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Ranked! The legendary Jim Clark’s top 10 performances

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Apr 7, 2020, 2:35 PM

Formula 1 lost its benchmark driver of the era when double world champion Jim Clark was killed in a Formula 2 race at Hockenheim on 7 April 1968. The quiet Scot nevertheless left a lasting legacy, his 25 world championship victories from 72 starts is still enough for ninth on the all-time F1 wins list.

Clark was also successful in Indycar racing, sportscars and touring cars, so selecting his greatest races was always going to be tough, but here they are in reverse order

10: 1961 South African GP, East London

Jim Clark, Lotus 21-Climax

Jim Clark, Lotus 21-Climax

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Lotus 21 
Started: 1st 
Result: 1st

Stirling Moss was the undisputed world's best in 1961, pulling off some famous victories in inferior equipment, but Clark's performances at the end of the season showed that things were changing. Clark's Lotus 21 had beaten the older 18/21 model of Moss in the Natal Grand Prix earlier in the month, but the East London race stepped things up a notch.

Poleman Clark and team-mate Trevor Taylor led away, but Moss was soon into second and took the lead when Clark spun avoiding another car. Now Clark charged, despite sustaining gearbox damage, lapping faster than his pole time, and Moss was powerless to stop him coming through to win.

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"Moss pulled in behind Clark and tried to stay in his slipstream but could not keep up with Clark's fast and furious driving and fell slowly, but surely, behind," read Autosport's report. "Clark demonstrated that the world championship is no pipe-dream for him."

Clark was a little more circumspect, though beating Moss was clearly a watershed: "I had the satisfaction of beating Stirling twice in two weeks, although, in all fairness, my car was newer than his," he wrote in his 1964 book, Jim Clark - At the wheel.

9. 1968 Australian GP, Sandown Park

Jim Clark, Lotus 49 Cosworth, Gold Leaf livery

Jim Clark, Lotus 49 Cosworth, Gold Leaf livery

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Lotus 49T 
Started: 3rd 
Result: 1st

Clark demonstrated an ability to withstand intense pressure from a potentially faster car in the hard-fought 1968 Australian GP.

It was a round of the Tasman Series, essentially a winter world championship in Australia and New Zealand. Clark had given the newly branded Gold Leaf Team Lotus (his Lotus 49T sporting the red, gold and white livery later seen in F1) a victory on its debut at the Lady Wigram Trophy the month before, but arrived leading Ferrari's Chris Amon by just three points in the standings.

Running the same DFW engine (the 2.5-litre version of the Cosworth DFV) he had already used in five Tasman races, Clark qualified third, behind Jack Brabham and Amon. It was a small field, but just 0.6 seconds covered the top five around the 1.9-mile circuit.

Crucially, Clark grabbed the lead at the start and immediately had to start defending from Amon. Brabham briefly joined them before retiring, but the pressure on Clark remained.

"Amon tried again and again but, although he repeatedly drew alongside the Lotus, he was unable to get past," read Autosport's report, which pointed out that Amon actually had his nose in front when they crossed the line on lap 33 of 55. "Clark could brake 20 yards or so after the Dino, and this always kept the Lotus in front."

Clark did open some breathing space, but Amon closed in towards the end, setting up a grandstand finish. "They crossed the line with the Ferrari's front wheels level with the Lotus's rears," Autosport continued. "A more exciting finish has seldom been seen in Australia."

The official winning margin was 0.1s. Not only had Clark withstood enormous pressure for over an hour, the result all but secured him his third Tasman crown.

8. 1963 French GP, Reims

Jim Clark, Lotus 25

Jim Clark, Lotus 25

Photo by: David Phipps

Lotus 25 
Started: 1st 
Result: 1st

Clark still has more 'grand slams' – win, pole, fastest lap and led every lap – than any other driver in world championship history. The 1963 French GP was his third, but that level of domination hid what was a challenging event for the Scot.

As was the norm that season, Clark took pole comfortably and pulled away from the field in the early stages. He led by 3s after lap one, but on lap 14 his Coventry Climax engine began to misfire, cutting his revs by an estimated 1500rpm.

"I suddenly felt the engine falter at high rpm," Clark wrote in his book. "I soon found that by drastically reducing my revs I could still maintain a reasonable lap time, but behind me Jack Brabham and Dan Gurney were steadily whittling down my lead.

"As if in answer to a prayer, it suddenly started to rain. On the damp track I now found that once again my lead began to increase, but the engine sounded so rough I still had doubts about finishing the race.

"The rain became heavier, and at this point turned into a liability instead of an asset, as my tyres were getting pretty bald – this was the fourth GP I had run with the same set and I was getting no tread drainage from them.

"Brabham began to catch up again but fortunately for me an ignition lead fell off and delayed him. This gave me the breather I needed to bring the ailing car home in first place."

Two broken valve springs were later found to be the cause, but Clark had still taken victory by over a minute.

7. 1963 Aintree 200

Jim Clark, Lotus 25

Jim Clark, Lotus 25

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Lotus 25 
Started: 1st 
Result: 3rd (and 7th)

This non-championship event was the scene of one of Clark's great comeback drives, after his polesitting fuel-injected Lotus 25 suffered a battery failure at the start (that’s him with his hand in the air on the right side of the front row).

Clark eventually got going, but the car wasn't right so he took over team-mate Trevor Taylor's fifth-placed sister 25 (running on Weber carburettors, not the fuel injection Clark used for much of 1963), a move that was no longer allowed in points-paying races.

Taylor had qualified sixth and took over Clark's fuel-injected Climax-engined machine to finish seventh, but his team leader was on a mission.

Autosport reckoned Clark rejoined 1m38s behind leader Graham Hill, but he charged to third, finishing 28.6s behind the victorious BRM driver. He also left the lap record 3.2s quicker than his fastest lap from the previous July's British GP, which he had dominated.

"The remarkable driving of Clark was something seldom seen since Stirling Moss left the arena," read Autosport's report. "He stole the limelight."

It was also an event Clark picked out in his book: "I had a great race catching up the field and smashing the lap record. I really enjoyed this race, more than a number of the grand prix events I was to drive in during the season."

6. 1965 British GP, Silverstone

Race winner Jim Clark, Lotus, receives the winners trophy with team boss, Colin Chapman on the podium

Race winner Jim Clark, Lotus, receives the winners trophy with team boss, Colin Chapman on the podium

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Lotus 33 
Started: 1st 
Result: 1st

Interestingly, Autosport described this as a "somewhat fortunate victory", although it also conceded Clark nursed "his sick motor round with great skill".

One of Clark's strengths was how easy he was on the machinery, which enabled him to coax results from Lotus boss Colin Chapman's sometimes fast-but-fragile cars, and the 1965 British GP was a fine example. Although Richie Ginther's Honda jumped ahead at the start, Clark was in front by the end of lap one and headed off into what looked like another decisive lead.

He was 36s ahead with 18 of the 80 laps to go, despite a small misfire, when his oil pressure started to drop dangerously low. Hill closed in, though he too was having difficulty with his BRM's brakes.

"Assessing the state of his engine and the overall race picture perfectly, Clark drove on the ignition switch, coasting through some corners in order to prevent oil surge running the bearings, while holding Hill at arm's length," wrote Graham Gauld in Jim Clark - Portrait of a Great Driver.

Clark held on to win by 3.2s, despite a lap record from Hill on the final tour.

5. 1965 Indianapolis 500

Jim Clark, Lotus-Ford, won Ford's first Indy 500 victory, and the first for a rear-engine car in the 500

Jim Clark, Lotus-Ford, won Ford's first Indy 500 victory, and the first for a rear-engine car in the 500

Photo by: Ford Motor Company

Lotus 38 
Started: 2nd 
Result: 1st

Clark's stunning 1963 Indianapolis 500 debut, where he was controversially beaten when the oil-leaking roadster of Parnelli Jones was not black-flagged, could have made this list. But it's arguably Clark's biggest win that gets the nod. Even he described it as: "Perfect, just as we planned it."

Although most of the runners were now rear-engined, the Len Terry/Chapman penned Lotus-Ford 38 was still cutting edge. And Clark always had an advantage over team-mate Gurney, who battled with Jones (now in Clark's 1964 Lotus 34, known as the Agajanian Hurst Special) before retiring.

Clark led lap one, was overtaken by poleman AJ Foyt in a modified Lotus 34 (Sheraton Thompson Special) on lap two and retook control on lap three. Thereafter, apart from pitstops, Clark dominated the race, pulling clear of the rest. Foyt retired after 115 laps with transmission trouble, but was nearly a lap behind by then.

Clark only made two stops (19.8s and 24.7s - among the fastest of the race), aided by a new and more efficient fuel injection system. Jones was hobbled by a lack of fuel in the closing stages, only just staving off Mario Andretti for second and leaving Clark to win by almost two minutes. The Scot smashed the race record, becoming the first to average over 150mph for the 500 and the first Indy winner to use a rear-engined machine.

"Clark was by far and away the best driver present," said Autosport's Michael Kettlewell. "Even the rather staid New York Times compared his driving talent with that of Stirling Moss and Juan Manuel Fangio."

The performance also earned Clark over $150,000, far more than he earned in F1.

4. 1967 Italian GP, Monza

Jim Clark, Lotus Ford

Jim Clark, Lotus Ford

Photo by: Sutton Images

Lotus 49 
Started: 1st 
Result: 3rd

This is often cited as Clark's finest drive – indeed, some have suggested it is the greatest F1 drive of all time.

The basic facts are thus. Clark took pole and engaged in a classic slipstreaming battle with team-mate Hill and the Brabhams of Denny Hulme and Jack Brabham early on. Then, on lap 13 of 68, he pitted with a puncture and resumed just over a lap behind the lead fight.

Clark caught the trio and eventually made his way through, giving Hill a helpful tow along the way. Both then raced clear and, when Hill retired with 10 laps to go, Clark had victory in his sights.

He overtook leader Brabham and seemed destined to take a remarkable win when the Lotus spluttered with fuel starvation in the closing miles, dropping Clark back to third. Autosport called it an "amazing drive" and Chapman was later to pick it out as one of Clark's best.

It was clearly a great drive, so, why isn't it number one here? A bit more delving into this race explains its position.

Firstly, the Lotus 49 was much faster than everything else once it arrived in 1967. From its debut at the Dutch GP, the Cosworth DFV-engined car was on pole for every round. At high-speed Spa, Clark qualified 3.1s faster than the next car.

Looking at supertimes (based on the fastest single lap of each car at each race weekend, expressed as a percentage of the fastest lap overall and averaged over the season), the gap between the 49 and the second-fastest car was 1.217% across 1967. To put that into perspective, the margin between Mercedes and Ferrari in 2017 was 0.178%, with third-placed Red Bull 0.873% behind the Silver Arrows. In '09, the entire field was covered by 1.241%.

On raw pace, the 49 was the most dominant car of the 1960s and the 10th most dominant in the history of the world championship. And the 400bhp Cosworth DFV gave the Lotus a useful power advantage when it came to overtaking.

Lotus drivers Jim Clark and Graham Hill with Walter Hayes, public relations executive for Ford

Lotus drivers Jim Clark and Graham Hill with Walter Hayes, public relations executive for Ford

Photo by: Rainer W. Schlegelmilch

At Monza, only the Brabham-Repcos could get close and Graham Hill's race underlines the 49's true form that weekend. Hill was one of the few top-level team-mates Clark had during his Lotus career. Having run in the leading group during the early stages, Hill took control after Clark's pitstop.

He overtook Hulme, beginning to show the signs of engine trouble, for the lead on lap 28 and finally broke the tow, initially with the just-unlapped Clark's help. Now the lead went up remarkably quickly. From 2.4s at the end of lap 29, Hill's lead read as follows for the next 10 successive laps: 5.2s, 9.7s (boosted by problems for Hulme), 12.2s, 14.8s, 16.7s, 18.1s, 20.8s, 22.2s, 24.3s, 26.1s.

More important is Hill's gap over Clark once he hit the front. At the end of lap 28, Hill's advantage over Clark was 1m27.5s. Clark had already taken 10s back while Hill battled Hulme and Brabham, but thereafter the pace of the two 49s was very similar.

By the end of lap 58 - the final one before Hill's engine failed – Clark was 1m25.3s behind the leader. Admittedly, Clark had needed to overtake cars for position, but the advantage of the 49 made that relatively straightforward and Hill had been working his way through backmarkers too. The fact that Clark towed Hill along for some of the distance also shows he was the pacesetter, but Hill kept up. Over those 30 laps after Hill took the lead, Clark had gained just 2.2s on his team-mate, an average of less than 0.1s per lap.

Hulme, the closest challenger to Lotus that day, was already out. So, when Hill retired, Clark crossed the line at the end of lap 59 just 3.7s behind new leader Brabham, having overtaken John Surtees (Honda). Clark was on Brabham's tail the next time through and was 1.5s ahead at the end of lap 61, apparently on his way to a famous win before being cruelly denied.

Clark himself did not believe the drive was his best. In 'Jim Clark - Portrait of a Great Driver' by Graham Gauld, journalist Gerard Crombac, who was a close friend of Clark's, even suggested that he was irritated the race was held in such high regard.

"One thing which upset him was all the fuss, and the praise he got, after his fruitless 1967 Italian GP," said Crombac. "He was hailed as the world's greatest then, but in his mind he had done nothing exceptional in this race. He did not think that Monza is a driver's circuit; if his team-mate hadn't blown up he could not have caught up with him, and in any case, he knew that he just had a better car than anybody else."

The 1967 Italian GP certainly stands as testament to Clark's determination, and any time someone comes from a lap down to lead a GP is remarkable. But this particular race, at Monza, a circuit on which it's hard for drivers to make a difference, says more about the way the Lotus 49 moved the goalposts in F1 than it does about Clark's exceptional ability.

3. 1966 Dutch GP, Zandvoort

Jack Brabham, Brabham BT19 Repco, Denny Hulme, Brabham BT20 Repco, Jim Clark, Lotus 33 Climax

Jack Brabham, Brabham BT19 Repco, Denny Hulme, Brabham BT20 Repco, Jim Clark, Lotus 33 Climax

Photo by: Rainer W. Schlegelmilch

Lotus 33 
Started: 3rd 
Result: 3rd

Thanks to Chapman, Clark didn't often get the chance to demonstrate his ability to lift inferior machinery up the field, at least in F1. But the switch to three-litre regulations left Lotus in a bit of trouble when it came to engines.

Clark spent 1966 battling with two-litre Climax or unreliable BRM H16 power. His win in the United States GP with the BRM-engined Lotus 43 is well-known, but did require some misfortune of others. The Dutch GP at Zandvoort was different.

At a circuit where he often excelled, Clark took the fight to the more-powerful Brabham-Repco of Jack Brabham. After qualifying third, Clark battled the soon-to-be-triple world champion and the second Brabham of Hulme in the early stages, with Hill's BRM also in the mix.

"The struggle for the lead was making this the best Formula 1 race of the year," read Autosport's report, but Hulme soon dropped out with ignition problems and Hill started to fall back.

Still Brabham couldn't shake off Clark. "With a track made slippery by oil and rubber, the two-litre machine and Clark's inspired driving were more than a match for the three litres of Brabham-Repco," continued our report. "The world champion was driving impeccably and it was difficult to realise that he was giving away a litre of engine capacity."

Then Clark grabbed the lead at Tarzan on lap 27 of 90 and he even started to edge away. At one stage the Lotus was 10s ahead, but the Brabham closed in again going into the final third of the race.

On lap 76 Brabham took the lead as Clark pitted with steam pouring from the radiator. A crankshaft vibration damper had broken and fouled a water line. Water was added and Clark still finished third, scoring the first of his two 1966 world championship podiums, but any hopes of a grandstand finish had gone.

2. 1963 Belgian GP, Spa

Jim Clark, Lotus

Jim Clark, Lotus

Photo by: David Phipps

Lotus 25 
Started: 8th 
Result: 1st

Clark was one of the all-time rainmasters and this was one of F1's greatest wet-weather performances. Following several fatalities that took place on his early visits to Spa, Clark didn't like the fast 8.8-mile circuit, but he invariably excelled there and ultimately won four Belgian GPs.

The second came despite qualifying only eighth thanks to oversteer and gearbox problems, and more issues in the race.

Initially, things went well. Clark made a sensational getaway to grab the lead before Eau Rouge. "Clark made one of those picture starts: from the third row he was in first spot long before the end of the pits," wrote Gregor Grant in Autosport's report.

Hill's BRM initially stayed with Clark, but the Lotus soon started to edge away in the damp conditions. After five laps he was eight seconds ahead. When gearbox troubles ended Hill's race just after half distance of the 32-lapper, Clark's lead became a minute and a half.

On lap 24, the event became a fully wet race when the heavens opened, complete with lightning. Lap times went from four minutes to more than six minutes and Clark's lead grew yet further. Conditions were so bad that Chapman and BRM's Tony Rudd called for the race to be stopped. Their request was refused.

At one stage, Clark lapped second-placed Bruce McLaren, but the Cooper got back ahead so that the Lotus's winning margin was 'only' 4m54s.

"I enjoy driving in the wet, but this was Spa and I kept well within my limits," Clark wrote in his 1964 book. "It started dropping out of top [gear] and at Spa this is not funny."

It made the challenging Masta kink, which the Lotus 25 was taking at around 150mph, even more perilous.

"As I approached the kink I would be holding the gear lever in place with my right hand and moving my left hand down to the bottom of the steering wheel," added Clark.

"I did this because the car has a tendency on this kink to move from one side of the road to the other and I often needed correction. By keeping my hand low on the wheel I could twirl the steering round with one hand and hold the slide."

Cedric Selzer, one of Clark's mechanics, reckoned the effort was one of his best. "Jimmy had driven a fair bit of the race one-handed, while holding the gear lever in top with the other," he said in 'If You Have Come Second You Have Lost'. "This was an amazing effort and probably one of the all-time great grand prix drives."

To put the conditions into perspective, Clark's winning speed was just 116mph, the slowest Belgian GP since 1953, when the world championship was run to Formula 2 regulations.

Autosport was not impressed: "To continue the race in conditions which were not only appalling but highly dangerous was a vexing problem for the organisers. The sight of the unfortunate survivors touring round almost blinded by spray, and vanishing in the murky mists that descended on the Ardennes, was not Autosport's idea of a sporting contest."

1.   1962 German GP, Nurburgring

Jim Clark, Lotus 25

Jim Clark, Lotus 25

Photo by: David Phipps

Lotus 25 
Started: 3rd 
Result: 4th

Clark did not even finish on the podium in the race that takes our top spot, but it did take place on the world's greatest circuit. The 14.2-mile Nurburgring was one of Clark's favourites, and the drive he singled out as his best began with a mistake.

He qualified on the front row, behind Gurney's Porsche and the BRM of Hill, but forgot to switch his fuel pumps on at the start and was swamped. In tricky wet conditions, he began a fightback in which he pushed his own limits.

"I felt so annoyed sitting there in a silent car as the rest of the field roared away," said Clark in 'Jim Clark - At the wheel'. "I realised my mistake immediately and, having corrected it, I set off in hot pursuit determined to make amends for my unforgivable blunder.

"I was well behind, but passed about 10 cars on the opening lap. I got up to fourth and within sight of the leaders, before a serious slide made me realise I was stepping too near the limit, and I decided that I would have to be content with fourth."

Clark had got to within 14s of leader Hill - himself putting in one of his best drives in a battle with Gurney and Surtees - before backing off and the Lotus started suffering from fuel-feed trouble in any case.

He eventually finished 42.1s behind Hill, but in 'Jim Clark - Portrait of a Great Driver', Crombac wrote: "In Jimmy's mind, the best race he ever did was the 1962 German GP. This was probably the only race when he drove at ten-tenths throughout, and the fact that he hadn't been praised for it was a severe criticism of most journalists."

Chapman, who masterminded all of Clark's GP successes, agreed: "He felt, rightly or wrongly, that he had made a mistake and it was up to him to put it right. He drove fantastically well that day."

Jim Clark, Lotus 25

Jim Clark, Lotus 25

Photo by: David Phipps

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Series Formula 1
Author Kevin Turner