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Jim Clark 50th anniversary of death: An unsolved accident

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Jim Clark 50th anniversary of his death
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E there are news, you know decades later, where you were when you heard it. On April 7, 1968, a report that initially no one could believe shook the motorsport world. Jim Clark was dead, died at the age of 32 in a Formula 2 race in Hockenheim. I found out about it on the news the night of the accident and thought it was a hoax. The same Jim Clark was a guest at Current Sports Studio the night before. He couldn't possibly be dead.

Jim Clark was considered invulnerable even in these dangerous times. And then he died in a car with only 230 hp and a top speed of 260 km /h, on a practically straight line. Chris Amon, who also competed in this race, said after the death report: 'If Jimmy gets caught, none of us will be safe.'

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A few months before the fatal accident, Jim Clark had his 25th Formula 1 race in South Africa won.

Clark was an icon. One who ruled a whole generation. Even among colleagues, there was no one who denied that. If there was one weakness at all, it was that he lacked the technical understanding to give bad cars a boost. Lotus boss Colin Chapman said that his foster son masked problems with his driving class. Only when it got really bad did the exceptional pilot put the car into overdrive. Just like that fateful day at Hockenheim when he was already 30 seconds behind the front when it happened.

Clark was the legitimate successor to Juan-Manuel Fangio. Only three months before his death, the Scot had replaced the great Argentine in the ranking of GP victories. After hisWith a superior triumph at the South African GP, ​​one could almost certainly assume that Clark would have become world champion for the third time after 1963 and 1965. What he was denied, his teammate Graham Hill did. With his title in 1968 he released the Lotus team from its trauma. Clark had never driven for another team in Formula 1.

Bernie Ecclestone remembers the greatest of the 1960s only vaguely: “I didn't know Jimmy as well as Jochen Rindt. He was a normal guy with no big ego. He didn't even know how good he was. Jimmy was always relaxed, never under pressure, and neither did he. He was the best driver and he was always in the best cars. As with Senna, Clark couldn't imagine being injured in an accident. ”

Only two eyewitnesses to the Clark accident

Little was known about the introverted farmer's son from the Scottish county of Berwickshire. His death was just as mysterious as he was. He finally raised the two-time world champion and Indy 500 winner from 1965 to legendary status, something that later only happened to Ayrton Senna. But Senna died live in front of an audience of millions in living rooms around the world. There were only two marshals as eyewitnesses for Clark's accident at 12:39 p.m. on this gray spring day in Hockenheim.

Eisele
After the accident, the Clark-Lotus was scattered in many parts in the Hockenheim forest.

The cause of the accident has not yet been clarified. Many theories have been discussed, none of which have been substantiated with evidence. A broken suspension, a defective steering, misfiring, aquaplaning, an evasive maneuver: there is little for and much against. Of all the assumptions, the rear right tire failure is still the most likely. Airplane crash expert Peter Jowett, hired to investigate the Lotus wreck, had found a cut on the tread. Perhaps caused by metal splinters as a remnant of many engine bursts. Clark ran the engine twice during training himself.

The wreck was discovered by Chapman in a night and fog action over a small BelgianBorder crossing taken out of the country and later destroyed in the factory. The Mannheim public prosecutor dropped the case after just one day because there was obviously no third-party fault.

It was not until November 1968 that it became active again for five months after an American reported that children might be ran across the track and would have forced Clark into an evasive maneuver. The story turned out to be baseless because the two marshals on site stated that they had a 300 meter view and that they should have seen such an incident.

Problems with Clark-Lotus

Clark traveled from Barcelona to Paris. The city on the Seine had been his adopted home for tax reasons for a year. Matra boss Claude le Guezec gave a party in which, in addition to Clark, Henri Pescarolo and Jochen Rindt also took part. After he had quickly sold his Lotus Elan to his friend, the journalist Gérard Crombac, Clark flew to Hockenheim with his Piper Twin Comanche.

Trouble awaited him there. The draft horse of the Germany Trophy didn't like the unimaginative Hockenheimring, its Lotus bucked. There were problems with the road holding. Ignition and mixture preparation caused trouble. Clark turned twice in practice, only qualified for 7th place on the grid. A full 2.4 seconds behind Jean-Pierre Beltoise, who was fastest in training. Lotus colleague Graham Hill was even further down in 15th place. Which was proof enough that something was wrong with the two Lotus 48.

Of the 20 pilots who competed in Hockenheim at the time, nine are still alive today: Henri Pescarolo, Kurt Ahrens, Derek Bell, Max Mosley, Graeme Lawrence, Robin Widdows, Chris Irwin, Carlo Facetti, and Robert Lamplough. Neither of them saw the accident. Clark was driving alone at the time. Chris Irwin was quoted everywhere with a statement that he had vaguely seen a car spinning out of control 250 meters in front of him, but Colin Chapman later corrected in an English newspaper that the driver behind Clark was Robin Widdows acted.

Appearance by Jim Clark in the current sports studio

ZDF
After the appearance in the current sports studio, moderator Schneider said goodbye with the words 'broken neck and leg'.

The tragedy of the event was exaggerated by the fact that Jim Clark was presented to an audience of millions on his last day on German television. The current ZDF sports studio was still a quota provider at the time. A mandatory appointment at 9:55 p.m. on Saturday evening.

Because the TV broadcaster wanted a racing car in the studio, but Clark didn't want to do without his dodgy Lotus, Kurt Ahrens was asked to accompany the superstar. With his Brabham BT23C. Ahrens had qualified for the front row. We bring his memories of the last two days in Jim Clark's life to episode 2 of our Clark Special on the 50th anniversary of his death.

So at 7 p.m. on Saturday, a three-way team formed in a 3.5 Liter Mercedes 280 on the way to Wiesbaden. “My friend Eckhard Schimpf was there too. He spoke English well and had to interpret, ”says Ahrens, looking back. “We started out in overalls because ZDF wanted to present us that way.”

We have sketched out the almost 14-minute performance of the two racing drivers for you in the exact wording and will be showing it in the third episode of our series . It's a piece of television history. Up to the farewell to presenter Werner Schneider, who wishes his two guests a 'broken neck' for the race. 15 hours later, the saying for Clark became macabre reality.

Three liters of oil for a handful of dollars

On the drive home to Hockenheim, the trio was almost stopped by an engine failure. “Suddenly we heard a noise and the performance suddenly dropped. We knew immediately that a camp had hit. Then we are at 30 km /h to the next gas station in Pfungstadt. We urgently needed oil, but had no German money in our pockets. Jimmy pulled out a wad of dollars. The gas station attendant did not want to accept the foreign bills. We explained to him that Jim Clark was in the car and that we were coming from the gym. He just said, if this is Jim Clark, then I'm Cassius Clay. He only softened when we gave him three times the price. '

Ahrens and Schimpf put Clark downat around 2.30 a.m. at the Luxhof in Speyer. “We apologized for the engine problem with him. He just laughed and said: Never mind, it wasn't your fault. I even knew that a Mercedes couldn't break down. ”

On the morning of the race day, the guests of the Luxhof were woken up by the noise of engines. Mechanic David Sims drove the Lotus into the hotel parking lot to see if the ignition problems were resolved. Derek Bell, who drove a Brabham in the race, also has memories of that day. Clark told him fatalistically that if Bell showed up in his rearview mirror to lap him, he would make way. The youngster was still wondering: “What, I should lap the big Jimmy? That shows how big his problems with the car were. ”

Analysis of the course of the accident

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For some reason things didn't go smoothly at Lotus in Hockenheim.

The accident happened at 2.1 kilometers, a long way behind the first chicane, which was later installed there in response to Clark's death. The marshals Winfried Kolb saw the rear of the Lotus break out to the right, then catch a counterattack, make the same pendulum movement again before turning into the forest just three meters from the route bike. Clark resisted the accident for around 300 meters, only to finally leave the track at a 45 degree angle. When examining the engine, it turned out that Clark had stayed on the gas to the last.

When the lotus reached the damp grass, it cut down a fence, jumped over a small embankment and roughly hit half a meter high into the first tree with the left side of the cockpit at shoulder height. “A beech tree as thick as a thigh”, remembers the photographer Werner Eisele, who was the first to arrive at the scene of the accident after the marshals.

What he saw was like a plane crash. There must have been at least three hits with different trees before the Lotus 48's torso came to a stop behind another group of trees. The front section had been separated as well as the engine and transmission. The debris was scattered 40 meters. It is strange that the cockpit rear wall is completeRoll bar was separately in front of the wreck. Normally it should have been connected to the chassis or hung on the engine.

Clark was thrown out through the open rear cockpit and found upside down on the forest floor, his legs still half in the chassis. In Formula 2, you still drove without seatbelts back then. There was still a shoe and his watch in the cockpit. While the marshals turned Clark on his back, Eisele ran to a field telephone and informed the race management, who immediately sent an ambulance to the scene of the accident.

Clark was probably dead on the spot, but was still in by the ambulance brought to Heidelberg University Hospital, where, among other things, a neck fracture and a skull base fracture were found. The photographer couldn't believe it when he was later told that Clark had died in the accident: “To me it looked like he was sleeping. I couldn't see any external injuries. ”

No files and a missing film

Three minutes later, three men showed up, among them the then Porsche racing director Huschke von Hanstein. They asked the photographer to hand over the film to them. When the Lotus troop and Graham Hill showed up in the break between the two runs to recover the wreck, Eisele took a few photos of the accident site.

In the meantime Josef Reinhard, the father of auto, had also arrived motor and sport photographer Daniel Reinhard. The Swiss was the only one who photographed the wreck in color. The photographers helped to collect debris. When Eisele put a five by five centimeter part of the nose of the Lotus 48 into Graham Hill's hand, he only said, “Take it with you. In memory of Jimmy. ”Hill already knew the cruel truth. Eisele only found out about them in the paddock. “From then on I have a film tear. I don't even know how I got home. ”

Kurt Ahrens didn't notice any of this. In the lap of the accident, he had replaced Jean-Pierre Beltoise from the front. “I was ahead. It must have been the sixth lap when I see an ambulance and a policeman on the left. There was no sign of an accident. We weren't even shown the yellow flag. Maybe someone passed out there, I thought. In the following laps, more and more vehicles were added that were parked on the left. At some point the ambulance drove on the route. After the race in the paddock, I met my father. He asks me: what happened to Jim Clark? I asked back: What should be? The father again: Well, he's dead. At that moment I remembered the ambulance again. '

Somehow it fits all the mysteries about the invisible death of the legend that the investigation file in the Jim Clark case doesn't more can be found. The Mannheim public prosecutor's office was silent on our request. The film that the photographer Eiselehas been removed.

In the gallery we show you a few more pictures of the fateful Formula 2 race in Hockenheim and some private photos of Jim Clark from the auto motor und sport archive.

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