on pole on this side of the track, Brabham (Brabham Repco V8) in the middle, Bruce McLaren (McLaren BRM V12) on the outside. (Chris Amon (Ferrari V12) and Dan Gurney (Eagle-Weslake V12) are on the second row. Eventual winner John Surtees (Honda V12) is on row 4.

Jim Clark led the Italian Grand Prix of 1967, lost a lap in the pits, then caught up the entire field by overtaking every other car, some twice. It was an unimaginable accomplishment unique in modern grand prix racing. Effectively he raced a full lap ahead of everyone else up till the last lap when his car faltered for lack of fuel. It was an astounding display in an era when cars were closely matched and races decided in terms of a few seconds, on a circuit famous for close racing and yards-apart finishes. Once again Clark displayed that enormous faculty he had for self-control: outwardly calm, inwardly burning with a source of energy that improved his performance with every peak on the graph of indignation or frustration or whatever his motivation was. These were the occasions when he was able to show the world just how much ability he held in reserve, to the despair of his competitors.

Monza was nearly a famous victory, but his fuel pumps failed to collect the final few gallons in the bottom of the tanks. At first he blamed Colin Chapman, and after the crowds had stopped mobbing the winner, John Surtees in a Honda, and himself as the moral victor, he rounded on Chapman for miscalculating the fuel required for the race.

His soaring adrenalin level left Chapman the victim of a tongue-lashing that revealed a side of Clark rarely seen in public. Ten years before when the Berwick and District Motor Club had, as he saw it, cheated him out of a proper acknowledgement of his skill, he had had to defer to its authority. Now the authority was his and Jim Clark was very, very cross.

from: Jim Clark, Tribute to a Champion Now available as an ebook from Waterstones or on Amazon Kindle