The 1961 United States Grand Prix was a Formula One motor race held on October 8, 1961, at the Watkins Glen Grand Prix Race Course in Watkins Glen, New York.
In its third year of searching the United States Grand Prix finally found a home, thanks to Cameron Argetsinger, and truly established Formula One racing in the United States. The season-ending race also provided the first victory for one of the sport's greatest teams – Colin Chapman's Team Lotus – and gave an extremely popular driver, Innes Ireland, his only career Grand Prix win. Ireland started eighth, took the lead when the engine in Stirling Moss' Lotus failed, and finished 4.3 seconds ahead of American Dan Gurney.
By the time of the Watkins Glen event, the 1961 season had already marked an important US milestone in Formula One with Californian Phil Hill being crowned the first American World Champion. The US race should have been his triumphant homecoming, and Hill did circle the track at The Glen. Unfortunately for the fans, it was not in the cockpit of his shark-nosed Ferrari 156, but on the back of a Ford Thunderbird in the pre-race parade as Honorary Race Steward. As at the 1960 United States Grand Prix at Riverside, the Ferrari team had remained home. This time, however, the title was theirs, and they had nothing left to prove after dominating the first season of the 1.5-liter formula.
The team had indeed been dealt the cruelest imaginable mixture of triumph and tragedy in the previous race, the Italian Grand Prix at Monza. Ferrari driver and team leader Wolfgang von Trips was killed during the race while leading the Drivers' Championship, handing victory and the Championship to teammate Hill. Since Ferrari had clinched the Constructors' Championship as well as the Drivers', the team understandably chose once again not to make the trip across the Atlantic for the season finale.
There had been considerable doubt about whether the US race would even take place, since the FIA did not grant the Watkins Glen Grand Prix Corporation final approval for the event until August 28. Come October, however, the field was missing only the Ferrari team. With the Championships already decided, the entrants seemed ready for a weekend of good-natured competition and, for some, a share of the considerable prize money. Regarding the Italian team's absence, one British participant even said, "Ferrari always spoil the fun with their damned intensity anyway."
Howard Hughes visited the pits to meet with John Cooper about expanding his car manufacturing business. A photograph taken of Hughes in the pits and published in the May 10, 1976, issue of Time magazine was the last known photograph of Hughes.
While all but the two Porsche entries had Climax engines, only Jack Brabham of the factory Cooper team, and Stirling Moss, in Rob Walker's privately entered Lotus, had the newest developmental V8 version available to them. Moss set the pace on Saturday with a lap time of 1:18.2 in his 4-cylinder car, then posted a 1:17.2 with the V8. Brabham, the just-deposed two-time World Champion, responded by taking the pole with a 1:17.0. When Moss decided to use the older 4-cylinder in the race, saying that the car handled better with it, he dropped back to the second row of the grid, next to Brabham's teammate, Bruce McLaren. Graham Hill's BRM, a tenth quicker than the other 4-cylinder cars, was alongside Brabham on the front row, a second slower than the Australian.
Jim Clark, in one works Lotus, took fifth spot, while Ireland, his teammate, completed an eventful couple of days in eighth. On Friday, Ireland spun to the edge of the woods in the 180-degree South Loop when his steering failed. The following day, before he could put in a serious time, his gearbox broke. The crew dutifully replaced it, though by now they never thought the car would last until the end of the race on Sunday. The back of the grid, to the delight of the fans, was filled largely with independent North American drivers in uncompetitive cars who were out only to have some fun. Canadian Peter Ryan, in his only grand prix, led a group containing Walt Hansgen, Roger Penske, Hap Sharp, Jim Hall and Lloyd Ruby. Penske's car was one of the first instances of commercial sponsorship in F1, painted in bright DuPont Anti-Freeze yellow.
A paid crowd of 28,000 (total around 60,000) on Sunday made the sponsors extremely happy and also boded well for the race's future. At the start, Brabham led the field off the grid and into the first corner, but before the end of the first lap, Moss had moved by into the lead. These two were followed by Ireland (up from eighth), Hill, Dan Gurney, Masten Gregory and McLaren. On lap three, McLaren moved up to third when Ireland spun on oil at the end of the straight. "I nearly went out of the race," he said. "I went into a whirl, a 360-degree spin, cars were whipping past." He recovered and continued in eleventh.
By lap 10, Ireland had already stormed his way back to fourth, behind McLaren's Cooper, as Moss and Brabham continued to draw away at a second a lap, swapping the lead back and forth. At about one-third distance, on lap 34, Brabham's V8 began to leak water and overheat. With puffs of smoke appearing from the left-side exhaust, the Cooper dropped back from Moss and finally entered the pits on lap 45. After taking on water and returning to the race, Brabham completed only seven more laps before retiring.
Leading now by over 40 seconds, Moss seemed on his way to a comfortable victory. Only he knew, however, that his oil pressure was dropping, and on lap 59, the dark blue Lotus peeled off and retired suddenly, handing the lead to Ireland. Hill was right on the tail of the Scot, hounding him for 15 laps, until he, too, suddenly coasted down the pit lane with a loose magneto wire. The next challenger was Roy Salvadori, who began trimming the lead from 20 seconds down to five with only five laps left. But it was Ireland's day. With just over three laps remaining, Salvadori's privately entered Cooper blew its engine, just as his teammate John Surtees' car had done on the first lap.
Ireland came home under the waving checkered flag of Tex Hopkins, less than five seconds ahead of American Dan Gurney, as Britain's Tony Brooks finished the last GP of his career in third. "I was lucky," admitted Ireland. "I could not take Moss or Brabham. Their cars were too fast. I had no fuel pressure in the last ten laps, and ended up with a thimbleful of gas at the finish." As a final gesture, for preparing and repairing his car several times over the weekend, Ireland tipped Lotus mechanic Ted Woodley 25 pounds Sterling!
It was a race of milestones: Innes Ireland's only career win, the first win for Team Lotus, and the first American Grand Prix to turn a profit, ensuring its return in 1962. Unfortunately for Stirling Moss it would be his last World Championship race, as his career was ended by a heavy accident during the 1962 Glover Trophy race at Goodwood the following April.Notes: Only the top five positions are included for both sets of standings. Only the best 5 results counted towards the Championship. Numbers without parentheses are Championship points; numbers in parentheses are total points scored.