The Turismo team have a long list of potential blog articles to add to our site. One is simply entitled ‘People we admire’. Ideally, there should of course be the obligatory watch link…but, in this instance I am going to move the goal posts, on the basis that if ever there was a driver who lived life at the red line… and for whom very detail of his art form mattered, it was truly Roger Clarke.
THE RAC RALLY AND ROGERS FORD ESCORT
Like many of my age, I became aware of Roger during the 1970s, whilst watching the RAC rally on World of Sport with Dickie Davis. His antics, skill and poetry in the legendary Ford Escort were infamous and kept a young lad on the edge of his seat, as the motor was flung around often muddy, desolate forestry commission tracks.
I don’t know what watch Roger wore… and despite much Googling I am not sure he even wore one! He was one of those gentlemen drivers who seemed to transcend the need for many, if indeed any, accoutrements.
I was lucky enough not only to meet him, but also to experience a drive with the legend!
It must have been 1997, not too long before his sad demise in January 1998 - and whilst surviving the corporate machine, a team of us were offered a day out at the Millbrook proving ground. It was an excellent event, with various driving tests on and off road, courses, seminars and a drive in a new Porsche Carrera 4.
DRIVING WITH ROGER CLARKE
But the best was yet to come! At the close of the day, a lucky few were able to go for a drive with Roger around the 2-mile-long high-speed bowl, in the very same Porsche we had earlier nursed around the alpine test track.
You can imagine how I felt… in awe doesn’t sum it up.
And boy, did I get a drive with Roger.
Nonchalantly, he sat in the Porsche, and we shook hands and exchanged pleasantries.
We drove off at a sedate pace…I excitedly told him he was my hero…he seemed to approve.
And then on to the high-speed bowl circuit - 5 lanes of neutral steer at speeds in excess of 150 mph … and of course it wasn’t long before we were testing those very laws of physics!
The Porsche yowled madly as we edged past 150 + mph, pinned to the upper most lane of the bowl AND with Roger proving the case for neutral steer by driving no handed!
To say I was mesmerized and perhaps feeling a little shaky doesn’t come close. Here I am nearly 30 years later, and I can recall those few moments as if yesterday.
Britain’s greatest rally driver of the pre-four-wheel drive era died in January 1998. He beat the Scandinavian’s at their own art form, and in 1972, in his trusty Ford Escort, ended their 13-year run of victories in the RAC rally. He triumphed again in 1976 and sealed his position as my hero – even if I couldn’t really understand the Cossack hair spray ads of the time…!
Every second counts, every detail matters. Roger Clarke knew very well the line between victory and despair, his talent saw him safely back from margins of disaster on many an occasion – perhaps never was their such an exponent of man and machine in such perfect harmony?