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.

Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.