Most eyes had been on Jackie Stewart, Hill’s precocious team-mate at Mecom and BRM, who was almost two laps ahead, and also Jim Clark, who had spun twice yet somehow kept his Lotus off the wall. When the leading Lola’s Ford V8 suddenly lost oil pressure – classified sixth, Stewart was awarded Rookie of the Year – fellow Scot Clark presumed that he was about to score a second consecutive Indy 500 victory. As in F1, so Lotus had picked up its cross-London rival’s rear-engine ball at Indy – eventual three-time world champion Jack Brabham had finished ninth for Cooper in 1961 – and run with it. Its American inexperience cost Clark in 1963, when he finished second, and 1964, when he started from pole and led briefly before a decision to use unproven Dunlops punctured all hope. But in 1965, having elected to miss the Monaco GP, this combination was dominant, leading all bar 10 laps and winning by almost two. Motor racing had its ‘Fifth Beatle’ – albeit a shy sheep farmer from the Borders – and Indy was never the same.
In 1966, however, Clark was surprised to find Hill celebrating in Victory Lane; a Lotus lap charting error was many hours later blamed for the confusion. Whichever way you read it, however, Brits were in charge – and perhaps becoming complacent. Clark and Hill, by now team-mates at Lotus, were early retirements from the 500 of 1967; and Stewart was running third when his Lola again lost oil pressure. Rocked by Clark’s death in a Formula 2 race in April 1968, followed by replacement Mike Spence’s fatal accident testing at Indy, Lotus was falling out of love with the world’s biggest race and had fallen from favour by the decade’s end. Hill qualified its 4WD turbine second in 1968, but crashed out because of suspension failure; American team-mate Joe Leonard was within nine laps of victory when he, too, suffered a mechanical failure. And finally, a fiery testing accident for Mario Andretti in 1969 triggered a total withdrawal and an unedifying argument with bullish entrant Andy Granatelli that caused the latest Lotuses, turbocharged 4WDs, to be spirited away and hidden in a suburban garage.
The first phase of the British invasion was over. Commercial sponsorship, which arrived in F1 via a Team Lotus inspired by American pizzazz and chutzpah, was weakening the lure of Indy luchre. So the second phase would be left to its F1 also-rans – barring a 1970s spell of success for McLaren’s Stateside offshoot – and would have to succeed without its big-name drivers. The adventure had become an inconvenience.
The French invasion had been much more romantic. Peugeot, a revolutionary and dominant force in GP racing before WWI, sailed to America in 1913, and Jules Goux fortified himself with sips of champagne during pit stops on his way to victory – by 13 minutes and 8 seconds! The race was just two years old, ripe for the picking. René Thomas won for Delage and Goux was fourth in 1914 – French drivers in French cars filled the top four places – and both men would return after WWI. Thomas started from pole in 1919 and finished second in 1920, both times in Ballots, and Goux’s conversion was complete in 1922 when he married a lady from Indianapolis.