John Clarke is the son of a Nottinghamshire telecommunications engineer. His father was from a large family who settled on the Isle of Man. From an early, age, John was a mad keen car enthusiast. With a fine choir boy voice, John spent all his money earned from singing at weddings on his model car collection set up in his bedroom. His earliest memories of ‘proper’ cars are of his Uncle Wilfred’s Derby Bentley and his father’s Triumph Mayflower.
Soon after his 17th birthday, John passed his driving test and purchased his first car, a Austin Mini 850 Traveller. Motor bikes were out of the question as his Uncle ‘Badger’ had been killed on one during TT week’s ‘mad Sunday’. The mini saw John through 6th form and to Liverpool University where he supplemented his grant from running a student taxi service. With this extra income, and money earned during the summer break, John returned to his 2nd year a Liverpool in a 1275cc MG Midget. By his 3rd year, the Midget had been replaced by a red MGA 1600.
Leaving with his degree, John travelled through Europe and East Africa following the great expeditions of Burton and Speake. His overriding memory is the hospitality of the beautiful Sudanese people.
Back in the UK, John returned to University to sit for an MBA. The MGA had been sold and been replaced by another 1275cc Midget. Whilst at Lancaster University, John provided some business consultancy to Grand Metropolitan Information Services. On his first trip on behalf of Grand Met, John in the company Renault pulled out to pass a slow moving truck and at 6,000rpm mistakenly selected 1st rather than 3rd gear. With the ring gear stripped and a large hole in the block, this took some explaining!! Despite the wrecked car, John was offered work with Grand Met as an information technology Project Manager.
It was at this time that John visited Le Mans for the first time in company with his life long buddy, Chris Burrows. They travelled in the MG Midget together with a pal in a Triumph TR6. The year was 1982 and marked Aston Martin’s return to Le Mans with the Nimrod. Disaster befell the Nimrod after 4 hours when it crashing heavily.
1982 Le Mans, Aston Martin Nimrod at speed (Ref 14)
On route from the race, John had a huge accident in the MG. A Renault 5 had wandered over to the middle of the road and hit the MG head on as John was waiting patiently to turn left. With the Renault being driven by a retired local policeman, the Gendarmes put the blame firmly with the English. After protracted negotiations at the police station, John and Chris were freed to spend the next week rebuilding the front of the MG. John drove the ‘crab’ back to the UK only for it to be scrapped.
John’s prospects soon took a turn for the better. He accepted a job as a management consultant with Deloitte Haskins + Sells together with a brand new VW Scirocco. He also met his life long partner, Sarah McKenzie whilst she was touring Britain away from her home in Perth, Australia. With his new found wealth, John was able to fulfil a dream, and purchased a 1980 red Morgan +8 from Life’s Motors in Southport. The Morgan took John and Sarah back to Le Mans where they witnessed the return of the Jaguars.
The Morgan then travelled with John and Sarah to Sydney, Australia when he transferred to Deloitte’s Sydney office.
It was while in Australia that John started motor racing. His first event was in 1989 at Oran Park Sprint where he took the Morgan +8 to 3rd place on handicap. Numerous sprints and hill climbs followed but all too soon it was time to return to the UK. The Morgan was sold to an Australian enthusiast and John started work for Price Waterhouse in St Albans.
Within 12 months, John grasped an opportunity to set up his own firm of Management Consultants Morgan-egal specialising in project management and general business consultancy.
It was whilst searching for another Morgan, that he chanced upon his Morgan +4 Supersports ‘JTM 545F’. The car had been owned for some time by an American stationed at Cranfield and it was having a general service at Allon Whites when John chanced upon it. Within 24 hours the car was in John’s possession.
John Clarke's Morgan +4 Supersports (6625) after 1999 Birkett success (Ref 14)
The car was given to John’s old friend and Morgan Service Agent, Brian Gateson at Techniques to prepare for motor racing. In 1995, John and Sarah had a son, Jonathan. Within the next 6 months, John had entered his first race at Thruxton. In the pouring rain, John achieved his aim and did not disgrace himself!! Thruxton also saw the debut of Chris Acklam in his Morgan +8 a car John was quite satisfied to beat. At the end of his first season, John was awarded the BTR Novice award for best new comer, Chairmans Cup for best performance in a Morgan +4 and 2nd in class.
1996 saw John competing again in the Morgan Motor Company Challenge where he set 5 fastest laps including 2 lap records to take the Class championship. He was also awarded the British Motor Heritage Cup for the best performance by a 4 cylinder Morgan.
1997 saw John’s first race overseas at the hugely enjoyable British Race Festival at Zandvoort. John came away with a class win. Despite posting 5 Personal Best times in the MMC Challenge, John finished a disappointing 5th in class overall. He was however awarded the Chairmans Cup again.
1998 saw John and the Morgan +4 Supersports compete in 10 races including two at Zandvoort. He finished the season 3rd in class and was awarded the Vice Presidents Cup.
1999 was a year of two halves for John. Problems with his engine persisted through the first half of the season resulting in his first racing accident at Donington Park. A very wet race at Silverstone, however, allowed John to storm through the field to take a class win and with renewed confidence, took two further wins at Oulton Park and Brands Hatch. 1999 was brought to a happy conclusion when as a team member of the Plus Four Plus Relay team, won the 6 Hour Holly Birkett Handicap Race the first Morgan team to take the honours for 21 years.
In 2000, John embarked upon the project to recreate the famous 1939 Morgan 4-4 that competed so well at Le Mans. Brian Gateson at Techniques, who had been maintaining and developing John’s supersports to great effect, took up the challenge. Meanwhile John was back on track coming 2nd in class in the MMC Challenge series.
John Clarke at inaugural classic sports car race, Rockingham Raceway, 2000 (Ref 14)
In 2001, John’s racing had to take a back seat as more time and effort was expended on the 1939 car. John competed in a handful of races but in the 6 Hour Relay Race had a major off in the supersports. This car is now being fully restored by Techniques.
John Clarke and Chris Acklam will be driving the recreation of the 1939 Morgan 4-4 Le Mans car at the Le Mans Classic in September 2002.
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© 2002 John Clarke