It was particularly right for Andretti, whose hard-charging style is not suited to driving in the wet. Half an hour after Stewart's weather forecast, the skies were as bright as a Dutchman's britches. When the green flag waved, Andretti leaped into the lead. Peterson stayed dutifully on his tail wing—to the chagrin of those cynics who had predicted that he would go for the big money, never mind the team. Then came the mishap that allowed the Lotuses to roar more securely ahead. Didier Pironi, driving a Tyrrell, tangled with a lesser machine on the first lap. The wreckage sat in the middle of the track for three more laps while Andretti and Peterson were saving their hardware and cementing their lead.
Reutemann threatened them in the early going; unfortunately, his tires began to overcook, his handling deteriorated and he dropped back out of contention. But Lauda was now coming on in the new Brabham. Andretti had built a solid lead, running it to more than eight seconds at the quarter point, when Lauda began to run. He closed to within nearly one second, inching closer and closer to Peterson's tail pipes. But it was not to be: the car was not up to the driver. Lauda finished third, still a distant contender for the title.
Depailler had tangled with another car on the 13th lap and was now definitely out of the championship race. Andretti's only remaining threat was, again, Peterson. But Ronnie played the game, guarding Andretti to the end—even darting into the righthand lane at the checkered flag to prevent any sudden spurt from a vengeful member of the rear guard.
As the two Lotuses blurred past Chapman, he hurled his corduroy cap into the air and grinned, then laughed openly. But Mario stayed calm. "Everything ran well," he said.
And what of his now well-advanced chances to become the 1978 world driving champion—the first from America since Phil Hill in 1961?
"Three more to go," he said.