#250 1974 United States Grand Prix

2022-08-17 00:00

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#1974, Fulvio Conti, Translated by Michela Petrillo,

#250 1974 United States Grand Prix

Clay Regazzoni and Emerson Fittipaldi look like two boxe champions at the eve of a world match, to be clear a Cassisus Clay and a George Foreman. They


Clay Regazzoni and Emerson Fittipaldi look like two boxe champions at the eve of a world match, to be clear a Cassisus Clay and a George Foreman. They go around with a following of technicians and friends, they carry out trainings, maybe they meet up and they exchange a few playful jokes. It happens at Niagara Falls. The famous waterfalls are located at the border between Canada and the United States, about halfway between Toronto, where on Sunday Fittipaldi has preceded Regazzoni in the Canada Grand Prix, and Watkins Glen, where on Sunday October 6 of 1974 the two will face each other for the crucial challenge at the United States Grand Prix. At a stop to admire the majestic spectacle, which not even a thousand tourism initiatives in terrible taste are able to affect, not even the Swiss and the Brazilian eluded.Regazzoni is with Niki Lauda, Fittipaldi with Denny Hulme and the new McLaren’s purchase, the German Jochen Mass. On Tuesday September 24 of 1974, Regazzoni and Fittipaldi, joking, are squabbling among themselves.


"I will throw you in the waterfalls".


Clay Regazzoni says.


"I’m ready to pay any amount to get you out of the way".


Emerson Fittipaldi replies. And again, mutually:


"But why are you going to Watkins Glen? I win anyway".


A big hug seals the meeting. Between the Swiss, the Brazilian and the boxers, though, there are some differences. Fittipaldi having done between September 25 and Thursday September 26 of 1974 some tyres’ tests and car tuning tests at Watkins Glen, he will fly to Bahama.


"I’m Latin, I love the see, the sun, the bathings. I want to rest for a week, be fresh and rested for the Unites States Grand Prix. Then I’ll also go to Indianapolis, where I’ll try a car for the Indy 500 of next year, to which I want to take part".


Regazzoni hits the track with a Lauda for a series of similar tests to Ferrari’s on Thursday September 26 and on Friday September 27 of 1974.


"After, I will go to Las Vegas. A friend for whom last year I did an amazing race of Formula 5000 invited me. I don’t like the game, but I can rest in peace: hotel, pool, sun".


Bahama, Las Vegas, maybe Cassius Clay and Foreman will be somewhat astonished, in reality the drivers don’t have to set their programmes to the boxers’ parameters. For the first the effort is especially psychic, for the second essentially physical. And there is another small difference: Regazzoni and Fittipaldi fight behind the wheel of a car, and it is this one - the Ferrari 321 B3 or the McLaren-Ford - which has to be prepared in a peculiar way, tailor-made for the american track. Ferrari has sent back to Maranello Lauda’s car. In the crash against the guardrail in the turn-trap of Mosport, a front suspension attachment to the body was damaged. A long and delicate repairing job, which was not convenient to execute on the spot. From the factory it will arrive in Watkins Glen in few days a new car, that will be added to the other two. The engineer Giacomo Caliri affirms, the technical supervisor of Ferrari on track:


"These 3 cars have to be bomb-proof. All of us, starting with the mechanics, will do the impossible to give Regazzoni a perfect car. We always tried to do that, but here, in just one race, a world title is at stake.We know very well the track of Watkins Glen, on which we run also with prototypes. Is a track that should allow the 312 B3 to express their skills. The only problem, not new and valid for all the teams, will be the choice of the tyres".


At Walkins Glen the McLaren has rarely had good tests, while Lotus and Tyrrell dominated: in the last 5 years Lotus has won 3 times (in 1969 with Rindt, in 1970 exactly with Fittipaldi, in 1973 with Peterson) and Tyrrell has won two times (in 1971 with Cevert and in 1972 with Stewart). Regazzoni hopes it will be his turn, now: for the title and for the 50.000 dollars that make the United States Grand Prix the richest and the most tempting of the year.After a few days, on Friday September 27 of 1974 Clay Regazzoni is the victim of a crash while testing his Ferarri on the track of Watkins Glen, in view of the Unites States Grand Prix.Unlike the first news arrived in Europe on the health condition of the Swiss driver, Clay, reached by telephone by the Italian journalists in the hotel in which he is staying, he tells what happened and how he feels really. How is it going?


"Good, good, it is nothing. A contusion on the left foot, nothing is broken, as the radiography showed. They put an elastic bandage on me. In 2 or 3 days I should be okay. Now it hurts a little, but I will be ready for Fittipaldi".


What happened?


"We started testing around 9:30 a.m. After an hour I was doing the third of a series of laps we had programmed, when the crash happened. I was coming out of a slow turn, that you do in second gear, with the car in acceleration. A back tyre got on a spiked stud that works as a kerb for the track and my Ferrari broke down".


The car?


"The chassis bent over. I don’t think it is repairable. Let’s hope that from Maranello they will send another one".


In parallel, on Friday September 27 of 1974, with the presentation of the new F1 car - a piece of high school called 312 T - Enzo Ferrari closes in Modena his traditional annual meeting with the press. The meeting, that precedes the Unites States Grand Prix by a few days and the crucial test for the title between Clay Regazzoni and Emerson Fittipaldi takes place peacefully, not influenced - in the good or bad - by what will the result of the American race be. And it’s because of this that Ferrari desires. From the quick introductive words of the constructor from Modena, who is supported by the commentator Francesco Bellicardi and by the engineer Giuseppe Dondo, and by the subsequent dense following of answers and questions, it’s possible to obtain the programmes of the team from Maranello for the 1975. Programmes that take into account the difficult situation of the automobile, but that include,still, the competitions. To sum up, in the next year the Ferrari will take part in the Formula 1 World Championship, will have Niki Lauda and Clay Regazzoni, with which the reconfirmation contracts have already been signed, will be alongside the actual 312 B3, brilliant protagonist of last season, the 312 T, maybe will deploy in some races of the Sports car World Championship the spider sport-prototype 312-P, again with Lauda and Regazzoni, and will continue to not sell its engines 3 liters boxer.


"For a while now we have been hearing questions: but what will you do in 1975? Because this has been for us a year of clarity, I immediately answer that Ferrari will keep running, and it will until I’m on this planet".


And he adds:


"When I agreed to transfer my agency, I gave a condition: keep the sport activity. Such condition was accepted,so we go on.The scale of the programmes depends on the general and business situation. We went for the Formula 1 with Lauda and Regazzoni and prepare the 312 T, that will begin the testing on track of Fiorano on October 10, ready to replace the B3 when this won’t be no longer competitive. This means that the B3, with appropriate updates, will again be in Lauda’s and Regazzoni’s hands at least for the first tests of the next World Championship. The car sport-prototype figures in third place in the priority scale. It’s over at 80%. We will soon do some test, but we don’t undertake commitments of running until we know exactly the fate of Group 5 and the nature of the new formule Sport and of the respective championships".


Ferrari touches the economical aspect of the participations in the races.


"Our availabilities for the 1975 will be limited and they will force us to some disclaimers. We can not do whatever we want and we might at well stay in Formula 1, the most sensational expression of our sport. Taking part in the Sportscar World Championship will mean having six drivers of name, seven cars and a dozen of mechanics, with a management that would cost the 45-50% more than the Formula 1 one".


The probability of selling a series of engines to other teams of Formula 1 is not accepted by Ferrari.


"Yes, it would be great to have 10-12 cars with our 12 cylinders in every Grand Prix, but it is not enough to sell these engines, they also need to be overhauled and extend them any changes.It would be a commitment too onerous for us, we already have to strive to keep up with the needs of our group".


The speech on the engines leads to a theme that makes Enzo Ferrari dangerous, and so certain more or less veiled insinuations of the British teams in relation to the Ferrari’s dominance in some races.


"I would have liked to win in Monza and immediately after I would have liked to have the 12 cylinders of Lauda and Regazzoni dismantled to demonstrate that they were not increased. Within the association of the constructors of Formula 1 we came across for the engines to be verified after every race, for the car’s weight to be checked and because starting in a Grand Prix would not depend on the membership of a certain caste, but on the times obtained in the tests".


On Merzario Ferrari he says:


"Merzario has confirmed that for him Ferrari is a closed chapter. We take note. I believe I have defined his skills when I said that, if he had stayed in F1, he could have been in Regazzoni’s position and I, who brought him in F1, would have been very happy. But him, on September 12 of 1973, pointed out that moving to Alfa Romeo and to another team of F1, He would have realized 3 times more than what Ferrari was offering him".


Some mention of other topics of the meeting.Granturismo: regarding productions cars, each eventual programme will be launched with Bellicardi and Dondo. Lenders: no at the societies of perfumes o cigarettes. Breakdowns B3: it is about inevitable facts when racing. 


Engine progress: with various changes (pistons and cylinder heads) 490 CV have been obtained at lower speeds than in the past, with lower utilisation. Autodromo Modena: it won’t happen, ACI’s fault.In the end, reaffirmed its full trust in the technical troika formed by Forghieri, Rocchi and Bussi and his assistent Luca Montezemolo, Ferrari hints at this electrifying season.


"If Regazzoni will become World Champion, it will mean that we are going to have an official one and an other, Lauda, who could have been; if he won’t manage, we will keep the convition of having two drivers and a car worthy of the title.I have no criticism to made, no regrets. Of course, in the end of 1973 I never tought I would arrive that high. Out of 14 Grand Prix, we were ahead for 1900 km on 4100, we obtained the fastest lap ten times and we started in the first row on twelve occasion. Now, I would go to the sea, I would like not to think. But it is not possible. The wait is our work".


Then, all around the new 312 T, with #11 and the name Clay Regazzoni painted on the right sid and a great Niki Laudaon the left. The news of the accident of Regazzoni during the tests of the Unites States Grand Prix, arrived at finished meeting, stimulates Enzo Ferrari even more, who is still in the office at 8:00 p.m., in Maranello, thinking about the remedies to take. On Thursday October 3 of 1974, at Walkins Glen it’s polar cold. During the night a dusting of snow falls.


"It means that on Sunday we will run with studded tyres".


Say the drivers, joking, while waiting for the beginning of the tests that will lead to the Unites States Grand Prix.In fact, the weather forecast for the weekend id decent. Clay Regazzoni and Niki Lauda are back from the short holidays at New York and on Thursday they assist with the last touches to their cars. From Maranello a new body has arrived at Watkins Glen to replace the damaged car during the off the track of Regazzoni and the mechanics are working to prepare it as for the tests that start on Friday. Regazzoni is calm. The left foot is still a bit sore, especially the heel and the Swiss walks curiously on the toes.


"The heel hurts but at least I don’t have to use it while driving. I feel ok and I did’t even want to go to the doctor: it was useless. I’m going to get a padding on the car floor to have soft material under my limb. But I’m sure that everuthing will be fine.What really matters is to obtain a good time and start well. The game,so, will be almost completed".


By the way a special padding will be placed on the floor of his Ferrari to decrease the fatigue of the limb. The test is crucial. In this moment of truth I am facing Clay Regazzoni, 35 years, Swiss, driver for Ferrari, and Emerson Fittipaldi, 28 years in December, Brazilian, driver for McLaren. The important role that the tests of the Unites States Grand Prix will play is understood also by Fittipaldi.Indeed, the McLaren team, apart from having at disposal a series of new engines Cosworth, they have also installed in the helmet of the Brazilian a two-way radio to make the times  communications easier and to accelerate the tuning of the car.Emerson, back from the holidays at the Bahamas, is calm and tanned.


"Who will arrive is going to win, and I always arrive".


The 14 races held until now, 4200 km and over 24 huors of races have not yet designed the heir of Stewart. Also Jody Scheckter, 24 years old, Soutafrican, driver for Tyrrell, can win this crazy championship, but he should have incredible fortune on his side. Regazzoni and Fittipaldi have 52 points, Scheckter has 45: the gap,at least in theory, seems unbridgeable. The challenge recalls great sport events of the past and leaves you breathless.


Two men, or maybe 3, who fight on the 300 km/h edge for a title that assures prestige together with considerable economic advantages and that reverberates, directly or indirectly, his reflexes on the motor industry of a country rather than another, arousing a shiver of fear. One would like to tell him to be cautious, but it would be ridiculous; and then in their own way, they are, because racing is for them a profession. It rages, instead, that the World Champion is still at this point, with all to be decided after a lot of races. It rages because a team, with one of its drivers, should have deserves the title a long time ago: it’s Ferrari, that with Niki Lauda and Regazzoni has demonstrated a clear superiority, being protagonist of an exciting season. On the aspect of competitiveness and organisation techincal-sporting not one team was better. Yet we are here, at Walkins Glen, looking for, in two hours of a Gran Prix that will be confusing, nervous, entrusted to fortune, a final imprimatur. Observing the develpoment of the season, it’s easy to consider that Lauda or Regazzoni should have already delivered to Maranello that title that Enzo Ferrari received the last time in 1964 thanks to John Surtees. The Austrian, with the 312 B3 renewed by the techinicians Forghieri, Bussi and Rocchi, formed the queen couple of Formula 1, the one destined to the natural succession of the binomial Stewart-Tyrrell. Lauda exalted the qualities of his car, first by restoring dignity with the long testing work held during the winter, then by driving it with cold skill in test and in the race. Niki Lauda conquered nine times pole position, performance that shows the level of the man and of the car, he conquered 3 times the fastest lap, two times he stood out. This has been the trouble:at least in 4 occasions Niki has been stopped by absurd inconveniences when he was destined to victory. And Regazzoni? Less fast in the tests- even because of less finesse in tuning the car-he fought with tenacity in every Grand Prix, managing with prodigious starts talking about timing to gain the lost positions, or better not conquered, during practice. And also for the Swiss, author- defined for years as a car breaker - of a balanced and cautious season, bitterness of a lot of points lost for nothing. Like that, this dominance of the Italian cars,back in the limelight after bitter years, risks of not finding the logical seal, the most obvious prize. Because Fittipaldi is a tough opponent, with a strong team, directed by people with a lot of courage and well prepared. 


The Brazilian had fortune, he knew how to take advantage of every occasion, he showed - it must be recognised - a great ability of driving a car not always on point, not always valid on every track as Ferrari. And Scheckter could hit the big time in this United States Grand Prix that is similar to a crazy roulette. If in the sport these certain situations follow the logical wire, if the ones who mostly deserve receive the right prize, ther won’t be doubts: on Sunday Regazzoni and Ferrari will conquer the 1974 World Championship. But, sadly, the things often go different, and it’s because of this that the Italians - came from all America at Watkins Glen - gnaw in anticipation. It’s cold and on Wednesday also snowed: a almost wintery Grand Prix, if the fight for the title had not been until now quite busy. Watkins Glen, the 3.7-mile road circuit in the north of New York state, has been the scene of the World Championship’s final round ever since 1971, the Mexican Grand Prix having been dropped from the calendar that year. This year there is an added interest attached to the United States Grand Prix, for this is the event which will decide both the drivers’ World Championship as well as the constructors’ title and most of the cars which are present at the Canadian Grand Prix stayed in North America for the second race. Such is the intensity of competition at Watkins Glen, this intensity foster by the added attraction of a first prize totalling 50.000 dollars, that many teams took the opportunity to test at the circuit during the two-week break between races. However, an unexpect bout of cold weather a couple of days before the start of official practice made it seems as though the race might have to be canceled, but fortunately sunny skies and higher temperatures returned before the serious business got under way. Last year Ronnie Peterson led the United States Grand Prix from start to finish, so his Lotus 721R8 looks as though it would be a suitable mount for a second year running, Particularly after his impressive showing at Mosport Park. Ickx handled 72/R5 as usual, while a third entry was made for the former Brabham and Surtees Formula 1 driver Tim Schenken who has had a bleak season this year driving the Ron Tauranac-designed Trojan-Cosworth T103. Schenken was assigned to the Lotus 76/JPS 9 on condition that he would have to give the car up to Peterson should the Swede damage his 72 or suffer some last-moment mechanical failure. Elf Team Tyrrell is busy preparing 007/2 for Scheckter to drive, this car being flown out from the team’s Ripley headquarters to replace 007/3 which sustained very serious damage in the Mosport Park accident.


The fresh car fits with slightly larger fuel tanks, for the Watkins Glen race, at just over 199 miles, is one of the longest Grands Prix of the season and with Scheckter retaining an outside chance of winning the World Championship, Tyrrell isn’t going to take any chances. This longer-range tankage has originally been built into Depailler’s new car (007/4), but the spare chassis (007/1) retains its original fuel capacity. Four McLaren M23s came to Watkins Glen, all having appeared at Mosport Park. These are M23/8 for Firtipaldi, M23/6 for Hulme, M23/4 for Mass and M23/5 as a spare chassis which in fact don’t get used by either driver all weekend. This event is going to be Hulme’s last, for the craggy New Zealander has decided to retire from motor racing after the United States Grand Prix although he isn’t destined to make his decision public until the following Monday. Bernie Ecclestone’s Brabham team had BT44/1 on hand for Reutemann and BT44/2 for Pace, while John Watson’s BT44/4 is successfully repaire following the damage it sustains to the underside of its monocoque when it slides off the circuit at Mosport Park. All three 1974 Brabhams are completely unchanged and they are backed up by Ashley in Watson’s old BT42/2 who is trying for the last time this year to get to grips with Formula 1. A totally new monocoque is required for Vittorio Brambilla’s March 741, but the rebuild is successfully complete after a great deal of hard graft on the part of his team’s mechanics who have a lot of time for the plucky Italian as he isn’t in any way averse to rolling his sleeves up and giving them a hand. Stuck drives the second car as usual although he has a rather hectic schedule in the intervening ten days since Mosport, rushing back with Depailler to drive against each other at an F2 event at Hockenheim. Similarly, in the B.R.M. and Shadow team Beltoise, Jarier and Pryce came back home to Europe for another race but rushed back in time to practise B.R.M. P201/03, Shadow DN3/2A and DN3/3A respectively. Chris Amon is down to have his second drive as a member of the Bourne organization and although he is singularly unimpressed with his car’s performance in the Canadian Grand Prix, he is at least happy to know that an engine mounting is find to have broken so the apparent handling deficiency isn’t just in his mind. 


In the Surtees team, Koinigg is continuing to drive TS16/03-3, but Derek Bell’s place in the second car is taken by Jose Dolhem, the French driver who tries unsuccessfully to qualify at both Dijon-Prenois and Monza. Merzario and Laffite are representing the Williams team as usual, Wilds drove Morris Nunn’s Ensign and Rolf Stommelen rounded off the season as temporary team-mate to Graham Hill in the Embassy Lola T370. Having finish second in the Hesketh March 731 last year, James Hunt is hoping for great things from the Hesketh 308/2 complete in the same side radiator trim which takes him to fourth place at Mosport and the team buy along 308/3 as a reserve car once again. Undoubtedly the most popular entries in the race as far as the American crowd is concerne, Mario Andretti and Mark Donohue are taking part in their home Grand Prix in the Parnelli VPJ1 and the Penske PC1 for the very first time. Both cars have taken part in the pre-practice test sessions at Watkins Glen and each team feels confident that it can improve on its Mosport Park result. Finally, the one team with a chance of beating Fittipaldi and McLaren Racing to the World Championship, Ferrari, has run into a host of problems whilst testing the previous week. Regazzoni has crash 312B3/016 very heavily and completely written the car off against the guard rail but the Swiss is fortunate to escape from the wreckage with an uncomfortably bruise leg. The damage Ferrari is flown home to Italy and the Maranello workers have to put in many extra hours getting 011 ready to be dispatch to the United States as a replacement, this unfortunate incident interrupting the development work which is be carry out on the revise 312T model which features a transverse gearbox cast into the back of the engine block amongst other refinements and is to be test in Italy the week after Watkins Glen. Official practice takes place on the Friday and Saturday prior to the race, it being apparent from the word go that everyone is working as hard as they possibly can to secure a decent grid position. The heroes are looking as heroic as ever, the triers are trying probably harder than ever before this year and the also runs are even looking quick for a change as they all strive to get a place on the last Grand Prix grid of this season. Unfortunately B.R.M. are in trouble almost before the session is under way with Beltoise crashing his P201 on an uphill right-hand corner on the new section of the circuit after trying too hard too early on cold tyres and a filthy dirty track surface. 


The little Frenchman escaps from the twist B.R.M. with a slightly chip bone in his ankle, but neither the mechanics nor Tim Parnelli looks particularly please with Beltoise because he ought to have known better than to go so fast so quickly on very cold tyres. Whilst all this drama is being enact in the B.R.M. pit, Carlos Reutemann is busy underlining the fact that his Brabham BT44 is one of the best Grand Prix cars currently racing by lapping in 1'39"26 which top the practice lists until Andretti goes 0.01 sec. faster in the afternoon. The Italian-born American made his Formula One debut at Watkins Glen back in 1968 at the wheel of a Lotus 49 and he put it on pole position, a fact which raised a few eyebrows at the time. Since then he has concentrated on American USAC events and only had intermittent races in Europe with Formula One Marches and Ferraris. However, it has always been one of his ambitions to go back into Formula One with an American team and, albeit with a car designe by an Englishman, that is just what he has done and the whole demeanor surrounding the Parnelli team at Watkins Glen is very similar to that surrounding Ferrari at Monza, or that which used to surround the Matra-Simca team at the French Grand Prix. It is a contagious feeling of confidence and by the end of the first day, everyone in the team from Parnelli Jones and sponsor Vel Miletich right down to the most junior mechanic is grinning fit to bust. It seems that the first practice hurdle to clear is the 1'40"0 barrier, this being successfully manages by Andretti, Reutemann, Scheckter, Pace, John Watson and the two Ferraris. But even though the Italian cars are near the front all is far from well as both drivers are complaining that their cars understeer acutely and Lauda’s is ruining its rear shock-absorbers at a very fast rate. Out on the circuit the red cars’ familiar stability has vanish and both their drivers wrestl hard with the Ferraris as they weav disconcertingly under braking and their rear ends vibrates violently under harsh acceleration. Lauda’s best ends up as 1'39"32 while Regazzoni just slips in 1'39"73 lap when the engine of his car blow a hole in its crankcase. So that is that. 


Nevertheless, Ferrari can perhaps draw some small consolation from the fact that Team Lotus are having one of their most shambolic weekends since they drop the Lotus 76 project. Peterson looks depress, Ickx merely resign to the fact that neither of them can cure the two Lotus 72s of their massive understeer problem and although Ickx just breaks into the 1'40"0 barrier, the usually cheerful Swede is very glum after failing to break 1'41"0. This air of gloom quickly spread through the team because one of the really good things about having a driver like Peterson in the team is that he tries hard all the time, so you don’t have to bother about wondering: Is he having an off-day? Everyone can see that Peterson is trying as hard as he knows to get the car going well, so there is only one conclusion to be drawn and that is that the fault lay with the car. This is underline on the second day when he laps appreciably quicker than his team mate, and the grim sight of the two Lotus 72s lining up on the starting grid in 16th and 19th position out of 25 cars was very depressing for Colin Chapman. Just to complete their anguish, Schenken fails to qualify for the spare 76. Emerson Fittipaldi encountere braking problems with M23/8 which necessitate his mechanics stripping down the front brakes on the spare McLaren and transferring the discs to the Brazilian’s regular car. Once that is carry out, Fittipaldi records a 1'39"85 lap which stands him in good stead at the front of the grid. Hulme wears a relax, unconcerne look on his face while Mass, in contrast, don’’t understand why he can’t get the Yardley car going faster than he does. Penske’s teamare learning all about Formula One the hard way as they spend most of Friday’s session attempting to come to terms with a mysterious misfire on Donohue’s car. After trying every remedy they can think of, they are all a little bit perplexe and embarrasse to find that the battery has a loose earth lead. Despite this trivial fault, at least the Penske team is following the Parnelli team up the grid and passing a lot of season regulars as they do so.


"We have a fifty per cent chance each. Maybe, he gets something for the chassis here, we get something for the engine. But if we both stop and Scheckter doesn't win, he's fine, because he has more wins than me in the championship and he takes the title".


Clay Regazzoni, calm and serene, analyses his situation and that of his great rival Emerson Fittipaldi on the eve of Sunday's challenge, of that United States Grand Prix that will close the most uncertain Formula One World Championship in recent years. Next to Clay Regazzoni are Niki Lauda, technicians Mauro Forghieri and Giacomo Caliri, and Luca Montezemolo, Enzo Ferrari's assistant. Says Regazzoni:


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