The 1968 United States Grand Prix, otherwise known as the 11th Grand Prix of the United States, was the eleventh round of the 1968 FIA Formula One World Championship, staged at the Watkins Glen Grand Prix Circuit on the October 6, 1968. The penultimate round of 1968 would see a shock pole sitter, although the USAC star would be unable to prevent a dominant display by the eventual race winner.
Qualifying had seen an excellent battle for pole between Lotus-Ford Cosworth and Matra-Ford Cosworth, decided by American racer Mario Andretti with a stunning late lap. Jackie Stewart would line-up alongside the debutante on the front row, while Graham Hill and Chris Amon shared the second row.
News that the American Andretti had taken pole quickly spread among the fans, and a huge crowd gathered at the Glen in time for the start. The majority of fans would then enter delirium, as Andretti smoothly pulled away from the grid to lead into the first corner, although by the time the field returned, Stewart had slithered into first.
The race would soon settle down behind the Scot, with Amon briefly running in third until a spin dumped him down the order. Andretti continued to threaten for the lead until a piece of bodywork partially fell off and forced the American into the pits, leaving him at the back of the field. Andretti would put together a swashbuckling display after his stop to slowly climb through the field, only to retire when his clutch failed.
American hopes of a win were therefore left to Dan Gurney in fourth, who would then climb into third when Denny Hulme crashed out with a driveshaft failure. His hopes were dashed, however, when he picked up a puncture in the closing stages, having already recovered from a spin. That had left Stewart and Hill untroubled at the front of the field, with John Surtees promoted onto the podium.
When the flag finally fell Stewart had a 24 second lead, having controlled the pace since the start of lap two, and would head to Mexico three points behind Championship leader Hill. The Englishman's second place meant that there would be a three way scrap for the title in the Mexican capital, with Hulme now six points away with nine left to fight for. Elsewhere, Surtees had cruised to third in the race for Honda, ahead of Gurney, Jo Siffert and Bruce McLaren as six cars made it to the chequered flag.
Two weeks after the battle of Canada and the field were in the United States for the annual tour of the Glen, one of the most picturesque circuits on the calendar. Watkins Glen had consistently thrown up good racing, and with another record crowd set to descend upon the circuit over the weekend, with more seating and an expanded pit complex, much to the joy of the teams. Indeed, most of the entries were in the pit garages over a week early, needing to rebuild their cars after the punishing race in Quebec.
Lotus-Ford Cosworth would bring all three cars over the boarder to the States, replacing Canadian racer Bill Brack with USAC racer Mario Andretti in the third car. He would be making his Grand Prix debut after being disqualified before the Italian Grand Prix, but would be using the oldest, and most scarred car of the trio. Graham Hill and Jackie Oliver would race with identical spec-cars, both fitted with new constant velocity drive-shafts, with a third set of the new part on the way for Jo Siffert and the Rob Walker Racing Team car.
Elsewhere, McLaren-Ford Cosworth had a minor update for title pretender Denny Hulme, with the defending Champion receiving a new nose section with purpose built aerofoils. Bruce McLaren forewent the update, hoping to ride out the season without spending too much more money, focusing on helping customer team Anglo American Racers. Dan Gurney's decision to drop the under-developed Eagle-Weslake looked to have been the correct one, with the Anglo-American effort able to fit a brand new engine for the race in the Glen having gone the whole season having to rebuild an already ruined engine. A fourth McLaren would also be in attendance, the familiar bright yellow M5A of Jo Bonnier receiving a fresh BRM engine.
Another team to arrive in New York State early would be Brabham-Repco, who had developed an adjuster system for their wings, which Jack Brabham would use to perfect the setup of both cars. He and Jochen Rindt would also get freshly rebuilt engines for the race, although the relationship between Brabham and Repco was beginning to look strained. Honda also looked likely to be dropping out of F1 at the end of the season, although they were able to rebuild an engine for the spare car of John Surtees, who was on his own after David Hobbs was called away.
BRM were having one last push in the 1968 Championship, flying out two brand new cars to replace the heavily punished car of Pedro Rodríguez. The Mexican would finally be partnered by Bobby Unser, another U.S.A.C. front runner, with the American set to finally get his chance at Formula One after missing out in Monza. Reg Parnell Racing had the third race ready car from BRM, with Piers Courage once again at the wheel.
BRM supplied Cooper would also make their way to the States from Canada, with Vic Elford and Lucien Bianchi getting revamped fuel systems in an attempt to cure their chronic fuel starvation problems. Matra had two factory cars on offer, although Henri Pescarolo would only race if Jean-Pierre Beltoise dropped out, the team having put all their money into curing the problems with their V12 engines. Johnny Servoz-Gavin was in a similar position to Pescarolo at the Ken Tyrrell run Matra International effort, which had two Matra-Ford Cosworths for Jackie Stewart as he pushed for the title. The team almost lost one of the two cars to fire after arriving in the Glen, a stray spark igniting the fuel in the car as the team were working to rebuild it.
The final entry would be the scarlet Ferraris, who were forced to field a new driver lineup after Jacky Ickx's accident in Canada. An older car had been flown out to replace the Belgian's ruined chassis, a flight that also carried his replacement, Derek Bell. The Brit would partner Chris Amon for the weekend, with Ferrari the only team not using the technical centre/pit complex, instead preferring to use a garage in the nearby town to work on their cars.
It had been a rarity for the US Grand Prix to entertain part of the title fight in Formula One, but recent form had seen Championship leader Graham Hill steadily reeled in by his rivals. Denny Hulme had won the two previous races in Italy and Canada, leaving the New Zealander level on points with Hill, 33 points apiece. Jackie Stewart was tied for third with the injured Jacky Ickx, those two holding 27 points with two rounds to go, despite Stewart's season long struggles with his broken wrist. Bruce McLaren and Pedro Rodríguez were tied with 15 points apiece and so still had a mathematical chance of the title, although it would require Hill, Hulme and Stewart failing to score at all while one of the two won both of the remaining races.
The Intercontinental Cup for Manufacturers battle had also closed up after the Canadian scrap, with Lotus-Ford Cosworth and McLaren-Ford Cosworth heading into the final two rounds separated by just seven points. Also in the title fight were Matra-Ford Cosworth, nine behind, and Ferrari, although with a thirteen point deficit the Scuderia looked to be the dark horses in the fight. BRM looked set for fifth, potentially able to catch the Italian firm, while Cooper-BRM would try and fend off a challenge from a disappointed Brabham-Repco squad, who had been dismal throughout 1968.
The full entry list for the 1968 United States Grand Prix is outlined below:
Practice and qualifying would be run as one as usual for the US Grand Prix, with two sessions held on the afternoons of Friday and Saturday. The official practice sessions would be greeted with a sharp change in the weather, with sleet and rain affecting the Friday session, with a clear, but cold, day of running on Saturday. As for a target time, the best of the field would be aiming to topple the circuit record, a 1:05.48, set by Graham Hill on his way to pole for the 1967 race.
Friday's session would be broken up by the weather, with John Surtees leading an early charge onto the circuit before a sudden shower sent everyone back into the pit complex. Surtees would also lead the first post-shower charge, although the Honda would hit successive problems, culminating in a broken wheel, leaving the Brit to practice in the spare car. Brabham-Repco, meanwhile, were focusing heavily on their aero setups, until Jochen Rindt picked up an overheating problem, followed by a failure on his rear wing.
The second half of the session saw the circuit dry out, allowing Hill to set the ball rolling in terms of pace, quickly getting under his old lap record. He, however, would be unable to join in a terrific scrap between Chris Amon and Jackie Stewart to try and get under the 1:05.00 mark, with the Scot ending the session fastest overall with a 1:04.27. Amon ended up half a second down as the only other man to get under the 1:05.00 barrier, while Hill had ended up in third, ahead of the two quiet McLaren-Ford Cosworths.
The period in between the two sessions was also interesting, largely due to the amount of work going on in the expansive pit complex. Lotus-Ford Cosworth, for example, had stripped apart all three factory cars, leaving bits of tired engine all over the garage as they waited for three fresh engines to be shipped to the circuit. Matra and Honda were swapping engines from their test cars, while Brabham-Repco and McLaren were having their Canadian race engines put back in after they arrived back from being rebuilt in the U.K. BRM were also busy, salvaging as much as they could from the car that Bobby Unser had written off so that they could squeeze the wide shouldered American into the spare.
After a busy overnight period there was a brief flurry of activity on circuit as Jean-Pierre Beltoise led those with fresh engines out to run them in. A lull would follow afterwards, with no one venturing out for the risk of writing off their car before the final hour, which would likely see the $1,000 prize on offer for pole claimed. When the cars did start appearing on circuit, the session was almost instantly stopped when Jackie Oliver suffered a suspension failure at high speed, the Brit ultimately escaping uninjured as his car wrote itself off on a barrier.
After Oliver's ruined Lotus was removed qualifying would resume, only to come to a complete stop again when Piers Courage smashed the back of his BRM on an earth bank. Again, a quick clean up and the session was back underway, although problems continued to affect the field. Usner would only get a few laps in before his BRM engine let go, while Jo Siffert and Hill would suffer punctures, the former's caused by a roofing nail which had most likely been thrown from the crowd.
Into the final hour of the session and Hill was closing in on Stewart, ultimately having to settle with a time just a tenth slower than the Scot. Hulme and Amon were also pushing on, neither of them able to match the two Brits, and with just a couple of minutes it looked as if Stewart had pole. That was, until a red-white Lotus came dancing past the pits to record a 1:04.20, causing a huge cheer from the home crowd. Indeed, a majestic lap from Mario Andretti had seen the Italian born American slither around every corner to snatch a maiden pole position, a performance that many were quick to compare to the late Jim Clark.
- T Indicates that a driver set their best time in a test/spare car.
The freezing conditions overnight were not enough to deter some 15,000 campers, who would soon be joined by others from Canada and New York State to create a crowd of 93,000 by the time that the cars were pushed onto the grid. Most fans would hope to see shock pole sitter Mario Andretti take a debut victory, although he would be competing against several drivers who would have fresh engines for the race. Only time would tell, and after a parade, two warm-up laps and a final top up to the fuel, and the field were ready to be released into action by starter Tex Hopkins.
First to react the flutter of the flag would be Andretti, who was sent into the lead of the race with an eruption of joy from the American fans. The Italian-American disappeared up the hill with Jackie Stewart and Graham Hill slotting into his wake, followed by the rest of the field. Yet, Andretti's lead would be short lived, with Stewart shooting down the inside of the rookie into the hairpin, snatching the lead as the field made their way back to the pit straight at the end of the opening lap.
The end of the first lap would see Stewart ahead of Andretti and Chris Amon, who had moved ahead of Hill when the Brit's steering column had trapped his hand on the dashboard, with Hill then accidentally hitting the master power switch. Fortunately, the Lotus racer was able to recover the situation and slot back into the race in fourth, although Hill would have to battle a slipping steering column for the rest of the afternoon. The rest of the field would come charging past, although there was some minor drama at the last corner when Piers Courage rammed the back of Jean-Pierre Beltoise, succeeding in removing most of his nose cowling.
The second lap would see the field begin to test the limits of grip on the circuit, with Beltoise the first to go for a spin, the Frenchman unassisted on his way to the back of the field. Most of the rest would have to cope with a sudden twitch as they pushed to complete the second lap, as Denny Hulme and Jochen Rindt swapped places. Dan Gurney would also make his way past the Austrian over the following laps, as Stewart and Andretti sprinted away from Amon and Hill.
It was a spirited drive from Andretti in his attempts to keep up with the Scot out front, although he would soon be hampered by a partial failure of his nose, with the bottom half scraping along the tarmac. For the time being, however, the Italian-American was more than capable of keeping up with Stewart, with the race settling down after the first flurry of action. Amon was pushing hard to catch them without much success, Hill tagging onto the back of the Ferrari, with another gap back to Hulme, Gurney, Rindt and John Surtees.
Yet tranquillity would only last so long, and when Amon spun on lap eleven, everyone was reminded of just how slippery the circuit still was if a driver was not careful. The New Zealander lost six places during his pirouette, although he would soon gain a position when Lotus reluctantly brought in Andretti to repair his nose. A quick diagnosis revealed that a strut had failed, with the mechanics quickly descending on the car with tape to pull the nose back together.
Unfortunately for the home fans the repairs to Andretti's car dropped him down to thirteenth place, the Italian-American screaming out of the pits just a few yards ahead of race leader Stewart. As Andretti left Derek Bell arrived in the pits, the Brit's second Grand Prix already over when his Ferrari engine expired after the hairpin on lap thirteen. Unfortunately, the ruined engine had also dumped its oil, and despite careful driving from Bell to keep out of the way, a streak of oil would be dropped right on the exit of the final corner.
It would only be a matter of seconds before someone slipped on the slick patch, the marshals unable to display a warning flag before the chasing pack got to the last corner. The first man through would be Hulme, and despite some frantic waving from the stewards, the New Zealander would hit the oil and spin, dropping from third to ninth. Moments later and his teammate, and boss, Bruce McLaren would hit the oil and go for a spin, the #2 orange car scrambling over the grass verge as McLaren tried to get back onto the circuit.
Hulme's race would be severely hampered by the spin, with the defending Champion disappearing into the pits with no brakes, although the McLaren mechanics managed to seal the broken line and replace the brake fluid, at the cost of only having three brakes on his car for the rest of the race. Hulme would emerge four laps later at the back of the field, although it was not too long before the title pretender was climbing through the order as others stopped. Courage was the first to drop behind, the Brit stopping with an ignition issue, with Lucien Bianchi following him in with a slipping clutch. Amon would soon join them to have an overheating issue diagnosed, with the Ferrari mechanics ultimately having to replace the entire unit.
Out on track, Gurney would join the list of spinners when he pirouetted outside the pits, losing out to Surtees before catching and passing the Honda seven laps later. Andretti, meanwhile, would have to make another pit call on lap 32, a slipping clutch having been reported on his first visit although nothing had been done. This time a mechanic had oil to spray into the housing and water to cool in, although the attempted treatment failed, and after one more lap, Andretti was out of the race, soon joined by the lowly Bobby Unser when his BRM engine expired.
Yet, untroubled by all of this was Stewart, who held a 26 second lead over Hill at the end of the 40th lap, although the Scot's engine was beginning to emit a thin blue smoke under acceleration. Hill was in a very secure second and was content to just cruise around, with Gurney and Surtees battling away ten seconds back. Jo Siffert was having a quiet race in fifth, gaining ground when others faltered, although Rindt was closing in on the privateer as the last man still on the lead lap.
After Bonnier and Beltoise disappeared into the pits with more issues, the race began to settle, the only interesting action on track coming when Rindt battled past Siffert for fifth. Stewart seemed to be ignoring his smoke trail, setting a new lap record of 1:05.22 on lap 52, while Amon dropped out with a failed water pump on lap 60. Bonnier was in and out of the pits with numerous problems, the Swede's race ultimately coming to an end with oil in the distributor, with Pedro Rodríguez the next to fall on lap 67 after a spectacular suspension failure.
A brief hiatus then followed before three quick-fire retirements at the back of the field, Vic Elford losing an engine before the two Brabham-Repcos went out with bits of camshaft punching holes in their engine casings. Nine runners were left in the race, four of whom were still on the lead lap, although Stewart was still swooping round the circuit at an impressive pace. The race was therefore settled, and despite some concern in the Matra-Ford Cosworth pits about Stewart's oil pressure, the final laps would soon tick by.
There would still be some late race changes to shuffle the order, starting with the disappearance of Hulme when a driveshaft failed under acceleration. The New Zealander was suddenly thrown into a spin that carried the car over a ditch, before the orange McLaren slammed onto the ground and cracked its monocoque. Courage would also drop out when he had a bolt fail in his suspension, and despite a quick repair, the Brit would be released back into the race without enough fuel to make it to the end.
With Siffert and McLaren stopping for fuel late on, the race looked settled, although Surtees suddenly began catching Gurney, whose pace had nosedived once the cars hit the 100 lap mark. On the penultimate lap the inevitable happened, the Honda sweeping past the McLaren to claim third, Gurney limping home to fourth with what was later revealed to be a puncture. They finished a lap behind Hill in second, who had closed to within half a minute of race winner Stewart.
Indeed, it had been a dominant display for the Scot when he finally cruised across the line, despite some last minute scares caused by fans running across the circuit. It would also leave Stewart with a shot at the title, heading into Mexico with a three point gap to ex-teammate Hill, who would be happy with second. Surtees was well ahead of the limping Gurney come race end, with Siffert and McLaren completing the finishers, Bianchi having taken the flag but was too far behind to be classified.
The full results for the 1968 United States Grand Prix are outlined below:
|3||5||John Surtees||Honda||107||+1 Lap||9||4|
|4||14||Dan Gurney||McLaren-Ford||107||+1 Lap||7||3|
|5||16||Jo Siffert||Lotus-Ford||105||+3 Laps||12||2|
|6||2||Bruce McLaren||McLaren-Ford||103||+5 Laps||10||1|
|Ret||22||Piers Courage||BRM||93||Out of fuel||14|
|NC*||19||Lucien Bianchi||Cooper-BRM||88||+20 Laps||20|
|NC*||17||Jo Bonnier||Cooper-BRM||62||+46 Laps||18|
|Ret||6||Chris Amon||Ferrari||59||Water pump||4|
- * Bianchi and Bonnier were not classified as they had failed to complete 90% of the race distance.
- Mario Andretti made his Grand Prix debut.
- Only Formula One race for Bobby Unser.
- Maiden pole position for Andretti.
- Jackie Stewart claimed his fifth career win.
- Also the third win for Matra as a constructor.
The Championship standings would make very interesting reading with one race to go, as Jackie Stewart moved into second with a third win of the season, leaving the Scot three points away from the crown. Graham Hill's second place in the US was enough to keep him in the lead, while a retirement for Denny Hulme left the defending World Champion six points away in third. Those three would head to Mexico as they only pretenders to the crown, with the injured Jacky Ickx set for fourth.
Lotus-Ford Cosworth, in contrast, had all but wrapped up the Intercontinental Cup for Manufacturers crown, requiring only a single point in Mexico to take the honours. Only Matra-Ford Cosworth could deny them, having moved back past McLaren-Ford Cosworth courtesy of Stewart's triumph, with the orange coloured squad too far back to challenge for the title. Ferrari were destined for fourth, their only threat being an under-budget BRM squad, with Cooper-BRM still holding out for sixth ahead of Honda and Brabham-Repco.
Images and Videos:
- ↑ 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 'GRAND PRIX RESULTS: UNITED STATES GP, 1968', grandprix.com, (Inside F1 Inc., 2016), http://www.grandprix.com/gpe/rr172.html, (Accessed 11/12/2016)
- ↑ 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 2.12 2.13 2.14 2.15 2.16 2.17 2.18 2.19 2.20 2.21 2.22 2.23 2.24 2.25 2.26 2.27 2.28 2.29 2.30 2.31 2.32 2.33 2.34 2.35 2.36 2.37 2.38 2.39 2.40 2.41 2.42 2.43 2.44 2.45 2.46 2.47 2.48 2.49 2.50 2.51 2.52 2.53 2.54 2.55 2.56 2.57 2.58 2.59 2.60 2.61 2.62 2.63 2.64 2.65 2.66 2.67 2.68 2.69 2.70 2.71 2.72 2.73 2.74 2.75 2.76 2.77 2.78 2.79 2.80 2.81 2.82 2.83 2.84 2.85 2.86 2.87 2.88 2.89 2.90 2.91 2.92 2.93 2.94 M.J.T., '10th United States Grand Prix', motorsportmagazine.com, (Motor Sport Magazine, 01/11/1968), http://www.motorsportmagazine.com/archive/article/november-1968/20/10th-united-states-grands-prix, (Accessed 11/12/2016)
- ↑ 'United States 1968: Entrants', statsf1.com, (Stats F1, 2016), http://www.statsf1.com/en/1968/etats-unis/engages.aspx, (Accessed 11/12/2016)
- ↑ 'USA 1968: Qualifications', statsf1.com, (Stats F1, 2016), http://www.statsf1.com/en/1968/etats-unis/qualification.aspx, (Accessed 11/12/2016)
- ↑ 'USA 1968: Result', statsf1.com, (Stats F1, 2016), http://www.statsf1.com/en/1968/etats-unis/classement.aspx, (Accessed 12/12/2016)
|V T E||United States Grand Prix|
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|See also||United States Grand Prix West • Indianapolis 500 • Detroit Grand Prix • Caesars Palace Grand Prix • Dallas Grand Prix • Questor Grand Prix|
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