Andy Middlehurst was a toddler when he nearly met Jim Clark. It would have been in the mid 1960s at a motor race – possibly Goodwood – and Andy’s dad would have been on track racing against the late great champion. “I would have been in a pram there somewhere; we were a very motor racing family. I was five years old when Clark was killed.” Andy Middlehurst might have been too young to meet the driver who would go on to become his hero, but he does do perhaps the next best thing. He drives his car. And he wins with it…
Meet the man who wins races in Jim Clark's car
Which is something that no one who has watched historic racing at the Goodwood Revival, or at Monaco, Spa or Silverstone, could be unaware of. Andy Middlehurst and the Lotus 25 grand prix car appear made for each other.
At this year’s Revival Andy will be going for his sixth win in the Glover Trophy, as usual in the petite, perfectly formed green car with yellow stripe and yellow wheels of which he has been regular driver for the past nine years. The car is R4, the most successful of the seven Lotus 25 chassis made and the actual car that Clark drove in the ’63 season, winning seven out of nine races and propelling the Scot to his first World Championship title.
With its then-unique fully stressed aluminium monocoque body the Lotus 25 was a Colin Chapman game-changer. Middlehurst – 35 years a racer, in Formula Ford racing against Ayrton Senna, via some national rallying to saloon cars and then the BTCC as works driver for Nissan – has proven a game-changer in his own right in the car, which is looked after on behalf of its Australian owner by Classic Team Lotus. Andy just can’t stop winning in it, most recently in the 2018 Grand Prix de Monaco Historique. He’s now won that four times. His first visit, in 2010, he only came second… but then he’d never driven the street circuit before.
Special car, special driver…we managed to persuade Andy to take time off from his Nissan dealership in St Helens, Lancashire, for a catch-up ahead of this year’s Revival…
So why are you and Jim Clark’s Lotus so darned good together?
It’s a car that suits my driving style – neat and tidy. The 25 doesn’t like a lairy style. If you are lairy with it and overdrive it it goes slower. The key word is momentum. The car is relatively low power (around 180bhp from the Coventry-Climax 1.5-litre V8), low torque and low grip, and once you have your speed you have to carry it through the corners and not lose momentum.
Easier said than done?
You have to let the car float through the corners with as little braking and steering as possible. In many ways it feels similar to a Formula Ford which is where I cut my teeth. The whole car moves around in a four-wheel drift rather than sliding at one end or the other. It’s not a physical car to drive. You drive it with your fingers and toes, like a ballet dancer. At speed it’s a constant balancing act. So you need to be neat and tidy… and it calls for being reasonably brave.
Is it an easy car to be brave in?
I drive it at 90 per cent. I drive it to win, but I am mindful that I need to bring it home in one piece. Last year in the very wet Glover Trophy race at Revival Martin Stretton (Lotus 24) just pipped me under brakes. He was braver than I was. Historic wets (tyres) can only cope with so much standing water…
But what of your chances in this year’s Glover Trophy?
I am hoping for my sixth win. Our engine is 100 per cent and we have spent some time with the chassis set-up – always critical at Goodwood. My plan will be to get out front and control the race. But the weather may play a part again… I prefer a dry race.
How aware are you of the car’s history when racing?
Jim Clark was my childhood hero. For nine years now I have been privileged to race his Lotus 25 and I still pinch myself every time I get in it.
You have driven both spaceframe Lotus 24 and the then-revolutionary monocoque Lotus 25, how much of a leap forward was the 25?
The 25 is the much better handling car. But in other ways I have always found them pretty similar. They look similar, share similar aerodynamics and despite what you might think there’s no big difference in weight between them. But the 25 is definitely the better handling car.
You must fit in the car very well?
All the early Lotuses were built for Jim Clark’s frame. He was 5ft 7in and I am 5ft 9in so yes I do fit. It’s just like sitting in a bathtub with your feet by the taps and your bum a couple of inches off the ground.
Is it in exactly the same spec as when Clark drove it?
It runs similar power but the chassis might be a little stiffer, to get rid of some dive, but otherwise it’s about the same. I keep a book of every circuit we race at where I log details of the track, gears, revs on corner exit, suspension rates and tyre pressures. At some circuits today we are quicker than in the day, other circuits we are a little slower. At Goodwood we’re pretty much the same as in the 1960s.
Jim Clark set the Goodwood Motor Circuit all-time record in a Lotus in 1965 at 1min 20.4secs… what’s your best time?
A good lap time for me in the dry at Goodwood is 1.24 but this year I think something in the high 1.23s is possible. If Jim’s Goodwood record was set in 1965 it is likely he was driving not this 25 but a Lotus 33 with much wider tyres, which would be worth a couple of seconds a lap.
Can you talk us around a lap of the Goodwood Motor Circuit in the 25?
Okay, on pit straight, second to third to fourth then brake very lightly into Madgwick, back on the throttle in fourth, pulling 7,000rpm at the exit. Then into fifth and flat through the slight kink to the right. Slight braking and change down to fourth for the first part of St Mary's then brake and third gear for the left-hander – but here you have to carry the speed, keep the momentum up. I leave it in third down to Lavant, slight brake but stay in third if it is dry, vee that corner off using a bit of kerb then into fourth for the exit to the second part of Lavant and on to the straight. The car will pull 9,000rpm in fifth which is about 143mph. I brake 100m before Woodcote and go down two gears, then accelerate from the apex towards the chicane where it’s down into second and a flick in and on to the kerb at the exit, and then back on pit straight. I don’t really brake that hard anywhere apart from the chicane. It’s more a question of trail-braking into the corner so you can carry the speed all the way through.
Of all the cars you have raced, what’s your favourite?
I won two British championships with the Nissan Skyline GT-R so that’s right up there, plus the GT-R is my day job now so that car’s a big favourite. For 15 years I have been racing historic cars, mostly Lotuses, and my favourite has to be the 25. But then the Lotus Cortina is a favourite of mine as well…
What’s in your garage at home?
I own one of the 1966 works Lotus Cortinas that Jim Clark won the Gold Cup in that year – he was racing against my dad in it! I don’t race it because it is very original with not even a roll cage. I also own Clark’s 1966 Lotus 43 F1 car which I have driven at FOS.
Oh, and I also own a Volkswagen Schwimmwagen amphibious vehicle from the Second World War…
Tickets are still on sale for the 2018 Goodwood Revival! For more information visit ticketing.goodwood.com
Photography courtesy of Jayson Fong, Nick Dungan and Motorsport Images.
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