“Living the dream” is a phrase which is often directed at sports stars, whether they’re kicking a football, passing a rugby ball, volleying a tennis ball or driving a golf ball.
But to those individuals who have actually made it to the global stage, what, really, is the dream? For 13-time grand prix winner David Coulthard, it was to drive the iconic Lotus 25 of double Formula 1 World Champion Jim Clark.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the first of Clark’s world titles in 1963, and in a rare outing, the actual Lotus 25 in which the Kilmany-born racer dominated the season was entrusted to Coulthard on a bracing morning at Silverstone.
The car, which is near priceless in terms of its significance in world motorsport achievements, won seven of the ten grands prix run during the 1963 season.
Not only did Clark win the British Grand Prix at the Northamptonshire track – finishing 25.8secs ahead of John Surtees in a Ferrari, with Graham Hill’s BRM third, a further 11.8s back – but he won all round the world.
A stunning victory in torrential rain in the season-opener in Belgium was followed by wins in the Netherlands, France, GB, Italy, Mexico and South Africa, accumulating a total of 73 points. Such was his, and the car’s, dominance that he led 71.47 per cent of the laps across the season. Not much wonder then that it was a nervous Coulthard who carefully squeezed his still sickeningly slim, but lanky, frame into the exposed and narrow cockpit of the 1.5-litre V8 green and yellow Lotus-Climax, chassis number 25/R4.
“This is a real racing car, but I’m both terrified and exhilarated at the thought of driving it,” he admitted.
“These cars were so rudimentary and minimalist compared to the modern safety-conscious machines, but it’s a thing of beauty: a legend driven once by a legend.”
Minutes later, the instantly recognisable sound from the Lotus re-entered the pitlane — where in 20 days the modern pack of F1 cars will gather for the British Grand Prix — and once he’d cut the engine and savoured his last few seconds in the cramped cockpit, Coulthard eased himself out of the Lotus, almost stroking it lovingly as he stepped out.
“I hope I’ve honoured the Lotus badge and Jim Clark’s legend,” the racer from Twynholm, his eyes beaming with sheer delight, admitted. “This car is simply brilliant and it’s the first time I have whooped with delight along Hangar Straight, something I didn’t even do when I won two grands prix here.
“It’s just as well I’m wearing an open face helmet, because a closed one would not contain the width of my smile.
“Now I feel like a real racing driver. This car’s steering is so sensitive, and you have to make fine adjustments to the wheel all the time because it has no aerodynamic downforce.
“It also has a real gear lever to shift, and I confess to having graunched one gear. There’s also actual suspension travel, whereas today’s cars are bolted to the road.
“Silverstone is pretty level and flat, so I don’t know how they guys in that era coped with the challenges of Spa and the old Nurburgring with their rollercoaster changes in elevation.
“You feel exposed in the open cockpit and ultra aware of what is going on around you. But it fitted like a glove, even if I could not adopt the great man’s totally laid back, straight-arm driving style.”
The “great man’s” legendary status will be celebrated at a number of events at the Silverstone Classics meeting next month marking both his first world title, and the second of his five wins in the British GP.
The Fifer, who moved with his parents to a farm in Duns, was the most successful driver of his era. In addition to 25 F1 race wins from just 72 starts, he lined up on pole position 33 times, posting 28 fastest laps.
Clark – tragically killed in a Formula 2 race at Hockenheim on 7 April, 1968, aged just 32 – also won the 1965 Indianapolis 500 in the USA.
That car – equally priceless – was driven by Bathgate’s IndyCar champ Dario Franchitti in a rare and exclusive outing at the Brickyard in 2010: but that’s another story.
Now owned by retired Australian investment manager John Bowers, Clark’s ’63-winning car was prepared for Coulthard’s run by 77-year-old Bob Dance, the spritely former chief Lotus mechanic.
Coulthard, who won the British Grand Prix at Silverstone with McLaren in 1999 and 2000, was on “analysis” duty at the weekend with the BBC covering the Canadian Grand Prix. And as part of its pre-race package yesterday, the BBC included coverage of the Scot’s outing in Clark’s car.
“That was a dream,” Coulthard said, looking at the car one last time before it was rolled away. “A dream, I’ve dreamt about since I was a boy. It doesn’t get any better than this.”