1978 United States Grand Prix
|Race 15 of 16 in the 1978 Formula One season|
|Date||October 1, 1978|
|Official name||XXI Toyota United States Grand Prix|
|Location||Watkins Glen Grand Prix Race Course
Watkins Glen, New York
|Course||Permanent road course
5.435 km (3.377 mi)
|Distance||59 laps, 320.67 km (199.24 mi)|
|Time||1:39.557 on lap 55|
The 1978 United States Grand Prix was a Formula One race held on October 1, 1978 at the Watkins Glen Grand Prix Race Course in Watkins Glen, New York. This event was also referred to as the United States Grand Prix East in order to distinguish it from the United States Grand Prix West held on April 2, 1978 in Long Beach, California.
Mario Andretti returned home as the newly crowned World Champion and put his Lotus 79 on the pole before a record crowd of over 150,000 fans, but Ferrari's Carlos Reutemann completed a sweep of the two United States races in 1978 by finishing 19 seconds ahead of Australian Alan Jones. Andretti, driving for the first time since winning the title and losing teammate Ronnie Peterson at the Italian Grand Prix, developed brake problems early on and eventually retired with a blown engine.
In the aftermath of the Italian Grand Prix 2 weeks previously, the Grand Prix Drivers' Association (GPDA) had a meeting centering around Riccardo Patrese, the driver whom the GPDA blamed for the multiple car pile-up and death of Peterson at Monza. The GPDA filed an injunction to bar Patrese from participating in the 1978 United States Grand Prix weekend, which was allowed, and Patrese did not take part in anything related to the race weekend. Patrese, who believed that he was not to blame for the fatal accident at Monza, was furious at this action taken, and he tried to stop the race from taking place; this did not work out to his favor.
Friday was warm and sunny, and it took Andretti only 11 laps to set a new track record of 1:39.82. He later lowered that to 1:38.92, ahead of the Ferraris of Reutemann and Canadian rookie Gilles Villeneuve, then the two Brabhams of Niki Lauda and John Watson. American Brett Lunger, about to drive in his last Formula One race, was at the wheel of an Ensign for the first time, after his McLaren was damaged in the opening lap crash at Monza that eventually claimed the life of Peterson. Bobby Rahal had been enlisted from Formula Atlantic to partner Jody Scheckter, as Canadian Walter Wolf was running two cars for the first time.
Starting carefully in his first F1 drive, Rahal took more than a second off his lap time in the Friday afternoon session, then another half-second on Saturday and qualified 20th. High winds on Saturday meant that only eight drivers would improve their times, with Alan Jones making the biggest impression as he jumped up to third spot on his last lap. Despite the wind, Andretti improved his pace-setting time to 1:38.114, more than a second ahead of Reutemann.
After Friday's qualifying, Andretti had been so pleased with his car that he said, "We don't know any more that we can do. She is so right. What can I say?" In fact, the race organizers feared that an Andretti win would trigger pandemonium in the massive crowd, and they had Mario and his wife, Dee Ann, pose for photos on the podium with the winner's trophy before the race!
Sunday produced threatening skies, but no rain. On the last lap of the morning warm-up, the rear stub axle on Mario's Lotus broke in the left-hander entering The Anvil (nicknamed "Ickx's Corner" after a spectacular crash the Belgian had there in 1976). The car spun several times and then hit the barrier, knocking off a rear wheel. Andretti reiterated his feelings from the start of the weekend, now lamenting, "When I get a car right, and it was, it is right!" Faulty material in the part was blamed, and, with no time to test the spare car, Andretti would have to use new teammate Jean-Pierre Jarier's car for the race.
At the start, Andretti jumped into the lead, but Emerson Fittipaldi and Hector Rebaque (in 13th and 23rd places) both immediately burned out their clutches. Rebaque's race was over, but Fittipaldi managed to get his car in gear, nursed it around for a lap while it cooled off, and then drove brilliantly through the field to eventually finish fifth!
After one lap, Andretti had a four car-length lead over Reutemann and Villeneuve. They were followed by Jones, Lauda, Jarier, Hunt, Watson and Scheckter. Knowing the car had a brake problem, Andretti was hoping he could cope with it, as he had at Monza. Immediately, however, his lead began to disintegrate. On lap three, Reutemann went by, and on lap four, Villeneuve. As the Ferraris pulled away, Jarier came in on lap 11 from 11th place to change a deflating front tire. After going back out, the car was still bottoming, but once his fuel load lightened, he went like mad, setting fast lap again and again. His (and the race's) eventual fastest lap would have qualified him third!
Nearing the halfway point, Ferrari was running a comfortable first and second. Then, on lap 23, Villeneuve's engine suddenly blew a piston, and Jones, who had overtaken Andretti two laps earlier, inherited second, 35 seconds behind Reutemann. On lap 25, Lauda passed Andretti for third, and three laps later, Andretti's engine blew, taking the wind out of the crowd. The real interest in the race at this point became the battle between Scheckter and Jean-Pierre Jabouille's Renault. When Lauda also blew up just a lap after Andretti, their dice was suddenly over third place. In addition, Jarier was now immediately behind them and closing at a remarkable rate.
When Jabouille ran into brake trouble, he was caught by both Scheckter and Jarier. Jarier went by both of them to take third, while Scheckter also passed Jabouille to regain fourth. Unfortunately, Jarier's spectacular run up to third place in the spare Lotus ended with three and a half laps to go when he ran out of fuel, giving Scheckter the final podium position. Reutemann came home almost twenty seconds ahead of Jones after driving a flawless and well-measured race for his second American win of the season and the third of his career. Jabouille's fourth place scored the first points for Renault and the first for a turbocharged engine, foreshadowing the change that would rock Formula One to its roots within the next few years.
|2||27||Alan Jones||Williams-Ford||59||+19.739 secs||3||6|
|3||20||Jody Scheckter||Wolf-Ford||59||+45.701 secs||11||4|
|7||7||James Hunt||McLaren-Ford||58||+1 Lap||6|
|8||22||Derek Daly||Ensign-Ford||58||+1 Lap||19|
|9||18||René Arnoux||Surtees-Ford||58||+1 Lap||21|
|10||3||Didier Pironi||Tyrrell-Ford||58||+1 Lap||16|
|11||26||Jacques Laffite||Ligier-Matra||58||+1 Lap||10|
|12||21||Bobby Rahal||Wolf-Ford||58||+1 Lap||20|
|13||23||Brett Lunger||Ensign-Ford||58||+1 Lap||24|
|14||17||Clay Regazzoni||Shadow-Ford||56||+3 Laps||17|
|15||55||Jean-Pierre Jarier||Lotus-Ford||55||Out of Fuel||8|
|16||36||Rolf Stommelen||Arrows-Ford||54||+5 Laps||22|
|Ret||9||Michael Bleekemolen||ATS-Ford||43||Oil Leak||25|
|Ret||1||Niki Lauda||Brabham-Alfa Romeo||28||Engine||5|
|Ret||2||John Watson||Brabham-Alfa Romeo||25||Engine||7|
|Ret||16||Hans Joachim Stuck||Shadow-Ford||1||Fuel System||14|
- Lap Leaders: Mario Andretti 2 laps (1-2); Carlos Reutemann 57 laps (3-59).
- In the wake of Ronnie Peterson's fatal crash at the 1978 Italian Grand Prix, this was the first use of the now standard procedure of having a specially trained medical team line up behind the cars at the start of the race and follow them for most of the first lap. In this race, the Medical car hit a curb and was in the air for a short period of time.
Standings after the race
- Note: Only the top five positions are included for both sets of standings.
- Rob Walker (January, 1979). "19th United States Grand Prix: Mario Unlucky, Carlos Superb". Road & Track, 100-103.
1978 Italian Grand Prix
|FIA Formula One World Championship
1978 Canadian Grand Prix
1977 United States Grand Prix
|United States Grand Prix||Next race:
1979 United States Grand Prix