With Coxon nor Riddall scoring any points in Canada, the championship was going down to the wire. And only at Watkins Glen would the world greet its new champion. With dry and warm late Indian summer weather, attendance was high. As was the presence of the world’s media, keen to update the world on every last development in the championship.
It meant we had to navigate our way to the pits through lousy journalists wearing cheap out-of-fashion suits or, worse even, them blue jeans the youngsters of lately are so fond of. It also meant way more attention for our operation than I ever cared for. Till I ended up spending most of my time in V.I.P. catering facilities where the average reporter was not allowed anyway. But where I painfully failed at blending in; an old inherited prestige versus new street-earned money kind of thing.
With 32 cars entered for the race, the field was also by far the largest the season had witnessed. The 267,000.00 US Dollars purse in prize money, by far the best nurtured in Formula 1, was no stranger to that.
Arriving at the Glen, our hopes were rather on the up. After his performances in Monza and Mosport, we did not entirely rule out the possibility of Voigt having a decent race for once. It would obviously be unreasonable to hope for a podium or similar extravagancy. But if the stars were right, why not end the season with a point… or two?
Our hopes were further boosted when Voigt did sort of not disappoint in qualifying. He only qualified 21st, but was over 0.6 seconds a lap faster than fellow Ferrarista Ryon in 23rd. It was hard to deny that Voigt was progressing. One thumbsucker had the nerve to ask why Ryon was in last year’s Ferrari 312B, while as Janak and Voigt both had 312B2’s. Which I personally understood as an insinuation that Voigt’s exploits were down to him having a better car. So, I had some friends of ours explain the pencil sucking cockroach that Gerard drove that car at his own request; that the old car was not one penny down on power on the new car, but weight in at 10 kilo’s less than the new one.
Then, those same friends of ours went through the trouble of physically explaining the newspaper hobo what 10 kilo’s feel like in reality. Which involved heavy bags of mortar and sledgehammers!
Up front, Riddall took the best possible option on a potential strong start by securing pole. He shared the front row with Jaques, who was kind of the man to beat this end of season. Austin Johnson and Thiago Canola were in 3rd and 4th respectively.
Coxon only managed a fifth starting spot, which had old Ken Tyrrell look rather worried. If Riddall won, he was champion. If Riddall would only finish second behind Jaques, Coxon still had to finish third to get the championship. Which meant that Coxon, to be on some sort of safe side, would at least need to get the better of both Canola and Johnson. Lesser tasks have been known to man.
As the green flag dropped, Riddall however had a horrible start. Jaques and Johnson shot into the lead. As the field made it out of the Esses, Jundt had gone from 7th to 3rd behind the Canadian-Californian train. Then followed Coxon and Hlavac and only then Riddall. Three turns into the race, and Grant had been relegated to 6th.
Coxon, on the contrary, had turned a 4-place disadvantage into a 2-spot advantage. All worries seemed to clear from Ken Tyrrell’s face at once.
The field pretty soon adopted a careful Indian file formation. Kowalski went a bit sideways entering the boot-section. Johnson had a listless look at Jaques’ lead as they rejoined the original track out of the new Boot section. But all in all, the first lap was mainly one of exemplary behavior.
As they crossed the line for the first time, Jaques was leading Johnson, Jundt and Coxon. Riddall had made it past Hlavac and was back into fifth. The charge on Coxon could begin.
Hlavac, Bos, Plaçais, Adamovich and Canola rounded out the top 10.
By then, Voigt’s race was already long over. He again got boxed in by the car in front of him at the start. Then got passed on the entry to the Esses by Kowalski’s BRM. Managed to get a tow on the long Back Straight up the hill. And looked like gaining a position or two under braking for the Loop.
However, as he exited the Loop and put the power down, nothing happened. All the cars came streaming by and the Ferrari just continued coasting down the hill, ever slower. The engine had bought the farm. A distraught Voigt walked back to the pit and left the entire Formula 1 circus as a disillusioned man.
Coxon was not overly reassured with Riddall straight behind him and captured 3rd back from Jundt. The championship hot dog now had an authentic Swiss sausage.
Riddall slipstreamed himself past David Jundt on the Back Straight, just as Coxon tried to do the same with Johnson. Richard stayed in third for now however, which had the two championship contenders again running one behind the other. Coxon was the virtual champion now, and by a good measure.
It only took Riddall about 1/3rd of a lap to inverse the situation. Coxon went into the Toe, the first right hander of the Glen’s new section, a tad hot and slid somewhat wide. He stayed in 3rd but Riddall now had the momentum for the Boot’s straight. Coxon moved towards an inside line, the Surtees pulling alongside on the outside.
Covering the inside resulted in the Tyrrell being somewhat at a disadvantage under braking for the Heel. The car slid slightly wide on the exit. It was al Riddall needed to go for the undercut, grabbing 3rd.
If things remained as they were, Coxon would still be champion however. Grant only scoring one point more than Richard, Coxon would still have a one point advantage. The Surtees-ace thus had no other option but to go hunting for Johnson.
John Thim abandoned. Coxon was down to one teammate.
A massive battle was meanwhile developing for Adamovich’s 9th place. Plaçais attacked in the Loop but the Slovak driver fended it off. Plaçais had to watch his mirrors as behind him Canola, Janak, Sabre and Janik were ready to strike at the least opportunity.
Adamovich seemed to be battling severe understeer and veered wide soon after. The whole train headed by Plaçais stormed past.
Riddall had closed the gap to Johnson and did not wait long to make a clean move. Probably helped by the fact that Johnson did not look like fighting the position particularly hard, anxious as he was to not interfere with the championship proceedings. The pressure for the crown now shifted to Coxon. If things stayed as they were now, Riddall would indeed score 3 points more than Richard and take the championship by one point.
It did take Coxon barely a lap to set that situation straight. He closed in on and then went past Johnson. Again, it seemed the Texan was not defending hard and was mainly set on not interfering with the championship fight. As things stood now, Riddall would only score 2 points more than Coxon and they would both end up with an exact equal amount of points. They would also have three victories each and two second place finishes each. The tiebreaker would thus be the number of 3rd place-finishes. Coxon would have 2 of those, while Riddall would have finished 3rd only once and the principal honors would thus go to Tyrrell. If things stayed as they were at least. It showed just how close this championship had been. And still was…
It did not take long for things to heat up. Riddall understood that his only option was going one better and capture the lead from Jaques. A win here would ensure him of the title, whatever Coxon’s result. So Grant pulled up and went by cleanly in the Toe.
Just as Johnson had been walking on his toes to not interfere with the main protagonists’ races, Jaques now also went out of his way to stay out of the battle between Riddall and Coxon. The Canadian let the Tyrrell by in turn 11.
The two roosting former teammates and now championship opponents were now in one and two. It was entirely up to them to decide who would go home as world-champion. The one who won would be on top of the game, the other would be second, both in the race and in the final standings.
Coxon decided to not waste too much time over it and immediately attacked for the lead entering the Ninety. Riddall fended off and kept the advantage. But the fight was now truly on.
Through the Esses, the Tyrrell was catching onto the slipstream of the Surtees and as they came over the crest, on to the long Back Straight, Coxon looked like having enough tow to pull ahead of the Surtees. Riddall, almost naturally, opted for an inside line, forcing the Tyrrell to the outside. Where Coxon started moving alongside and slightly ahead.
Just as Richard seemed to get the advantage, his car got slightly unsettled and drifted a tad to the inside. It met the Surtees on its path and both cars briefly tangled.
The Surtees wiggled but sped on. Coxon went into an uncontrolled slide and hit the fencing, knocking a rear wheel from the car. His race was over. And with it his championship bid, so it seemed.
The Steelmekker had maybe been in the lead, and champion, for a split second, but now it was all over… Unless Riddall would finish worse than 4th. As things stood, that may have seemed unlikely, but looking at Grant’s track-record over the second half of the season, was actually far from impossible.
Adamovich spun his BRM, damaged his suspension and retired soon after.
8th spot was now becoming a hot piece of real estate. Janak had it, but Plaçais and Bos had an eye out for it. Plaçais was mounting the pressure on Janak and seemed faster. But then Janak knows all about being under pressure and defending.
Janak had a shaky exit out of the 90 and there was Plaçais sticking his nose where it probably ought not to be, entering the Esses. The Ferrari kept the door closed though, and 8th spot remained in the hands of Janak. For now…
The move had somewhat hampered Plaçais’ momentum onto the long Back Straight and, almost out of nowhere, came Bos’ Lotus flashing by on the run to the still gorgeous Loop. Plaçais was down to 10th and Bos was now in charge of the hunt Janak down party.
Three turns down the road, Plaçais was back and used the gigantic power of the V12 Matra to pull alongside the Lotus on the Boot straight. Then take the advantage braking on the inside for the Heel. Bos showed the world just how tenacious he can be at defending, hanging to the Matra’s side all around the outside of the Heel.
But there was no stopping the French team and Plaçais went back into 9th.
One who did not disapprove of this Hethel-Paris scrape was Janak, who had gathered himself a small gap on both the Matra and Lotus.
Walking back to the pits, a shattered Coxon was intercepted by one of the television reporters. He knew Riddall would develop a strong race pace once he managed to start running on his own in front, Richard said. And so he wanted to get back ahead as quickly as possible and made a move on the run to the Loop. Which ended as it did.
There were no bad feelings whatever on behalf of the Tyrrell-ace, as he clearly accepted the tangling with Grant’s Surtees as a racing incident. It was just one of those things that should never happen, but occasionally do.
Plaçais was back to some Ferrari wing sniffing. The Matra seemed faster, but Janak is probably one of the hardest man to pass. The Czech however got wound up in his own defending, being a tad aggressive on the accelerator exiting the turn 9, where the Boot rejoins the old track. The Ferrari spun and not only Plaçais shot by, but so did Bos. Janak even had to recover quickly to avoid Sabre going past.
Sabre stayed behind the Ferrari but was now brimming in Janak’s mirrors, who was going to need every dreg of his ability to stay ahead.
Johnson, the Fab Texan, had somewhere managed to snatch second from Jaques and these two were now running around the track like a bunch of joggers, keeping a respectable distance from each other but never letting the other escape eyesight.
Already relatively far ahead of them, was Riddall. With every lap that passed, Grant now looked more assured of the title. Still, he needed to finish, which had lately not been his strong point.
Jaques upped his game and was soon on Johnson’s tail. The BRM was running straight behind the Penske McLaren, ready to seize the slightest opportunity, when Johnson’s car lost some speed exiting the 90. David could not avoid contact and slightly thumped the rear left wheel of Austin’s car. The McLaren slithered off the track. Jaques went into 2nd. Johnson rejoined soon in 3rd and opened a big pursuit on the BRM.
The McLaren’s sudden speed drop may have been caused by a specific modification the Penske-team had made to the McLaren, namely a fully locked differential. It made for an understeer prone car, forcing the driver to “throw” the car into a corner, effectively putting it in a four wheel drift, and then sort it out. Johnson was doing just that and with such verve, that it looked like no one else could have done it any better. Still, sometimes, the drift scrubbed some speed of the car.
Jason Whited, who was again behind the wheel of the Alfa Romeo powered March, was seriously eyeballing Ryon’s 15th spot. Gerard had a hard time staying ahead of the March and seemed to be struggling an oversteering Ferrari.
Whited was straight on the Ferrari’s exhausts as Gerard had a big wobble through the Esses, forcing Whited into evasive action and slowing both the Ferrari and March down.
It was all Chapman needed to grab the March’s tow and pull his Surtees alongside and then ahead of Whited on the long run to the Loop. Mick was past as they entered the Loop but was carrying a massive amount of speed for the inside line he was on. Chapman had to fight and use every inch of track to make the turn and ended up losing some momentum around the outside.
Whited went straight for the cut-back and came abreast with the Surtees as they rounded the Loop side-by-side. Mick on the outside line, Jason on the inside. They stayed side-by-side heading for the Chute. As they entered the Boot-section, it was now Chapman enjoying an inside line and Jason left to cling onto the outside line. He managed it though and now they were storming down the hill towards the Toe, still side-by-side. The positions were inversed once more and Jason now put the inside line to his full advantage, reclaiming his 16th spot and settling the battle for now.
All the back and forth action between the Surtees and the March had allowed Ryon to ease out a small gap over the both of them.
Even divinity shows flaws sometimes. Johnson overdid the throwing into and sliding through corners in the Loop, damaged his suspension and was forced to retire. It left Jundt to go and chase Riddall the Lightning Fast and Jaques the Always Performing.
Chapman had managed to overtake Whited somewhere.
At the front of the pack, Riddall was easing away slightly from Jaques. The Brit now had the gap to the Canadian up to just under six seconds.
Riddall started lapping back-markers and should probably have given his strategy some thought. With Coxon out of the race, he did not need a win. Fourth place was sufficient. So Grant could take it easier. He was now about three quarters of a minute in front of Canola who was in 5th. So chances of Grant losing 4th were growing slimmer as the seconds ticked away.
But then, taking it cool is simply not in grand Grant’s books. So he just kept pushing.
With 30 laps covered, and just past the halfway mark, the running order was:
- Grant Riddall in the lead, and increasingly looking like the 1971 champion;
- David Jaques on BRM in second, still about 6 seconds behind Riddall;
- In third followed the unavoidable Jundt on a first of many Marches;
- Petr Hlavac was pretty much minding his own business in 4th for McLaren;
- Brazilian Canola followed in 5th in the second Surtees;
- 6th and the last point, at this stage, went to Yves Plaçais for Matra;
- Plaçais had his teammate Sabre right behind him in 7th;
- Came the first of the Loti, driven by Richard Wilks;
- And the great duo of Janak and Janik rounded out the top 10.
Further down the field, Ryon, Chapman and Acerclinth were still at it. Due to the retirements of amongst others Johnson and Bos, Ryon was now running 12th. As the fuel load was going down, the Ferrari’s handling seemed to improve. But Gerard needed to stay on his toes as Chapman was ready to jump at the slightest occasion to go one up.
Plaçais was about to be denied the last point in the race. Rising up out of the Heel back towards the old track, his Matra engine blew. That handed the last points earning position to his teammate Sabre.
That 6th spot was however not handed to Sabre on a silver platter. Wilks, in the sole remaining Lotus, was closing in fast on the Matra and clearly had his mind set on going one better than David. Wilks’ pursuit of Sabre-fame was short-lived though. Merely one lap down the road, his engine called it quits and erupted into wild flames. Lotus was out of the last race of the season, confirming the perception that this had really been a troubled year for the Hethel-men.
Riddall was going around like a mad man meanwhile and had extended his lead over Jaques to nearly 12 seconds. Which had Ken Tyrrell vividly motioning Louis Stanley that he should spur his driver on. To many a bystander, that seemed rather pointless. No one really believed that Riddall could still be stopped, now that he was so close to the ultimate spoils.
Craggs retired his McLaren with an exploded Cosworth. That reduced the field to 14 cars, exactly half the number of starters.
It did not stop Acerclinth from chasing Janik hard for 8th.
While Chapman was trying to find a way past Ryon. He tried too hard, spinning the Surtees out of the Loop. Ryon escaped and Whited took the better of Chapman.
The gods of Seneca Lake decided that the attrition was nowhere near what they envisioned. In the space of about 2 laps Jaques, Canola, Hlavac and Chapman all retired. Jaques, Canola and Hlavac all suffered the same fate; their pistons gripped, killing any life left in their engines. It seemed that after the moist of the Nürburgring and Mosport messing with the electronics of the cars, the Seneca Lake Indian summer sun was now ruining the inner parts of the engines.
The demise of the three aforementioned front-runners promoted Jundt to second, Sabre to third and Janak and Janik to respectively 4th and 5th. Sixth, and the last point, was for Acerclinth. Ryon was running 7th which had Il Commendatore suddenly rejoicing at the prospect of possibly having two of his cars finish in the points. Voigt was long forgotten and it seemed pretty clear that our collaboration with the Scuderia was nearing its grand final fast.
With only ten cars remaining and Riddall now about a small nation ahead of Jundt, any thrill was soon dissipating from the race.
Acerclinth and Janik had a heated argument over 5th. But even if they fought hard, both their driving stayed fair and clean, leaving each other room.
Old man Ferrari’s hopes got a good blow when Ryon’s engine expired in a ball of flames. I could not resist patting him on the shoulder, making it understood that Voigt should clearly not be the one on trial at the Glen, but his equipment should.
With ten laps to go, Riddall had a 30-seconds lead on Jundt. Which was near impossible to make up in only ten laps, even for a Swiss made high-speed train.
Riddall was not slowing down one inch. A wise decision at this stage as changing the rhythm so late into the race often leads to loss of concentration. So Grant soldiered on the way he had been doing all season, maintaining a pace unattainable for most others.
Sometimes, the outcome of a race is written within its very own elements. And such had been the case in this race from the moment Coxon crashed out. From that point on, it seemed that nothing or no one was able to alter the course of the events. Not Jaques, whose pistons gripped. Not Johnson, who finally lost the battle with his locked differential. And not Plaçais, whose engine refused to go the full nine yards.
Jundt made a valiant effort, but even his IWC Schaffhausen regularity came short on this day of Lord Maximus Grantus, whose kingdom was coming. There was indeed no stopping his reign and as the absolute Master of Speed entered his last lap, he even managed to lap Jereb for the 4th time in the race. It was just a small side-note in history, punctuating the magnitude of Grant’s achievement this season.
Less than a lap later, Grant crossed the start-finish line taking his fourth victory of the season and the championship with it. It was the crowning of what had initially looked like a walk-over, with a second place in South-Africa, and then three consecutive victories in Spain, Monaco and the Netherlands.
But from Zandvoort onwards, Grant’s luck changed. During the next six Grand Prix, he would effectively only score 6 points and a massive lead over Coxon melted like snow before sun. To the point that, arriving at Watkins Glen, it was actually Coxon leading Grant in the standings. Riddall was however still master of his own destiny. If he won, he would be champion, wherever Richard Coxon would end. And so Grant did exactly that, winning with verve and crowing himself a worthy champion.
Jundt came home second, a strong showing to finish the series and earning him a brilliant 4th spot in the final standings.
Sabre claimed the last podium spot. It was little solace for a difficult season and, besides a 5th place at Monaco, the Brit’s only points finish.
Janak and Janik were 4th and 5th, with the last point going to Acerclinth.
As to the many victims of the phantoms haunting Seneca Lake, Coxon faced the biggest deception. Crashing out of the race early on cost him a championship that had started with a dominant win in Kyalami followed by second places in Spain and at Zandvoort. From there on, it was a bit of an all or nothing campaign for Richard. He took commanding wins at Silverstone and Zeltweg, but failed to score any points in Germany, Canada and the States. Still, the silver medal was a well deserved compensation for a season with some brilliant displays of the Steelmekker’s genius.
The bronze plaque went to Johnson, which was an incredible achievement as the Californiac had in essence only gotten his hands on, at best, mediocre machinery.
And so a season of tears and laughter, of joy and deception, of tragedy and human endeavor came to an end. And to end it all in beauty, I finally kicked Voigt’s sorry ass… The bloody moron.
Full broadcast of the race is HERE.