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Flashback: USA ‘65 - Hill completes hat-trick of wins at The Glen 12 Nov 2013

Race winner Graham Hill, BRM, with his trophy, 1965 US Grand Prix, Watkins Glen Race winner Graham Hill sits in his BRM ahead of the 1965 US Grand Prix, Watkins Glen Jim Clark sits in the cockpit of his Lotus-Climax, 1965 US Grand Prix, Watkins Glen Cars on the grid ahead of the 1965 US Grand Prix, Watkins Glen Graham Hill (BRM) and Jim Clark (Lotus) lead the field around the first lap, 1965 US Grand Prix, Watkins Glen Race winner Graham Hill (BRM) chases Jim Clark (Lotus) in the early stages of the 1965 US Grand Prix, Watkins Glen Lorenzo Bandini (Ferrari) leads Mike Spence (Lotus), Dan Gurney (Brabham) and Jack Brabham (Brabham), 1965 US Grand Prix, Watkins Glen Second place finisher Dan Gurney (Brabham), 1965 US Grand Prix, Watkins Glen Race winner Graham Hill, BRM, 1965 US Grand Prix, Watkins Glen

He may have earned the nickname ‘Mr Monaco’ for his race-winning performances in the Principality, but Graham Hill was similarly prolific at a very different type of circuit across the Atlantic - Watkins Glen. Ahead of the 2013 Formula 1 United States Grand Prix, we remember the 1965 edition and a race in which the Englishman survived changeable conditions to complete a historic treble…

The winner of the 1965 drivers’ title had already been decided by the time the Formula One fraternity crossed the Atlantic in early October for round nine of the championship, the United States Grand Prix at Watkins Glen in upstate New York.

Jim Clark had been the class of the ‘65 field, taking a second drivers’ crown in three years by virtue of winning six of the eight Grands Prix to date in his superlative Lotus 33-Climax. Unsurprisingly the Scot arrived at the high-speed Watkins Glen circuit as the firm favourite, although a quick glance at the history books suggested his future team mate, Graham Hill, couldn’t be discounted. In the four previous races at ‘The Glen’ (as the diehard local fans referred to it), the moustachioed Englishman had finished fifth (1961), second (1962), first (1963) and first (1964)…

One man who would not be pushing Clark and Hill for victory was 1964 world champion John Surtees, who just a week before the race had sustained serious injuries after crashing his Lola sportscar in testing at Mosport, Canada. His number-one status at Ferrari was therefore assumed by Lorenzo Bandini, whilst local interest would be sustained by the four Americans in the field: Brabham’s Dan Gurney, Honda’s Richie Ginther and Ronnie Bucknum and, making his Formula One racing debut, Ferrari’s Bob Bondurant.

Practice was run over four-hour sessions on both Friday and Saturday, although early running was blighted by both a rain-drenched surface and low cloud which hung over the picturesque wooded countryside surrounding the circuit. It was also very cool, with Clark going so far as to wear a woollen cardigan over his race overalls.

Hill set the early pace, leading BRM team mate Jackie Stewart around the undulating layout as the Scot, racing at Watkins Glen for the first time, learned the circuit as quickly as he could. Meanwhile, Clark and Gurney were experiencing issues with their Climax engines, both spewing oil over the track whenever their cars ventured out.

Saturday started a lot better for the new world champion as he and Hill traded fastest lap times in the final practice session. Clark would end the day having clocked the fastest lap time over the two sessions, but he had to make do with second place on the grid having set his best time at the wheel of team mate Mike Spence’s car after his engine had again hit problems. Fortunately for Lotus, Gurney’s engine was in even worse shape than Clark’s and when Brabham elected to change the American’s power plant, Clark’s crew were able to take parts from the unit and repair their own overnight.

Unsurprisingly given the previous few days’ meteorological conditions, race day brought with it low hanging clouds and the constant threat of rain. At precisely 2.00pm - with conditions still dry - the field was waved off from the starting grid and Hill and Clark shot away from the front row, leading the field up the hill through the Esses. They remained locked together at the end of the first lap with Stewart close behind, ahead of a bunch containing Bandini, Spence, Jack Brabham and Gurney.

It was on this second lap that Clark pounced on Hill, taking advantage of the BRM driver’s slight mistake at the final corner to power into the lead. Hill clung to his tail for the next couple of laps, but team mate Stewart was forced to pit with a broken throttle cable, the Scot making it back for repairs by virtue of hand-operating the throttle.

It was at this point that the heavens opened for the first time, and though Stewart made it back out on track, he’d bent his front-wishbone running over a kerb on the first lap and whilst it caused no problems in the dry, his car was undriveable in the wet and he soon retired.

On lap 5, with the rain lashing down, Hill moved back into the lead. Shortly afterwards Spence brought his sickly Lotus into the pits and retirement, his engine having broken. If Spence’s retirement was a blow for Colin Chapman’s team, then what happened two laps later was the knockout punch: Clark pulled into the pits and retirement with - you guessed it - an engine problem, specifically a broken piston.

With retirements thinning the field down to just 13 cars, Hill now had a healthy, if not comfortable, lead of 14 seconds over Gurney, Bandini and Brabham. If proof were needed that the circuit was still treacherous, Jochen Rindt provided it. The future world champion spun his Cooper twice in four laps going past the pits…

As Hill continued to lead, behind him Brabham, Gurney and Bandini shuffled places - the Italian dropped back to fourth, whilst the Australian briefly took second from his American team mate before being re-passed on the 19th lap. Thus the lead order read: Hill, Gurney, Brabham, Bandini, and everything stayed pretty calm until the 37th lap when, after a brief respite, the rain returned.

Hill arrived at ‘The Loop’ corner at the end of the back straight at full speed, only to find a completely slick surface awaiting him. The BRM slid onto the grass and by the time it rejoined the circuit Gurney’s Brabham was right on its tail, Hill’s 15-second lead erased in an instant.

But try as he might, Gurney couldn’t find a way past Hill and actually slipped back behind Brabham after making a mistake on the 48th lap. That gave the Australian the opportunity to challenge Hill - and he didn’t waste it. On the 53rd lap Hill was badly baulked by Dickie Attword’s lapped Lotus-BRM and Brabham slipped by into the lead. However, Brabham’s turn at the front of the field was to be short-lived as he followed Hill’s and Gurney’s example and made a mistake of his own, running onto the grass beside the pits and allowing both men past once more.

Hill would not relinquish the lead again, gradually eking out more of an advantage over Gurney as the track dried out. At the flag he was 12.5 seconds ahead of the American, with Brabham slipping to nearly a minute back and Bandini a lap down in fourth.

It had been hard work, but having taken pole, fastest lap and the win, Hill completed his remarkable US hat-trick in style.

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