Once practice is over, the drivers who will take to the track on Saturday 28 September 1968 at Le Mans circuit to start the 24 Hours of motor racing are given a day off. For the mechanics, technicians and managers of the various marques and racing teams it was, as usual, a day of more intense work, the main task being to remedy the inconveniences highlighted by practice. In the garages at Le Mans, there were only wide-open bonnets, engines disassembled, mechanical parts checked and lubricated. On the Ford GT 40, built by Englishman John Wyer, which together with the 3-litre Porsches and Alpine-Renaults will be the protagonists of the 24 Hours, longer ratios were applied. Says Lucien Bianchi, who will alternate with Pedro Rodriguez at the wheel of one of the three Fords:
"I think I can touch 320 km/h in a straight line. The Porsches weigh less than our GT 40s, about three hundred kilograms, but we have 420 horsepower, one hundred more. In addition, the road holding has become excellent. That's fortunate, because this year we also have to deal with the Ford chicane".
This chicane, an S-curve, the construction of which cost about 10,000,000 Italian lire and was financed by the American Ford, worries many drivers. Bianchi, who is in his 13th 24 Hours of Le Mans, argues:
"The entrance of the curve isn't well distinguished and the track is too narrow. There is a danger, in the early hours of the race, of many people coming into the chicane. What's more, those who want to go to the pits have to move to the right, while those who are in the middle of the race come out of the turn on the left. A small mistake and you risk a collision".
The chicane increased the length of the circuit from 13.461 metres to 13.469 metres. Eight extra metres which, according to the engineers, will mean an extra twenty per cent strain on brakes and transmissions, apart from the increased effort for the drivers. It is clear that the selections of the 55 cars will be tougher than usual. There are those who point out that the Ford GT 40s have never completed such a long race, but to add to the uncertainty of this final round of the World Championship of Makes, it appears that the six-speed gearbox of the Porsches has reportedly suffered some problems in recent tests. For the Stuttgart manufacturer it is an anxious eve. This year, with the regulations limiting prototypes to three litres and sports cars to five, Porsche has for the first time in eighteen years the chance to win at Le Mans, where it has so far only achieved good placings, and thus to take the championship. In fact it has 42 points, more than John Wyer's Ford. What remains, to give confidence to the German team, which has the crews Siffert-Herrman, Stommelen-Neerpasch, Elford-Mitter and Potrick-Buzzetta, is the time set in practice by Siffert and of 3'35"4, at an average of 225.168 km/h. That is six seconds less than that of Ford's team leader David Hobbs. Hobbs will be paired with Hawkìns; Bianchi, as mentioned, with Rodriguez; Oliver, the second driver of the Formula 1 Lotus, will have as coéquipier a young Formula 3 ace, the Australian Muir. The French, with Alpine-Renault, are hoping for a win too. The last time was in 1950, with Talbot-Rosier. The Alpine cars have eight-cylinder engines built by the French-Italian coachbuilder Amedeo Gordini. They have an output of around 300 horsepower and reach speeds of 310-315 km/h. Apparently Gordini, in order to fatigue them less, slightly reduced the top speed (from 7.500 to 7.000 rpm).
The drivers (Mauro-Bianchi-Depailler, De Costanze-Vinatier, Larousse-Grandsire, Guichet-Jabouille) complained, but Gordini made no comment. Little hope, however, at least in theory, for the Matras, of Servoz-Gavin, and the two American turbine-powered Howmet cars, of Heppenstall-Tullius and Thompson-Dibley. The Matra has the identical engine as the Formula 1 single-seater, i.e. an engine calculated for races lasting a couple of hours, while the Howmet has serious problems with braking and consumption. The turbine cannot be used as a brake-engine to help: the brakes work and the autonomy is only 45-50 minutes (the car burns one litre of paraffin to cover two kilometres). The pit stops will therefore be very numerous. That leaves the Alfa Romeo 33. With Ferrari dropping out, the Milanese manufacturer is the only one to officially represent Italian motorsport. The four 33s in the race will only be able to aspire to success in the 2-litre category, while waiting for the announced 3000 cc model to be released next year. Four Italian cars, with nine young drivers: (Baghettl-Vaccarella, Case-Biscaldi, Facetti-Dini, Galli-Giunti and Enrico Pinto, as a reserve), is the only positive aspect of this 37th edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The start will be given on Saturday at 3:00 p.m. by the President of Fiat, Giovanni Agnelli, guest of honour. Fifty-five cars will take to the track, ready to face the longest night in the history of the race. Eleven hours of night march, hoping that rain and fog will not make an already hard and dangerous effort inhuman for the drivers. Pedro Rodriguez and Lucien Bianchi, in the five-litre Ford GT 40 of John Wyer's British stable, won the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the great duel with the Porsches. A success worth a championship: Ford was ahead of Porsche in the standings, and to win the world championship it absolutely needed to assert itself at Le Mans. At the end of the race, John Wyer declared:
"In America they will be happy, we gave them a title they had never managed to get before".
The big loser, after a season full of happy moments, was Porsche. The Stuttgart company had lined up four three-litre prototypes to oppose Wyer's three GT 40s, but all the cars, one after the other, succumbed to the rhythm of this gruelling race, which saw only 18 of the 54 cars that started on Saturday reach the finishing line. The Porsche of Siffert and Herrman, after an overwhelming start, was blocked by a transmission failure, those of Motter-Elford and Patrick-Buzetta by the alternator failure. Only Stommelen-Neerpasch's prototype held out, finishing third, after the GT 40 of Rodriguez and Bianchi and the 2,200 cc Porsche of Swiss drivers Spoerry and Steinemann. The perfor Alfa Romeos' performance, on the other hand, was excellent. Three red Italian cars crossed the finish line together, placing fourth, fifth and sixth. A result such as Alfa hadn't achieved at Le Mans for many years. The credit for this was due to the 33, a two-litre that, having overcome its youthful flaws, achieved enviable balance, and to the drivers (all Italians) that Alfa fielded. Giunti and Galli, Facetti and Dini, Biscaldi and Casoni drove a magnificent race. Only the oldest of the Le Mans drivers, Vaccarella and Baghetti, had to drop out because of a fuel system failure. Bianchi had a terrible time during the morning at around 11:30am, between the 20th and 21st hour of the race. A frightening moment, not for himself but for his brother Mauro, who was racing at the wheel of a three-litre Alpine-Renault. Arriving at the slight descent following the Dunlop curve, Lucien was confronted with a chilling spectacle: an Alpine-Renault was burning in the middle of the straw bales surrounding the track. In the pits they whispered to him that it was his brother's car.
"They immediately told me that Mauro wasn't hurt, but I continued the race by sheer force of will".
The accident was frightening. Mauro Bianchi's Alpine skidded to the left, crashed into the embankment and bounced to the right, setting itself on fire. Fortunately, Bianchi managed to jump out of the wreckage of the car, burning his face and hands slightly. His condition doesn't give cause for concern. Precisely because of this accident, the three-litre Matra of Servoz-Gavin and Pescarolo was forced to retire after an astonishing race. The French car ended up on the wreckage of Bianchi's Alpine, which later caught fire. The duel between the Matra and the Alfa Romeo of Giunti and Galli (two young champions) enlivened the race in its second part, because it was clear that the Ford of Rodriguez and Bianchi, once the Porsches and the other Fords of the team (Muir and Oliver due to a silting up at Mulsanne, Hawkins and Hobbs due to engine failure) had disappeared from the scene, would have no more adversaries. And it has to be said that the Alfa would probably have finished second behind the GT 40 had it hadn't to stop at the pits with four hours to go to change a seized bearing. The mechanics replaced the entire right rear suspension in 20 minutes, a record time, but the Alfa 33 was still forced to drop back to fourth place. The weather didn't spare the competitors a few hours of rain and fog: There were plenty of spins, off-roads without consequences, and mechanical problems due to faults in the electrical system. And even this detail highlights the overall performance of Alfa, which brought three cars out of four to the finish line: a record in this 37th edition of the Le Mans 24 Hours. The average, of course, was very low, a far cry from the 218.038 km/h of last year's winners' Ford. Gurney and Foyt, who covered 5232.090 kilometres in the twenty-four hours.
This year, Rodriguez and Bianchi covered 4452.880 kilometres, averaging 185.536 km/h. The 24 Hours of Le, Mans concludes the World Constructors' Championship, which this year was divided into ten races. Ford, by winning the extremely tough French race for the third time in a row, also took the title, overtaking Porsche in the very last race held (45 points against 42). It was a hard-fought victory, at a very low average, but Pedro Rodriguez and Lucien Bianchi couldn't have done more. In this autumnal 24 Heures du Mans, the racers had to face three enemies: the night (eleven hours of night driving against seven in June), the fog (it lasted two hours) and the rain. The success of the Ford GT 40s from John Wyer's stable proved that Enzo Ferrari was right in claiming that this year the 5000 cc sports cars would win out over the 3000 cc prototypes. The Porsches held their own in the race for a few hours, the Alplne-Renaults appeared too slow, only the new Matra offered an exceptional performance, with an engine (the twelve-cylinder Formula 1) that just didn't seem suitable for a 24 Hours. Its elimination was due to a trivial accident, not a failure. The race was decided in the first ten hours. During this time, three of the four Porsches and two of the three Fords were eliminated from the race, while the last German prototype, that of Stommelen and Neerpasch, was forced to make long pit stops, and could only be content with third place, which was also overtaken by Spoerry's Porsche 2200. This Le Mans 24 Hours passes into the archives too. In 45 years, 37 editions were run, with a total of 864 hours of racing and 1670 cars on the track. (And only a third finished). It is a bad test for men and machines, but therein lies its charm.
Two weeks after the Canadian Grand Prix, held on Sunday 22 September 1968 in the ski region north of Montreal, the circus moves south-west to the resort area of Upper New York State. The village of Watkins Glen welcomes all race participants with open arms, and as every year the organisation is of a high standard. The technical building is doubled in size, giving the teams all the space they need to work under one roof. In 1968, the pits are lengthened, six more pits are added, and the pit road is made considerably wider. In the week leading up to the race, work on the cars in the technical centre went very well. Team Lotus has the same three cars used in Canada: these will be used by Hill, Oliver and Andretti. Hill's car was repaired and the upper engine mounting plates were changed from alloy to steel. The mounting points on the monocoque have been reinforced and repaired, and all three cars have been fitted with constant velocity driveshafts, slightly stronger than those used at Monaco earlier in the year. Oliver's car has wider wings, making it the same as car number 1. Andretti's car has narrower wings and uses the older, more flexible exhaust system, while the other two cars use the new exhausts. The other Lotus-Ford Cosworth, owned by Siffert, is entered by the Walker-Durlacher team. The axle shafts of this car are the same as those used by Hill at Mont Tremblant, but new shafts identical to the other cars are planned. The McLaren team also presents the same cars as in the Canadian Grand Prix, except Hulme's car has a new nose section with a suitably shaped airfoil nose spoiler, instead of the thin angled strips shaped into the sides of the nose. Both cars fit the old exhausts.
Gurney still uses the third McLaren, which, like the other cars, remains unchanged. The B.R.M. team sees Bobby Unser join Rodriguez for the US Grand Prix. One of Bourne's cars is the new P138 that appeared at Monza; the other is an old P126 car that has the sides of the cockpit widened to give more room for Unser's larger shoulders. The P133 car that raced in Canada, on the other hand, became the backup car. Parnell, on the other hand, has the usual car for Courage. The Brabham team cars remain almost completely unchanged except for Jack Brabham's car, which is fitted with a means of adjusting the wing angle during practice; this avoids continuous pit stops to obtain the correct balance between the front and rear wings. Once the right balance is found, the wings are fixed in that position and the setting is applied to Rindt's car too. The two Cooper cars for Elford and Bianchi have modified fuel systems to try to solve the fuel problems experienced at St Jovite. Surtees has two Honda RA301s at his disposal. The 801 is fitted with the newer of the two engines, the 802, on the other hand, has an engine flown in from Tokyo, rebuilt after the problems at Monza. One of the two cars is fitted with new wheels too. Unlike the Cooper wheels, which are hollow, those on the Hondas have two half-sections bolted together. The Matra brings two cars, but only Beltoise is entered. The second car will be tested by Pescarolo, who will only take part in the race if some competitor withdraws his entry. The Matra V12 engine lost 60 to 80 horsepower during the course of the season, for no apparent reason, but after the 24 Hours of Le Mans the team thinks it has found the reason and therefore makes some minor modifications to the engines.
The two Matra-Cosworths were both for Stewart as Servoz-Gavin didn't take part in the Grand Prix. The older of the two cars was about to be completely destroyed as mechanics filled it with fuel in the technical building on its arrival from Canada. A static spark from the mechanic's shirt shot fuel into the funnel and ignited the fuel in the monocoque tanks. The quick use of fire extinguishers by the other teams' mechanics put out the fire before too much damage was done, but care still had to be taken as they weren't sure if the heat had damaged the metal. Another Ferrari, the 0007, was used to replace the car destroyed in Ickx's accident, and Bell joined Amon. Ferrari is the only team not using the technical centre and continues to tow their cars to a garage in town. The last of the twenty drivers entered is Bonnier with his M5A McLaren-B.R.M. V12. The first free practice runs from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Friday, 4 October 1968. The warm weather of the days preceding practice vanishes and a temperature of -1 °C, thunderstorms, snow and sleet are recorded. Surtees, Hulme and Bianchi are the first on the track, but before the drivers can set a time on the track, a heavy downpour sends most of the drivers back to the pits. John Surtees gets ahead of everyone on the wet track until a tyre punctures and mechanics set off with a wheel and jack to find the parked Honda and replace the tyre. Shortly afterwards the sprocket and pinion break and the new Honda is driven out of the pits, while Surtees climbs aboard the older car.
Brabham adjusts the wing setting and then both Brabhams are set in the same way. Rindt's car suffers from overheating and every time he arrives at the pits steam gushes out of the overflow. In addition, the Austrian driver damages his rear wing by banging it violently, and the mechanics rush to the edge of the track to help him out of the car. In the third hour of practice the situation begins to change and Hill is the first driver to go under the circuit record time set by himself in 1967, 1'06"0. Unser spins with his B.R.M. and ends up against a barrier. As usual, the last hour sees the most activity and the fastest lap, compared to the previous year, is set at 1'05"48. Stewart and Amon both manage to get under the 1'05''0 mark. Stewart also eventually manages to put both his Matra-Cosworths ahead of everyone else; the newer car, which runs with a T printed on the side instead of the number, is the fastest with a time of 1'04''27. Amon's time, however, is 1'04''87, only 0.05 seconds slower than Stewart, but he is the only driver - apart from Stewart - to set a time under the 1'05''0 mark. Hill makes an excellent attempt to improve his time, but something doesn't work on his car, while the McLaren team doesn't do anything spectacular during this session: Hulme has the fourth time at the end of practice without looking excessively fatigued. Bruce McLaren's car, on the other hand, suffers engine problems and is one of the slowest cars on the track. The technical building, two hours into practice, is very chaotic. Lotus shuts down all three engines in anticipation of a batch of new Cosworth V8 units arriving overnight. In addition, Hill's clutch is in pieces and shows a broken centre and all the drive shafts are in pieces for examination. The engine in Jack Brabham's car needs to be changed, as does the engine in both McLarens; the engines to be remounted in the latter cars are the same ones used in the race won in Canada, which have been brought back to the factory for inspection.
Both Matra V12 engines are removed from the chassis as Beltoise wants the T car's engine moved to the other chassis. Stewart's engine is replaced with the racing engine, while Honda dismantles the rear of one of the cars to replace the broken sprocket and pinion. The second practice session takes place on a dry, cold and sunny track. B.R.M. prepares the new P138 car for Unser after Rodriguez is told to drive with his usual chassis. Both Stewart and Surtees change cars during the night. Beltoise takes to the track immediately followed by Amon, Bell and Surtees just behind. Then there is a break, as no one wants to exploit the mechanics of their cars unnecessarily until the last hour, at the end of which a cash prize and a trophy will be awarded to whoever has set the fastest lap. After an hour things start to change. Both McLaren drivers improve their times from the previous session, but then practice is suddenly interrupted. Oliver starts to improve on his previous times, but a left rear wheel crashes on the right-hand turn on the start line. The Lotus hits the outer guardrail twice before coming to a halt. Although the monocoque is still intact, the damage is too great to be repaired before the race. Oliver emerges from the accident fortunately unhurt and only a few minutes later talks to Innes Ireland over the loudspeaker system. Colin Chapman, who has just arrived at Watkins Glen from Europe, complains that the cars are running on old wheels when he had specifically said that the Canadian wheels weren't to be used and the new halves had been sent as replacements. In their defence, the five mechanics say they were very fatigued after working all night, so when practice began, they mistakenly sent the cars out onto the track without fitting the new tyres. Obviously, before Andretti or Hill came out of the pits again, the tyres indicated by Colin Chapman were fitted.
As soon as practice resumed, the session was again interrupted after Courage cut a kerb, spun and hit a dirt bank, damaging the rear suspension. Fortunately, the damage isn't serious enough to prevent the mechanics from repairing it before the race. In the meantime, new exhaust manifolds are fitted to both McLarens, but Bruce McLaren doesn't like the limited power at the top end and therefore changes the exhaust manifold set again after only a few laps. Unser only runs a few laps before his B.R.M. engine breaks down, and so he is back on the sidelines watching the other competitors as the mechanics begin work on changing his engine. Siffert and Hill both suffer a puncture within a short distance of each other, and a nail is pulled from Siffert's rear tyre that is all shiny and new. At the beginning of the last hour, Stewart breaks the spindle of the left front wheel and stops due to inertia, the wheel only managing to stay in place thanks to the disc callipers. Because of this mishap he is unable to defend the previous day's time. Hill comes very close to the Matra-Cosworth's time and eventually finishes just 0.01 seconds quicker. Amon improves his time but not enough. Hulme laps under the 1'05"0 mark but cannot take off the last few tenths needed to put himself in first position and it seems that no one can get close to Stewart's time. Everyone agrees that Andretti is a natural and goes very well through the corners with that same confidence of absolute control that was seen in Clark's driving. Despite this, it comes as a surprise to everyone when, in an attempt to match Surtees' time, the Italian-American driver crosses the line 0.07 seconds faster than Stewart and takes pole position. Andretti is still trying to learn after his brief experience at Monza and is also learning to drive on a circuit that is new to him. One important competitor is heard saying:
"This should make the young GPDA gentlemen realise what a poor standard of driving there has been since the passing of Jim Clark".
With the exception of Andretti there are few surprises regarding grid positions. Gurney was never really competitive during practice. Bell drives the second Ferrari very cautiously. McLaren is in the middle of the grid because its engine was not working properly. The last four places on the grid are occupied by Unser, Bonnier and the two Coopers. A crowd of 15.000 people sleeps around the circuit in tents, cars and caravans. In 1968, with temperatures close to zero, no protests are made as most of the young people stuff themselves into sleeping bags to keep warm. On the morning of the race, Sunday 6 October 1968, the sky is sunny and, with a good forecast and a popular hero at the head of the grid, the organisers expect a huge crowd. The latter aren't at all disappointed when they note the presence of some 93,000 people around the circuit. During the night, the engines of the cars of McLaren, Siffert and Gurney are changed, and the engine from the first day of practice is fitted, as the racing engine sent by Cosworths does not give the right power. Unser and Rindt also change their engine. The nineteen cars that will take part in the US Grand Prix are pushed through the crowd of spectators towards the starting grid. After the parade, two warm-up laps are run, a quick refuelling in the pit-road, and then everything is ready for the start. When the flag is lowered Andretti jumps into the lead. Later, when the drivers close the first lap the American driver is ahead of Stewart, with Hill just behind, but on the loop Stewart overtakes him on the inside under braking and takes the lead.
Hill brakes hard and the steering column jerks forward, pinning his fingers against the dashboard. Removing his fingers the switches come off, and before Hill can fix the problem, Chris Amon manages to open up a sizeable lead. At the end of the first lap Stewart was first with Andretti behind him, then a slight gap separated Chris Amon from the American driver, who in turn preceded Hill, Rindt, Hulme, Gurney, Surtees, McLaren, Siffert, Rodriguez, Brabham, Beltoise, Unser, Courage, Bonnier, Bell, Bianchi and, last, Elford. Courage goes over the limit, but without damaging the nose of the car, which had already come off when he made contact with the rear of Beltoise's Matra at the last corner. The circuit is very slippery and in a short time several drivers realise this; Beltoise ends up in a spin on the second lap, then restarts from last position. Meanwhile, among the top twelve only Hulme and Rindt exchange positions. Andretti drives superbly and doesn't concede an inch to Stewart. The gap to Amon is now two seconds and Hill is another 1.5 seconds behind. The group made up of Hulme, Gurney and Rindt began to lengthen, with Surtees looking competitive, but actually unable to break away from the group of drivers following. Turning in about 1'06''0 the laps pass very quickly; after five laps Andretti passes with the lower part of the nose section of the Lotus dragging on the ground; as the speed increases it is pushed down by the airfoils attached to it. On lap 11 Amon, in third, spun in front of the pits and was overtaken by six cars before he was able to restart.
At the end of the thirteenth lap Andretti receives an order, via a sign, instructing him to pit; a minute later he enters the pits. The mechanics blocked the nose after finding a broken support bracket and the American driver returned to the track in thirteenth position, just ahead of Stewart, but almost a lap behind. On lap 14, the Ferrari engine fitted to Derek Bell's car explodes, and the British driver is forced to pit and retire. Meanwhile, as Hulme reached the finish line, the officials at the end of the straight tried to point out an oil strip, but the New Zealand driver's McLaren ran over it and ended up spinning on the grass verge. From third place, Hulme dropped to ninth at the end of lap 16, and a lap later returned to the pits without brakes. The stones, in fact, had torn a rear brake line; the McLaren mechanics, therefore, drained the system, filled it with fluid and blew the three remaining brakes. At the end of lap 20 Stewart is in the lead ahead of Hill, with a 14.5 second advantage. Gurney, Surtees, Rindt followed by 8 seconds, then 25 seconds separated the Austrian driver from Siffert, closely followed by Amon. Bruce McLaren follows 7.5 seconds behind, and in turn enjoys a 5-second lead over Rodriguez. The only other two cars on the same lap are Brabham and Andretti, both 1 minute behind the leader, and almost lapped. With one lap behind, detached from each other, follow Unser, Beltoise, Courage, Elford, Bonnier and Bianchi. Hulme, on the other hand, is four laps behind.
Courage's position changed on lap 20 when he came into the pits to replace the transistor ignition box; this unexpected stop relegated the British driver to last place. At the end of lap 22, two cars return to the pits: those of Bianchi, with a slipping clutch, and Amon, whose engine overheats due to a malfunctioning radiator. The Ferrari mechanics replace the radiator and top it up with water, sending Amon back out onto the track in seventeenth position. For a few laps the positions remained unchanged until Gurney spun in front of the pits, losing a position to Surtees, but still managed to continue. Seven laps later the American driver regained his position against the Honda driver. At the end of lap 32 Andretti came into the pits again, as the clutch was slipping abnormally; during the previous stop the American driver had already mentioned the problem to the mechanics. In fact, one of the mechanics has Pyrene ready to put in the clutch housing and water to cool the hot housing. However, the problem wasn't solved and after completing another lap Andretti retired. Three laps later the other American driver, Bobby Unser, also retires due to the failure of yet another B.R.M. engine. By lap 40, only six cars are on the same lap as the leader. Hill is 26 seconds behind Stewart, who suspects oil smoke is starting to appear during heavy acceleration. Gurney and Surtees are 10 seconds behind Hill, but are very close together. They are followed by Siffert, 8 seconds behind, and Rindt, who is 53 seconds behind the Swiss driver.
The next cars to have problems are Bonnier's, who has ignition problems, and Beltoise's, who has brake problems. Both cars stop in the pits on lap 44. Beltoise completes another lap but the grooves in the left rear hub become stripped and the car remains stationary on the circuit. At the end of lap 60 things stabilise, Stewart no longer lapping the other drivers, and Rindt overtakes Siffert to take fifth place. Stewart's pace doesn't drop, and he has more than a lap advantage over his rivals. At the end of the fifty-second lap, the Scottish driver set a new record with a time of 1'05''22 at an average speed of 214.326 km/h. At the end of the fifty-second lap Chris Amon retires with water leaking from underneath the car; the problem found is with the water pump which, when heat builds up, causes the system to pressurise. The first time the radiator fails, and then the main engine hose bursts. Bonnier also stopped again during the sixtieth lap due to ignition problems and only two laps later retired. On lap sixty-six Rodriguez also retired, after the right rear suspension gave way and the Mexican driver went off the track and stopped at the top of the hill after the start straight. Three more retirements followed quickly: first on Elford's car a camshaft of the B.R.M. engine broke at the end of lap 71; and two laps later Rindt's Repco engine exploded, creating a big hole in the side. On the seventy-eighth lap Brabham came into the pits with a broken cam on his Repco engine, and retired. Thus, at the end of lap eighty there are only nine cars still running and only four are tied with Jackie Stewart, who retains the lead in the race with a 39-second advantage over Hill.
Third and fourth are Gurney and Surtees. Siffert is a lap behind, with Bruce McLaren in turn another lap behind. Piers Courage continues the race seven laps behind, Hulme nine and Bianchi seventeen laps behind. Stewart's mechanics display a strange sign towards the end of the Grand Prix, indicating OIL PRES, but there is nothing to worry about as the Ford Cosworth V8 engine continues to work perfectly and the oil pressure is fairly constant. While the last laps are running smoothly, on the ninety-second lap Hulme breaks the transmission shaft of the left wheel inside the differential box, at the height of the bend before the pits; the rear end of the car spins and the New Zealand driver proceeds backwards along the ditch, in front of the pits, until he hits the bank where the service road crosses. The car leaps into the air and crashes on its wheels, with the monocoque and suspension being bent. Meanwhile, Piers Courage struggles into the pits without the bolt holding the rear linkage at the top left of the engine and chassis together. A new bolt is inserted and just before the chequered flag Courage restarts, but runs out of fuel as the pumps fail to draw enough fuel from the compensation tank under the seat. In the last few minutes of the race Siffert comes into the pits to refuel, but on the restart the engine starts to crackle; his starter motor does not work, but no one opposes his restart and he rolls-starts down the slope of pit road.
Bruce McLaren also stops to refuel; there is probably enough fuel in the car but the vent remains blocked and the extra side tank collapses with the accumulated suction. Siffert loses his sixth place to Bruce McLaren when he stops, but then regains it when the New Zealand driver is forced to pit too. During the last laps Gurney slows down and Surtees slowly manages to get closer. Then, on the penultimate lap the Honda of the British driver moves up to third place. Gurney later discovers that he has a slow puncture that started to develop in the final laps of the race. Stewart crossed the finish line in just under two hours, ahead of Graham Hill, whose engine gave signs of failure during the slow lap. Later, when the mechanics check the car they realise there is only one litre of fuel left. One lap down, John Surtees, third, and Dan Gurney, fourth, reach the finish line. Then came Jo Siffert, who completed 105 laps, and Bruce McLaren, who only completed 103. Another car is still on the track, but isn't qualified because it failed to cover the minimum distance required. It is Bianchi's car, which covers only 88 laps. Even during the US Grand Prix we see a race with a large number of retirements due to mechanical problems, and incidents that have little to do with the mechanics of the cars: in fact, during the last laps both Stewart and Surtees have to make sudden swerves to avoid the spectators running along the circuit. An episode that has already happened in the past, but despite this, no adequate fences were erected in advance to avoid these dangerous track invasions.
Jackie Stewart won at the Watkins Glen circuit the United States Grand Prix, the penultimate round of the Formula One Drivers' World Championship, and took three points from Graham Hill, second in the race and now only leading the overall standings on 39 points. The third candidate for the title, reigning World Champion Denny Hulme, who shared the lead with Hill in the standings, was forced to retire from the race by an off-road crash on lap 85, in which he was fortunately unhurt. However, Hulme, who was leading the standings with 33 points on a par with Hill, now finds himself seven points behind Hill himself, and three behind Stewart. The Mexican Grand Prix, to be held on Sunday 3 November 1968, would decide the allocation of the World Championship. Jackie Stewart, at the wheel of the Matra-Ford, pulverised all previous records for the circuit and the race: the Scot, indeed, improved the lap record every ten laps, and finished 37 seconds ahead of Hill's Lotus-Ford, followed by Surtees' Honda, Gurney's McLaren, the Lotus of Siffert and McLaren's McLaren. Stewart took the lead on lap three, overtaking the Lotus of Mario Andretti (making his Formula 1 debut), who was then forced to retire with clutch problems like his colleague Bobby Unser and Pedro Rodriguez, the winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. At the end, only Hill and Gurney were not lapped by the talented Scotsman Jackie Stewart, who declared at the finish:
"I felt a terrible fear with nine laps to go when two spectators ran across the track. This had never happened to me before: I was forced to swerve, and I avoided them by a whisker".