USGP flashback: A legacy begins at Watkins Glen in 1961

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It would appear that after a dazzling debut last season, the Circuit of the Americas is set to play host to the United States Grand Prix for many years to come. But for some Formula One fans, the “spiritual home” of the USGP will always be Watkins Glen.

After the USGP took place at Sebring in 1959 and Riverside (Calif.) in 1960, the Glen got its opportunity to host the race starting in 1961. It would continue to do so for the next 20 years, bringing world-class competition annually to New York’s beautiful Finger Lakes region.

The first USGP at the Glen, however, did not feature Formula One’s newly-crowned World Champion, American driver Phil Hill of Ferrari. In an unimaginable blend of triumph and tragedy for the Scuderia, Hill had claimed the title by winning in the previous race at Monza in Italy. But in that same race, he lost his teammate, Wolfgang von Trips, in a devastating crash that also claimed the lives of 15 spectators.

von Trips had been leading the World Championship at the time of his fatal accident. Having also earned the 1961 Constructors’ Championship in Italy, Ferrari understandably opted not to compete at the Glen. Hill would be part of the event – but as its Grand Marshal, instead of as a competitor.

In qualifying, Jack Brabham put his Cooper on the pole, with Graham Hill slotting alongside on the front row in his BRM. Stirling Moss (Lotus) and Bruce McLaren (Cooper) followed in Row 2. The field also featured a good representation of American drivers such as Lloyd Ruby, Jim Hall, and Roger Penske.

When the time came for the race, Brabham won the battle into Turn 1 but lost the lead on the opening lap to Moss. Innes Ireland, driving a Lotus, had a stellar first lap – jumping from eighth to third. Unfortunately for him, he spun out on Lap 3; he continued on, but had lost lots of track position in the process.

But he was far from done. While Ireland began to climb back into the lead pack, Moss and Brabham continued their duel for the lead until the latter was forced to pit with overheating problems near the race’s mid-way point (he would eventually retire). Then, a short time later, engine problems knocked Moss out of the race.

That gave the lead to Ireland, who then had to fend off his pursuers. But fate seemed to smile on Ireland as his two main rivals for the win, Graham Hill and Roy Salvadori, both encountered trouble; Hill was forced to stop after his magneto wire came loose (he recovered to finish fifth), while Salvadori suffered bearing failure just a few laps short of the finish.

With that, Ireland went on to the “spin-and-win,” taking a 4.3-second victory over American driver Dan Gurney in his Porsche. Tony Brooks finished third in his BRM, with McLaren and Hill rounding out the Top 5.

It would prove to be the only Grand Prix win of Ireland’s career (although he had won a couple of non-championship F1 events earlier in 1961). Despite his success that season, Lotus dismissed him at year’s end, and while he stayed in the series for a few more years, he never again had top-tier equipment.

When his racing days were done, Ireland went into a journalism career and, for a period of time, he ran a fishing trawler business as well. Sadly, he died of cancer in the fall of 1993. At the time of his passing, he was holding the presidency of the British Racing Drivers Club.

Kubica, di Resta complete Williams F1 tests in Hungary

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Robert Kubica and Paul di Resta have both completed one-day tests for Williams in a 2014-spec Formula 1 car as part of the team’s evaluation for its 2018 line-up.

Williams is known to be considering a number of drivers to partner Lance Stroll at the team next year, including existing racer Felipe Massa.

Massa is thought to be going up against Kubica and di Resta for the 2018 drive, with the latter duo taking part in a private test at the Hungaroring in Budapest this week to aid the team’s evaluation.

After missing out on a 2018 Renault drive due to lingering questions about his physical condition six years after his rally accident, Kubica tested for Williams at Silverstone last week before getting back behind the wheel of the 2014 FW36 car in Hungary on Tuesday.

Kubica’s test was called “productive” by Williams, with the Pole handing duties over to Mercedes DTM racer di Resta on Wednesday.

Di Resta raced in F1 with Force India between 2010 and 2013 before returning to DTM, but made a surprise return at this year’s Hungarian Grand Prix with Williams when Massa was taken ill. Di Resta impressed on short notice, putting himself in contention for a full-time return to F1 in 2018.

Williams has one of the few remaining seats on offer in F1 for 2018, with Massa’s future known to be in question after a quiet campaign thus far.

The Brazilian had been due to retire from F1 at the end of last year, only for Williams to recall him after Valtteri Bottas’ late move up to Mercedes following Nico Rosberg’s surprise retirement.

Massa has made clear he would like to keep racing in F1 next year, but only if the deal is right and if Williams is determined to keep him.

While Massa, Kubica and di Resta appear to be the three leading contenders for the seat, Williams technical chief Paddy Lowe made clear in Japan there was a “large range” of drivers under consideration.

“You’ve probably seen a number of names that are floating around that we’re looking at, but honestly, the range is almost unlimited,” Lowe said.

“We will consider all ideas. We’re not in a super hurry to do so, and we’ll just make sure we land the best line-up we can.”