The Watkins Glen circuit has undergone constant improvement since its inception, and for 1964 the whole course was resurfaced. This development work has been made possible by careful business management and the financial assistance of the Ford Motor Company, among other benefactors. As. a result of the resurfacing, there was talk of a 120-mph lap, but this proved to be optimistic. The best Jim Clark could achieve in practice was a time of 1:12.6, which represents 114 mph. However, this was considerably quicker than the previous lap record of 111 mph, also held by Clark.
With the exception of Centro Sud and the ATS/Derrington/Alf Francis car which appeared at Monza, all the teams were fully represented. Ferrari appeared to have a car for any eventuality, having brought along a six, two eights, and the flat 12 for Surtees and Bandini to choose from. Bandini practiced mainly in the 12 and used it in the race, and Surtees settled for one of the eights, although he took out the six later in the second day of practice. The "flaming red Ferraris," described in the press releases, looked strangely out of place in the blue and white colors of the North American Racing Team. This abrupt change of hue was due to Enzo Ferrari's current battle with someone or another, and as one of his petty little squabbles has become an annual event on the international calendar, the whole matter can presumably be ignored.
Team Lotus entered Clark and Mike Spence and brought an additional car for Walt Hansgen, who can be relied on to perform creditably in almost any form of racing. Although a relative newcomer to Formula I, he settled down to the job quickly in practice and his main problem seemed to be accommodating his considerable bulk to the car. Another local driver was Hap Sharp, who was entered by Rob Walker in the Walker team's Brabham-BRM. Phil Hill returned to the Cooper team for the race after being sidelined at Monza. It was apparent that there is still considerable discord in the Cooper organization, and Hill's car showed evidence of lack of preparation to the extent that it was certainly no vehicle for the American ex-world champion to display his talents in at the American GP. His practice time was by far the slowest at 1: 19.6, which relegated him to a lonely position at the back of the grid.
Phil Hill is without doubt still one of the best drivers in the business but, after leaving Ferrari and the World Championship, his progress has been extremely disappointing and he has had far more than his share of bad luck. The time spent with ATS was completely wasted, and his 1964 season with Cooper makes one wonder whether John Cooper is not devoting too much of his time to the more profitable occupation of developing hot Mins for BMC, and entering Hill for nothing much more than starting money.
Adding to the Cooper team's problems was the unfortunate death of John Cooper's father from a heart attack. This occurred soon after Cooper's arrival in America and necessitated his immediate return to England. However, Dr. Frank' Falkner of Louisville, Kentucky, who represents Cooper in America, stepped into the breach and 'took over the management of the team.
The incredible success of Honda motorcycle sales in America made its GP car a star attraction. As at Monza, the car was equipped with fuel injection which, according to driver Ronnie Bucknum, has transformed the car by vastly increasing the torque in the middle of the speed range so that no longer is there nothing below 10,000 rpm, and then a sudden explosion of power. Nevertheless, it is still impossible to get the car off the line, due largely to a lack of engine inertia and the engine appeared to have a period around 7000 rpm when it first went flat and then came on the cam in the best motorcycle racing tradition. At the Nurburg Ring the Honda was fitted with an 18,000 rpm tachometer, which was presumably considered to be a little over optimistic because a 15,000 rpm instrument had been substituted for the Glen, and this was red lined at 12,000 rpm.
At Monza a lack of brakes put the car out of the race at an early stage. This was attributed to a combination of minor faults but presumably Honda is still confronted with the basic problem of stopping a car equipped with 13 in. wheels from very high speeds. The trouble is that the immensely broad section of the wheels shrouds the brakes from the cooling air, and the diameter is insufficient to permit a disc of effective size unless the front brakes, which provide a majority of the braking force, are mounted inboard. However, inboard front brakes present an almost unsolvable design problem and anyway in the case of the Honda, the whole problem is magnified by the excessive weight of the car.
However, Watkins Glen and the Mexican circuit do not make undue demands on the braking system, so Honda will have the winter in which to develop its brakes further. Almost anyone in the sport, including_Colin Chapman,_has_become accustomed to eating his meals sitting on the floor, and any well-connected Geisha girl will tell you that Richie Ginther is likely to be signed by Honda for 1965. This would seem to be an excellent move because Ginther's ability as a test driver is second to none, and Bucknum, who is the first to realize his own limitations, would certainly welcome some expert assistance in this difficult and dangerous project.
When considering the Honda, it is interesting to note that the team is now under contract to Dunlop for brakes and tires, and also to British Petroleum for fuel. One sometimes tends to forget that Grand Prix racing is almost entirely a British monopoly, and if it were not for the support of such companies as Dunlop and BP in both cash and kind, there would be no Grand Prix racing. Dunlop, of course, has an enormous investment in the sport and, by signing up all the teams, has insured that no matter who wins, Dunlop never loses. It is rumored that Goodyear has been trying to outbid Dunlop, and provided it can produce a tire with at least equivalent characteristics, the money may prove irresistible to some of the entrants.
BRM brought cars for Graham Hill and Richie Ginther, and also a spare car for practice. With the exception of the practice car, these had the new cross-flow heads with the exhaust in the V of the cylinders to permit grouping of the individual exhaust pipes into the two tail pipes in the most effective combinations for efficient gas flow.
Graham Hill was still suffering from his neck injury ("motor racing gives, me a pain in the neck"). He tried driving with and without his inflatable collar, eventually deciding that driving with it was the lesser of two evils. Despite this handicap, he spent more time on the circuit than anyone else during practice, driving both of the team cars and also the practice car for extended periods.
New England is similar in many respects to Old England, and on race day the weather was cool, bright and windy, and the countryside was at the peak of its fall beauty. On the evening before, in reply to a question regarding the Lotus team's chances, Colin Chapman said, "Well, it's like all our motor races, if the car holds together we'll win." Unfortunately for Lotus, the car didn't hold together and they didn't win, but, if it had, the manner in which Clark outdrove and outsmarted the opposition in the early stages of the race would. certainly have gained him the checkered flag.
From the word go, Clark, Surtees, Hill and Gurney, all looking extremely lean and hungry, surged away from the pack to form their own race, making the efforts of the rest of the field appear puny. Initially, Surtees held a tenuous lead over Clark, who was followed by Hill, with Gurney desperately trying to hold on to the leaders.
Extremely precise driving, the essence of today's Grand Prix racing, was very evident in these opening laps. Due to the limited power output and the fragility of all the components, chassis, engines, transmissions and even drivers were being stressed to the limit, and inevitably something or other had to give.
This turned out to be Gurney's engine at half distance, which evidently had not started the race in quite the same fine state of preparation as Clark's or Hill's, although Gurney had held second place and was still strongly in contention when he went out.
The next to go was Clark, who dropped back and went into the pits with what was purported to be fuel injection trouble. Chapman then called Spence in and sent Clark out again in Spence's car. Neither Clark nor Spence could qualify for points as a result, but the financial rewards go to the entrant of the car that crosses the line first and, although important, you can't buy very much with championship points. As it turned out, this effort proved useless because Spence's car developed an incipient engine misfire after Clark had gained on the leaders at the rate of a second a lap. The car was eventually classified as finishing 7th after completing 102 laps.
By half distance, with Clark in trouble and Gurney retired, the racing lost much of its interest. Graham Hill gradually increased his lead over Surtees until he had an advantage of 20 sec. A few laps before the finish Hailwood caused a mild sensation by dropping all his oil on the course at the start of the pit straight, which delayed Surtees and enabled Hill to increase his lead by another 10 sec; Hailwood was able to coast down to the finish line and was classified as finishing 8th and last.
Due to steady and unspectacular driving combined with the misfortunes of other competitors, Joe Siffert got the Walker Team's Brabham-BRM into 3rd place followed by Ginther's BRM. Siffert's effort was made all the more creditable because he was able to engage only 5th gear for the last five laps of the race. Walt Hansgen was fifth, on the same lap as Ginther but three laps behind Hill and Surtees.
Due partly to the fast pace and partly to the end-of-season fatigue which seems to affect both cars and personnel, there were many retirements in the opening stages of the race. Among the first to go was the dapper Innes Irland ("I was going to get my hair cut before I came over, but that was last year"), when his gearshift lever came away in his hand. Ireland was quickly followed by the unfortunate Phil Hill whose car just expired from exhaustion, and both Brabham and McLaren suffered from engine troubles before the race had settled down properly
The Honda team's fortunes were mixed at Watkins Glen. Not too much can be expected, from a new car and a new driver, and the car lasted until the 50th lap, when it was retired with overheating problems while lying 12th. During the Saturday practice session Bucknum went off the circuit, when the throttle stuck, causing damage to the front suspension and the oil cooler. Parts were flown in from Los Angeles, but did not arrive in time for the race so the suspension and steering were straightened and the car was started without the oil cooler. Although the car has been run without a cooler before, and race day was cold, the lack of it undoubtedly contributed to the car's failure. It was surprising that Honda was not carrying a spare, or additional suspension parts.
At Watkins Glen the spectators witnessed Grand Prix racing at its best for the first 50 laps, and, for those who were disappointed, it must be realized that both the cars and the racing are not all that exciting, and the sport has tended to live on its past reputation since the introduction of the I.5-liter formula. Undoubtedly the FIA goofed (which is not unusual) when it decided that 1.5, liters were adequate for a top limit, and doubts were expressed as to whether there would be sufficient interest to draw the spectators. However, the sport is in a very healthy state and the crowds have not dropped off. This is due in part to the tremendous economic recovery in Europe, which has enabled the public to travel considerable distances to attend events, and also to pay to see what is an extremely expensive spectator sport. At Watkins Glen the admission was $6.00 per person, plus an additional $2.00 for taking the weight off your feet in the bleachers.
As far as the cars are concerned, they are similar in appearance, performance and noise, and give little impression of speed. However, if the rate of acceleration is nothing to write home about, the rate of deceleration has to be seen to be believed, and, due to tire and suspension development, their lap times are phenomenal when one bears in mind the limited power output.
Fortunately, the 1966 formula of 1.5 liters supercharged and 3 liters unsupercharged should return Grand Prix racing to its pre-eminent position by giving the drivers a car with an excessive power-to-weight ratio, which is essential to allow them to apply their skill, and by returning the maximum speeds on the faster circuits to around 200 mph, which is where they have been for the last 30 years and where they should be now.