Of those magnificent men

WHAT is common between Jim Clark, Graham Hill, Mario Andretti, Emerson Fittipaldi and Jacques Villeneuve? They have won both the Formula-1 world championship and the Indy 500.


Jim Clark won both the Formula-1 and the Indy 500 championships. — Pic. GETTY IMAGES-

WHAT is common between Jim Clark, Graham Hill, Mario Andretti, Emerson Fittipaldi and Jacques Villeneuve? They have won both the Formula-1 world championship and the Indy 500.

The nexus between Formula-1 and Indy 500 is intimate and one that dates back to 1950. As modern Formula-1 Championship was mooted in 1950, the organisers were overawed by the towering presence of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the world of motor racing. So much so, the Indy 500 took its pride of place in the Formula-1 World championship between 1950 and 1960 despite the lack of Formula-1 regulars. However, it was just a matter of time before someone ventured across the Atlantic to compete in the 500. A spark that was required to fuel their fire. And that spark did come in the form of Rodger Ward.

Ward, who won the 1959 Indy 500 in a front-engined Offenhauser, was intrigued by the possibility of the rear-engined Formula-1 cars straddling the Indy 500, when he competed in the very first U.S. Grand Prix at Sebring, Florida. Though his F-1 accomplishments were more prosaic, he came in contact with triple World champion Jack Brabham of Australia and his car owner John Cooper of Cooper Cars. The Coopers had three in the four cars that finished the ingural U.S. GP.

Ward's ideas were too good to resist for Brabham and Cooper. They decided to make an experimental run at Indy with their current Formula-1-spec car and the historic run came on October 5, 1960. Based on the encouraging feedback and Ward's technical nuances of the circuit, they entered the 1961 Indy 500 with a larger 2.75 Climax engine.

Brabham qualified fifth and finished a creditable ninth, in a race won by the young and irascible Texan A. J. Foyt, who became a legend in American motor sports. Thus began a glorious sojourn of many F-1 racers to the most revered place in motor racing history.

Soon, Colin Chapman of the Lotus group, along with Ford came with an ambition of obliterating Brabham's performance. Their assault on the 500 came in 1963 with the legendary Jim Clark behind the wheel. They came close to winning the 500 on their maiden attempt but some politicking in the pit-lane gave Parnelli Jones the victory on a smoking Old Calhoun, who otherwise ought to have been black-flagged. Hence, Clark had to settle for second place.

The lure of the Indy 500 was too tempting to say the least. As Ford's involvement coupled with Clark's prowess made other F-1 teams to have a go at Indy. Jim Clark, who in the process of winning the 1965 Indy 500, skipped the prestigious Monaco Grand Prix, part of the Formula-1 World championship. Thus, he signalled his intent for conquering the demanding Indy 500.

Soon, the F-1 entourage took Indy by storm. In 1966, former World champion Graham Hill, father of 1996 World Champion Damon Hill, won as a rookie while his teammate Jackie Stewart, who was poised to win the 500 as he led by more than a lap, went out with an oil pressure problem.

World champion Mario Andretti (1978), who is the only American to win the American Grand Prix, won in 1969 and his tales in F-1 have been well documented. Two-time World champion Emerson Fittipaldi (1972, 1974) won twice at Indy in 1989 and 1993 after his retirement from Formula-1.

Current BAR driver and the 1997 World champion Jacques Villeneuve has also tasted success at Indianapolis taking a remarkable victory in 1995 after coming back from two laps down.

American Eddy Cheever Jr., after retiring from Formula-1, won the 1998 Indy 500.

Present Williams BMW driver Juan Pablo Montoya emulated Hill's feat by winning the 2000 edition as a rookie.

Though there was a bevy of Formula-1 drivers trying their hand at the Brickyard, none could replicate the success of Clark, Hill and co.

If Jack Brabham is credited to have pioneered the Formula-1 brigade at Indianapolis, mention must be made of Juan Manuel Fangio, Alberto Ascari and Guiseppe Farina's exploits at one of the most storied circuits.

Ferrari fielded Ascarl in the 1952 Indy 500 in an under prepared Ferrari 375 and they failed to cope with the conditions and understandably failed to qualify for the big event.

Fangio and Farina practised for the 500 and passed the mandatory drivers test but they failed to compete in the race for reasons best known to them.

There were varied reasons for F-1 drivers to compete in the 500. However, one basic reason was money. Winning the Indy 500 could reap rich rewards for the drivers and the amount invariably exceeded the purse offered by Formula-1. This was the main cause for the F-1 fraternity to institute the Formula One Constructors' Association (FOCA) to raise the stakes.

Apart from the money, the challenge that the 500 offered was a stern test to determine a driver's potential. For people like Jim Clark, motor racing was a result of curiosity.

In fact, Clark, in one of his interviews, said that he raced in four races in eight days. He loved the variety.

On the other hand, for people like Mario Andretti it was the passion that brought them to the sport. It was unimaginable for Andretti to have a weekend without racing.

He once said, "the reason I was put on this earth is to race cars."

But Formula-1 strived to become more competitive and professional, the ensuing demands and pressures on drivers increased, not to mention the numerous PR appearances. Hence, their concentration towards conquering the 500 took a backseat.

As Formula-1 expected drivers to devote their attention and time towards the betterment of the series, interest towards other arenas of racing was deemed to be detrimental to their progress.

It would be wishful thinking to suggest that Michael Schumacher, who drives for Ferrari under sponsorship from Marlboro, to race in the 500 with Roger Penske, incidentally sponsored by Marlboro. For they are two different worlds apart, which, sadly can never be bridged.