• American Grand Prix

Ireland takes maiden victory at Watkins Glen

ESPNF1 Staff
October 8, 1961

The US Grand Prix moved to Watkins Glen in upstate New York, the third new venue in as many years. As Ferrari had decided not to attend out of respect for Wolfgang von Trips, who had died in Monza a month earlier, the US fans were denied the chance to see world champion Phil Hill racing in his home country's grand prix. The absence of the dominant Ferraris allowed Innes Ireland to claim victory - the first, and what proved to be only, win of his career.

As he couldn't race, Hill was Honorary Steward for the day and lapped the circuit before the race in a Ford Thunderbird, much to the delight of the crowd. Jack Brabham in the factory Cooper Climax V8 set the practice pace and led the race from pole. But Stirling Moss, still with an old four cylinder engine in his Rob Walker Lotus, was soon on his tail and the pair battled for the lead around the swooping track for the first 30 laps.

Brabham's car then started to slow due to overheating and he headed to the pits to have the water topped up, leaving Moss in the lead. But then he too suffered engine problems and retired, as did Graham Hill with electrical problems. This left Ireland out in front in his Lotus, much to his surprise, as the green and yellow car had proved distinctly troublesome in practice with gearbox failures, and few thought it would make it to the finish.

Another British driver, Roy Salvadori, was lying in second, but he blew up with just three laps to go leaving Ireland to come home to score the first grand prix victory for Colin Chapman's Team Lotus. Dan Gurney was second for Porsche and Tony Brooks came third in a BRM, before announcing his retirement from a distinguished career that was often overshadowed by the brilliance of Stirling Moss and Mike Hawthorn.

It had been an excellent season for Ferrari, who took both the drivers' and constructors' championships. It was, however, a bittersweet success following the death of von Trips, but they proved to everyone that they were the team to beat. Phil Hill was the first American world champion, taking the title by just one point in the end, from von Trips in second and Moss and Gurney in joint third.

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