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#196 1970 United States Grand Prix

2021-10-22 00:00

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#1970,

#196 1970 United States Grand Prix

Transport from Canada for 24 of the 26 Formula One cars which has been seen at St. Jovite is provided by communal trucks, making quite a change from t

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Transport from Canada for 24 of the 26 Formula One cars which has been seen at St. Jovite is provided by communal trucks, making quite a change from the gaily-painted transporters in which they are normally carried in Europe. The Ferraris, as always, come on their own lorry, but the 26 arrives safely in the pleasant town of Watkins Glen, situated in the colourful Finger Lakes region of New York State, where the Grand Prix of the United States has now firmly made its home. The race is the tenth in the series to be held at Watkins Glen. All the teams except the Ferraris are to be housed in the Kendall Tech Center, protected by security guards from the crush of eager Americans anxious to make the most of their only opportunity to see Formula One cars on US territory. Attendances at Watkins Glen have risen steadily over the past decade and this year it reached 100.000 for the first time ever, though this included hangers-on such as guests and the press. American track safety regulations and the fact that the crowds tend to come early and camp within the grounds of the circuit present quite a task for the local officials, who cope firmly but fairly without having to resort too often to the help of the unpopular police. Those drivers who have raced in Canada are all due to take part in the Grand Prix, with the addition of several more. The most important additions to the race are the two Lotus 72s of Gold Leaf Team Lotus, returning to the scene after a one-race respite to rally and recover from the sad events at Monza. They bring 72C/R5 for the young Brazilian Emerson Fittipaldi, this now repaired after the practice accident at Monza (its first appearance), plus 72C/R3, the car which has until now been driven by John Miles. Having asked for time to reconsider his position with the team, however, Miles finds himself without the drive and in his place was the 29-year-old Swede Reine Wisell.

 

It appears that WiseII will be Fittipaldi’s regular team-mate in future, so the slogan Gold Leaf Team Lotus, racing for Britain, which is emblazoned on the side of the Lotus transporter, may well have to be reconsidered. Other cars brought out directly from Europe are the second Surtees, TS7/002, this being entrusted to Derek Bell, the Formula Two expert who has just finished a long spell on the Le Mans film. It is Bell’s second Grande Epreuve of the year and keeping an eye on him is Tom Wheatcroft, who loans one of his two Cosworth engines to the Surtees team for the race. Bringing McLaren numbers up to four is Bonnier in M7C/1, last seen unsuccessfully trying to qualify at Monza and now painted yellow with a white and red stripe. Nevertheless, it is showing its age, this being certainly the hardest used car in the field, having served Hulme throughout the 1968 and 1969 Grand Prix seasons. Two more cars are brought from distant parts of the United States, Volkswagen dealer Pete Lovely bringing his familiar Lotus 49/R11, all the way from Seattle, Washington. This car is still in 1969 49B trim with 15 in. front wheels. The other American is the Texan Formula A driver Gus Hutchison, making his Formula One debut in the 1968 Brabham BT26 which lckx had used early in 1968. The car is eligible for Formula A racing but Hutchison has not used it as such since July, claiming that it is not as fast as the 5-liter Lola T192-Chevrolet which he is now racing in Formula A. Also making a start in Formula One is twice British hill-climb champion Peter Westbury, who races his own Brabham in Formula Two, assisting the GPDA with matters of circuit security in this sphere: he is asked to drive the fourth B.R.M., using 153/04 while Oliver switched to the spare 153/06. The latest B.R.M. engine is not in use; it is removed from the newest car before practice and kept in reserve.

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These newcomers swell the number of drivers to 27, three of whom would be disappointed, for the regulations stated quite clearly that 24 cars only would start. The prize money system pioneered by Watkins Glen brings the total purse to just over a quarter of a million dollars (about £100.000), the winner taking $50.000 and the 24th man £6.000, even if his car expires within inches of leaving the starting line. Under this typically American system the drivers are going to have to work hard for their money and the pressure is naturally on the mechanics to make sure that their cars are in tip-top condition to guarantee a finish. The mechanics all concentrated on general preparation unless engine failure in Canada dictates a change, for as always, they are waiting until after first practice to install the engines which are to be used for the race. On that evening, no fewer than 14 engines are being changed, 13 of them in the Tech Center at the circuit and the remaining one (the flat-12 in Ickx’s 312B/001) at the Chevrolet agent’s garage where the Ferraris are traditionally housed. First practice on Friday takes place between 1:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. in dry and slightly cold conditions. Many of the newcomers to Watkins Glen are surprised to find that a country as vast and wealthy as the USA should have one of the shortest Grand Prix circuits, and several commented also on the narrowness of the track. About half of the surface is repaired after the catastrophe which struck Watkins Glen during the Constructors Championship/Can-Am weekend in July, but the circuit is still somewhat bumpy and some of the fresh tarmac very slippery. It rapidly becomes apparent that although Jochen Rindt’s existing F1 lap record of 1'04"34 is attainable, it will only be a few, if any, who equale his fastest practice lap in 1969 of 1'03"62 and that Bruce McLaren’s Can-Am qualifying fastest lap (set in 1969) of 1'02"21 is quite out of reach, even for the latest and most sophisticated of Europe’s single-seaters.

 

With their considerably greater horse-power, the Can-Am cars have an appreciable advantage around Watkins Glen, which is deceptively fast and has a lap speed of over 130 m.p.h. for anyone who can break the 1'03"6 barrier. Speeds such as this mean that the 2.3-mile track is always full of cars: there are plans not only to widen it but also to extend it within the next twelve months. the money being provided out of the proceeds of the racing by the Watkins Glen Grand Prix Corporation. This organization, entirely non-profit-making, has always organized the Grand Prix along firm but congenial lines and the tradition continues this year under the guiding hand of its new Executive President, Mal Currie. One of the first tasks faced this year by Currie is a deputation from the drivers to have removed a rather high kerb on the outside of the slow corner which brings the drivers in front of the pits. Earth-moving machines are at work complying with this request on the morning of first practice. Currie, however, is not so compliant with another request, this being that all 27 drivers should be allowed to start. Ickx leaves the others floundering on the first day of practice, gradually reducing his times as he tries  some new Firestone tyres, until with an hour to go he is the only driver actually to get under Rindt’s official lap record from 1969. There is more to come from the Ferrari and Ickx, but for the moment his time of 1'03"4 is almost a second faster than that set by Stewart, who is delayed from using the Tyrrell because there are some alterations to be made to the car as the result of fitting some new front uprights, sends out from England in connection with the new front hubs to replace the components which costs cost Stewart the race in Canada.

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Stewart, too, is trying some different tyres, in this case some front Dunlops with a very low profile construction. Unlike Ickx’s Firestones, they are not a complete success, largely because both the Tyrrell (and the B.R.M.s, which are also trying them) bottom on certain parts of the course. Stewart also tries his usual March, setting a time in the early part of the session which would comfortably have qualified him in the top ten, but as soon as Tyrrell is ready he concentrates on that and hardly bothered with the March. Nevertheless, Amon seemed happy enough with his STP-March, being overall third fastest at 1'04"28, faster for once then Regazzoni’s Ferrari (1'04"3). Others to set good times are Fittipaldi 1'04"69) and Hill (1'04"81), which indicates that the combination of low frontal area and good traction offered by the Lotus 72C will again be of considerable assistance. This is in fact one of Hill’s better performances of the year and during the race he is to show that his happy memories (wins in three consecutive years) outweighed the recollection of the accident during the 1969 race, when he suffers extensive leg injuries after being thrown from his crashing Lotus 49B. It is significant that at this stage Firestone-equipped cars fill five of the top seven places, Dunlop claiming the remaining two, and Goodyear users do not appear until the last three places in the top ten. At the bottom of the list one notes the names of Bonnier and Westbury faster than Siffert and Beltoise, both of whom have failing engines, and de Adamich right at the bottom of the list following another Alfa Romeo engine disaster. Before very much of Saturday’s practice goes by, the skies suddenly blacken and there is a cold drenching rainstorm which brings all activity to a complete halt.

 

When it resumes there are still two hours of practice remaining, but the track, though well drained, seems reluctant to dry out and everyone is soon sloshing round with rain tyres fitted. Had practice not been extended because of a slightly late start, it seems that all grid times would have been taken from the first day’s times, but in the final quarter-hour some excellent speeds are announced and the practice becomes very exciting indeed. Nevertheless, Ickx’s time is still the best, despite last-minute efforts from Stewart. The Lotus pit thinks that Fittipaldi has beaten Stewart for the second-best place on the front row of the grid, but when the times are announced it is revealed that the youthful Brazilian is a mere five-hundredths of a second slower than the Scot, timed by the complex electronic system. Fittipaldi is the third and last driver to break the 1'04"0 barrier, being permitted by Chapman to do over 220 practice laps, more than twice the race distance, in two days. Only three drivers manage to crack the 1'04"0 barrier, but indicating the closeness of present Formula One cars and drivers is the fact that during the final hectic 15 minutes of practice when the track is very nearly dry, no fewer than eight drivers set times under 1'05"0 and a further eight did sub-1'06"0 times. Neither of the two Brabhams figured very high on the grid, something of an embarrassment to the British artist who does an accurate and very attractive painting for the cover of the programme suggesting that Jack Brabham would be leading the race. In fact both Brabhams are out of the hunt, partly because of their tyres but also because the steering is tending to seize on full bumps. The problem first manifests itself at St. Jovite and both cars are fitted with new front lower wishbones (one of which had broken when Brabham was testing Stommelen’s car in Canada) without solving it.

 

Schenken is a very envious spectator as the two works Lotuses practice almost endlessly: there is only one Cosworth engine for the De Tomaso and his training has to be strictly limited. Nevertheless, his time set on Friday is better than Gethin’s McLaren achieved. The three last qualifiers on the grid are Hutchison in his space-frame Brabham, one hundredth of a second faster than Siffert, who is once again in fuel feed trouble before his smoky engine lost its oil pressure, and Bonnier, who scrap in mainly because Westbury, Lovely and de Adamich have problems which can not be cured in time for those essential last few moments of practice. Westbury’s engine blows up after it has been over-revved while the driver is getting accustomed to the unfamiliarly long gear-change movements of the B.R.M., Lovely’s gearbox parted company with the bell-housing (breaking a drive-shaft as it did so) and de Adamich has another bout of his familiar ill-luck, first when the new engine fails on Friday, then on Saturday when an oil line comes detached and later in the day a small electrical fire breaks out. It is the opinion of many drivers (members of the GPDA and otherwise) that Bonnier would have done much better to stay in Europe with his 2-liter Lola sports car. He must have felt better able to face his fellows having qualified, for later in the afternoon he conducts a GPDA meeting in a room provided in the Tech Center: unfortunately the whole of one wall consists of a window, through which the Americans rubber-necked quite shamelessly. An interesting point which emerges during the weekend is that neither Regazzoni nor Fittipaldi have yet been invited to join the club even though it contains some people who are far less likely ever to win a Grande Epreuve.

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It rains again overnight, but a stiff wind late in the morning sweeps the showers away. When it abates there is a big black cloud hovering over the circuit and there is the rare sight of mechanics scurrying around with rain tyres and preparing to fit them on the grid. Had the race been started on time, no doubt several people would have made the gamble, later regretting it. In fact the sky is clearing rapidly, so almost everyone starts their warm-up laps on dry tyres, the sole exceptions being Regazzoni and Bell, who set off on intermediate Firestone tyres. When the flag drops, the race is 20 minutes late. The start is clean, Stewart seizing the lead from Rodriguez, but Fittipaldi makes a very poor getaway, ruining the advantage of his excellent practice time, and by the time they starts the second lap the Lotus is down in eighth place immediately behind Oliver, who is tailing the TS7 of Surtees, Amon and the two Ferraris, lckx lying third ahead of Regazzoni. After only five laps, Fittipaldi is up to seventh, Surtees becoming the first to make a stop, a permanent one, with a loose flywheel. Oliver passes Amon on lap 12 and although Fittipaldi maintains station behind the March he doesn’t threaten to pass. It seems that Stewart’s apparent lack of practice speed is merely a smoke screen, or possibly it’s because the Tyrrell is much more manageable than anything else when its tanks are full, for as in Canada he is simply streaking away. Rodriguez’s grip on second place is prised open by Ickx after 16 laps and one lap later the Mexican has to let Regazzoni through, but there is no doubt that the combination of Stewart and Tyrrell-Cosworth is as irresistible as that of Rindt and Lotus 72 has been at Zandvoort. Hill is not far behind Fittipaldi, tailed by IHulme, Wisell and Bell.

 

Pescarolo is holding up Brabham (again!), then comes Peterson, shortly to be passed by Siffert, next a lowly-placed Beltoise, Cevert, ahead of a trio comprising Gethin, Stommelen and Schenken. Eaton’s B.R.M. engine expires after 11 laps (when the Canadian just overtakes Peterson), so the remaining runners are Hutchison and Bonnier. The American completes 14 laps before pulling out with a loose petrol tank, but Bonnier makes a series of stops and restarts, once again earning some unfavorable comments from his fellow drivers. Oliver joins Eaton in retirement, for the same reason, a broken engine, on lap 15. A large fraction of Ferrari supporters greet Ickx’s move into second place with cheers, but when they groan on lap 37 it is for Regazzoni. The Swiss makes an initial stop to have a tyre replaced and quickly followed it up with two more, the first to replace the Dinoplex black box part of the ignition system and later to have parts of the exhaust system removed. The first stop moves Amon into fourth place behind Rodriguez’s BRM and elevates Fittipaldi into fifth. Shortly before half-distance Amon (like Regazzoni) comes into the pits to have a worn-out front tyre replaced, dropping the leading March well back. ‘Wisell is now lying behind Fittipaldi, Hill having made a stop to have a fuel leak repaired. The cockpit of the Lotus is awash with fuel, so Rob Walker arranges for John Surtees to change clothing in the pits with Hill. The sight of two former World Champions stripping stark naked (Hill insists on underwear as well as coveralls) relieves to some extent the two drivers’ misfortunes. Hill continues in the race for more than 30 laps before his Lotus halts out on the circuit with a broken clutch. At half distance, 54 laps, Stewart is almost half a lap ahead of Ickx with Rodriguez third and Fittipaldi about to be lapped.

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Three laps after the Tyrrell sweeps past the Brazilian’s Lotus, Fittipaldi finds that he is third, for Ickx’s Ferrari starts to leak fuel out of a union on the outside of the car, losing ten places while it is repaired at the pits. Wisell is no longer troubled by Bell for fourth place, Hulme is dropping back with a sickening engine and Amon is next. His team-mate Siffert makes a stop to complain of a similar tyre problem, restarting after a new one has been fitted. Brabham spins, backwards, to a halt directly in front of the pits on lap 32, his gearbox not working properly: although it is a strictly irregular move, his mechanics administer help on the circuit, beyond the protection of the pit rail, and he resumes even farther down the field than before. Schenken has the better of Stommelen and Gethin for a brief period before a weld breaks in the rear subframe and he has to retire. Sixty laps passes with Stewart leading handsomely, then 70. At 76, though, there is plainly something wrong with the dark blue Tyrrell for although it sounds healthy enough one bank of cylinders is smoking heavily. A plastic tie-wrap securing an oil line melts from the heat of the exhaust and the rubber itself burns through on a hot exhaust pipe. Tyrrell thinks that a piston might break up and put out a signal to Stewart to switch on the pump which returns oil from the catch tank to the dry-sump tank, but the situation does not improve and after 82 laps of leading the race without any sort of challenge, Stewart has to stop on the circuit with no oil remaining for lubrication, much of it being on the track. It is the last of the Tyrrell challenge, for Cevert leaving the race in a distinctly exciting manner when a rear wheel falls off, the result of a hub failure. Early in the race he made one stop to have the hub on the other side replaced! While Stewart slows, Fittipaldi and Wisell are able to unlap themselves.

 

The two Lotus 72s lay a threatening second and third behind Rodriguez’s sole remaining B.R.M., but are themselves safe from any pressure which might be offered by Amon (who had passed Bell). It is Ickx who gives the race its principal interest as he rips through the back markers to make up for lost time, relegating Bell on lap 95. When Rodriguez leads  the race from laps 82 until lap 100 (with only eight more remaining) it seems for the second time this year that luck might just be on the side of Bourne, but it is not to be. The Mexican starts his 101st lap in the pit lane, rolling in for fuel with a dead engine. It seems incredible after St. Jovite that B.R.M. should let such a thing happen again, but it happened and there is the red, white and gold Lotus 72 of an incredulous Fittipardi going by into the lead of the richest race of the year. Rapid pitwork got Rodriguez back into the race just in time to prevent Gold Leaf Team Lotus making a completely clean sweep of it and Fittipaldi reels off the remaining eight laps to take his first Grand Prix victory. Wisell is indeed happy with third place, but Ickx took Amon’s fourth place away from him with two laps left. It is not enough to keep Ickx in the hunt for the World Championship, which now goes to the late Jochen Rindt. Few would disagree that it is appropriate that a member of Team Lotus should prevent Ickx from keeping in the Championship running. When Motor Sport initiates its Formula Three Championship earlier this year, pictures of the four most prominent Formula Three drivers are published as an introduction to the Formula for readers. These four are Peterson, Schenken, Fittipaldi and Wisell: all four have now become established members of the Formula One scene, Wisell being the last to join. While we mourn those we have lost, we must welcome these newcomers and their obvious talents.

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