#183 1969 United States Grand Prix

2021-11-12 00:00

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#1969, Fulvio Conti, Giulia Noto,

#183 1969 United States Grand Prix

The 1969 World Championship has been settled while the Grand Prix cars are still in Europe, but to some minds there is even more at stake at Watkins G
The 1969 World Championship has been settled while the Grand Prix cars are still in Europe, but to some minds there is even more at stake at Watkins Glen. The circuit, which is run on a non-profitmaking basis, attracts a huge crowd and after last year’s race there is a large surplus in the kitty. Some of this goes to local charities, some to improving the circuit, but a considerable amount to providing the largest sum of prize money ever offered for a Formula One race. The purse, as the Americans like to call this, is no less than $200.000, with the first place driver taking a quarter of this figure. Money like this talks and many of the teams are putting on a special effort at Watkins Glen, but even if a competitor fails to complete one lap he goes away with nearly £2.700. Watkins Glen is a sleepy little town of 3.000 inhabitants in the northern part of New York State not very far from the Canadian border. It is well placed for drawing large crowds, and by race day over 100.000 had passed through the turnstiles. Many of them like to make a weekend of the racing, which is not surprising considering the vast distances which some of the spectators travel, while the huge camping sites got packed to capacity. However, the organisers resist the temptation to run supporting events and keep the side attractions to a drivers’ seminar and a demonstration of parachuting. The track itself is rather short for a Grand Prix, being only 2.3 miles round over hilly countryside. It has several fast corners and one right-angled bend just before the pits, and average speeds are high, being in the region of 126 km/h. As the cars have all with one exception come straight from the Canadian Grand Prix, and thus not return to their respective factories, they are very much in the same trim as at the previous race.
The distance between Mosport Park and Watkins Glen can be easily covered by road in a day, so the teams have plenty of time to work on the cars in the extensive building laid on for this purpose at the Watkins Glen circuit. Since Canada’s race there has been considerable air traffic between America and England, with a shuttle-service to Northampton, the home of Cosworth Engineering, so that many of the teams have freshly built engines. These engines are installed in the chassis while many of the cars were completely taken apart and rebuilt. Number 1 on the programme is allocated to reigning World Champion Hill, and No 2 to Rindt, but the third Lotus, the 4wd car of Andretti, was No 9. Both Hill and Rindt are in their usual 49Bs, the same two cars they have run from the Dutch GP onwards, although Hill does use another car for Silverstone. The 63 is the car driven by Miles at Mosport Park, Canada and by Andretti at the Nurburgring (when he crashed). Andretti is at the wheel again and great things are expected from him as he had rocks the Grand Prix world at this race last year by setting fastest practice lap. The Matra International team are also three strong again with Stewart and Beltoise in their usual Matra MS80s and Servoz-Gavin in the MS84 four-wheel-drive car for the second time this season. In addition a brand new MS80 monocoque has been flown in from Paris just in case one of the cars is damaged. One can not help admiring the beautiful precision finish on this tub, yet after the Mexican Grand Prix it will be completely obsolete and unusable as a Formula One car because of the new bag tank rules of the FIA. With the Matra monocoque it is virtually impossible to convert to bag fuel tanks and thus not only does this new monocoque become obsolete, but so also do all their other Formula 1 and Formula 2 cars.

On Sunday, September 28, 1969, New Zealand driver Bruce McLaren won the eighth round of the Can-Am, held at Cambridge Junctlon in the state of Michigan. The New Zealander, at the wheel of a car of his own construction, precedes teammate Denny Hulme. In third place was Dan Gurney also in a McLaren, and in fourth was Swiss driver Joseph Siffert in a Porsche. The winner drove the 315-kilometer race, held on a five-kilometer circuit, at an average speed of 174 mph. With this success, the McLaren team secures victory in the Can-Am, having claimed eight victories in eight races, four with Bruce McLaren and as many with Denny Hulme. McLaren precedes Hulme by a narrow margin. Denny Hulme, who had set the fastest time in practice (touching a lap average of 187.900 mph), leads the group of twenty-seven cars in the race for the first 51 laps. But, toward the conclusion he was delayed following a spin that allowed McLaren to pass him and precede him albeit by a small margin at the final finish line. Of note was the placing of Swiss driver Joseph Siffert, who finished fourth with his Porsche one lap down. This is the second consecutive time that Siffert, at the wheel of a German car more than half the size of the big seven-liter McLarens, has accomplished such a feat. Chris Amon, the driver of the only Ferrari entered in the race, was unable to start: his car, which had set the third best time in practice after those of Hulme and McLaren, i stopped because of an oil pump failure. Only three races now remain to be run for the Can-Am trophy, endowed with prizes totaling $1.000.000: the last race will be held in College Station, Texas, on Sunday, November 9, 1969.


McLaren Racing has a tremendous name to uphold in America after the numerous Can-Am victories, but while they have three competitive cars for that series, they only have a pair of Formula One cars. This is a new situation for several teams, for all the works teams had a spare practice car last year, but this year their resources have been extended developing four-wheel-drive cars. McLaren’s 4wd is undergoing a complete re-think back at Colnbrook so they have to be content with the old 1968 M7A for Hulme and the newer M7C for McLaren, both cars having done a very full season without major modification or repair. Motor Racing Developments Ltd are another team with just two cars and no spare, Jack Brabham once again choosing the 1969 Brabham BT26, while Ickx has the older but very similar 1968 car which is once powered by a Repco engine. The Owen Racing Organisation, despite so many set-backs and changes this year, numerically has the largest team of all. From Canada they bring the two 1969 B.R.M. P139s (the Surtees car which first appeared at the Netherlands Grand Prix and the Oliver car which made its debut at the Italian Grand Prix), plus the older P38, while a third brand new P139 is flown in from Bourne as a kit of parts on the Wednesday before the race. The car is slightly different from the earlier models as it has a modified mounting point for the rear suspension top links, which enables shorter links to be used. This alters the roll centre of the car and is a modification suggested by Surtees to improve the road holding; he uses the new car as his spare. The P138 has been driven in the Canadian Grand Prix by Brack but for this race another Canadian driver, George Eaton, is recruited to the strength. At only 23 he becomes the youngest driver in the race, but he has previously had two years of experience with Can-Am machinery and has also raced a Formula A car.
The rest of the field is completed by the private entrants. The North American Racing team again has their borrowed works Ferrari V12 for Rodriguez although they do not have a spare engine, so it is in the same trim as at Canada. Amon is again a spectator and confides that though the new flat-12-cylinder car is fast, so far it has proved completely unreliable. Siffert is in the RRC Walker/JC Durlacher Racing Team Lotus 49; Lovely has his similar car and Frank Williams (Racing Cars) Ltd fields their ex-works Brabham BT26 for Courage. Finally Moser and his one mechanic have made a good job of rebuilding the Brabham BT24 which the Swiss has crashed at Mosport on the first lap and he completes the 18-car field. Practice is allocated for Friday and Saturday afternoons with a four-hour session on each day. The Friday session is nearly washed out and as far as times are concerned have absolutely no bearing on the grid whatsoever. It rains all day, some of the time just drizzling, but at other times it is quite heavy. Added to this, a mist hangs over the circuit, but visibility is certainly not so bad as it was during the German Grand Prix last year. Hulme and Lovely simply decide that it isn’t worth practising while-though Eaton seems keen enough-B.R.M. Team Manager Tim Parnell decides against the youngster having his Formula One initiation in these conditions. Dunlop produces a new rain tyre complete with aquajets as used on their SP Sport road tyres, a reversal from the usual format of road-going equipment being developed from the race track. These new tyres are used to good effect by the Matras, the B.R.M.s and Courage. But eyes are on the two four-wheel-drive cars present, for Stewart decides to try the Matra MS 84 while Andretti is in the Lotus 63, so two of the top drivers are out trying the cars in the conditions under which they are expected to excel.
The results are to say the least rather disappointing. Stewart is over two seconds a lap quicker in his two-wheel-drive car after he has divided his time equally between the two cars, while Andretti is likewise two seconds a lap slower than his team-mates in the conventional cars and is far from enthusiastic about the handling. Meanwhile, the pace is being set by Brabham, who finishes up the fastest of the day at 1'13"8 which indicates that the wet track is slowing the cars about nine seconds. Beltoise, who concentrates on the conventional Matra, shows a considerable turn of speed to finish up second fastest ahead of Brabham’s team-mate Ickx. Stewart finishes up fourth fastest in his regular Matra, just ahead of Courage with McLaren sixth. Stewart does record the seventh fastest time overall with the four-wheel-drive effort, possibly more because of his great skill than anything else. The Lotus team are not having a happy time on their Firestone tyres, while the best Andretti can do is thirteenth fastest. Surtees tries both his B.R.M.s, but the new car suffers from stiff steering quite early on and though this is repaired for later in the session he continues to concentrate on the older car as this seems to be going rather better than usual. The engines have been modified to the tune of a larger oil filtering system since Canada, but still seem to suffer from a very narrow power band compared with Cosworth V8s. Before the practice session is over most people have got thoroughly wet and miserable and start to drift back to the cover of the Tech Building, but Courage practises on to the very end, for much of the last half hour being the only car on the track. The evening see several engine changes but they are all more in the order of routine maintenance than because of mechanical damage. On Saturday morning the sky has cleared but there is a very definite chill about the air which encourages work rather than standing about. All 18 cars are practising this time and four hours later no less than half the field has lapped within half a second of the fastest man.
There is rather more incentive insofar as there is an extra $1.000 at stake. Siffert is the first to start getting under the old Formula One record of 1'05"22, while Stewart, who usually makes the running, soon finds out that he has calculated his gear ratios incorrectly. These are altered and Stewart then returns after about an hour and immediately becomes the man to beat. The two main pretenders to his title as top Formula One driver of the present time, lckx and Rindt, are both in trouble. Ickx’s wing brakes away on the fastest part of the circuit and he has a very hair-raising spin off the course which damages the exhaust and the rear suspension. Only a lap later a piece flies out of Brabham’s clutch, so both the Brabham team cars are being worked on for most of the rest of the session, although both finally get mobile again. Rindt’s problems are various, first it is a mis-firing engine and then an overheating tyre. There is only half an hour left when he starts to get down to some really fast laps and at that time Hulme has just put in a quick one to head the list. Rindt shows all the skill he has displayed at Silverstone and betters this time on several occasions. Stewart is rather caught out doing a test with full fuel tanks, but the Tyrell team pumps most of the petrol out and in the last five minutes he tries to reclaim pole position. He gets very close and reckons another couple of laps would have done it, but it is too late. So it is Rindt on pole with 1'03"62, followed by Hulme at 1'03"65 and Stewart at 1'03"77. The next eight cars are separated by only a second so a close race is obviously on the cards. Andretti is well down the list and would have liked to have tried a Lotus 49B. Eaton is the slowest although he is not given very much of a chance as though the B.R.M. team at Watkins Glen has no lower than four cars and six engines, only three sets of the rather complicated exhaust systems which the engines use are available.
By Sunday morning the crowd has grown to over 100.000 and with only 2.3 miles of trackside, this means that every vantage point is packed to overflowing. The cars are given three warm-up laps and for the McLaren team, usually so well prepared, it is disaster. McLaren’s car never comes round at all, for a piston collapsed inside the engine and he walks back to the pits while Hulme somehow bends his gear linkage and mechanics work frantically to repair it. Surtees has a fuel relief valve changed on his BRM and Moser’s Brabham blows some of its water out and proves to be difficult to top up. When the starter does his annual leap in the air it is almost twenty minutes late. Rindt surges into the lead while Hulme struggles with his gearbox and Stewart and Hill sweeps by in pursuit of the Austrian driver. As the cars disappear out of sight of the pits that is the order, but further down the field Andretti suddenly goes round sideways and comes to a halt. He is soon under way again but no one seems to know who he has bounced off. At the end of the first lap it is Rindt holding his lead from Stewart, Hill, Siffert, Beltoise, Courage, Ickx, Surtees, Hulme, Rodriguez, Brabham, Oliver, Servos-Gavin, Lovely, Eaton, Moser and, at the back, Andretti. Rindt is trying everything he knows to break away from the field and in fact by the end of the third lap an appreciable gap has opened up excepting the important fact that Stewart is only feet behind. Just before the start Stewart has told Ken Tyrell that he thought that his engine was a little flat, possibly because of a broken valve spring, but he is lapping as fast as he has in practice with full tanks. As was the case at Silverstone, these two go out ahead and the rest of the field settles down to their own private battle. Siffert has moved to the front of the group, but at the end of the lap he roars into the pits with the engine sounding very rough.
The drive to the fuel metering unit has sheared and so he is the first retirement. Then Andretti arrives at the Lotus pit complaining of the handling of the car and it is immediately noticeable that the left-hand rear top wishbone has been bent by his first lap collision, so he retires. By lap five it is Beltoise who comes to lead the pursuing bunch, but rapidly losing sight of the tremendous battle between Rindt and Stewart. Line astern behind Beltoise are Courage, Hill, lckx, Surtees and Brabham. On lap six Hulme, who is having a rather unhappy Formula One season, makes a pit stop for the gear linkage to be inspected. He is soon back in the pits again and the car is worked on for a long time before finally returning to the fray. At the back of the field there are three interesting little two-car battles between Oliver and Rodriguez, Servoz-Gavin and Moser and Lovely and Eaton, so there is plenty to hold the interest of the spectators although with Rindt and Stewart lapping in just over a minute what more can they want? Most of the time Rindt seems to have about three cars’ lengths lead but one has the impression that Stewart is perhaps biding his time a little and awaiting an opportunity, although already his car is puffing out a wisp of smoke occasionally. His team-mate is already in trouble, for Beltoise stops at his pit to complain that he can not select fourth or fifth gear. He is sent back in the race to struggle on best he can and this he does until the engine expires many laps later under the strain. Stewart’s shadowing of Rindt scores on lap 12 when the Austrian makes a slight error and the Matra driver loses no opportunity in slipping by. Rindt has only lost a fraction and he is right on the tail of the Matra. The next nine laps are possibly the most exciting of all as the hungry Austrian, desperately wanting his first Grand Prix win, tries his utmost to re-pass the World Champion designate.
The chance comes on lap 21 and Rindt dives through on the inside of Stewart as they take the fast right-hand downhill sweep after the pits. Already the rest of the field are almost half a lap behind after only 22 of the 108 laps, for on this day Rindt and Stewart are in a different class from the rest of the field. Even Ickx can not show his Canadian GP form and is desperately trying to snatch third position from Courage who is having none of it and is showing both the works Brabhams the way. The three Brabhams have broken away from the rest of the group with Surtees now sixth ahead of Hill. The pits have been busy again with Servoz-Gavin coming in to have his gear selection sorted out and he loses 10 laps or so in the process while Oliver’s B.R.M. drive is again short, for he retires when his engine seizes on lap 24. Rindt now seems to be opening a gap over Stewart with three or four laps’ hard work but a gap of a second and a half is drastically reduced when he gets held up lapping Rodriguez. Nevertheless, the Lotus driver soon makes up what he has lost, and more, and by lap 30 the gap is two seconds and has widened five laps later to five seconds. But now the Scotsman is obviously in trouble, for the car is smoking quite heavily, and on lap 36 he pulls into the pits to report that the oil pressure is plunging to zero. A rear oil seal has ruptured and the engine has lost most of its lubricant, so Rindt is on his own. His lead over the Courage, Brabham, Ickx battle is now 37sec, but he has been in a similar situation in the Spanish Grand Prix and the car has let him down, so he is keeping his fingers very much crossed; nevertheless, he is still drawing away from the others. Surtees is up to fifth place and the B.R.M. sounds very sweet as it pulls away from Hill. Rodriguez, who is trying some new softer compound Firestone tyres, has to make a pit stop because they are chunking badly, and this moves Moser up to seventh ahead of Eaton. Lovely has dropped out with that popular Lotus 49B complaint, a broken constant velocity joints on a rear drive shaft.
As the race runs past half-distance Rindt seems very content to keep the gap between him and the three Brabhams at around 45sec, which is at least a mile and a half of track. The Brabham duel gets even more intense as the race continues, for Brabham, who has been content to let Ickx try to pass Courage, moves ahead himself to sort out the private car. Brabham tries all the tricks, such as rushing up the inside under late braking in an attempt to force Courage to move over, but Courage would have none of it and retaliates by occasionally dropping a wheel in the dirt and flinging up a stone or two at Brabham. By three-quarter-distance Rindt’s car is still running perfectly and the gap is still just about three-quarters of a minute. Further down the field Surtees is about to be lapped by the three Brabhams; Rodriguez has made up considerable lost time and re-passes Moser, while Eaton’s engine has started to seize and he stops. The next retirement is that of Ickx, for his engine suddenly loses power and he pulls the car well off the road, causing several people to think he has spun. Although Courage and Brabham are continuing their battle at an unabated speed, Rindt has decided to ease because there is a lot of oil on the corner called the Loop. He is also a little worried about running low on fuel as he has done at Silverstone when in a strong position. It is on this oil that Hill spins with about 20 laps to go and he leaves the track and is unable to re-start the car on the button. So he gets out of the cockpit to manoeuvre the car and is able to re-start, but what he is not able to do is re-fasten his safety belts for they are so made that to do them up properly one needs assistance. But he possibly picks up a stone in the tyre when he slides off, for a couple of laps later he comes by the pits pointing back at a noticeably spongy tyre. No doubt he is hoping the Lotus pit would have another ready for him when he comes in next lap.

Unfortunately he never makes it, for the car suddenly shoots off sideways on the straight before the Loop. It hits a mound of earth and overturns, losing much of its suspension as it goes. Hill is thrown out and his legs receives a tremendous battering as he is thrown out. The popular London driver is taken to hospital with both his knees badly damaged and he may be out of racing for many months. Soon after this sad accident Courage finds himself without his persistent shadow, for Brabham has rushed into the pits complaining of fuel starvation. There is still five or six gallons in the tanks but the fuel system is just not picking it up, probably due to a faulty flap valve, so several more gallons are added. Brabham rejoins the race, but he has lost two laps and he is now just behind Surtees. In the closing stages he manages to pass the B.R.M., but has no hope of making up a complete lap on him to regain third place. So the closing stages come as rather an anti-climax, with Rindt reeling off the laps eventually to come home some three-quarters of a lap ahead of Courage. Surtees is two laps down in third place with the B.R.M., followed by Brabham, Rodriguez is fifth but a further five laps in arrears, while Moser scores his first point of the season despite being 10 laps behind the winner, having at one stage made a brief pit stop because of a loose oil pipe. Servoz-Gavin is still running at the finish, but he only completes 92 laps. Rindt has finally achieved his ambition: it is bound to happen some time, for this is the sixth occasion this season that he has started from pole position. As he comments later, he is driving no better than usual, but for once everything has gone right. Courage, too, goes up in the estimation of a lot of people following his fine drive, and the organisers award him a special Man of the Meeting prize of $5.000. One hundred thousand Americans go home satisfied that they have seen Grand Prix racing at its best.


After five years, Jochen Rlndt took his first victory in a Formula One Grand Prix, winning the United States Grand Prix, the penultimate round of the World Championship. The success of the Austrian and the Lotus-Ford was well-deserved, only partially aided by the retirement of newly crowned World Champion Jackie Stewart, who had to stop in the pits on lap 35 due to an engine failure in his Matra. The race (108 laps of the Watklns Glen circuit, 300 kilometers from New York) was very tough. Only seven of the seventeen competitors (McLaren did not start having broken its engine a few minutes before the start) made it to the finish line. Only one serious accident: Graham Hill went off the track in his Lotus-Ford on lap 98, while in fourth position, due to a tire blowout. The British driver was transported first to a local hospital and then to Arnot-Ogden Hospital in Elmira, where doctors diagnosed him with a multiple fracture of his left femur. Rindt also won the top prize in what is regarded as one of the richest races in the world: $50,000. Behind the Austrian champion came Englishman Piers Courage in a Brabham-Ford, a racer who is proving to be an element of excellent class in the finale of this season. Third came Englishman Surtees and fourth veteran Jack Brabham. Ickx was forced to retire. For the first 35 laps of the Watklns Glen circuit there was an exciting duel between Rindt and Stewart. At the end of the race it was learned that Chris Amon would forgo racing in the Challenge Tasmania Cup, which he won last year, as he was busy testing the new Ferrari 312 B and Sport 5000 currently under construction in the Maranello workshops. Belgian Jacky Ickx, who was hired by Ferrari for the 1970 Formula One and Sport prototype World Championship tests, will also participate in the testing of the two new cars.


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