4th October 1970 and Watkins Glen in the Finger Lakes region of ‘upstate’ New York was the venue for the 12th United States Grand Prix. For the first time, attendance at the race topped 100,000 which, given that many spectators arrive early and camp throughout the weekend, meant that the authorities were kept busy.
Following the tragic loss of Jochen Rindt at Monza, Team Lotus had missed the Canadian Grand Prix a fortnight earlier but the American race marked their return with 29-year-old Swede Reine Wisell joining the team alongside Brazilian Emerson Fittipaldi. They both drove Lotus 72s, another of which was entered by Rob Walker for Graham Hill who was returning to the circuit where he had suffered serious leg injuries the previous year and was going well. Jacky Ickx was fastest in practice in the Ferrari 312B with Jackie Stewart’s Tyrrell 001 second and Fittipaldi third just five hundredths of a second behind. The Brazilian had put in over 220 laps in practice, more than twice the race distance.
Prize money was still a major feature of grand prix racing at this time and American races were justifiably famous for their generosity in this respect. At the Glen, over a quarter of a million dollars – about £100,000 at the time – were on offer, $50,000 going to the winner, the rest being distributed to the other 23 starters all the way down to the last finisher (or first retiree) who received $6,000, so it was important not to be one of the three non-qualifiers from the entry of 27.
Stewart led initially from the BRM of Pedro Rodriguez while Fittipaldi was down in eighth after a poor start. The Ferraris of Ickx and Clay Regazzoni soon passed the BRM but several pit-stops dropped the Swiss to an eventual 13th place, seven laps down. Stewart was pulling away until three quarters of the 400km race had been run when an oil pipe burned through on the exhaust and the Tyrrell expired out of oil leaving Rodriguez in the lead. Then, with only eight of the 108 laps remaining the BRM ran out of fuel, an unbelievable repeat of what happened in Canada and, as it was replenished in the pits, Fittipaldi swept by into the lead, going on to score his first grand prix victory and putting Team Lotus firmly back on track. Rodriguez rejoined in time to finish second ahead of the second Lotus of a delighted Wisell with the rest, led by Ickx’s Ferrari, one or more laps behind. Graham Hill had retired with clutch problems after 73 laps. Two years later, in 1972, Emerson Fittipaldi would become World Champion.
Photo and text by Peter McFadyen. See his website: http://petermcfadyen.co.uk