jimmy clark at the indy 500
In the seven years that he competed at
the Indianapolis 500, Colin Chapman
created cutting edge cars that changed
the face of the race and how American
open-wheel teams thought about
power-to-weight ratio, pit stops, charging
into a corner and going fast on an oval.
All thanks to Daniel Sexton Gurney.
Gurney, the only American to ever drive
his own creation to an F1 victory (the 1967
Eagle), flew Chapman to the 1962 Indy 500
to get the lay of the land before convincing
Ford to build them an engine for 1963.
“I could see at that time that Colin was
the raciest designer and the cleverest, and
he was willing to create a car with a better
chance of winning than the rest of ’em,”
says Gurney, who teamed with Jimmy
Clark and Lotus at Indy in 1963 and ’ 64.
From the first Lotus 29 that Clark raced
to second place in ’ 63, followed by his
pole-winning Lotus 34 in ’ 64, came ’ 65’s
stunning Lotus 38 – a full monocoque
car with a special off-set layout designed
by Len Terry and Chapman.
“He fancied Indianapolis because it was
chapman’s seven-year itch
drive, turbine-powered, wedge Lotus 56 at
that year’s “500,” having been enthused by
its potential in a test at the Speedway, but
was killed in a Formula 2 race just weeks
before Opening Day at the Brickyard.
Mario Andretti began May of ’ 69 in
Chapman’s modified Lotus 56, the 64, but
totaled the car and suffered flash burns on
his face in a big accident in practice.
“Colin was always looking for the
advantage, and we had one that month
because our cornering speeds were so much
greater,” says Andretti, who went on to win
that race in a backup Hawk chassis. “But he
was designing the car for F1 loads, and the
uprights failed because it was so weak. Had it
held up, I think it would have been a cakewalk.”
And that was that. Following Mario’s
accident, Chapman withdrew his remaining
entries, departed IMS and never returned.
“He loved Indy, but he said he’d never
come back without his own engine,”
recalled former Lotus mechanic Eamon
“Chalkie” Fullalove. “And he left before
Cosworth developed its Indy engine, which
would have been a perfect match.”
In typical whirlwind fashion, Colin Chapman came, saw and conquered at the Brickyard, then abruptly left.
so open and so ripe for the taking,” says
Bob Dance, one of Chapman’s best
mechanics throughout the ’60s and ’70s.
Following his Indy runaway in ’ 65, Clark
finished second in ’ 66 with a modified Lotus
38, but struggled mightily with it in ’ 67. For
’ 68, he’d have raced the radical, 4-wheel-
Colin Chapman’s take on a turbine, the wedge-shaped
Lotus 56 (RIGHT), with Andy Granatelli’s version during
Indy testing, spring 1968. Jim Clark (in car) was excited
by the 56’s potential, but didn’t live to race it.
Having convinced Colin Chapman (left) to
race at Indy, Dan Gurney tests for Lotus in
spring 1963. Jim Clark (right) was second
on his Indy debut, with Gurney seventh.