Ferrari will participate on Sunday 14 March 1976 with Niki Lauda at the race of champions, a race not valid for the Formula 1 world championship, scheduled on the English track of Brands Hatch. On this occasion the Austrian driver will debut the 312 T2, the second version of the single-seater that dominated the 1975 season and the first two Grand Prix of 1976. Admits Audetto:
"We would have liked to test the T2 in these days at Fiorano, but the snow has cancelled the program. We still have some doubts about the use of the De Dion type rear axle. We will see at Brands Hatch. Probably, in the morning Lauda will run with the 312 T2 with traditional suspensions, and in the afternoon he will make comparative tests with the same car equipped with the De Dion bridge".
In the champions' race there will be a second Ferrari, not official but private: it is a 312 T of the Everest team. The car will be driven by Giancarlo Martini. This interesting initiative is made possible thanks to the help and understanding of Enzo Ferrari.
Shortly before, Tuesday 9 March 1976, on the Silverstone circuit, Tyrrell brings to baptism the project 34/2, the modified six-wheel car: this is now shorter by twenty-five centimeters than the 34/1, with a monocoque with triangular sections. The front track is wider, the thickness of the radiators is increased, as well as the capacity of the fuel tanks, which is now one hundred and five liters. The disc brakes are ventilated, and the car weighs about three pounds less than the initial version. Ken Tyrrell hopes to bring this car to debut at the Spanish Grand Prix, but first he would like to further test it on April 11, 1976, again on the Silverstone circuit.
Saturday, March 13, 1976, on the first and only day of practice for the race of champions that is the preview of the European Formula 1 season, the South African Jody Scheckter is the fastest, lapping in 1'20"42. This time is the new record at Brands Hatch, not because it improves the previous one, although it is close, but only because it was obtained on the new layout that, after the modifications made during the winter, is slightly shorter.
Even taking into account that the Ferrari driven by Niki Lauda had won the first two rounds of the World Championship and that the McLaren driven by James Hunt was the fastest in practice both at Interlagos and Kyalami, Scheckter's performance is not a surprise. At Brands Hatch the South African had already made his mark two years earlier, ahead of the unfortunate Lauda, and had then come close to victory in the same race the year before.
Already in the morning Scheckter proved to be the fastest, which allowed him to earn the one hundred bottles of champagne offered by a London newspaper to the fastest driver in the two test sessions. In the afternoon the fight for the pole position intensifies, also because the track, initially wet and slippery, becomes faster with the temporary improvement of the weather conditions.
If in the first part of the practice Scheckter's best time was 1'25"27, at the end of the day it drops to 1'20"42. The sudden return of the rain in the afternoon - even if it stops almost immediately - causes some exits of the track, the most spectacular of which is the one involving the March of Vittorio Brambilla. In the spin, the car, which will be rather damaged on the left side, blocks part of the track, so that the tests must be suspended for a quarter of an hour to avoid further accidents.
The debut of the new Ferrari 312 T2, driven by Niki Lauda, is highly awaited, but with the tests restricted to a single day, the sporting director Daniele Audetto and the engineer Mauro Forghieri prudently opt for the usual independent suspensions, renouncing to test the De Dion bridge. After some difficulties, started with the choice of the tires, Lauda succeeds in the final phase of the first test session to bring his new car to the third place in the ranking, behind Scheckter and Hunt. Hunt, for having demanded too much from his McLaren, ruins two engines and is then overtaken by Lauda, who can start in the first row.
The most clamorous surprise is given by the swedish Nilsson, that at his second race in Formula 1 on the same Lotus 77 so disappointing in Brazil as in South Africa, sets the third best time of the day gaining a place in the second row, next to the Williams of lckx. Hunt will have to be content to start in the next row, together with Alan Jones on the new Surtees.
Giancarlo Martini, at his debut on the Ferrari 312 T of the Everest team, laps in 1'27"75, a time almost three seconds less than Vittorio Brambilla, who had to give up the final phase of the tests; the two Italian drivers will start from the last row.
Sunday 14 March 1976 the eleventh edition of the Race of the Champions, opening race of the European Formula 1 season, but not valid for the World Championship, is won by the McLaren M23 driven by James Hunt.
With this victory, his first since leaving Hesketh, the Englishman confirms the brilliant performances already provided in tests both at Interlagos and Kyalami. Hunt, who runs on a spare McLaren, takes the lead in the middle of the race and does not give it up until the arrival. The new McLaren standard bearer also obtains the fastest lap, precisely the eleventh, at an average speed of 180.49 km/h.
"I really wanted to win this race, and fortunately I did it. It wasn't easy, firstly because the track was very slippery at the start and secondly because Jones was trying so hard not to be overtaken. My McLaren was much faster than the Surtees: in fact as soon as I took the lead I left without any problem. Niki was behind me, but I doubt that he could have passed me: the only danger for me was in fact only to make some mistake, which was not difficult considering the track and the many people not used to Formula 1 that were around".
Eighteen seconds behind the winner is the Australian Alan Jones on the new Surtees TS 19, completed only on Saturday morning, a few hours before the start of the tests. The twenty-nine year old Australian, who comes from the F 5000 and has competed in eight races so far, finishing fifth in the German Grand Prix in 1975 and the brand new single-seater designed by John Surtees, the only racer to have won the World Championship on both four and two wheels, are the revelation of today's race, which took place on a very cold and wet day, in the presence of about 35,000 spectators.
"Jones' performance was incredible, especially on this difficult track. I was worried for twenty laps that I wouldn't be able to pass him, and it wasn't a matter of stonewalling".
Admits James Hunt, while John Surtees states:
"The first good reason to smile in two years. What a professional approach Jones has taken, I'm delighted".
And Jones himself says:
"I set up the car and then I went. And there I was in the lead. No one knew better than I did who I had behind me and when he passed me there wasn't much I could do about it, especially since about that time the understeer started".
The long-awaited debut of the Ferrari 312 T2 was not a happy one, and once again Lauda really had no luck at Brands Hatch. The Austrian driver preferred to start the race cautiously, waiting for the track to be dry before pushing the car hard. Obviously Lauda didn't want to risk too much in the starting phase, taking into account that this is not a race valid for the world championship and also in view of the much more challenging United States West Grand Prix, scheduled at the end of the month in Long Beach.
On the third lap Lauda takes the third place, which he keeps until the seventeenth lap, when the hose that brings the fluid to the rear brakes breaks and the reigning World Champion is forced to give up the race. The Austrian returns to the box, where no one makes any dramas despite some disappointment.
"The 312 T2 is in experimental phase, it would have been risky to expect an exceptional result immediately. We are not in a hurry, we are playing it safe. I believe, however, that we will be able to fine-tune the car very soon, certainly in time for the Spanish Grand Prix, when it will be necessary to deploy it in the world championship. Basically, the car confirmed what I had suggested in the Fiorano tests, namely that it is a good car without any particular problems with road holding or handling. Today I held Hunt's wheels easily, in fact if I hadn't retired I would have attacked the McLaren. In fact the track was drying up and I felt that T2 would have allowed me to go even faster than I was going".
Even more unlucky is the Ferrari 312 T of the Everest team, which already in practice had three punctures to the tires and brake problems. During the reconnaissance lap before the start, when the track is still slippery, Giancarlo Martini loses control of the car, which goes off the track. In the collision, three of the four wheels are damaged, forcing the driver from Ravenna to retire, at his first Formula 1 race, without being able to run even one lap of the track.
"I was trying to warm up the tires so I was going slower than expected, because I was zigzagging on the track, when before the curve I touched the brake pedal. The nose suddenly deviated to the left and I saw the guardrail".
Vittorio Brambilla gives a remarkable performance: started in the last row, he is already in fourth place after twelve laps. But after a slight collision with the Lotus of the impetuous Nilsson, the driver from Monza loses two places and then he recovers with a battling final, ranking fourth, despite the minute of penalty for not having observed the starting signal.
The Brabham-Alfa Romeo of Carlos Pace suffers from new fuel problems, and after just seven laps the engine stops working, while the South African Jody Scheckter, who on Saturday had set the best time in practice and therefore started on the front row, maintains the lead with his Tyrrell until the second lap, before going off the track; the South African driver is fortunately unharmed.
At the end of the champions' race, Tuesday 16th March 1976 Bernie Ecclestone is received in the offices of Autodelta in Settimo Milanese by Vincenzo Moro, Carlo Chiti, Mario Mazzi, Ferraris and Pierluigi Corbari. The British manager complains about the low power of the Alfa Romeo engine (five hundred horsepower against the five hundred and twenty-nine promised) and the excessive weight. But above all he wants to modify the contractual relationships established in the agreement of January 2, 1975.
Ecclestone does not want to bear the burdens that come from a relationship that has been also on the economic level completely negative, having sustained a loss of 150,000 pounds, of which 100,000 were destined to the creation of the new chassis to support the Alfa engine, and 50,000 for the lack of gain of the engagement and finish line prizes that he would have instead gained by using the Cosworth engine.
The British manager is not interested in having the free transfer of five engines, or the prizes proposed by Alfa for the development of the car: five million liras for each victory, two and a half for the second place, one million for the third place. The money must come from Alfa or from the sponsor Martini&Rossi, says Ecclestone during the meeting. Then he goes back to London.
Almost two weeks pass before the Formula 1 circus is back on the move: on Friday March 26, 1976 the long Californian summer has already begun and it is quite impressive to be plunged into it straight from the Canadian winter.
From Montreal to Los Angeles the flight lasts more or less as long as the one over the Atlantic to Europe. The sun is hot, but as we descend to Long Beach, the sea breeze cools us down immediately and is much more pure than the towers that dominate the bay even though they have that specific function.
The city is two-faced: on one side Ocean Boulevard, to the delight of tourists capable of accepting even these architectural affronts, and on the other the large industrial port that is the terminal stop for Alaskan oil.
In the middle, the Grand Prix: Long Beach has marketing problems, since it is full, overflowing even, twelve months a year, but it does not have the elite clientele that one would like, since there is Hollywood fifteen miles down the highway, and another dozen attractions, from Disneyland to Marineland, the largest aquarium in the world, have sprung up all around.
Here, little by little, the average age of the tourist has risen until it has left the ground free for retirees, and has settled down at an intermediate level between more or less young people, in any case over fifty. They make a mass of people, they spend not only their pocket money, but it is not enough for a city that is trying to relaunch itself, that has money to invest to the point of giving away docks and piers to those who bring the old Queen Mary to make a hotel and a museum, but then want to see it return multiplied by ten.
Long Beach is a city of 375,000 inhabitants: Pook, an Englishman who had emigrated to the U.S. thirty-three years earlier and was in charge of a tourist agency, thought that the roaring single-seaters might be ideal for relaunching tourism.
The Formula 1 Grand Prix is one of the promotional actions, perhaps the least expensive, certainly the most obvious, to change this image of Long Beach, and regardless of how the race ends, of possible accidents or regularity, success is already assured.
The whole of the West talks about this event, feels it is its own and manages it in the strangest ways, from the television that dedicates complete news bulletins to the billionaires who give parties in the villas on the hills. On Thursday, a jury composed of old actors selects the most beautiful car after a show that attracts thousands of people to Pine Avenue.
There are two orchestras - all made up of old glories, of course - loudspeakers, the cars arriving in tow with the team of mechanics perched on top, then lined up to expose their graces.
The Italian journalists stop to play for two hours with Cuoghi and Borsari, Lauda and Regazzoni's chief mechanics, who have fun every now and then starting up the twelve-cylinder car and making it speak loudly, overriding trombones and horns.
The prize is given to Frank Williams for his car that up to now has only these satisfactions, but Ferrari has however its usual bath of popularity, undisputed number one in the lap, true Italian national team - with Austrian and Swiss drivers - for the many compatriots who are on the opposite side of America. It is because of this difference in the applausometer that Alfa Romeo looks on with a certain envy, and they also try to change an image: their own.
The circuit as such does not exist, but has been created in the city on the usual avenues and roads; they are rather long straights, curves from the first, descents of one hundred meters with differences in height of twenty or thirty meters and equally steep climbs, a couple of fast curves.
Compared to Monte Carlo is only an imitation, because the city is all divided into blocks well squared and there is no room for fantasy, but in return the average is higher, because on the arrival straight the speed is the same that you can touch in Monza.
And here lies the risk: every meter of the circuit is surrounded on the outside and inside by a concave concrete wall. From a height of one meter, going upwards, the barrier continues with a net with an oblique roof inside at a height of about four meters, made to contain subsequent exits and/or glides, surrounded by a couple of escape routes.
This is the first time that this race is run, defined as a race of the West to distinguish it from the other - older - US Grand Prix, that of Watkins Glen, in New York, that is of the East. In a country as rich in racetracks as the United States, a city circuit has been chosen to imitate Monte Carlo: from the shores of the Mediterranean to those of the Pacific Ocean.
An idea that leaves time to be found and that is clearly linked to reasons of spectacle, business and publicity. The organizing committee, chaired by Christopher Pook with former drivers Dan Gurney and Phil Hill as experts (Hill will also be the race director), has spent half a million dollars, or over 400 million Italian liras, to set up a sufficiently good track, with adequate safety measures.
The Long Beach Grand Prix Association and the Formula One Constructors Association foresaw a base price of $265,000 for the engagement, plus another $245,000 for the transport of personnel and equipment from Europe with a charter-jet, resulting in an expense of $510,000, the same price paid by Brazil and South Africa for their respective races.
The additional $245,000 is used to charter three British Caledonian Airways charter jets a week before the race. One will carry 225 members of the Formula 1 circus (drivers, mechanics, car owners, officials and about forty European trade journalists). The other two charters, carrying twenty-six cars, with an estimated value of $3,000,000, leave London on March 22 and 23, 1976.
Each flight will pass through customs at Bangor, Maine, before arriving at Long Beach Municipal Airport. Along the way are 91,500 seats. A long list of former driving aces have been contacted to promote the event - Dennis Hulme, Jack Brabham, and Juan Manuel Fangio.
It is clear that, in a city with streets and avenues much wider than those of the Principality of Monaco, Pook and his associates have been able to build a valid circuit in an inhabited center, despite the fresh tragedy of Barcelona the previous year, when Rolf Stommelen went off the track taking four spectators with him, and the controversy about Monte Carlo and the promises of the CSI and its ineffable president, Von Metternich not to promote this type of facilities. Driving a Lancia Beta, Ferrari's sporting director, Daniele Audetto, makes a lap inside this particular circuit; a track of which Lauda says:
"It's better here than in Monte Carlo, because you have room to make mistakes. If you touch the wall you're on the road, while if you hit the guardrail you retire. Now I want to see how it goes with the real car. And then I'll make a final judgment".
There follows a rather curious scene when Niki is about to splash out on the track, but in the meantime an evil voice reaches him:
"With what they've given you, you're all defending this circuit".
The Austrian turns around and exclaims:
"I have taken the money as always, I have a contract with Ferrari. If Ferrari accepts I'll race, if not I'll stay at home".
Then, suddenly he bursts out laughing:
"I race to win. This is the biggest prize for me: to win so much and have people say bravo Niki, not just brava Ferrari".
Ducarouge and Robin of Ligier, who are on the circuit with their car to see what it is like, are run over by a service truck coming in the opposite direction. Ducarouge's leg is bruised, while Robin's head hits the windshield and he ends up in the hospital for stitches to his scalp, just past his right ear. As if that wasn't enough, the two will also receive reprimands, for circulating on the closed circuit for the works.
Different are the spirit and mentality, different the way of conceiving the business, that this type of sporting event can represent in a country that accepts everything just to have fun and spend money. Long Beach has organized this event by leveraging exclusively on money. To design the barriers, arrange them, modify a piece of the bay to make it possible to connect the upper and lower parts, has cost several hundred thousand dollars.
Then other dollars were spent to make a Formula 5000 race with Grand Prix fees, and finally other dollars went to all those who have even the slightest connection with the organization of world races to obtain the assignment of the test. They arrived at their goal, despite all the obstacles they found in their path, and the thousands of good reasons they had for not running this adventure. There was so much fighting not to run outside the fixed facilities, and now they are ready to run on this city course that even mocks in its slogan:
"The Monte Carlo of California".
It's a track where you have to know how to drive well, that has spectacular but relatively slow passages, fast but relatively safe points. Here everything is relative, because for better or worse you always run in a trench, between two concrete walls one meter high topped by a retaining net.
Eight flashing yellow lights are also installed in the critical blind corners of the course. All curves are sheltered by old tires tied together and ranging in height from eight to ten tires. Also placed in the curves are 1,600 oil drums filled with sand that weigh 300 pounds each.
On the first day of testing, all kinds of acrobatics are seen, with touches along the wall, bouncing in the curves protected by the tires, cars going sideways everywhere. It is even said that one of the drivers - Depailler - achieved the best time by making a very special trajectory in the curves, including a passage on the sidewalks.
Jarier achieved a personal success by arriving at the end of the pit straight and ending up in a spin; to restart in the right direction he gave a great acceleration with steered wheels, turning on himself, amidst the shouts of triumph from the public.
The times, which will still change in the sessions that will take place in the Californian afternoon, all keep rather close, and appear so far rather liars since Lauda, always the best, ends up being overtaken at the end of the tests when he breaks the engine of his car and is forced to continue to run with the mule.
The growth of Fittipaldi, who brought Copersucar quite far ahead, although still far from absolute competitiveness, confirms that this is a circuit where one must be able to drive well and have solid cars. The March cars break all the driveshafts used by Brambilla, Peterson and Stuck, while Merzario breaks the engine.
The two Ferraris appear as always in perfect efficiency, and Niki Lauda gives the impression to have assimilated better than all the characteristics of the track, before breaking the engine, and Regazzoni to like it very much for its eminently technical characteristic.
The Ferraris don't get too upset on the flat curves that induce others to drive acrobatically: more solid and compact, they don't need this kind of race conduct and this is an additional advantage, since the repeated skids put a strain on the mechanical organs.
The McLarens, with James Hunt in particular but also with Jochen Mass, appear to be the most relevant adversaries: they are single-seaters that require an American driving style, and Hunt does not seem true to be able to perform controlled skids and quick countersteering. Mass, who drives cleaner, is something below in performance.
Of the European cars there is still the Tyrrell on excellent times with Depailler, but we must not forget that the same car with Scheckter had rather serious problems with the rear suspensions. At Long Beach the two American cars, the Penske of Watson and the Parnelli of Andretti, find sudden efficiency. The first one has some problems of grip on the distance, while the Parnelli driven by an expert man like the Italian-American could aim at an excellent final result, thanks above all to the handling of the car well supported by the driver.
There is nothing else, while recording the progressive growth of Fittipaldi's Copersucar and the concrete improvements of the Brabham-Alfa Romeo of Pace and Reutemann. In particular, just the Argentinean driver, before the start of the weekend, praises Ferrari saying:
"Ferrari goes through an exceptional moment, it will be very difficult to beat its men and its boxer, the result of many years of work and experiments. Only a technical problem in the race will give us the chance to overcome it, but this team has advantages in all areas. Its engine pulls from 6,000 rpm to nearly 12,000 rpm while the Ford Cosworth has its torque from 8,000 to 10,500 rpm. Therein lies the internal advantage of the boxer. The organization is impeccable and the cars are well prepared. Lauda said at Interlagos that on the Monaco circuit he only has to shift into first gear on one corner and the rest he does in high gear, so he saves the gearbox and gains precious tenths of a second".
"The other teams will try to put more gears in their gearboxes, but time will still be lost when the maneuver has to be made. Then the cavallino team has six cars always ready, a director and two chief mechanics who go to all the races working with two different teams of mechanics. One goes to one race and the other to the next. So when they return to Maranello, those who have been at the track find the other team has already prepared the cars and is about to leave. It is said that with the air intakes starting from the Spanish race, the cars will be less fast, but Lauda has already tested the new Ferrari with the modification and it turns out that it goes two tenths of a second faster than the current one".
As far as the Anglo-Italian team is concerned, however, some accidents are astonishing, such as the one happened during the first free practice to Reutemann, who, starting from the box, loses the left rear wheel.
Big troubles for the March, rather light in the constructive technique and struggling with broken joints: the driving of Brambilla, Peterson, Stuck and Merzario, all men with a temperament to attack beyond measure, is not ideal to save the cars and make them arrive until the end. Out of any result are the Lotus, the returning Surtees, and the Shadow, while Chris Amon has a fair chance with the Ensign, so far better than expected.
However, there is a good fifty percent probability that some imponderable element will come into play: for example, if after the start they all pile up at the bottom of the downhill curve, it is no longer possible to make the slightest prediction, and objectively there are chances that the event will happen. After all, once the first obstacle has passed unscathed, there are two U-turns and then the entrance to the straight, which can lead to new accidents when the group is still all together. From the safety point of view, however, the problems in these points are not many, since the speed is reduced to 80 km/h in the first curve and 60 km/h in the others.
Of course, running at three hundred kilometers per hour along these continuous curves in the middle of the double wall is scary, and woe betide if a mechanical problem should happen in this section. Lauda, clocked at top speed, managed to exceed 288 km/h but the others are not far behind. Yet the drivers all agree that:
"Better here than Monte Carlo, and also better than running at Zeltweg with a finger of water or at the Nurburgring with the track dirty with soil".
The Long Beach circuit measures 3,251 meters, has a maximum elevation difference of twenty-one meters between sea level and Ocean Boulevard, eleven curves, a single straight and the long seaside boulevard that includes two curves that are taken at full throttle. On one of the two lanes of Ocean Boulevard runs the finishing straight, on the other are the pits the only technical element about which no objections can be raised.
As soon as they start, the racers have to face a ninety-degree turn that leads to the lower part of the circuit: it is a right turn that takes a road with a steep slope, and the driver accelerates again to straighten the car at the exact moment when the wheels lose grip due to the slope.
In addition, whoever is exiting the pits can find themselves in the path of those who are running, with mutual damage. Eighty or ninety meters and you turn ninety degrees to the left again: this time while braking, due to the slope, you risk touching the asphalt with your nose. Another turn to the right, and then a flat but faster slope that leads to the southern part of the new avenue to the sea.
A few hundred meters and you turn U-turn to return along the road built specifically to complete the circuit, and that runs where until three years ago there was a small lagoon, now reduced to the role of a lake. This is the point of maximum speed, even if the avenue is made to boomerang. At the end of the road there's a new U-turn to go back a little, along the other lane, and start gaining height again.
There is a small maze along the lower part of Pine Avenue, then always following the same road two right angle turns, first left and then right, and finally, at the end of a short but steep climb, the tightest turn to enter the finishing straight.
The protections include a total of five miles of pre-stressed concrete barriers placed throughout the track, along the escape routes of the tightest turns, and as the final obstacle of those turns. Each of these blocks is about four feet long, one foot high, and weighs four tons. Inside are strung two metal uprights that support a strong net that brings the height of the protective barrier to four and a half meters.
The cost of setting up the circuit is $561,000, which the organizers expect to amortize over the course of six years. This means that the West USA Grand Prix can be cancelled no earlier than 1981.
Copersucar returns to present a second car, still driven by Ingo Hoffman, and so does Surtees with Alan Jones, who has been missing since the 1975 German Grand Prix, when he was driven by Hill. Another return is that of the Italian Arturo Merzario, who has been missing since the 1975 Italian Grand Prix, at the wheel of a private March, managed by Ovoro Team March.
In the first practice session James Hunt scores the best time, preceding the Ferrari duo Clay Regazzoni-Niki Lauda. The high temperatures and the condition of the city circuit, with big ups and downs and slow turns, cause problems to the drivers in the search for the best conformation of the car.
Many cars suffer from carburetion problems, while Arturo Merzario is the protagonist of an accident without consequences. In the second session of the first day the fastest time is set by Patrick Depailler, on Tyrrell-Ford Cosworth. The Frenchman is rewarded by his driving style, which involves cutting corners.
On the second day Clay Regazzoni takes pole, the fifth in his career in the Formula 1 World Championship, as well as the eightieth for the Scuderia Ferrari. The Swiss driver is followed on the front row by Patrick Depailler, who only in the last few minutes manages to get the placement, also due to problems with the starter.
The second row is conquered by James Hunt and Niki Lauda, who in the initial parts of the tests leads the time classification. Regazzoni's return to pole position is the first stage of a recovery that the Swiss driver had already planned since the previous year, as Daniele Audetto admits:
"In Brazil and South Africa Clay had done two excellent races, only it was a moment of bad luck, a wheel first then the engine that gives way while the driver is recovering. All it takes is for everything to go right and Clay is ready and on time to be among the best, maybe first among all".
Clay is less categorical: he has changed a lot in the last few years, he has become more thoughtful and you can see it in the race. Few adventures, but the usual decision in facing the most difficult passages.
"Formula 1 has changed a lot. When Moss passed an opponent he would raise his arm to salute: he almost wanted to apologize for being faster or better, and pay homage to the beaten. Now if you're in trouble and you don't get out of the way right away to get passed, they show you their fists, these young lions".
The Ferrari driver seems to dislike his new and younger teammates, but no, he just registers the change and understands everyone's difficulty:
"The one behind risks more than I do, with cars that don't go forward or held together on a bet. I can win or lose, but I know how much the Ferrari makes and what it's worth, I don't need to guess the good numbers to keep it on the road or to keep it going. Then there is such a leveling of values that the fight is fiercer in practice than in the race, I give two seconds or a half to the first of the excluded, but Scheckter, who starts in the fifth row, is not even a second ahead of him".
The conversation continues: the difficulties of young people to make their way, the money, too much money needed to race, the exasperation of some and the adventurism of others. Soon the race starts, but Clay is the same, serene and relaxed as always:
"Here we start at eight meters. Nilsson, down there at the end, doesn't even see me. I said it, the biggest difficulties are for them, at worst I don't win".
But on Sunday 28 March 1976, at the start of the race Clay Regazzoni starts well and takes the lead, ahead of James Hunt who managed to pass Patrick Depailler after a good fight at the start; fourth is his teammate, Niki Lauda.
Coming out of the first curve, Vittorio Brambilla closes Carlos Reutemann against the wall; both are forced to retire. Then on the straight of the Port Gunnar Nilsson breaks the suspension of his Lotus, ending up against the wall at 250 km/h, but fortunately he gets out unharmed from the cockpit. Always during the first lap Depailler takes the opportunity to pass Hunt. At the exit of the hairpin bend that leads to the straight, the McLaren engine turns off for about three seconds due to the presence of steam in the fuel system that prevents the proper flow of fuel, after having turned off the electric pump.
Generally the cars start the race with the electric fuel pump on, in order to feed the engine until it reaches a sufficient speed - 3,000 rpm - to make the mechanical pump work, and it is no coincidence that in the following Grand Prix Hunt will turn off the electric pump before the start, maintaining a high number of revolutions.
At the third lap John Watson, tenth, crashes into Laffite's Ligier, breaking the nose of his Penske. Laffite is the victim of a spin as a result of the collision and drops from ninth to fourteenth position.
At the fourth lap, Hunt is behind Depailler, fighting for the second place: the British driver tries to jump into the Tyrrell at the bend just before the return straight, but Depailler closes the trajectory, forcing Hunt to pass wide on the left. When they come out of the corner side by side, Depailler gets in the middle of the track, driving the McLaren over the barriers. Hunt gets out of the car alone, sure that he was no longer able to restart, showing his fist to Depailler every time the Frenchman will pass again on the point of the collision. After the race, the McLaren mechanics will go to pick up the car and will be able to drive it to the pits.
In the meantime Lauda overtakes Depailler, taking the second position: the Austrian is seven seconds behind Regazzoni, who seems unreachable. The classification now saw, behind the two Ferrrari drivers, Depailler, Tom Pryce, Ronnie Peterson, Jody Scheckter and Jean-Pierre Jarier. In the sixth lap Peterson attacks Pryce, without being able to pass him. The battle between the two drivers favors Scheckter, who finds himself fourth.
In the meantime, Italian-American Mario Andretti was able to move up to ninth position from fifteenth at the start of the race in his Parnelli VPJ 4B-Ford, also setting a fast lap in the early stages of the race, but his race ended when his radiator began to leak as it had a hole in it, although he continued until lap fifteen, when his engine had burned out.
"Bad luck continues to haunt me. I know the track very well, I was able to get the fourth time and the engine blew. Luckily my mechanics changed it in two and a half hours instead of four, otherwise I couldn't qualify. The circuit is tiring for the cars, and the brakes, together with the gearbox, are the parts subjected to the greatest strain. I don't think it's difficult for the drivers".
This would be the last appearance for the American Vel's-Parnelli car, which in three seasons had run sixteen races with Mario Andretti as its sole driver. Before his retirement, Andretti had been approached by a reporter who asked him:
"What do you think of your last race in Formula 1?"
But Andretti had replied, saying:
"What are you talking about?"
And the reporter had added:
"That's what Vel told me".
But Andretti had replied:
"It will be his of last, not mine".
Andretti ended his relationship with Vel Miletich and Parnelli Jones, but the following morning, by chance, he met Colin Chapman - the Lotus boss - for breakfast in a Long Beach bar, where the two signed an agreement.
At the same time of Andretti's retirement, Patrick Depailler is the author of a spin that costs him several positions, until he falls back to seventh place. Regazzoni leads the race with a 13-second margin over Lauda, who in turn is ahead of Jody Scheckter and Tom Pryce. On lap 20 Depailler overtakes Jean-Pierre Jarier and, six laps later, Ronnie Peterson as well. Thanks to the breakage of Pryce's transmission and the front hub problem of his Tyrrell teammate Scheckter, the Frenchman recovers the third position on lap 34. Regazzoni always leads, ahead of Lauda, Depailler, Peterson, Jarier and Mass. Peterson, penalized by a braking system that is now out of order, is forced to make a pit stop that drops him to tenth position.
In seventh position is Jacques Laffite on Ligier-Matra, who also passes Jochen Mass on lap 45, as the German McLaren driver suffers a gearbox problem, and Jarier on the following lap. On lap fifty-six, Jarier gives up his position to Mass, due to a malfunctioning third gear.
With twenty laps to go, Lauda suffers gearbox problems and decides it is better not to force to attack Regazzoni. Jarier goes down to the sixth place behind Mass, because he has problems with the gearbox. At the penultimate lap Jarier, with only first and fifth gear, is overtaken also by Fittipaldi.
Regazzoni takes his fourth victory, completing a grand chelem with pole, fastest lap and leading from the first to the last lap. Lauda is second, forty-two seconds behind, with Depailler completing the podium. In the points for the first time the Ligier with Laffite and Emerson Fittipaldi with his car, separated from the McLaren of Jochen Mass.
The first Grand Prix at Long Beach is a success, so much so that former stable manager Rob Walker states:
"I think the creation of a Grand Prix at Long Beach is the greatest success for motorsports in the decade".
Third consecutive success for Ferrari in the Formula 1 World Championship: after Lauda's victories in Brazil and Argentina, Clay Regazzoni wins the US West Grand Prix at Long Beach, while Lauda, who finished second, strengthens his position as leader at the top of the standings with 24 points compared to Depailler's 10.
Regazzoni, after the checkered flag, continues to drive slowly, an arm raised to greet the public and then in the curves and on the straights all a play with the car, fake skids, changes of direction, for the joy of the spectators that until this moment have only seen him and Lauda go away clean and precise at every pass.
When he arrives at the pits, Clay jumps out of the car, hugging everyone with genuine emotion. He has a different light in his eyes, like a flash of happiness. All in a hurry, he has to make a phone call, kiss the missus, answer interviews.
"Did you see the Ferrari they gave me today? With the same car as Lauda's, I proved that I know how to beat the World Champion".
In the meantime, Lauda arrives and gets out of the car surrounded by the crowd. He looks around with a detached attitude, and then says in English:
"There's a mistake, I didn't win today".
His face is tense, although he is smiling, and he looks much more tired than Clay. His teammate, in fact, explains:
"Running like this you don't even sweat, there's no tension. Always in front, with the car as precise as a Swiss watch, of course".
Niki takes a breath before telling the Ferrari technicians that his 312 T began to feel strong vibrations four laps from the end. He is courteous to all who congratulate him, but he doesn't join the party because he feels it is foreign. Sitting in a hidden corner for a few minutes of relaxation, he says to his colleague Pruder, speaking in German:
"The World Championship, this damn ranking...you have to race to get there all the time, then you're afraid of the slightest noise, you try to go fast but then you lift your foot because you think you're asking too much of the car. It would be nice to be able to race just to win. It would be nicer and easier, and then at least you wouldn't get on your nerves like it's happening to me".
After the prize-giving ceremony on the podium, Niki sprinted away to a helicopter that deposited him directly at the Los Angeles airport, where he flew Pan-Am to Frankfurt. In Germany he left his personal plane for the last trip to Salzburg.
The rest of the Ferrari team is on the phone. Audetto calls the Commendatore in Maranello and, as always happens on these occasions, something goes wrong. It takes minutes - which seem like hours - before he is able to speak:
"Commendatore, we have the first and second. Have you seen it too? Perfect. But no, it wasn't difficult, it was all right for us, and the others have been scorning each other".
All around are a large number of journalists in a huddle, listening:
"Of course commander, everyone did well, as always. See you on Tuesday and we'll talk again. I'll tell you everything, you'll see, just everything".
Three Grand Prizes, three victories: each time Audetto's phone call was marked by success, and this time by triumph. He shrugs his shoulders and says:
"I have nothing to do with it, but it's nice to win and it's also useful. You know what it means to be the great Ferrari, especially here in America, where they throw money out of the window. The two cars that Niki and Clay have been using these days, already updated with the new regulations, have literally gone up for auction. And then there's the Fiat and Lancia production. Winning can mean getting out of trouble, especially at a time like this".
In the evening they closed with a party aboard the ever-present Queen Mary Pagano: twenty dollars to have the honor of dining together with the champions and there is a whole service of American class, in the request for the card to be served once and not twice, in the ceremonial that dedicates more space to the organizers than to the competitors, in the orchestra that plays in Regazzoni's honor the song Volare, from the ladies' clothes to the faces already ruby from too much Californian Chablis. A cup, a plaque, a model of the ship. Quickly away we go, up to Beverly Hills to party for real, Italian-style and with the dawn as our goal: winning is happiness.
It is a triumphant double win, which confirms the value of the Maranello Company, whose cars have offered an unforgettable proof of competitiveness in Long Beach. Regazzoni and Lauda, as perfect team mates, dominated the race from the beginning to the end: the Swiss driver proved to be always a great driver and the Austrian driver proved to know how to be satisfied, especially if the rival on duty drives another Ferrari. The Grand Prix of Long Beach had no history.
Regazzoni took the lead at the start, always maintaining the supremacy, while Lauda, in fourth position, took advantage of a collision between Depailler and Hunt to move into second place. While Depailler exclaims, at the end of the race:
"Hunt is solely responsible for what happened. He must accuse himself I think he should learn to run, especially in the first laps, taking into account that he is not alone".
James Hunt surges, and retorts:
"It was your fault. You pushed me out deliberately, no more stories. And don't say you didn't see me. I saw you looking at me in the right rear-view mirror; at this point you braked and moved to the left, closing the road to me. Next time, at Jarama, I will throw you off the track already during the tests".
But Patrick replies:
"You probably noticed that I had problems with the brakes in the laps before. I had to brake a little bit earlier, but when I started to brake you were very far away. Then suddenly I saw you on my right, very close, but I couldn't imagine that you wanted to advance, because in that point it was impossible. You could tell that I widened to the right before taking a left. How would you have gone through the hairpin? Instead, you brought yourself in an area where it was impossible to curve".
Depailler is done, and walks away, so the Brit continues:
"Patrick made a mistake. And it was totally stupid. I don't want to argue about his right to close the road to me, but his maneuver could have put us both out of the race. He was very lucky not to put his wheels on mine".
And about the controversial action against Depailler during the race, Jody Scheckter admits:
"I couldn't believe my eyes when at the end of the bend before the hairpin I found myself in front of Hunt who was walking right in my path, something crazy".
But David Benson has his own interpretation of the facts:
"James Hunt has collapsed under the weight of the failure of his marriage and his defeats in the three world championship races. His psychological problem is that he has always been the aiming point of British hopes in Grands Prix, but in three seasons he has won only three Formula 1 races including only one for the world championship. He has let the events of recent weeks overwhelm him, then looking for excuses, as he had done last year in Monte Carlo, when he claimed they had thrown him off the track against the barriers and then he had stayed on the track to show his fists to others".
Ferrari is always the absolute protagonist, object of much envy, point of arrival for all drivers. The most authentic impression on the eve of the US West Grand Prix is this kind of personalised confrontation: Ferrari is against everyone, and the struggle is not only to outdo the cars in the race, but to beat them, to free the image of the House from that prestigious role it holds.
Besides, at Ferrari they know how to play the role well, from the drivers to the managers to all the mechanics. If Cuoghi meets Hunt, he plays with him and challenges him on behalf of his drivers, Niki and Clay, just as Ghedini teases Fittipaldi. The drivers remain a little outside, but Lauda, whom everyone defines as cold and flat, as soon as he saw Depailler's time in Friday's practice, went to ask the Frenchman, with the biggest smile, which shortcut he had taken.
Very polemical but equally nervous, Daniele Audetto took Luca Montezemolo's place as sporting director: he did it with such discretion and continuity of action that nothing seemed to change.
Both of them are thin, but the new one is long, almost lanky, and they have many characteristics in common, first of all an immediate communication skills: for Audetto the task seems more difficult because he inherited a winning team, but on the other hand it is always better to start from good technical bases, rather than having to rely on future improvements.
At Ferrari they are preparing the change of car, from the 312 T to the T2 that had an unfortunate debut in England. A brake line broke and the race ended hopelessly for Lauda and with good luck for Hunt, who found an easy win. The car is good, slightly better than the current one and above all already able to give full confidence. Audetto recriminates:
"I didn't like at all Lauda's reaction to the defeat and the insinuations about troubles and boredom disguised as brake failure; I say what happens. Lauda blows the engine in practice, and I don't get involved in alchemy. But if it's the brake line, it's just the brake line".
Around him there are those who talk about old sins to be paid for, and Daniele shrugs his shoulders, as if to say that if there have been any, it is not his fault. However, the basic issue is the competitiveness of the car, and Lauda has some doubts:
"After this American race a lot of things can change. Until today we were all more or less stabilized on a constant performance, and depending on the tracks we could go more or less fast than the others. With the new car everyone has to discover their own limits and hope that they are greater than those of their opponents. Look at the six-wheel Tyrrell, nobody took it seriously at the beginning, but now it runs at Silverstone in 1'18"1 against the record which is 1'19"7. In Spain there can be many surprises, and maybe even more in the following races".
The roadway, rather narrow, caused several collisions between the competitors: the first, immediately on the opening lap, put Brambilla and Reutemann out of action, with mutual exchanges of accusations, respectively with the March and the Brabham-Alfa. Then it was Watson's turn to collide with another fifty percent Italian car, driven by Carlos Pace; then, after the pit stop, due to alleged brake problems, actually caused by a problem with the sole of his shoe, the Brazilian driver was again Watson to collide, this time with Laffite.
Everyone did a little bit of jabbing, encouraged by the fairly low speed of all the corners. But, obviously, once again the technical value of tests like this one is questioned: the same protection wall, defined as safe, turned out to be quite harmful, since Nilsson's car, ending up against it, was prey to the fire. The firemen intervened immediately, but the Lotus ended up half-destroyed and the driver with some light burns at the hospital.
Even Scheckter, who went off the road, banging his side against the wall itself, suffered some light bruises. However, the most spectacular incident was the one between Hunt and Depailler, who never gave up. They arrived side by side at the end of the straight, and neither of them gave way to the other. The result was a wheel spin, with Hunt's McLaren ending up in a half pirouette against the wall, smashing the front and all the suspensions.
Also Depailler lost time and positions, but, ascertained that his Tyrrell was still in full efficiency, he started again to attack, progressively overtaking Jarier at the 22nd lap, Peterson at the 27th, to find himself third at the 34th lap, after that Pryce had blown up the engine and Scheckter, with the other Tyrrell, finished off the road. Hunt, returned to the box, speaks to the television, interviewed by Stirling Moss, accusing Depailler of improper conduct of the race. He uses rather heavy words, saying:
"He pretended not to see on the side to not let me pass; then, when we were wheel to wheel, he still hit me with the bodywork. Driving just like a pirate".
And speaking of the championship, the Briton exclaims:
"If Lauda hadn't retired at Brands Hatch, it would have been a really good race. He's very lucky to have a perfectly tuned car in his hands. I don't exclude that the rabbit has a lot of skill, but the championship is not over yet".
Finally, talking about McLaren, Hunt admits:
"The six-speed innovation is certainly something fabulous, and many will be following suit before long. I am happy to be in the McLaren team that is working to put in my hands a model that - banish modesty - will win the world title".
Further back a happy comeback sees Laffite as the protagonist with his Ligier: started badly and then involved in the collision with Watson, the Frenchman at mid-race is placed fourth, behind Depailler, and from this moment nothing changes.
In the meantime the March are finished, the one of Stuck at the fifth lap and the one of Peterson at the thirty-seventh lap, both with broken joints, as it had already happened often in practice.
Regazzoni, in his solitary sprint, maintains a constant pace, always high, but such as not to compromise the performance of the car. His advantage over Lauda rises at every lap of three or four tenths, stabilizing in a dozen seconds after thirty laps, in twenty-four at three quarters of the race and a little more at the end. In turn, Lauda easily controls Depailler, who never manages to get close and become dangerous. In the last laps, as mentioned, Lauda had a few moments of fear:
"I felt strong vibrations in the rear train of my car and I was afraid I had to stop. I slowed down a lot, losing about twenty seconds on Clay. But who cares? This was a wonderful achievement for Ferrari. I'm pleased for Regazzoni, I'm delighted for these six points that I won".
Regazzoni, for his part, explains that he did not have the slightest problem during the race.
"A victory that was needed. And I hope it's not the only one this year".
Luca Montezomolo followed the U.S. West Grand Prix in a television studio, commenting live with commentator skills the one-two of Regazzoni and Lauda: the former head of the Italian team, who for some months now has taken up qualifying positions in Turin in the Fiat Group, has remained tied to Ferrari and to Enzo Ferrari in particular, and the success of Long Beach has therefore satisfied him greatly. What were Montezemolo's feelings about experiencing the race in a television studio?
"I felt bad, but other times in the past few years I've felt worse on the circuits. Television plays down the race, the tension remains, but not as intense as when you are there, among the mechanics, waiting for the race to end".
The American director has followed the Ferraris very little, especially Lauda's. What did he feel while talking and following other cars on the track on the telescreen?
"I was scared. I thought about the times in '74 when we lost races we had already won in the last laps. I thought: I am here engaged in academic speeches, and meanwhile who knows what happens in reality. Do you remember the Carosio of the golden times? Everything was fine, then suddenly the others scored goals against the Azzurri. For this reason I would have liked the two Ferraris to be always in the foreground".
What are your thoughts on this win?
"I would say it was exceptional. In Maranello they really make the best cars in the world. I would like to underline three points: in championship races Lauda has not stopped for a year: Ferrari has been winning since Monza '75; Regazzoni has imposed himself with an authoritative and clean drive on a city circuit, that is in a type of track that some critics claim is not favorable to his way of driving. I am therefore doubly happy for Clay".
Monday, March 29, 1976 Regazzoni and Jarier attend the party held at the Club dei 33, which is composed of the three hundred shareholders of the Grand Prix.
During the course of the evening, however, the two ask to leave - to return to the hotel - to a person connected with the organization, which in turn shows them a car parked in front of the door, having the keys inserted in the dashboard.
The car, however, had been rented, and the witnesses, seeing that it was taken by the two drivers, will help the driver, who in the meantime reports the disappearance. Regazzoni, in the meantime, leaves Jarier halfway to retrieve his Dino 308, and Jarier returns to the hotel to sleep.
The next morning the police are unable to trace Regazzoni, but they find Jarier who is accompanied to the local police station. Then follows the explanation of the facts, with the payment by who had committed the misunderstanding of the sum of 370 dollars to the renter of the car, who claimed a loss of earnings.
Tuesday 30 March 1976 in Long Beach the party is over for everyone, for the Californians who are dismantling their circuit, for the teams that return to Europe in forced stages, and even for the Ferrari team, while from Maranello Enzo Ferrari declares:
"With yesterday's victory in the North American Grand Prix of the West, the 312 T has concluded its brilliant cycle. In the next Grand Prix, on May 2 in Spain, it will be the 312 T2 to face the increasingly fierce competition. This Formula 1, in compliance with the new international FIA rules, will keep the transversal gearbox that also yesterday passed an exasperated test, and the by now classic boxer engine with now high utilization up to 13.000 rpm. It will be lighter, with reduced track widths and aerodynamically more profiled. I trust that this T2 will be worthy heir of the T that will pass to the museum, and will allow Clay Regazzoni and Niki Lauda other affirmations".
The previous year, after Clay Regazzoni's success at Monza and Niki Lauda's simultaneous conquest of the world title, the British commentators, a bit worried, wondered if by chance a Ferrari cycle had begun in Formula 1. What is happening now allows a positive answer, with a question for the near future. In Spain we will see the single-seaters a little different from the current ones, due to the new safety regulations, including the lowered air intake, and the different height and arrangement of the wings: will Ferrari keep the absolute predominance of today or will the situation, with the debut of the 312 T2 and the cars of the English teams, undergo some variation? We will have the time and opportunity to discuss the subject, but for now I will register when the Italian work has established itself abroad.