The Eyes of a Champion

Mario Andretti, Lotus, klemcoll

This is Mario Andretti before the start for what would be a wet United States Grand Prix at Watkins Glen on October 2, 1977. Andretti is wearing both a nomex head sock as protection against fire and a taped water shield as well to keep water out of his nasal passages and avoid fogging his face shield. Andretti had won the other USGP, at Long Beach, and was probably hoping for a double at Watkins Glen.

Before the Watkins Glen race, in 1977, unusually a week before the Canadian race, the annual Formula 1 “Silly Season” had been in full swing. Andretti was perhaps not so happy (“There is only room for one prima donna in this team!”) that his Swedish teammate Gunnar Nilsson whom he out-qualified by 1.3 seconds would be replaced for 1979 by another Swede – but a Number One level driver – Ronnie Peterson who had been showing great form with the 6-wheel Tyrrell 34. Then. to make it tighter Niki Lauda, now almost certain to win the Championship and if he could finish fourth or better – which he would do – was leaving Ferrari for Brabham and would be replaced by the exciting Gilles Villeneuve.

James Hunt put his McLaren M26 on pole by 7/10ths and was followed by Hans Stuck and John Watson, both with Brabhams, then Andretti’s Lotus 78. Everyone had put on wets before the start except for Watson who was going to try it on slicks. It did not work and he was back for wet rubber after eight laps. Stuck was well out in front in the early going until clutch failure caught him out and his transmission popped out fo gear leading to a meeting with the catch fence and retirement. Andretti then followed Hunt all the way to the end to finish second, closing up the gap in the final laps.

Photo by Bill Fox ©The Klemantaski Collection –

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