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Franchitti: Adoration of Saint Jim

Maurice Hamilton September 16, 2013
Dario Franchitti in Jim Clark's Lotus 38 © Sutton Images
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The general release of 'Rush' this week has triggered a flood of positive reviews, many of the writers prompted to note the bleedin' obvious by commenting on how much F1 has changed, not necessarily for the better.

Among phrases such as 'plunging back to the Seventies', 'nostalgia fest' and 'men risking life and limb in insanely dangerous circumstances', there is a contradiction of sentiment as grateful acceptance of safer racing today is tinged with sadness over the absence of, as one reviewer put it, 'the live fast, die young mentality.'

Ron Howard ought to have made it a prerequisite for reviewers to visit the Goodwood Revival before putting finger to keyboard. This is a throwback to the past in the most graphic sense as pre-1967 cars are driven with astonishing speed and spirit on a race track that requires higher gearing than Spa-Francorchamps and possesses none of the acres of run-off considered essential today.

The only sad link to the current era is an apparent need by one or two competitors to carry out days of intense pre-event testing that goes beyond establishing whether the scavenge pump works or the notchy gear shift cuts the palm of your hand to pieces. It may be no surprise to learn that some of these people work in F1.

If you want to know about the spirit of Goodwood, then look no further than Dario Franchitti. The Scot, who turned 40 a few months ago and has won the Indy 500 no less than three times, cannot be considered a sad old fart disguising ignorance of the present by pining for the past. Franchitti has a sense of balanced priorities that allows him to embrace both eras with the realism you feel Howard was attempting to achieve as he merged modern cinema with fact from forty years before.

Dario makes no secret that his hero was Jim Clark; a view that I happen to share. It pleased us both no end that the Earl of March chose to include a tribute to the double World Champion within the extraordinary pageant of motor sport spread across last weekend.

I felt as if transported to a dream world when standing in the collection area and every conceivable car - or so it seemed - Jimmy had laid his hands on was pushed into view. There was his Lotus Elan road car, the awful Lotus 40, the beautiful Lotus 25 and 49 and, a favourite of mine, the Lotus Cortina (registration KPU 396C) that I'd watched open-mouthed as Clark threw it sideways all the way round Oulton Park during a support race for the 1966 Gold Cup.

More incredible yet, an immaculately restored Lotus 43-BRM that Jim had somehow coaxed home in the 1966 United States Grand Prix to give that hefty BRM H-16 engine its only victory. But, for many of us, the star of the line-up was the Lotus 38 with which Clark had added to his legendary status by winning the 1965 Indy 500. And Franchitti had been asked to drive it.

Okay, he had previously experienced the indefinable joy of using this car to lap the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the wheel tracks of his idol but Dario's dancing eyes intimated the thrill as he spoke about being reunited with this beautiful car - 'Jimmy's car' - at Goodwood. And if you were not moved by Franchitti's gentle Scottish burr, then his mode of dress sealed the deal and clearly demonstrated just how much this meant to him.

Having procured a pair of black leather JC gloves and an open-face Bell helmet in the precise colour with a white peak, Dario had ordered a set of Hinchman creamy white overalls to the exact specification of those worn by Clark, right down to the Esso badge on the left breast and Firestone across the shoulders. Topping the lot, the very STP red and blue jacket stitched with Jimmy's name and worn by Clark at Indy.

Before mechanics squirted fuel into the trumpets and coaxed that lusty Ford V8 into life, I watched as Dario spent a quiet minute or two holding the red leather steering wheel, his mind clearly in another lovely world. There was no need for a word to be said.

'Rush' does indeed remind us that things have changed. But don't let anyone tell you that all modern racing drivers have no soul.

Maurice Hamilton writes for ESPN F1.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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A veteran journalist in the paddock, Maurice Hamilton has been part of the Formula One scene since 1977 and was the Observer's motor racing correspondent for 20 years. He has written several books as well as commentating on Formula One for BBC Radio 5 Live
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Maurice Hamilton writes for ESPN F1. A veteran journalist in the paddock, Maurice Hamilton has been part of the Formula One scene since 1977 and was the Observer's motor racing correspondent for 20 years. He has written several books as well as commentating on Formula One for BBC Radio 5 Live