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Graham Hill would win the now coveted Triple Crown

Posted in Cars, Sport, Sporting Heroes on Saturday, 31 December 2011

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This edited article about motor-racing originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 888 published on 27 January 1979.

Graham Hill, picture, image, illustration

Hill escaped a massive pile-up at the start of the 1966 Indianapolis 500, which he won, by Graham Coton

“Drive a car around Brands Hatch. Only £1 for four laps.” This advertisement in a local paper sparked off the career of one of the greatest racing drivers of all time, Graham Hill.

At that time in 1953, Hill was an apprentice motor mechanic. He had no intention of becoming a racing driver, but thought that the experience on the track would be worthwhile. The rickety 500 cc Formula 3 car he drove felt very different from his own cosy Morris 8, but four laps later, Hill had only one clear desire – to become a professional racing driver. He talked his way into the track’s racing school as an instructor, though Hill had only those four tentative laps to put to his name. There would be no wages, only the occasional chance to drive the cars himself.

This set the pattern for Hill’s early progress in motor racing, for he spent the next few years trading his services as a mechanic in return for free races and practice sessions in racing cars. He led his first race briefly (finishing second), then got a job with Lotus at £1 a day. He helped Colin Chapman to build cars for customers and was loaned out by them to their customers to assist their mechanic at race meetings.

Again, he was given an occasional drive, and gradually began to develop his race-winning skills. In fact, Chapman was so impressed that he allowed Hill to build up his own Lotus XI at the factory and race it himself. Painted bright yellow, Hill’s pride and joy soon earned the nickname of Yellow Peril and won many club races during the 1956 season.

During early 1957, Hill drove for various manufacturers, but his career was set firmly on its course when Cooper gave him a chance to drive in Formula 2. After a spell with Lotus in their Formulas 1 and 2 teams, Hill joined BRM and seemed set for success. He won at Goodwood at Easter, 1962, and followed this up with a breathtaking victory over Jim Clark in the International Trophy race at Silverstone. He went on to win his first World Championship.

Hill might have taken top honours again in 1964 had it not been for the hot-headed tactics of another driver. He rammed Hill’s BRM off the track on the last lap of the Mexican Grand Prix to allow John Surtees, driving a Ferrari, to take the title. In the following year, Hill took second place in the World Championship.

Hill’s final year with the BRM team was 1969, and it brought scant reward as far as Grand Prix results were concerned. However, a popular victory at the famed Indianapolis 500 race paid rich financial dividends and allowed Hill to indulge in another great passion of his – flying – when he purchased his own twin-engined aeroplane.

The following year, seeking a change, Hill rejoined his old employers, the Lotus team, to drive in both Formula 1 and Formula 2 alongside Jim Clark. Tragedy struck when Clark was killed in a high-speed crash whilst competing in a relatively minor Formula 2 race at Hockenheim, West Germany. Hill, despite the loss of his friend and team-mate, now set about the almost impossible task of rebuilding the Lotus team’s morale.

True to form, Hill took his second World Championship victory and put Lotus right back in the mood for winning.

It was business as usual at Monte Carlo when Hill won his fifth Monaco Grand Prix, but later on in the 1969 season – at the United States Grand Prix – he suffered a severe accident when his Lotus somersaulted several times after a violent blow-out. Hill was thrown out of his car and sustained severe leg injuries. Many friends hoped he would be satisfied with his success and retire, but Hill had other ideas. Doggedly he fought his way back to full health and returned once more to his hectic schedule of flying himself to various circuits to compete in international race meetings.

Not surprisingly, he never quite recaptured his old magic, though he did score a popular victory in the 1971 Formula 1 International Trophy Race at Silverstone in England. His greatest post-crash triumph was undoubtedly his runaway win in the 1972 Le Mans 24-Hour Race in which he was partnered by Frenchman Henri Pascarolo. This gave Graham the distinction of winning the Indianapolis, Le Mans and the drivers’ World Championship – an honour that has since become known as the Triple Crown.

Perhaps realising that retirement from the sport he loved was approaching, Hill formed his own Grand Prix racing team in 1973 and, through this medium, fostered the developing talents of a number of up-and-coming young drivers.

It was whilst returning to England from a series of car testing sessions at the Paul Ricard circuit in the South of France that Hill, piloting his own private plane, was killed outright when the plane crashed, along with four key members of his team.

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