Jim Clark’s Terrible First Experience at Spa Francorchamps

The following story takes place at the Belgian Grand Prix of 1960 and details, in his own words, Jim Clark’s unfortunate first encounter with the Spa Francorchamps circuit. Clark would score his first World Championship points at this race, but later admitted that he never enjoyed racing on the high-speed track, a venue he believed too dangerous for such high-speed vehicles as open-wheel Grand Prix cars.

Warning: This passage contains images of a graphic nature.

…There was only a week to catch my breath before Spa, for again John Surtees was missing and I took his place. This race at Spa, like my first on that circuit, will stay with me forever for this was one of the most tragic races in which I have competed, and if ever any one race gave me thoughts of retiring it was this one. There was a jinx on it from start to finish.

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Firstly, Stirling Moss had one of the biggest crashes of his career in the Lotus when he broke a rear hub at about 130mph on Burneville. The car spun round and round throwing Stirling out and breaking both his legs, and his nose, and crushing some vertebrae. But more was to follow. Still in practice, Michael Taylor’s Lotus went off the road when his steering wheel and he, too, landed in hospital, so you can imagine how I felt. Two Lotuses in trouble made me think. Of course the one thing a driver fears is a mechanical fault in a car – something which is not under his control. You never doubt your own ability, but when there is any doubt about what the car is going to do it really unnerves me.

However, if practice had been clouded by these accidents more was to come in the race. Spa is a fast circuit with a lap speed averaging over 130mph. You cannot afford to make a mistake and if you do you are very lucky to escape without something to show for it. I was put off balance right at the start for my car was still being put on the fourth row of the grid when the starter suddenly dropped his flag. There were still mechanics around me and Lucien Bianchi, who was driving a Cooper, stalled his engine while not trying to run my mechanics over.

Innes got a good s tart and tucked his lotus in behind Jack Brabham’s cooper. I was second from last, last man being Chuck Daigh in one of Lance Reventlow’s Scarabs, and Alan Stacey was in front of me. Phil Hill in his Ferrari passed Innes and then Innes came into the pits with clutch slip. That was enough to put him to the back of the field for everyone was going flat out.

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I managed to gain a little bit but Innes came up behind me after

his stop and shot past. I thought I had nothing to lose if I slipstreamed him so I tucked in and we both passed Alan and left him behind. Then Innes went back to the pits and I had to call in to have my carburetor-jets cleaned out. When he went out again Innes had a most marvelous spin coming back up the hill through one of the very fast curves where you can drop off the edges of the road and land down on the tops of the trees.

He managed to keep some semblance of control of the car and kept it on the road as it spun round and round about five times. He was so furious with himself that he dropped it into bottom gear and let the clutch in. The wheels were spinning round and round like made for he had let the clutch in far too quickly, but he thought he had clutch slip again. So he started fiddling round in the cockpit. Suddenly the wheels gripped when the car was pointing sharp right and he shot off the road and down the bank.

The funny thing was that you could see all this from the marks on the tracks. As you came to the corner there were these black marks criss-crossing in figures of eight all the way up the road where his car had gone round and round and then about twenty yards farther on there were two black marks and then a sharp sigzag off the track and nothing else to be seen.

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The next lap round and irate and very steamy looking Innes had reappeared and was standing by the side of the road cursing his luck.

But if I laughed at poor Iness’ plight, a few laps later I was almost put off racing completely, for I was the first to arrive on the scene at Burneville when Chris Bristow was killed in his Cooper. Chris was a very keen young driver who was one of Stirling’s protégés, and he tried very hard indeed in every race in which he competed. In this race, he was driving one of the Yeoman Credit team Cooper Climaxes and was in the midst of a tremendous battle with Willie Mairesse, who was having his first Grand Prix drive in a Ferrari. Mairesse has a similar temperament to Bristow in that he went into racing hell for leather. Coming down the hill, I heard, Bristow got himself over on the outside of the bend and in the wrong line. He tried to get the car across to the other side but lost control completely. The car rolled over and over, killing him instantly before throwing his body out on the circuit. Mairesse just missed being involved in this ghastly crash.

I came bustling down behind them and no one had any flags out to warn me of what was round the corner. I saw a marshal suddenly dash out on the road, waving his arms and trying to stop me, and the next thing I saw was another marshal run from the far side of the road. I remember thinking, ‘where is he going?’, and then he bent down and grabbed this thing by the side of the road. It looked just like a rag doll. It was horrible and I’ll never forget the sight of his mangled body being dragged to the side. I was almost sick on the spot. I remember at the end of the racing finding that my car was spattered with blood, and this put me off completely.

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Pictures 1 & 2: Jim Clark at the 1960 Belgian Grand Prix.

Picture 3: Jack Brabham on his way to victory.

Picture 4 (Above): Left to right – Colin Chapman, Innes Ireland, Jim Clark and Alan Stacey. The latter would lose his life during the Grand Prix.

I was unable to verify the ownership of photographs 1 through 3. Picture 4 was found hosted on author Gerald Donaldson’s website (www.f1speedwriter.com)

Passage taken from Jim Clark’s 1965 autobiography “Jim Clark At The Wheel”.

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