One of the changeless facts of sport is that champions, no matter how lovable they may seem to their mothers, wives and public, are the choicest of fair game to their fellow craftsmen. Give Mickey Mantle one wish and it would be to strike Sandy Koufax' best pitch so shrewdly that the ball would part his wavy hair on the way out of the park. Give one to a Grand Prix racing driver and it would be to drive Jimmy Clark, in a nice, motorized way, right off the course.
Last week, perhaps the best-armed band of Clarkhunters ever to take on the new world champion (SI, Oct. 7) beset him at Watkins Glen, N.Y. in the U.S. Grand Prix—and they got him. They got Clark because, by a ghastly stroke of bad luck, his racer would not start when everyone else's did. By the time Clark finally got going, he was an impossible lap and a half behind. By the end of the race, he was only a lap back of the winner, Britain's Graham Hill, who has suffered his own tribulations since winning the world drivers' title last year. Clark raced the fastest lap and, for a substantial part of the 253 miles, he was the quickest driver. But it was a happy, vindicated Graham Hill who drank the victory champagne.
As played by these sharp-toothed and heavy-footed men, the Grand Prix game consists of two days coffee-housing and one day racing. The Glen, a hamlet in New York's midstate Finger Lakes region, is a sort of shrine. It is the place where the American postwar road-racing revival began, and its racecourse, in rough, scenic country, is 2.3 miles of tight, tricky, rather bumpy motoring.
Last Friday, as the game began amid the scarlets and golds of The Glen's autumnal foliage, Clark was running scared. He had already put the 1963 championship out of his opponents' reach. His great natural talents—a rare, instinctive affinity for taking fast corners at the limit of tire adhesion and competitive, crash-proof courage—were intact. Yet he drove his fierce grass-green Lotus-Climax racer through trials as if he had it all to prove for the first time. There were two reasons for his haste: his pride, and the fact that the elite among his friendly enemies were taking the trials apart.
Plainspoken Reg Parnell, manager of Britain's Lola racing team, poked a finger toward a cherry-red Ferrari from Italy and said, "The winner might be right there." It was the racer of his countryman Johnny Surtees, former world champion motorcycle rider and winner of this year's German Grand Prix. "Surtees will make the rest hurry and no mistake," he said. "He is completely dedicated to racing, and he will be the world champion one day. Count on it." Surtees could have won Sunday, but on the 82nd of 110 laps he had engine trouble and was forced out of the race while running first.
In truth, there probably was more talent in the field of drivers, pound for pound, than any before. It included no fewer than four champions past and present: Clark, Hill (1962), America's Phil Hill (1961) and Australia's Jack Brabham (1959, 1960).
The cars were as formidable. For the first time this year, the majority of the first-rate ones were reasonably healthy. It had been a season of awful attrition. "This," said Rob Walker of Scotland, patron of a private team ( Joakim Bonnier driving a Cooper-Climax), "was the year of engine unreliability." Gremlins got into Britain's Coventry-Climax and BRM V-8s and, with a nice impartiality, into Italy's Ferrari and ATS units as well. Clark, fortunately for his championship run, was spared—until The Glen—but he deserved such luck after his many mechanical breakdowns of the past. In Germany, minus one of eight cylinders, he gave Surtees a whale of a struggle, capturing second place.
At The Glen the BRMs of Graham Hill and America's Richie Ginther were so strangely fast in practice that Team Manager Tony Rudd sniffed about for rats. Followers of racing will recall that Hill won last year's championship on BRM reliability. This season the BRMs have reverted to the kind of fragility for which they were notorious. "I don't think there is any doubt," Rudd said, "that the Lotus was fastest last year. But it was unreliable. Now the Lotus is reliable, and that's torn it. We are going very quickly here, but I can't bring myself to believe that means we have actually caught up with the Lotuses. I suspect that the Lotuses haven't been working properly."
When they were not talking speed, The Glen's dedicated types discussed hardware and styles in chassis. You are out of it around the racecourses these days if you cannot speak knowledge-ably about monocoque and space-frame chassis. This is because Colin Chapman has a monocoque that works, and all other builders are going to feel underprivileged until they possess one, too.
Monocoque is a highfalutin word for single-unit and, as translated by Chapman, it means a chassis-frame made of super-light metal boxes. To oversimplify, the Lotus resembles a banana that has been halved lengthwise, with the pieces spread apart. The driver sits, roughly, amidships, with his legs between the forward elements, which also serve as fuel tanks. The engine is aft. This design produces a car lighter, smaller and stiffer, more resistant to flexing, than the older space-frame racers, and since these are all extremely desirable qualities in racing cars, everybody wants a monocoque. The hitch is that monocoques are tricky and expensive to perfect, while anyone, it seems, can build a pretty good space-frame car, the main feature of which is a three-dimensional frame of small-diameter tubing.