THE SEC­OND COM­ING?

The school­boy who shares a car, and a name, with a rac­ing great. By Jack Cozens

Motor Sport News - - Profile: Clarke -

One of Bri­tain’s most fa­mous rac­ing names from his­tory won a tour­ing car race in a Ford Lo­tus Cortina at the Oul­ton Park Gold Cup last year. Well, sort of.

The late Jim Clark was part of a gen­er­a­tion of driv­ers just keen to go rac­ing in what­ever they could. In a time be­fore com­plex con­trac­tual clauses and crammed cal­en­dars, Clark reg­u­larly switched be­tween all sorts of cars – from the Lo­tus 25s and 33s in which he claimed the 1963 and ’65 For­mula 1 World Cham­pi­onships to the Cortina with which he con­tested the Bri­tish Sa­loon Car Cham­pi­onship – be­fore his death at the wheel of an F2 car at Hock­en­heim in 1968.

In an age where driv­ers are per­haps more con­ser­va­tive than they’ve ever been in terms of try­ing new cars (though ad­mit­tedly that’s a trend that slowly ap­pears to be chang­ing) it’s per­haps fit­ting then that a name­sake of Clark’s is start­ing to build­ing a rep­u­ta­tion – no thanks to the unconventional mix of cars he’s raced.

Step for­ward James Clarke. Named after the dou­ble F1 world cham­pion – al­beit with an added ‘e’ – and just 16, Clarke is one of a batch of young driv­ers build­ing his pro­file. His first steps in rac­ing came in the Ju­nior Sa­loon Car Cham­pi­onship – though Clarke ad­mits the tran­si­tion from karts to cars was some­thing that he had ini­tially over­looked.

“My dad was al­ways into rac­ing,” says Clarke. “His dad lived near Oul­ton so they’d al­ways go to watch Jim Clark in the Gold Cup. I guess I’d al­ways shown an in­ter­est, and when I was seven my dad took me down to a lo­cal kart track. That Christ­mas I got a kart, but I wasn’t eight un­til April. I turned eight on one Fri­day and was rac­ing on the Satur­day – pretty much as early as I could have. I did a cou­ple of club cham­pi­onships and then went to MSA kart­ing and worked up.

“My par­ents re­alised there was the op­por­tu­nity to go fur­ther and started look­ing into the next step be­fore I’d even thought about it. We knew we couldn’t af­ford Ginet­tas, and felt there wasn’t any point in go­ing down that route – it’d be ex­pen­sive and I’m not sure how much I’d have got out of it.

“That left Ju­nior Sa­loons or Fi­es­tas, and Ju­nior Sa­loons was the cheap­est. There was a taster day with Tock­with Motorsport, and I did that. I didn’t re­ally want to, if I’m hon­est; in my mind I thought with a good en­gi­neer we’d stay in karts. But as I got out the car, Dave [Beecroft, JSCC man­ager] turned to my par­ents and said ‘I think you guys are screwed’. He twigged how much I’d en­joyed it im­me­di­ately.”

While the Suf­folk teenager joined as a rookie, suc­cess came quickly and it soon be­came clear that his spell in the JSCC would not be a long one.

“After we’d won both races by quite a big mar­gin at Brands, we looked at things and said de­pend­ing on how the rest of it went it might not be worth an­other season [of JSCC],” he says. “We’d made a lot more progress than ex­pected. The aim was to try and get a podium by the end of it, but by round three we’d achieved that. We were only aim­ing for a top eight in the cham­pi­onship and we nearly won it.

“By the mid-season we were third and only four or five points off the lead. That re­ally made our minds up about 2016 – we worked out we needed to move on. By halfway through this year, I might well have out­grown it.”

The log­i­cal next step, then? The BARC Club­mans Cham­pi­onship, of course. With links to Beecroft and his Orex team, Clarke was leant a drive in the Catch­pole Mal­lock MK18BF 1600, mod­i­fied and raced by the late Au­tosport car­toon­ist Barry Fo­ley and his son Justin. There was method to the mad­ness, though, as he ex­plains.

“It’s not a par­tic­u­larly well-trod­den path,” he ad­mits. “[But] we wanted to move into some­thing ide­ally with slicks and wings that was rear-wheel drive that repli­cated a sportscar.

“We knew Dave ran Club­mans, so we went to watch them. As soon as I saw them go­ing round, I thought ‘oh, they’re nice’. And then I saw the times and I was a bit blown away by the fact that, de­pend­ing on class, they’re as fast as, or even faster, than a GT4 car.”

Clarke had to wait un­til round three at Rock­ing­ham to make his de­but, his April birth­day again caus­ing him some grief, but he made up for lost time over the re­main­der of the season – com­ing close to a de­but win at the Corby cir­cuit un­til he suf­fered brake fail­ure be­fore win­ning five races on the bounce.

Later in the year, he dove­tailed those ex­ploits with a run in the HSCC’S His­toric Tour­ing Car Cham­pi­onship in a Lo­tus Cortina at Brands Hatch, Croft and at Sil­ver­stone – with a deal that, once again, owed some thanks to Beecroft and his con­nec­tions.

“[His­torics] was never a plan – cer­tainly not in my mind. I knew the Cortina’s owner, John Kyle, and Dave and Orex had run the Cortina so I knew about it. I spoke to John who owned it and he sort of took an in­ter­est in me – though Dave said he only paid at­ten­tion at the start be­cause my name was ‘Jim’ Clarke!

“It wasn’t be­ing raced so it was sat gath­er­ing dust in a work­shop. It was some­thing where we thought maybe if the year goes well we can ask about do­ing some­thing at the end of the year, but after the early Club­mans suc­cess my dad asked if we could use it. John said we could, but it’s the same deal we had in Club­mans where we ba­si­cally rented the car.”

The highlight, though, came in Cheshire in late Au­gust when Clarke em­u­lated his name­sake after half a cen­tury and drove in the Gold Cup meet­ing in a Cortina – pro­duc­ing a great drive to grab a class win and sec­ond over­all in the sec­ond HTC event at Oul­ton. That didn’t mean there weren’t holes to pick in his per­for­mance, though.

“I knew it was a big week­end, and I al­ways get more ner­vous be­fore driv­ing the Cortina,” he says. “It might just go hand-in-hand with the fact that they’re big­ger meet­ings.

“I was a wreck be­fore race two, but got in the car and felt OK. When you’re in the car, your rac­ing brain takes over and I was think­ing in terms of when it would go right, rather than what if it goes wrong?

“Sure, I won my class in the sec­ond race, but I lost an­other podium at the Gold Cup [in race one]. It’s only now that the season’s fin­ished that I’m OK with it – for weeks af­ter­wards I was an­gry with my­self be­cause I felt like we had the pace to win over­all.

“But if I hadn’t made a mis­take [run­ning wide at Cas­cades in race one] I wouldn’t be sat here now be­ing able to pick out what went wrong and I wouldn’t know what to do next time. As a 16-year-old in a Cortina, I was al­ways go­ing to make a mis­take.”

His pre­vi­ous fear of out­grow­ing the JSCC clearly hasn’t ex­tended to his cur­rent ex­ploits, though, as next year Clarke will con­tinue in His­torics and Club­mans ( see Rac­ing News).

“They’re both great fun but for very Jbk jkkb kjkb dif­fer­ent rea­sons: The Mal­lock is great be­cause it does bkbkjk­bkjk­bex­actly what you want – you can carry so much speed through the corners with­out feel­ing un­com­fort­able – while the Cortina is the op­po­site and not great through the fast stuff. You have to re­ally fight it.”

But that’s not to say ei­ther is the end goal. Clarke is quick to recog­nise the im­por­tance of rac­ing in the two cat­e­gories, which could scarcely be more dif­fer­ent from one an­other, but he’s tem­pered en­thu­si­asm about his cur­rent re­sults with a de­sire to wait to be as­sessed in a few years’ time – when he hopes to be a ‘top driver’. And for some­one whose ca­reer has been so unconventional so far, it’s per­haps no sur­prise that one of his ul­ti­mate am­bi­tions lies far afield.

“The main goal would be Le Mans and en­durance rac­ing,” he says. “That’s why I’m stay­ing in Club­mans. LMP1 is the pin­na­cle of en­durance rac­ing, even if the cur­rent for­mula has some prob­lems.

“The series that I re­ally en­joy and would love to do is IMSA over in Amer­ica. I think some of the best driv­ers are there, they’re all fac­tory out­fits and they have some of the best tracks in the world.”

The way he’s cat­a­pulted through the ranks means there’s no head­line ti­tle suc­cess in cars, but Clarke’s record is still a re­mark­able one that marks him out as one to watch. ■

Clarke has also im­pressed in Cortina

Jim Clark driv­ing Cortina at Oul­ton Park in 1965

Clarke took break­through Club­mans wins at Brands

Sec­ond full rac­ing year was 2016

Pho­tos: LAT, Gary Hawkins, Steve Jones, Oliver Read

Teenager also raced Catch­pole car in Bir­kett Re­lay

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