#110 1962 United States Grand Prix

2021-08-31 00:00

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#110 1962 United States Grand Prix

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Formula One left Europe to move to the United States on the 7th of October 1962, to the Watkins Glen circuit, confirmed as the host venue for the fourth United States Grand Prix after the success of the previous editions. The race for the title, which seemed to be over after the German Grand Prix, could now be reopened thanks to the discard rule: if Clark managed to win this Grand Prix and the race in South Africa, he would win the title, while Graham Hill only needed one victory to become World Champion. As in the 1961 season, Ferrari did not show up at Watkins, using as justification a strike that broke out among its employees that would have prevented the cars from being assembled in time for the Grand Prix. Therefore, once again Phil Hill was unable to run his home race and, moreover, rumours began to circulate that Enzo Ferrari wanted to fire him at the end of the season.


The other teams are all present at the circuit. B.R.M. enters three cars in the race, two driven by Graham Hill and Ginther, while the third, used by the American driver during the Italian Grand Prix, will be kept in the pits in case of emergency. Team Lotus brought two type 25 single-seaters for Clark and Taylor, the same ones used at Monza three weeks before; so also Porsche brought the cars used during the Italian GP and gave them to Gurney and Bonnier. Salvadori and Surtees are, as usual, at the wheel of two Lolas, while Ireland and Gregory will race in the UDT-Laystall. The circuit is located among the hills and near a lake, elements that make the climate unpredictable and unstable, especially during the autumn. And in fact, on Friday morning the track was wet with abundant rain, but at 1:00 pm - time of the start of the first practice session - the asphalt was almost completely dry.


The track record was recorded during the last edition of the Grand Prix, in 1961, with a time of 1'18"2, while the fastest qualifying lap is 1'17"; the feeling is that both records will be very difficult to beat. The B.R.M. drivers are the first to take to the track, with Ginther running on this track for the first time, while Graham Hill is more experienced. Both recorded a time of 1'23", while the Lotus driven by Clark ran a complete lap in 1'25". After an hour of practice the times begin to approach 1'20", and Gregory manages to record a time of 1'17"9 before his B.R.M. engine has a drop in power. The duration of the tests is four hours and the mechanics decide to start making the first changes to the set-up while the session is still in progress, so that the drivers have the chance to adapt better and faster to the track. The strategy seems to be the right one, and in the second half of the session the times begin to drop quickly, as the drivers start to find confidence with the track.


Ginther and Graham Hill recorded a time of 1'17", but Gurney proved to be faster, in 1'16"9. However, all three were overtaken by Clark with a time of 1'15"8, which led him not only to take provisional pole position, but also to set a new track record during qualifying. As the end of the session was approaching, Surtees decided to go back to the track to try to improve his performance, but he found himself protagonist of a frightful accident: because of the steering wheel failure he lost control of the car and caromed off the track, and crashed into a tree; the single-seater was destroyed, but the driver fortunately came out unharmed and went on foot to the pits. This was the end of the first practice session and Clark was in first position, followed by Ginther and Graham Hill.


On Saturday, October 6th 1962 a heavy rain fell on the circuit just when the practice session had to start and for about an hour nobody dared to go on the track. Only after the rain had subsided slightly did the two B.R.M.'s, together with Clark, come out of the pits to test their cars in the wet. Hill managed to complete a lap in 1'26"5, while Clark was more difficult, not having a particularly fast car in the wet, and recorded a time of 1'31"2. The rain didn't seem to have any intention of stopping and several drivers decided to try to get on the track, but they started to spin in the exit corridor of the pits, making the entry and exit to the pits very chaotic. Few were able to improve their performance and on Sunday afternoon it was Clark who started from the first box, followed by Ginther and Graham Hill. Differently from the previous day, on Sunday morning the track was dry, even if threatening clouds were hovering over the circuit, and the chances of rainfalls during the Grand Prix were high. Although the weather was not the best, almost 45.000 spectators were expected in the stands at Watkins, many of them from Canada.


With the absence of Ferrari and some unqualified drivers, the starting grid was made up of eighteen drivers, who lined up in the early afternoon. After receiving the start from the starter, the drivers went forward in an orderly way, and once reached the first bend it was Clark who held the first position, with Graham Hill behind him. McLaren, who gained the third position with respect to Ginther, in order to keep a contact with the first two classified drivers, exploited the power of his engine to the maximum, causing some problems that disturbed his driving for the whole duration of the race. At the end of the first lap the first two positions were unchanged, while McLaren slipped back in the classification and was overtaken by Ginther, Brabham and Gurney; after this leading group there were Bonnier, Taylor, Ireland and Gregory, while a third and last group was made by Mayer, Schroeder, Surtees, Sharp, Trintignant and Beaufort.


Soon Clark and Hill gained a fair lead over Ginther, who was soon overtaken by Gurney, and the fight for the win soon began. During lap 12 a series of overtaking put Clark in difficulty, and Hill managed first to catch up with him, then to overtake him; in the meantime the group fighting for the third position became more compact and now the order saw Ginther in third place, followed by Gurney, Brabham and McLaren. On lap 19 Clark set a time of 1:15:4, reaching Hill and taking the first position again, which he held till the end of the race. The fight for third place lost a driver on lap 30, when Ginther came into the pits and was forced to retire due to an oil leak. Gurney inherited third position, followed closely by McLaren. After Ginther's retirement there were fifteen laps without any overtaking, but on the contrary Clark managed to gain an advantage of almost eleven seconds over Hill, while McLaren came dangerously close to Gurney and overtook him during the 57th lap.


The Porsche of the fourth driver started giving some problems to the driver, and after only eight laps it was also overtaken by Brabham, thus dropping to the fifth position. During the seventieth lap Clark was seventeen seconds ahead of Hill and set a new track record of 1'15"0, moving further away from Graham Hill. Lotus thus won the US Grand Prix, opening the fight for the title with only one race left to run. The result obtained by Clark made the South African Grand Prix an unknown: if Hill should win, or place himself in front of Clark, he would be elected World Champion, but if Clark should win the first position he would be the one to become the winner of the current championship. The showdown would take place at the East London circuit on 29 December 1962, more than two months from now, and would decide the winner of the thirteenth Formula One season.


Olivia Carbone

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