The Greatest Almost-Win: Clark

Jim Clark’s performance in the 1967 Italian Grand Prix is disqualified from our list on one crucial point – he didn’t win the race. But he came so close, and his drive was so spectacular, that it deserves passing a brief tribute.

Clark had taken the pole but was edged out by Dan Gurney’s Eagle-Westlake at the start. Gurney only led for two laps before relinquishing the lead and then retiring on lap four. Clark traded the lead with Hulme until lap 13, the two slipstreaming each other and pulling past on different laps.

But suddenly, Clark dropped back and pulled into the pits to replace a punctured tyre. No ultra-rapid tyre stops in 1967 – the stop cost him a lap and left him 15th, while Denny Hulme, Jack Brabham and team-mate Graham Hill disappeared with the lead.

With no alternative, Clark pushed. Hard. If Juan Manuel Fangio’s recovery at the Nurburgring ten years earlier illustrated how a top driver can make a car flow and drift between tortuously tight corners, Clark’s flat-out push at Monza, averaging at 233.9 kph (145.3 mph) was about marrying awesome bravery with massive speed. By lap 58, somehow, he was second, and still drawing in team-mate Hill.

Clark and Hill’s Lotus 49s were the class leaders in outright pace, but they had proved fragile. And so they did on that lap for Hill, who cruised to a halt, his Cosworth DFV engine blown. Clark, sensationally, was now first. First, from a whole lap behind the leader.

But, cruelly, it wasn’t to last. On the final lap, with Brabham and John Surtees bearing down, Clark’s fuel tank clicked empty, and as they ran towards the final curve for the last time, his two rivals shot past him. Clark rolled across the line in third.

That was it for Clark’s championship aspirations in 1967. It was one mechanical frustration too many, and Denny Hulme would go on to take the title. More championships than Clark’s two from 1963 and 1965 would surely have been forthcoming, had he not been killed in an obscure Formula Two race at Hockenheim the following year.

It may not have been a ‘greatest win’, but it was surely the greatest missed win.

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