#149 1966 United States Grand Prix

2021-12-15 00:00

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#1966, Fulvio Conti, Translated by Monica Bessi, Alice Turiani,

#149 1966 United States Grand Prix

On Sunday, October 2, 1966, at the Watkins Glen circuit, the eighth round of the Formula 1 World Championship is held. The track is located in the Uni


On Sunday, October 2, 1966, at the Watkins Glen circuit, the eighth round of the Formula 1 World Championship is held. The track is located in the United States, more precisely in the state of New York, in Watkins Glen, a village at the southern end of Seneca Lake, which hosts for the sixth time the Formula 1 Grand Prix on a very fast track that is 3.701 metres long. This race was preceded by the Monza Grand Prix, which was held on Sunday, September 4, 1966, and which saw Ludovico Scarfiotti on his Ferrari win, followed by his teammate Mike Parkes and Denny Hulme with Brabham. The 1966 season began at the end of May with the Monaco Grand Prix, where on the first podium of the World Championship there were Jackie Stewart with B.R.M., followed by the Ferrari of Lorenzo Bandini and the other B.R.M. driven by Graham Hill. The United States Grand Prix is considered the richest Formula 1 race to date, with a total prize pool of 102.400 dollars. This makes this Grand Prix the fourth race in order of wealth, where the three previous, always American, were the Indy 500 (with a total of 500.000 dollars), the 12 Hours of Daytona and the 600 miles of Charlottesville (both 150.000 dollars). In 1966, the organisers more than doubled the total amount of the prizes, so the winner gets 20.000 dollars, while the last qualifier receives 2.800 dollars. The signing prizes have been eliminated, but the organisers pay a total of nearly 100.000 dollars in travel and accommodation expenses, so the total cost of organising the Watkins Glen race is about 200.000 dollars; however, the organisers are sure to regain the full amount and a lot more with the transfer of broadcasting and advertising rights, as well as with the tickets: in fact, for this United States Grand Prix 75.000 people are expected around the circuit.


With the twenty drivers racing on Sunday, who are considered the elite of world motoring, the interest for this eighth Grand Prix of the season is understandably very high. The Lotus Team gets to the United States Grand Prix with three cars, one equipped with a B.R.M. H16 engine, one with a 2-litre B.R.M. V8 engine and a 2-litre Climax V8 engine. The V8 B.R.M. will be driven by Pedro Rodriguez, while the other two will be driven by Jim Clark and Peter Arundell. The B.R.M. team is rebuilding the cars that broke up during the races in Oulton Park and Monza, therefore they get to Watkins Glen with three cars equipped with H16 engine, and a spare engine. The extent of the damage is due to the crushing of the cast iron shirts, which caused the crushing of the castings of the lower end. More expensive steel linings are produced to isolate the valves and reduce major damage. The cars brought to the United States are chassis equipped with three-litre engines, numbered in the order 1, 2 and 3. The number 1 is the spare car, the number 2 is prepared for Graham Hill and fits the last engine, while the number 3 is instead driven by Jackie Stewart and has a double V8 engine. The most successful team in 1966 was Brabham, with Jack Brabham and Denny Hulme at the wheel of its cars in Monza and Oulton Park. Brabham sets on the car of the homonymous driver the electrical system Bosch to try to overcome some problems faced in previous races. Cooper has the same cars used in Monza, and in detail John Surtees uses the old layout with wide-angle intake openings, while Jochen Rindt uses an engine with narrow-angle air intakes. Scuderia Ferrari only has one car for Lorenzo Bandini, since the other two entries have been withdrawn; the car has the last heads produced in Maranello, with three valves. All American Racers enters two cars for Dan Gurney and Phill Hill; the latter however is in hospital due to a hernia, and then Bob Bondurant takes his place with a 2.7 Climax, which Gurney used earlier in the season. Gurney’s car is the V12 Gurney-Weslake that has already been used in Monza.

The fuel system has been modified, but no tests have yet been carried out on track; therefore, the free practice sessions are the only useful time to solve any further problems. The Honda team enters two cars for Richie Ginther and Ronnie Bucknum. The first is back from the accident in Monza and it seems that his collarbone is completely healed. The car of Bucknum fits the chassis number 3 and is the same that was used in Monza, except for the Airheart brakes that are still in the test phase. Ginther’s car, which fits the chassis number 2, has a much wider axle track, the front is 64 inches and the rear is 62 ¾ inches, with an increase of 7 ¾ inches behind and in front. Rarely has such a large increase been seen without a complete redesign. McLaren returns after missing the previous two races: the Ford engine used features the reinforced bottom end and the engineers involved in the Ford Indianapolis project have worked on the engine that now develops 325 horsepower and still features the huge air intakes and exhausts that had at the beginning of the season.


To complete the enters for the United States Grand Prix, there are the four private Jo Siffert, driving the Cooper-Maserati of Rob Walker’s team, Jo Bonnier driving his Cooper-Maserati, Mike Spence on the 2-litre Lotus-B.R.M. team of Parnell and Innes Ireland on the 2-litre B.R.M. of Bernard White’s team. On Friday, September 31, 1966, free practice starts in a particularly cold and windy weather condition, which improves only during the last hour, when the wind starts to drop. Jo Bonnier, Bruce McLaren and Jochen Rindt go on track as soon as possible and are immediately followed by most of the drivers. The team of mechanics in charge of Dan Gurney’s car is still in the technical building preparing the car. Then, when the American driver goes on track, after only one lap with the Weslake V12 engine, the car has a problem. The oil pressure is low, so the team is forced to work on the car in the pits for a while.


Jack Brabham manages to turn with the Lucas system, fitted in place of the electric Bosh that included a very long work to get the right timing. The other car that arrived late is Bernard White’s B.R.M. which is still in its set up phase as it is a last minute entering, and the final setup must be completed during the day of testing. In the first hour of testing, Jim Clark is the fastest, running 0.03 seconds faster than his best lap time of the previous year driving a car with the H16 engine, which has the number of Peter Arundell, but the wind on the straight makes the times relatively low. Richie Ginther and Ronnie Bucknum are both on track, but before the latter can start to set useful lap times, he has problems with the second gear and the car comes back to the pits. Ginther starts to set good lap times, but complains about the hump of the steering and begins to work on the suspension setup. Before the half of the race, Ginther, Bandini, Surtees and Stewart are running under the limit of 1'10"0, but the wind has not yet dropped and this worries the drivers with the fastest cars.


Bruce McLaren misses a gear change and when he returns to the pits the rev counter is blocked at 10.600 rev/minute, so at least 1.000 rpm over the recommended limit. The car is moved away to check if the engine has been damaged, but fortunately there is no damage, although the mechanics are quite surprised. With the wind dropping, most drivers stop and wait for the last half hour to try to set good lap times. Lorenzo Bandini, at the wheel of the Ferrari, during these practices, pulverises the Watkins Glen circuit record, covering the 3.701 metres in 1'08"57 at the average of 196.008 km/h. The lap of John Surtees is also very good, who on his Cooper-Maserati sets a time only 0.04 seconds higher than that done by Bandini. The only other car to fall below the 1'09"0 limit is Graham Hill, who makes some consistently fast laps after his gear ratios have been changed. The lap times of Denny Hulme are not good, as the car has problems with fuel carburetion, which are not solved correctly until the end of practices.


Jim Clark sets a lap time of 1'10"0 with the Lotus-Climax, and did not go out again with the Lotus-B.R.M. H16 of Peter Arundell, which has a low oil pressure and a return spring of the valve blocked. The two private drivers who race with the Cooper-Maserati have several problems: Jo Siffert complains of having vibrations and the toothed crown, the clutch and the transmission shafts are examined, but nothing radically wrong is found. Jo Bonnier, on the other hand, feels something in the engine and when the head is removed, the top of one of the pistons breaks. Fortunately, the Walker team has a spare one, and it is fitted overnight. The second session of practices, held on Saturday, October 1, 1966, is preceded by heavy rain that transforms the streets and paths in mud baths. When the first cars come out, the track seems to start drying. With the exception of Jack Brabham and Jo Bonnier, the other drivers, during the first hour, set very slow laps.


Jo Bonnier decides to have done enough laps and after checking that the piston works, his Cooper-Maserati remains in the technical building, while the Brabhams are both ready to take part in the tests: the car of Jack Brabham fits the electrical system Bosch, but they decide to wait to get on track, since the times are slow and there is still a lot of mud; therefore, they decide to stay inside the box to wait for the track to improve. Jim Clark runs with the car equipped with a Climax engine but returns with gearbox problems, and then comes out with the H16. Bruce McLaren makes several laps but complains of understeer. The McLaren car is having some trouble to start with the starter and the New Zealand driver performs experimental single laps, then turns off the engine and tries to restart it. Dan Gurney soon goes on track and the V12 engine starts working well; during the night, one of the fuel cells was changed, having discovered a leak. The drivers of the B.R.M. team finds the right setup and the third car is driven by both.


After a few laps, Jackie Stewart asks if he can have the number 1 car available and the mechanics decide to adapt it as his racing car, but for practice he still has the wrong gear ratios. Both Hondas complete a lot of laps and Ronnie Bucknum returns to the original brakes, but the lap times don’t improve because the changes made to overcome the steering bump and other defects don’t work. Bucknum has stiffened suspension that doesn’t work, but this way it feels better on the straight. When the track dries completely, lap times improve, then in the last hour the normal activity begins. Jim Clark is not able to get good lap times with the car equipped with Climax engine: the Scottish driver goes on track and blocks the gear, so the car is back in the pits. Peter Arundell makes many laps with the car that fits the H16 engine, but spins two times in front of the pits. Graham Hill’s B.R.M. is no better than the previous session. Jackie Stewart is faster, but seems to be more comfortable with the spare car.


John Surtees manages to match the previous lap time, while Jochen Rindt manages to improve it. However, Rindt’s engine consumes too much oil when the engine reaches a high speed, so it is suspected that a piston is breaking, so an engine change is made the day before the race. Pedro Rodriguez, with the 2-litres Lotus-B.R.M., manages to get down to a lap time of 1'10"4 without any mechanical problem. Dan Gurney is starting to solve his problems and, although his lap times are not good, he is faster on the straight than any other car, so he obviously loses a lot of time in other parts of the track. Mike Spence and Jo Siffert both improve their lap time of the previous day. In the last minutes of practice all eyes are on Jack Brabham, who ends with a time of 1'08"42 winning the pole position. Just as the flag is about to be waved to mark the end of qualifying, Jim Clark gives the final push to his Lotus powered B.R.M. H16 by dropping to 1'08"53, positioning himself behind Brabham on the grid.


But as the Lotus-B.R.M. slows down, Clark feels that there is something in the engine and when he stops he sees the oil dripping from one of the exhausts. Qualifying ends like this with a fall of a light rain that, according to the locals, indicates the end of bad weather. Practices, between Friday and Saturday, last more than eight hours in total, so more than four hours per day. On Sunday, October 2, 1966, the sky above Watkins Glen is blue and cloudless and even the wind seems to have stopped, just as the locals predicted the previous day. All teams finished work on their cars overnight except Lotus, which had to deal with the B.R.M. engine oil leak until the last moment. An hour before the start, it is still not certain if Jim Clark will be taking part in the race driving the 3-litre car or the two-litre one. Jackie Stewart chooses to use the spare car and his gearbox is changed. Overnight the mechanics found out that the problems on Graham Hill’s car were caused by the time slippage as the laps increased and this has been adjusted.


The top ten positions on the grid are occupied by Jack Brabham who will start in pole position, Jim Clark, Lorenzo Bandini, John Surtees, Graham Hill, Jackie Stewart, Denny Hulme, Richie Ginther, Jochen Rindt and Pedro Rodríguez. The total laps are 108, so 399.600 kilometres. When the cars are lined up on the grid, Jim Clark’s position remains empty until just before the engines start for the warm-up lap. Even when the Scottish driver stops on the line, the oil flows out of the engine and only when a last nut is tightened, the oil stops leaking, while the cars begin the warm-up lap. The start of this long-awaited United States Grand Prix, characterised by a confusion which is more agitated than usual, is delayed by a few minutes, but as soon as it is lights out Lorenzo Bandini, with an excellent start, stands out immediately from the second row and, running towards the hill, takes the first position ahead of Jack Brahham and Jim Clark. At the end of the first lap, Lorenzo Bandini is still in the lead followed by Jim Clark, Richie Ginther, Jack Brabham and John Surtees.


A short gap separates the first from the second group, led by Jackie Stewart, followed by Graham Hill, Denny Hulme, Jochen Rindt, Jo Siffert, Mike Spence, Pedro Rodriguez, Bob Bondurant, Dan Gurney, Innes Ireland, Jo Bonnier and Ronnie Bucknum. At the bottom of the group there is Peter Arundell and, last after a bad start, Bruce McLaren. On the next lap the Ferrari is still in the lead and gains a bit over Jim Clark. Jack Brabham and John Surtees overtake Richie Ginther and get close to Jim Clark. Ginther, whose start was excellent, quickly loses ground: two positions on the second lap, another position on the following lap and three more positions at the end of the sixth lap. Meanwhile, during the second lap, Jo Bonnier returns to the pits, where the mechanics note that the cylinder sleeve has loosened and as soon as the speed reaches 6,000 rev/minute, the hydraulic system is pressurised and the fluid is pumped out. Jo Bonnier continues to run slowly with regular check-up pit stops. In the lead, Lorenzo Bandini’s Ferrari manages to keep a bit of gap over Jack Brabham, while John Surtees gets close to Jim Clark and overtakes him during the ninth lap, as well as on lap 10 Jack Brabham gets ahead of Lorenzo Bandini.


These four drivers are detached from Jackie Stewart, who is followed by his teammate Graham Hill. Denny Hulme keeps his seventh place, with Jochen Rindt slightly more detached. Mike Spence and Jo Siffert remain close until they are separated on lap eight by Dan Gurney. Bruce McLaren’s progress brings him ahead of Bob Bondurant and then Pedro Rodriguez. But while the New Zealand driver tries to overtake Rodriguez, the Mexican is already turning and the nose of the Lotus hits the rear wheel of Bruce McLaren’s car, damaging it badly. At the next corner, the nose falls right on the trajectory of Bondurant, and the Eagle ends up on the grass, where he can not start again without the help from the marshalls; so, when he manages to go back to the pits, he retires as if he had been disqualified. Pedro Rodriguez makes a pit stop before resuming the race in penultimate position. Denny Hulme notes that the temperature of the oil increases considerably, and during the eleventh lap he returns to the pits for a quick pit stop but, when he comes back on track, he is in the last positions. During the next lap, Rodriguez stops again in the pits because the car no longer has the nose and begins to not work properly.


Pedro Rodriguez completes two more laps, and then goes back to the pits to make other checks. However, this time, the starter doesn’t work and the Lotus-B.R.M. retires at the thirteenth lap. The next retirement is that of Dan Gurney, who also returns to the pits during the thirteenth lap with a slipped clutch because of the oil that has deposited on the discs. Apart from this problem, the car did not work well, it had failures both to the carburetor and to the ignition since the beginning of the race. Meanwhile, the leaders start to lap the last drivers and first Jack Brabham, then Lorenzo Bandini overtake Peter Arundell, but when John Surtees tries to overtake him after the pits, he is blocked; then, at the next corner, in a moment of indecision on which side to overtake Arundell and with the fact that the British driver slips on oil, both cars touch and spin on the stony part of the track. Both cars return to the pits to let their mechanics check the car. The car of John Surtees is repaired and the British driver starts again joining the leading trio, but three laps behind and only in thirteenth place. Richie Ginther returns to the pits and the reason for his slowdown becomes obvious: he has to make two or three attempts to find the gear he wants to enter and this leads him to slow down considerably. During the nineteenth lap, Denny Hulme returns to the pits: this time not only is the oil temperature too high, but also the pressure is low, and therefore he has to retire. Shortly after, Lorenzo Bandini overtakes Jack Brabham and the two begin to lose ground compared to Jim Clark, while Jackie Stewart is behind Graham Hill and remains behind his teammate until the twenty-first lap.


During the twenty-first lap, Graham Hill goes into the pits with more teeth missing from the gears. When he leaves the pits he is in eighth place and is overtaken by Bon Bucknum; the Honda proceeds well, even if in the course of releasing the exhaust the driver starts to hear a strange noise. During the thirty-fifth lap, the engine of Lorenzo Bandini’s car explodes, and the Italian driver is forced to retire leaving Jack Brabham in the lead of the race, with a good advantage over Jim Clark’s Lotus-B.R.M. H16 and Jackie Stewart’s B.R.M. H16. Behind them comes Mike Spence, closely followed by Jo Siffert and Bruce McLaren, who slowly tries to get closer to his rivals. The race is proceeding at a fast pace. During the fortieth lap, Mike Spence loses the fifth place because his engine starts to spin badly, and after two laps he goes into the pits with a low fuel pressure. In the pits, the battery is replaced but the situation does not improve. The engine of Ronnie Bucknum begins to lose power and he goes into the pits where, to the amazement of the Japanese mechanics, it turns out that three exhaust pipes are burned, and only small pieces of the three cylinders remain. The American driver goes back on track in eleventh place and manages to find a good pace. Halfway through the race both B.R.M. drivers retire: Graham Hill with a toothed crown and a broken pinion during the fifty-second lap, and Jackie Stewart, instead, stops on the grass in front of the pits with oil and water coming out of one of the exhaust, on the fifty-third lap. With the two B.R.M. also retired, there are now only twelve cars on track. Jo Bonnier still runs very slowly and periodically stops in the pits. Jack Brabham is in the lead with Jim Clark still close; Bruce McLaren tries to pass Jo Siffert, but his car doesn’t have enough power.


John Surtees drives as if he could reach the leaders, Innes Ireland, Ronnie Bucknum and Peter Arundell are in seventh, eighth and ninth place, while Mike Spence and Richie Ginther hold the last two places. During the fifty-fifth lap also the Australian Jack Brabham returns to the pits and has to retire because of a camshaft that does not rotate (the damage is then found to be caused by a broken cam that has blocked the camshaft). Jim Clark takes the opportunity to take the lead of the race. On the fifty-ninth lap, Ronnie Bucknum’s race ends with an engine problem. At the end of the seventy-third lap, Jim Clark has a 56-second lead over Jochen Rindt and another one-minute over John Surtees, always in his furious chase. Innes Ireland, in seventh place, sees the battery of his engine discharge due to the breakage of the belt of the alternator and is forced to retire during the ninety-sixth lap. After 100 laps, with seven to go, Jim Clark seems to be the clear winner. The distance from Rindt increases by four seconds and Surtees is still more than a minute behind. In the last few kilometres Jim Clark, now sheltered from any attack, no longer forces his Lotus-B.R.M. and quietly finishes the race in two hours and nine minutes, imposing the new track record and getting his twentieth victory. Jochen Rindt isn’t able to finish the race properly because he runs out of fuel on the opposite side of the track and takes 2'28"0 to complete the lap, but this for the regulation means that he loses the last lap, and is therefore placed one lap behind John Surtees. Jo Siffert and Bruce McLaren - who were three laps behind - also finish the race, as well as Peter Arundell in sixth place who was seven laps behind. Richie Ginther continued to run after problems but was 27 laps behind, while Jo Bonnier was 51 laps behind. The sceptics who said that the H16 engine had no chance of winning a race should have been at the Glen when Jim Clark first saw the chequered flag. To acclaim his performance there is an audience of more than 80,000 spectators.


Jim Clark, at the wheel of a Lotus-B.R.M., returns to victory by imposing himself on the Watkins Glen track in the United States Grand Prix, eighth and penultimate round of the Formula 1 World Championship. The Scotsman, who preceded Jochen Rindt and John Surtees, both on the Cooper-Maserati, covered the 399 km of the circuit in 2 hours and 9 minutes. Clark was relatively facilitated by the retirements of his most dangerous rivals: Lorenzo Bandini, Jack Brabham, Graham Hill and Jackie Stewart. The Italian and the Australian - the World Champion in charge - had to retire while they were in the lead: Bandini during the thirty-fourth lap for some problems to the engine of his Ferrari, and Brabham during the fifty-fifth lap due to a failure in the electrical system of his Brabham-Repco. Even the Honda and the Eagle-Coventry Climax did not finish the race. Richie Ginther, one of the two drivers of the Japanese team, had to frequently stop in the pits and retired at the eighty-first lap of the one hundred and seven. The other Honda, driven by Ronnie Bucknum, was even worse, leaving the race on the fifty-eighth lap. They both had problems at the suspensions. As for the Anglo-American cars, mechanical failures have forced them to retire in the early phase of the Grand Prix. John Surtees' third place is very well deserved. The Englishman was the protagonist of an exceptional comeback after having had a slight collision with the car of another competitor and being forced to stop at the pits for repairs, losing two laps.


Finding himself in thirteenth place, John Surtees, regaining second on second, managed to climb up behind the Austrian Jochen Rindt, his teammate. During the chase, the former World Champion beat the previous lap record (set last year by Graham Hill in 1'11"9, at an average of 185,320 km/h). With this victory the Scotsman wins the prize of 20.000 dollars reserved for the first place. The United States Grand Prix had over $120,000 in prizes this year. At the end of the race, you can think about the most technical part of the Grand Prix, that of the engine construction. The construction technique of the racing cars has reached very refined heights. Every team looks for original solutions such as the ambitious 16-cylinder engine of the British B.R.M. and the Japanese car Honda. At the last Italian Grand Prix in Monza, all the new engines designed and built for the new formula were finally on track. It stands out the fact that the vast majority of the new engines are 12 cylinders, which also explains Ferrari’s supremacy, which has dedicated uninterruptedly to the 12 cylinders for over twenty years. In addition to Ferrari, the Maserati engine, the Honda and the Weslake are 12 cylinders; the Brabham engine is eight because it is built on the basis of the light alloy monoblock Buick, while the B.R.M. alone has gone in search of maximum power (and found a lot of problems) with a 16 cylinder engine.


All these 12-cylinder engines, however, are not the same, except for the three-litre displacement, as required by Formula 1: the Ferrari engine, with the two rows of six cylinders forming an angle of 60° at each other, is characterised by three valves per cylinder, two intakes and one exhaust, in order to get certain benefits that translate into greater power. The Maserati engine fitted on the Cooper is the most orthodox of all, with two valves per cylinder and angle of 60°; the Weslake of the American car of Gurney has 4 valves per cylinder, two intakes and two exhausts, almost vertically mounted. More curious of all is the Honda engine: in it the two rows of cylinders do not form an angle of 60°, but of 90°; since a V12 engine is basically the link of two six cylinders in line, the two rows usually form an angle of 60°, so that the bursts of the cylinders of a row alternate exactly with those of the opposite row. In this way, a smooth running is obtained. The B.R.M.engine, used by this brand and Lotus, is one of the most complex of its kind. The 16-cylinder engines are arranged at horizontal H; to try to clarify this arrangement one can imagine two engines of 4 horizontal cylinders opposing one behind the other, and as many overlapping. In fact, these are two engines which have in common the crankcase but are independent with the two crankshafts for eight cylinders each, two injection pumps and two ignition systems; the two crankshafts are connected by gears. It does not seem likely that the cars of the B.R.M. are further complicated, at least for some time; engineer Rudd (the designer of the team) says that he does not think for now to apply the traction to the four wheels, which was also planned, because the car is already complex enough as it is. Certainly in 1967 we won’t see either the four-wheel drive nor the automatic gearboxes.


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