1965 United States Grand Prix race report: Hill masterful at the Glen

Graham Hill repels the challenge first Jim Clark and then the two Brabhams to win his third US Grand Prix in a row

Graham Hill, BRM P261.

Hill claimed a third US GP win at Watkins Glen

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The World Drivers’ Championship for 1965 was clinched before the circus crossed the Atlantic, so the US Grand Prix, held for the fifth year in succession at the Watkins Glen Circuit, was not surrounded with quite so much daily paper “ballyhoo” as usual. Autumn at the Glen was not so far advanced as in some previous years and the beautiful rolling wooded countryside had not taken on the brilliant hues for which the area is noted. All who have attended this race in the past enjoy the returning, for this is the friendliest of all the racing venues.

This year 18 cars and drivers were invited to participate in the seventh US Grand Prix. The Ferrari team had three cars entered. The No. 1 driver was Bandini as Surtees was in hospital at Toronto following his accident there the week before when an upright in the front suspension broke on the Lola 70. Although still very ill, reports from the hospital indicated that he was on the mend although he will be out of racing for sonic time. Bandini took over the car Surtees would normally have driven and had a spare Flat-12 as well. Rodriguez was entered in a Flat-12 by North American Racing team, as was Bondurant in a V8; however, both cars were in the hands of Italian mechanics and under the control of Dragoni. Bondurant was driving in his first Formula One race and on a circuit on which he had not previously raced.

Team Lotus had three entries for Clark, Spence and Moises Solana. Clark’s car was the one he used at Monza with the 32-valve Climax engine. Spence and Solana were both using short-stroke, flat-crank-engines in the 33 chassis. Solana is the Mexican driver who has raced in Formula One previously only in Mexico City and will be Lotus’ No. 3 driver in both Grands Epreuves this side of the Atlantic. The BRM entry was identical to Monza; two cars, one for Graham Hill and the other for Jackie Stewart and a spare in case of accidents. No alterations had been made for this end-of-season race.

Two Brabhams, for driver/constructor Jack and Dan Gurney, were unchanged. Gurney once again had a Climax 32-valve engine, but was not over-excited as it was evidently not producing anything like the power it should. After Monza, the engine, which was not used in the race, was returned to Climax, who found that it was peaking at 180bhp. Brabham’s own car was using a normal flat-crank engine. Cooper, Walker and Parnell all had two-car teams unchanged since Italy. The drivers, McLaren and Rindt were in Coopers, Bonnier in the Brabham-Climax and Siffert in a Brabham-BRM, and Ireland and Attwood both in Lotus BRMs.

Honda flew in a third car to make up their team. The other two cars were as raced at Monza with the engine and suspension modifications described in that report, drivers Ginther and Bucknum being unchanged. The third car, which was using the same engine, was slightly modified; the wheelbase had been increased by two inches to try to improve handling, also the spline in the rear wheels had been re-designed to incorporate a torque absorber inside the hub.


Lorenzo Bandini, Ferrari 1512.

With Surtees out injured, Bandini was Ferrari’s lead driver

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Practice was split into two 4-hour sessions on Friday and Saturday, and the lap times from last year of 1min 12.7sec set during the race and the fastest practice lap, 0.05sec faster, were the targets. The drivers examined the circuit to see the new black and white kerbing which has been placed all the way round at the suggestion of the GPDA, and at 13:00 hours, with a wet track and low cloud threatening more rain, Attwood started the ball rolling in Ireland’s car, the latter having returned to his Motel with flu.

Hill, Bandini and Stewart were next out while Honda were trying to find all twelve cylinders. During the first hour all were out except Bucknum and Brabham who was concentrating on getting Gurney’s car to work. Attwood was practising in both the Parnell cars, going faster in his own car than his team mate’s.

In the opening laps eyes were focused on Stewart, who was driving round the circuit for the first time. The wee Scot was out at the same time as his team mate, Hill, who knows the circuit very well, having won the last two races here.

On their first lap, Hill did 1min 26.6sec to Stewart’s 1min 31.0sec. Five laps later it was 1min 21.3sec to 1min 23sec, another five steadily improving laps and it was 1min 17.9sec to 1min 19.6sec and when they came in at twelve and thirteen laps respectively their times were Hill 1min 17.5sec, Stewart 1min 17.6sec. These times were done on a drying track and once again proved the speed at which Stewart can learn a circuit.

Honda had wheeled out their new spare car but were not using it as the two normal machines were not behaving properly and both cars completed many car-shattering laps in the pits while mechanics with wet brushes daubed the exhausts to see which cylinders were not firing. Rodriguez showed Bondurant the way round for several laps.

Hill did several laps in the spare car doing a time only 0.2sec slower than in the race car. BRMs also did a test with R6 and R7 tyres and found the new pattern R7 to be between 0.3 and 0.5sec a lap faster than the R6. McLaren was using the wrong ratios and had them changed, and when mechanics started to change Rindt’s ratios they found that the rear main oil seal had gone and wheeled the car off to repair it.

Clark and Gurney were both having troubles with their 32-valve engines. In the same way that Gurney’s engine had oozed oil in practice at Monza, so both engines were doing it in practice here. Each time Clark came into the pit, oil dripped off the back of the car all over the pit road. The Brabham was in similar trouble but also Gurney was complaining at lack of power.

Clark went out for a few laps in Spence’s car and when arriving at the right-hander before the pits he selected fourth instead of second, leapt the new kerb with a nasty graunch and careered along the grass with all his brakes locked on. This episode caused many a witty comment from the pit staff, who found it amusing that the new World Champion should do this, especially under their eyes.

“Siffert followed Clark’s example and spun in front of the pits”

Siffert followed Clark’s example and spun in front of the pits, then came in to change ratios. Bonnier in the other Walker Car was going very well putting in some good times. Gurney’s car was driven away after two hours’ practice and Brabham brought his car out only to find his gearing was wrong, so this was changed in time for a few laps in the last half-hour. With an hour to go rain began to fall and most cars scurried back to the Tech. Building leaving only a few stalwarts to continue to the end.

McLaren coasted to a stop by the start line with a broken driveshaft as the rain was stopping. A last burst of activity by Hill equalled his best time to date, 1min 12.5sec, which was to prove FTD Clark and Stewart were 2nd and 3rd with 1min 12.7sec and 12.8sec respectively.

Ginther was faster in the larger, training Honda and his time of 1min 14.2sec managed to equal his team mate’s time in the normal car. Bandini was fourth fastest with Bonnier and Brabham with equal times in fifth place. BRM with first and third fastest times were slightly undergeared; they had hoped that the slightly larger tyres would compensate for the increase in power but it was not enough.

Ronnie Bucknum, Honda RA272.

Whilst his Honda team-mate Ginther qualified 3rd, Bucknum could only manage 12th

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Saturday’s practice was preceded by a filming session with Stewart rushing round with a camera filming the back of his neck and a group of cars overtaking a camera car. Overnight BRMs had changed the ratio on the training car but were leaving the others well alone. Clark’s 32-valve engine had a new block made for the cam chain carrier which had almost stopped the oil leak. When filming stopped a mast of cars rushed out onto the circuit. Clark at this time was driving Solana’s car while his own was being finished off.

Ireland was practising although still not feeling very well and when he had completed a few laps he left to go back to bed. Spence was trying hard and succeeded in spinning in front of the pits. Right early on a scrap for fastest time began to develop between Hill and Clark. Hill started to bring the times down by setting a time of 1min 11.85sec.

Clark went out to better this but before he could do so Hill again clipped a bit more off with a 1min 11.76sec lap. This was almost immediately equalled by Stewart. Clark’s engine was misfiring and certain electrical components were replaced before he went out again. This time he recorded 1min 11.63sec which started BRM making slight alterations to Hill’s front suspension in the hope of finding another tenth of a second.

Ferrari had all four cars in the pits and Bandini was trying both his and the training car most of the time. Later in practice he also tried the spare while Bondurant plodded on learning the circuit as well as the car, his two practice sessions for both days being in excess of 150 laps.

McLaren and Rindt both improved on the previous day’s times, as did Bonnier and Siffert, the former still slightly faster. At this stage in practice Bucknum was consistently faster than Ginther who was going out in his own and the training car. Attwood improved his time and Solana came down from 1min 20.7sec in the first day’s times to 1min 13.7sec for the second day.

Spence managed to get a good tow from Clark and did a lap of 1min 11.5sec; this stirred things up and Hill went out and bettered Clark’s improved time of 1min 11.35sec with a sizzling lap of 1min 11.25sec. This looked as if it would be the fastest as the 32-valve Climax engine had gone sick and was wheeled away. However, Clark went out in Spence’s car and Spence took over Solana’s car.

The Lotus changes seemed to start changes in the Honda team. Ginther was certain Bucknum had the faster car and insisted on trying it, so Bucknum took out Ginther’s car and vice versa. Bucknum knocked one and a half seconds off Ginther’s time in his car while in a wild dice with Clark in Spence’s car Ginther got down to 1min 11.4sec, while Clark had to pass him, and due to Bucknum’s Honda being slightly unstable had quite a job; however, when he did, his time of 1min 11.16sec was most impressive and the fastest time of both practices. So practice finished with a flurry of excitement and the Mustang Owner’s Club did a lap of honour before the circuit was finally closed until race morning.

The Lotus team had a lot of work to do overnight. Clark had stripped the teeth off the timing gear, and they had no spares. Fortunately for them Gurney’s 32-valve engine was losing so much oil that it was being scrapped in place of a more conventional unit and therefore the Lotus mechanics robbed the parts they wanted from that engine. This, of course, meant Clark had to be satisfied with second fastest time on the grid, although he received the prize for the fastest lap, done in Spence’s car.

Brabham’s engine change kept the record straight, that Gurney has not started with the 32-valve engine this year and has had an engine change just before each race, not a very good record for Coventry-Climax. Honda finally settled on Ginther in the car which Bucknum used most in practice, while Bucknum took over the new car.


Graham Hill (BRM P261) leads Jim Clark (Lotus 33 Climax) and the field at the start.

Hill leads the field at the race start

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Race day was cold with low cloud and occasional bursts of sunshine. The cars were lined up on the grid, and three quarters of an hour before the 14:00 hours start the cars were flagged off to do a warming lap. The rush up the hill was almost like a proper start except for the crowds of hangers-on cluttering the start area. At 14:00 hours precisely the cars rolled down from the dummy grid and the purple-suited starter sent them off to a perfect start.

“Hill and Clark vanished over the hill side by side”

Hill and Clark vanished over the hill side by side. At the end of the first lap Hill led from Clark with Stewart just behind. Stewart was in trouble already, although no-one but he knew, for while up by the side of the Honda on the opening lap he was pushed onto the grass and hit a kerb end. This buckled the top left-hand wishbone but didn’t seem to alter the handling. Next, very closely bunched, came Banditti, Spence, Brabham and Gurney.

Then a short gap and there followed Ginther, Bonnier, McLaren, Siffert, Bondurant, Rindt, Rodriguez, Ireland, Solana, Attwood and lastly Bucknum, whose engine sounded horrible from the first lap. The next lap Hill and Clark were very close, with Stewart still close behind. The next four cars were in the same order, but were now clear of Bonnier’s. Ginther dropped from eighth to 14th place when he went wide at the top end of the circuit.

On this second lap Clark got his opportunity to move ahead. Hill ran very wide on the sharp right-hander before the pits and, quick as a flash, Clark was past with both BRMs in hot pursuit. Two more laps and Stewart’s BRM was no longer in its third position. The throttle cable had broken and the Scot brought the car to the pits, hand-operating the throttle over the back. The cable was eventually repaired and he regained the race only to find that on the wet roads on which he now had to drive the car was completely unstable due to the bent wishbone, so he retired.

In the second group Gurney passed Brabham on the third lap and closed right up on Bandini and Spence. These four cars were now well clear of the next group. As the next few laps slipped by, the rain began to fall or, rather, to travel horizontally to the ground, driven by a gale force wind. Hill re-took the lead on lap five and narrowly held it for the next six laps.

On lap 10, two cars came slowly into the pits. Spence, who had been lying sixth, had a broken engine and retired, while Ireland, who followed him in, was feeling ill and had twice left the circuit, so he decided to call it a day. The track was now very slippery and the marshals were showing oil flags all round the circuit, as they did after every shower.

On lap 12 Hill went past in the lead, and Clark pulled into the pits to retire with a broken piston. Behind him into the pits came McLaren with no oil pressure and he too retired on lap 12. The fled by now was thinned down to thirteen cars with Hill out in the lead by 14 sec. from Gurney, who was just ahead of Bandini and Brabham. Bonnier, Rodrigues, Siffert and Bondurant were still in a tight group now fighting for fifth place. Rindt had dropped to ninth place after spinning twice in four laps in front of the pits. On this same corner, Attwood, too, spun but got going again without damage.

In the next two laps on a wet track, Gurney dropped back and Brabham moved to second place ahead of his team mate. Bandini held his fourth place ahead of Bonnier who was being pushed by Rodriguez whom he let through on lap 19. Siffert and Bondurant were still breathing down Bonniees neck. Next, with big gaps between, came Rindt, Ginther and Attwood, while being lapped for the first time were Solana and Bucknum bringing up the rear. On his 22nd lap, Siffert came into the pit with a slipping clutch, and after some adjustments he went out again, now in last place.

Gurney re-took the second place on the 19th lap and stayed ahead of Brabham for the next 28 laps. The leaders were now settling down but Rindt, who dropped back with his earlier spins, had now got the wet road taped and passed Bondurant and Bonnier on the 27th and 28th laps. The Cooper driver then slowly overhauled Rodriguez and moved into fifth place on the 45th lap.

Graham Hill, BRM P261, leads Dan Gurney, Brabham BT11 Climax.

After a slight off for Hill, Gurney closed right up to put him under pressure

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As Hill completed the 37th lap a squall swept over the fast right-hand corner at the end of the back straight, so when the BRM arrived there next lap the road was like glass. Taken by surprise Hill took to the grass on the outside and did not regain the track for another 200 yards. The 15-sec gap between Hill and Gurney dropped to four seconds and before Hill could get back into his stride Gurney was right on his tail. Gurney overdid it on the 48th lap and while he was sorting himself out Brabham passed into second place.

“A squall swept over the fast right-hand corner at the end of the back straight, so when the Hill arrived the road was like glass”

On the next lap Bucknum went into the pit with electrical trouble and when he came to start again, the battery was dead. The mechanics push-started him and he continued to the end, being given 13th place with 92 laps to his credit. However, the regulations state that no car shall be push-started and to keep the records straight he must be assumed to be disqualified.

Brabham held Hill for a few laps and on the 53rd lap the BRM got badly baulked by Attwood’s Lotus-BRM. First he tried to pass on the inside, then on the outside, only to be cut off each time, and this gave Brabham, with his extra momentum, the chance to take the lead. However, this was short-lived, for the Australian went wide on to the grass in front of the pits and Hill was once more in the lead. Gurney moved into second place as his constructor/manager scrabbled back on to the road. This position remained until the end, although before the track dried out Hill was pushed by Gurney very closely. As the track dried so Hill increased his lead and prayed that the rain would stay off.

Bonnier went into the pits on lap 61 with a broken exhaust flange but went out again very quickly. Attwood made a pit stop on lap 67 to complain that his car was handling badly; as there was nothing obvious he went out again. Bandini had for some laps been catching Rindt, who was lying fourth, and on lap 69, he passed him. The Cooper driver seemed to be having gearbox trouble.

Rodriguez was signalled by his pit to go faster as there was a chance that he might be able to catch Rindt. This he did, and on the 103rd lap he pushed the Cooper back to sixth place. No other alterations took place as the race came to an end, Hill put in a very fast lap on the 105th lap with a time of 1min 11.9sec, a speed of 185.328kph.

Graham Hill, BRM P261, holds his winner's trophy aloft.

Ford the third year in a row Hill was triumphant on US soil

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So; for the third year in succession, Graham Hill, in a BRM, won the United States Grand Prix, with Gurney 12.5sec behind and Brabham 57.5sec behind. These three cars were the only ones on the same lap. Bandini, Rodriguez, and Rindt were next, one lap down.

A good race spoiled by the very cold, strong wind and the rain, but even this could not dampen the efficiency and enthusiasm with which the Watkins Glen Grand Prix Corporation ran their event.