1966 Indianapolis 500: Hill's Second Leg
By: Jeremy McMullen
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By: Jeremy McMullen
| 'Chapman now joined in, telling Fengler to ‘pull that car off the track before it kills every driver in the race.' Chapman was right, the danger was enormous. Agajanian screamed at Chapman to keep out of it. Agajanian and Fengler were friends. There were only ten laps to go. Fengler looked long at Agajanian and then told Vidan to put the flag away. The establishment had won… But even Clark's failure pointed to the end for the roadsters.'
The rear-engined 'funny' cars would not be well received at Indianapolis the first time they appeared in 1961. The two styles of cars existing at the time couldn't have been further apart. The American style of racing placed the emphasis on fearless bravado and tenaciousness that would produce some very tight, utterly unforgiving, racing. Endurance and guts were the two greatest qualities to an American driver and team.
In contrast, the European style of grand prix racing had moved on from sheer guts and determination to place more of an emphasis on efficiency, especially aerodynamically and in handling. While the American cars were front-engine, heavy cars, the new mid-engined cars seen racing around the circuits of Europe would be incredibly small, light, fast and nimble all at the same time. In many cases, smaller engines combined with the small light cars would make up for larger cars with bigger engines.
At Indianapolis in the very early 1960s the past, present and future was very much on display. Also on display would be the staunch old guard that was resistant to change. In fact, it would be suggested the establishment would be suspicious of the change presented by these revolutionary new cars.
This suspicion and staunch defense of the way things were would come to a very ugly head when Jim Clark and Team Lotus found themselves following Parnelli Jones late in the 1963 Indy 500.
The unfriendly treatment would come even before the start of qualifying when Clark would be forced to pass the rookie test after being just about 5 mph off the pace of the pole speed. This would not sit well with the man that would take the World Championship later on that year.
But it would be while following Jones as he sprayed oil all over the track with just a few laps left that the ugliness of the establishment would come to be seen by everyone.
Clark had reduced Jones' lead from 40 down to 4 seconds, but he found a problem as Jones was spraying oil all over the track and was smoking terribly. Everyone, including Clark believed Jones wouldn't make it to the finish. Not surprisingly, the oil would make the track very slippery and would lead to Eddie Sachs losing control going through the first turn. Yet, after a spirited argument that would include Jones' car owner J.C. Agajanian, Clark's car owner Colin Chapman and the chief steward Harlan Fengler, Jones' car would not be black flagged and allowed to carry on to the finish, if it could make it that far.
Jones would hold on and his roadster would make it the final couple of miles to take the victory over Clark. Yet, while it would be a victory for the roadster and Parnelli Jones it would be clear who the crowd thought the real winner had been in the entire episode. As the cars crossed the line, the largest ovation would be for Clark.
Although Clark's running in the Indianapolis 500 had not been the first appearance for a mid-engine car, he would so captivate that his 2nd place result would spell the end for the roadster. The roadster had been on its way out since Jack Brabham's 9th place result in the modified Cooper with its mid-engine design, but Clark's 2nd place as a result of clear politics meant the fight was lost for the roadster.
After immediately after Clark's political result in the 1963 Indianapolis 500, the race would see an influx of mid-engined 'funny' cars, and 1964 would be the final time in which a roadster would take victory at Indy.
The new Formula One-inspired cars were entirely different animals that required a nearly different driving approach than that of the roadsters. The bigger, heavier roadsters would take more of a physical toll, but the amount of concentration, and even courage, to drive the small, nimble cars on the absolute limit would be considerable. This would swing the advantage for such big races as the Indianapolis 500 in favor of those already familiar with them.
At the time of the revolution taking place at Indianapolis there were three or four drivers that were dominating the World Championship scene at the time. Graham Hill would win the World Championship in 1962 and would be runner-up the next three years. Jim Clark would win the World Championship in 1963 and again in 1965. John Surtees would grab a championship in 1964 and Jackie Stewart would be impressive in his rookie year coming in 3rd in the championship in 1965. Therefore, if favor had swung in the favor of anyone to win the Indianapolis 500 during the years of the transition over to mid-engined, grand prix-styled cars, then it would certainly swing in the favor of one of these four.
Jim Clark would return to Indy in 1964 but would have the attempt come to an end after 47 laps because of suspension failure. However, one year later, Clark would finally receive the victory that many believed had been due to him back in 1963. This time, he would outduel Parnelli Jones to take the victory. This would mark the first time a driver would win the Indianapolis 500 and the World Championship in the same season.
One year later, Graham Hill would give the mighty 2.5 mile oval a try. Ever since his World Championship in 1962, Hill had continued to grow to be one of the World Championship's best drivers. Crowds all over the world would be treated to constant battles with Jim Clark and would decide to try his hand at achieving the second round of motor racing's Triple Crown.
This would not be Hill's first visit to Indy. He actually had been at the famous track back in 1963, the same time of Clark's controversial near miss. Hill had come to drive Mickey Thompson's 'Flying Saucer'. However, after a few practice laps in the car Hill would consider the car too dangerous and would immediately fly back to England never even qualifying for the race. Therefore, when Hill made his appearance in 1966, he was very much a rookie.
Hill would come to drive one of John Mecom's Red Ball Specials. These cars were Ford-powered Lola T90 chassis and would feature an almost entirely rookie lineup. It would hardly be considered a rookie crew as Graham Hill would join Jackie Stewart driving the two Ford-powered Red Ball Specials. Roger Ward would then be the driver of Mecom's third car, which was an Offenhauser-powered T90. Ward, of course, had the most experience of the three at Indianapolis having won the race twice in 1959 and 1962.
Hill would be a last minute replacement for Mecom. Walt Hansgen had been originally intended to drive the Lola. However, Hansgen would be tragically killed in an accident piloting a Ford GT during the test days for Le Mans. Mecom would have to scramble to find a replacement. After some discussion, Hill would agree to take over the drive.
With very little time in the seat, Hill would be related to the middle of the field in overall pace. The trend would continue heading into qualifying.
Mario Andretti would take the pole with a Brawner-Ford. His average speed in qualifying would be 165.840 mph. Jim Clark would look set to repeat as he would be 2nd on the grid with an average speed of 164.110 mph. George Snider would complete the front row with an average speed in excess of 162 mph.
Jackie Stewart would be the fastest of Mecom's entries. His average speed of 159.970 would place him 11th on the making him the fastest rookie. Roger Ward would start just two places further back from Stewart. Hill would keep up the spacing as his average speed of 159.240 would earn him the 15th starting position, almost squarely in the middle of the thirty-three car field.
The race itself would be as wild as the 1963 edition. It too would end up some controversy albeit not as ugly as what had transpired between Agajanian's and Chapman's teams.
The opening lap of the race would see a collision at turn one between just two cars. However, what would be a collision between just two cars would end up collecting eleven other competitors and would bring the race to a stop for more than an hour. Graham Hill, starting in the middle of the field, would barely skate his way through without any damage. And with that, his Indianapolis 500 and chance at one of the Triple Crown races would continue.
When the race finally started under green after 17 laps, it would be Andretti that would hold onto the lead with Jim Clark giving chase. Graham Hill would still be further down in the field still trying to make his way forward while staying out of trouble.
Just as Andretti settled into a comfortable pace his race would come to an end with engine problems. This would hand the lead to Clark. Clark would hold onto the lead of the race but he wouldn't be able to hold onto it very tight as his STP Gas Treatment Lotus would suffer from ill-handling throughout the first half of the race and would lead to the usually unflappable Scot to spin twice.
Clark's unmanageable Lotus would hand the lead of the race over to Lloyd Ruby in an Eagle and Jackie Stewart in the Bowes Seal Fast Lola. By this point in time attrition had continued to exact its toll on the field and Hill had climbed up in the running order. He had been able to avoid making any mistakes to that point in the race, and therefore, was well within the hunt should any of the others suffer problems.
Clark remained around the front and would even lead some more laps as pit stops cycled through. However, when Ruby would be black flagged for leaking oil on the track, it was Stewart that was firmly in the lead of the race and apparently running away.
Only seven cars would still be running at the finish. It would be the least amount in the history of the race. Stewart continued to lead the way and pull out more of a margin while in the lead. Hill was catching Clark for 2nd place. By the time there were just 25 laps remaining Hill would pass Clark to take over 2nd place.
Once assuming 2nd place, the race had taken on something of a similarity to the 1962 South African Grand Prix in which Hill would win to take his first World Championship. In that race, Clark was in the lead and was running away with the event. All Clark had to do was win the race and the championship would be his. Even before the South African Grand Prix it had seemed the World Championship would go to Hill, but here was Clark pulling away, with him seemingly going to win the World Championship.
Ironically, with just 10 laps remaining in the race, Stewart would suffer from a loss of oil pressure and would be forced to retire from the race. It had been an oil problem that had forced Clark out of the race in 1962 which handed Hill the victory and the World Championship. It would be another Scot this time.
Stewart would be out of the race after driving absolutely masterfully for a rookie. He would lead 40 laps before he would hand the lead over to Hill. By the time of Stewart's retirement there would only be five cars still left running on the track and Hill would be leading them all.
Hill would inherit the lead through a very smart plan of avoiding problems and making no mistakes. It would end up being the difference. This time, as in 1962, Hill would win a race not by being the most determined, hard-charging driver in the field. He would go on to win the race by being the most determined, level-headed driver in the field. Hill would carry on coolly and carefully and would end up taking the win by forty-one seconds over Clark in 2nd place and Jim McElreath in 3rd.
Even though there were only five cars still running the race still wouldn't be free from controversy. Timing and scoring issues at the time of Clark's spins would cause many to wonder if he, in fact, wasn't ahead of Hill coming to the finish line.
In the end, it wouldn't matter. The results would stand.
The 1966 Indianapolis 500 would see Hill's talents fully on display. Hill would manage to keep his head despite narrowly escaping a first lap crash and a starting position down in the middle of the field. His level-headed approach would allow the race to come to him and it would come to him in the biggest way. No once could have substituted better than he had. And for his efforts he would not only net himself a win. Hill's victory in his first attempt would end up being a mark that would continue to live on much beyond what many people thought it would.The feat would end up standing all the way until the new millennium when Juan Pablo Montoya became the next rookie to win at Indy in 2000. But Hill's victory would, of course, be much more. The victory would also net himself two-thirds of motor racing's Triple Crown.
Hill would join Jim Clark as a winner of the World Championship and the Indianapolis 500. But could either of them earn the final jewel? Only time would tell. And in the case of Graham Hill, who was already 37 years of age, time was one thing beginning to run out.
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