The second American Grand Prix for Formula 1 cars, which counts towards the World Championship, was held at Riverside Raceway on the edge of the South Californian desert.
The Raceway is an artificial road circuit running over the undulating desert for a distance of 3.275 miles. The course consists of a 1.1mile straight with a long 180deg turn past the pit road (pits are separated from the track by a low earth bank) and into a fast left-hander. This is followed by a 500yd straight, another fastish right-hander and a 1/2-mile climbing section with right-left-right almost flat kinks, with a slow double-bite right-hander which is the highest point. Two 500yd straights take the cars into the infield and out again with a fastish 180deg turn at the bottom of the V. A long right-hander which suddenly tightens up, followed by an immediate left-hander returns the cars to the straight.
Weather during practice varied from hot and still to hot and gale force gusts which sent great clouds of fine desert sand driving across the track, getting in everywhere and reducing visibility to a few yards.
There were three days’ practice, but some of the drivers knew the circuit pretty well before they arrived and settled down to fast lappery straight away while others were starting from scratch and learning the course, which is none too easy on drivers. Stirling Moss in Rob Walker’s Lotus set the fastest time of 1min 54.4sec, Rob had a spare car for Stirling and it was perhaps a good thing he had as Stirling broke one of the Colotti gearboxes during the Saturday’s practice.
“Gale force gusts sent great clouds of fine desert sand driving across the track, reducing visibility to a few yards”
Second fastest time was made by Jack Brabham in the works Cooper car, with him were Bruce McLaren and Ron Flockhart – making three works Coopers. Next, in Yeoman Credit Coopers, came Gendebien, Brooks, P Hill and Taylor – in that order of speed. Three of the cars were the new high-tail Colotti-geared cars, whilst the fourth was an older normal-geared car, which was driven by P Hill in practice but by Taylor on race day.
Both Phil Hill and von Trips were released by Mr Ferrari, Phil to Yeoman Credit and von Trips to Centro Sud, in place of Masten Gregory. The other two Centro Sud cars were driven by Trintignant and Ian Burgess; Burgess’ car had the experimental head with carburretters and exhaust system reversed.
Dan Gurney and Jo Bonnier were lapping very quickly in practice in the BRMs, while Graham Hill was lacking his usual verve. The BRMs were the normal rear-engined cars with single rear disc brakes and not the new car which appeared at Snetterton, this now having a 1-1/2-litre Climax engine in it, as have two others.
Team Lotus had three cars for Clark, Surtees and Ireland, and though Clark and Surtees set faster practice times, Ireland’s more consistent driving paid off in the end. Clark’s car had the outboard rear disc brakes while the other two were of the inboard variety.
The rest of the field was made up of private owners, most important of these was the Scarab entered by Reventlow and driven by Chuck Daigh. Since the car left Europe after the French Grand Prix it had been reduced in weight by 150lb and the engine had been persuaded to give 12 more bhp.
This completed the field and at 2pm on Sunday the cars lined up in perfect weather. Moss was not altogether happy as Surtees’ drive-shaft had broken in practice and all the works Lotus cars had new ones, while Stirling was running on an old pair which were rather dubious.
Dead on time the flag fell and 21 of the 23 cars shot off, Gendebien and P Hill had to be restarted. Making his usual brilliant start Brabham shot into the lead with Moss and Gurney very close behind, while Bonnier and the three Lotuses of Ireland, Clark and Surtees were in very close attendance. On the second lap Burgess spun but was able to start himself by pushing, and jumping in, a thing he repeated 20 laps later just before he retired.
“Brabham had just come out of the straight when there was an explosion which nearly blew him out of the car and a sheet of flame scorched his back”
On the fourth lap Brabham was still firmly in the lead when he passed the pits, followed by Moss, Gurney, Bonnier, Ireland, then a gap. Surtees spun out on the circuit and team-mate Clark was unable to avoid him, the resultant crash put Surtees out for good and it took so long to straighten out Clark’s car that he never got away from the bottom of the field.
Drama struck again on the fourth lap, Brabham had just come out of the straight when there was an explosion which nearly blew him out of the car and a sheet of flame scorched his back. At the end of the lap he pulled into the pit, but all seemed well, and he went out again having dropped to ninth place. Four laps later the same thing happened again; this time the mechanics found out what was wrong, petrol from the very full tank was surging out of the overflow pipe into the undertray, as the car accelerated the fuel ran back to the hot exhaust pipe and was flashed off.
Moss was now in the lead with both BRMs of Gurney and Bonnier within view. Unfortunately Gurney, whose engine had sounded rough for some time with a cracked exhaust, suddenly dropped out on the 18th lap when the core plug blew out and the car overheated.
This left Bonnier, Ireland and McLaren chasing the flying Moss. Going well in the Yeoman Credit Cooper, Phil Hill had pulled up from 19th to eighth in seven laps. Tony Brooks in another Yeoman Credit Cooper spun on the infield turn and didn’t try to restart as he thought he had spun on his own oil. Henry Taylor was not very happy as he was overheating, having plug lead trouble. Graham Hill didn’t seem very happy about the circuit and eventually retired before half-way, having somehow selected two gears at once. As the race went into the last half it was still Moss followed by Bonnier, Ireland, McLaren and the American Lotus owner J. Hall, who drove a very good race considering the opposition that was present. Three laps from the end Hall developed transmission trouble and had to push the car some way to the finishing line to get seventh place.
When it seemed certain that the order had settled down for the end, Bonnier came into the pits with a very rough engine, the mechanics diagnosed valve-spring trouble and Bonnier went out slowly to complete as many of the 75 laps as he could.
The Scarab, although running four laps down on Stirling, still managed to complete 71 laps which is the longest the car has run non-stop. Clark’s Lotus, which already was well behind, fell farther back due to a leaking water pump, which sprung a leak probably when he had his shunt. Brabham had been putting on the pressure since he cured the explosive nature of the car, and he had worked through to fourth place, one lap behind Moss, when Stirling took a well-deserved chequered flag, with Ireland 38sec and McLaren 82sec behind.
Some of the organisers could do well to come and study European racing a little more and use a few grown-up marshals. The commentary was annoying in its inaccuracy and its continuous volume, also in its continual reference to a silly star system for drivers which was taken from an English weekly periodical, and which most people connected with the sport ignored.