- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
If Ecclestone's group indeed splits from FISA, the big factory teams—Ferrari, Renault and Alfa Romeo—wouldn't join the revolt. Much of the international reputation of the latter two derives from success in rallying, and since FISA still maintains firm control of that phase of the sport, they couldn't afford to go along with FOCA. But Ecclestone could certainly count on taking at least 14 cars with him, including those driven by Jones and Piquet—enough to organize a convincing Grand Prix series.
Still, despite the sparse crowd and the gloomy questions regarding the future of both the Glen and Formula I racing, the race proved to be an exciting one, thanks to Jones and, ironically enough, Andretti. At the drop of the green flag, Jock O'Malley leaped into a clear lead through The 90—the course's first and slowest corner—but the next few cars skidded wide onto the grassy lefthand verge. One of them was Jones' Williams. The brief excursion into the greenery cost him dearly, and he began the long haul from 12th place.
By the second lap, Jones showed his stuff—moving up to 10th, and by the 11th of the race's 59 laps he was into the points—sixth place. Along the way he was breaking Jean-Pierre Jarier's 1978 race-lap record nearly every time around, lowering it finally to 1:34.068, by more than five seconds. Clearly, the lumpiness of the track had little effect on the Saudi Airlines-sponsored car. (Then again, as Jones boasted, the team's budget for this season was $7 million—half the price of many major league baseball teams.)
Piquet lay second to Giacomelli for most of the early going, but on the 25th lap he hit some grass spewed up by the earlier skids in The 90 and spun off the course, finished for the day and the season. Two laps later Jones was in third, then past teammate Reutemann into second place. Still, Giacomelli held a commanding lead.
But it couldn't last. On the 31st lap—just past the halfway point—an electrical cable pulled loose in the Alfa Romeo, and Jock O'Malley coasted to a stop back in The Loop in the far end of the circuit. Moving through the speed trap at 170.6 mph, Jones took the lead and held it.
Meanwhile, Andretti was in seventh, tailgating John Watson's McLaren, looking for his first championship point in 16 races. Then Watson pitted. Yet the suspense wasn't over. Ren� Arnoux, in a yellow-and-white turbocharged Renault, skipped past Andretti and eased him out of the points once more. Or so it seemed. But the Arnoux car was running with damaged skirts, the result of that same opening-lap spin-out that had penalized Jones. He couldn't maintain down-force through the corners, and Andretti drove by him with only two laps to go. The crowd roared, though rather feebly.
When the checkered flag fell, Jones had removed any doubt about the validity of his championship. He had come from near the back of the field with a magnificently staged charge, using his openings wisely and never taxing his machine to the breaking point. Andretti had finished his Lotus-land stint with a face-saving point and could look ahead to a good season next year in the quick Alfa.
And Scheckter's Ferrari pit had the festive air of the day he had won his championship last season. Mechanics greeted his arrival with magnums of gushing champagne, though he had finished only 11th and out of the points. The bubbly splashed under his open visor and glistened on his grinning jowls. He had gotten out alive, and ahead of the game.
One hopes the same can be said next year for Watkins Glen.