• United States Grand Prix West

Piquet's victory overshadowed by nasty Regazzoni crash

ESPN Staff
March 30, 1980
Nelson Piquet beats Rene Arnoux in to turn one at Long Beach © Getty Images

Nelson Piquet was the winner of the USA Grand Prix at Long Beach, but a serious accident for Clay Regazzoni left a black cloud hanging over the race. He survived, but was paralysed from the waist down.

Piquet took pole and on a circuit where getting into the first 180-degree corner ahead of the pack is vital for both position and safety - his team-mate Ricardo Zunino was taken out there - he was never threatened after he won that battle. Such was the margin of his win that after lapping the entire field other than Riccardo Patrese, who took second, he was able to ease off and allow himself to be unlapped.

As Piquet and Arnoux led the race, Bruno Giacomelli was making good and unusual progress in his Alfa Romeo. He undid his good work by spinning on lap five and in his desperation to get going selected reverse gear and backed into Carlos Reutemann who was aiming for a shrinking gap. Arnoux, concerned about his brakes, had backed off allowing Piquet to lead from the Alfa Romeo of Patrick Depailler, with Alan Jones third.

Three cars were eliminated at that first corner, and another three went the same way in another incident three laps into the race. There were no serious injuries to any of the drivers, but 40-year-old Regazzoni was not so fortunate. His Ensign arrived at the hairpin at full speed because of a jammed throttle, cannoned off Zunino's abandoned Brabham and smashed into the tyres protecting the concrete retaining wall. It took 20 minutes to cut him out and he was airlifted to hospital where he underwent a five-hour operation.

In the aftermath of the accident the international motor sport federation called for urgent measures to improve driver safety. A spokesman said the crash, and two in South Africa, "showed that some manufacturers sacrifice the cockpit's and the whole car's solidity to speed".

Jody Scheckter, the 1979 champion, came fifth to record his only points of the season and the last of his career. By midway through the year he had had enough of slogging round in an uncompetitive car, even if it was a Ferrari.

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