The 1978 United States Grand Prix East at Watkins Glen International was the penultimate race of the Formula One season. With two races left in the year, Mario Andretti had wrapped up the Drivers’ Championship in the innovative Lotus 79.

As expected, Andretti qualified on the pole and was followed by the No. 11 Ferrari 312T3 of Carlos Reutemann, Alan Jones in a Williams FW06 and Reutemann’s teammate, Gilles Villeneuve. There were twenty-six starters, with Beppe Gabbiani failing to make the cut.

At the drop of the Starter’s flag, Andretti jumped into the lead with Reutemann and Villeneuve ‘hot on his heels.’ Three laps later, Andretti was forced to surrender the top sport to Reutemann when the Lotus developed brake and handling issues. On the following circuit, Villeneuve went past Andretti. Before the halfway mark, the Ferraris were first and second, but Villeneuve lost a piston on lap-23. Four circuits later, the engine in Andretti’s Lotus failed. With Andretti’s departure, the race began to settle down, with Reutemann leading, followed by Jones and Niki Lauda in Brabham BT46. However, Lauda lost a motor that allowed Jody Scheckter driving the No. 20 Wolf WR5 to inherit third-place. Scheckter was soon challenged by Jean-Pierre Jarier, who started eighth in the second Lotus but was required to make an early pitstop to replace a flat tire. Unfortunately, Jarier ran out of fuel with four laps left in the race. At the checkered flag, it was Reutemann in first-place by a margin of 19.739-seconds over Jones, who was followed by Scheckter.

Below are images from a pitlane walk at Watkins Glen International during the 1978 United States Grand Prix event.

The 1977 World Champion, Niki Lauda, left Ferrari to join Brabham. In 1978 the team introduced the controversial Brabham BT46B - known as the ‘fan car.’ The BT46B generated downforce by means of a fan mounted at the rear of the car. It debuted at the Swedish Grand Prix with Lauda behind the wheel. He qualified third and won the race. After the victory, the BT46B was withdrawn from competition.
Before introducing the ‘fan car,’ Lauda collected three podium results, but his total also included four retirements. His subsequent victory came at the tragedy marred Italian Grand Prix in the Brabham BT46. At Watkins Glen, Lauda was fifth fastest in the qualifying session, while his teammate John Watson was seventh quickest. He retired on lap-28 with an engine failure. Lauda’s 1978 DNF total now stood at eight.
Another driver who changed teams in the off-season was Australian Alan Jones, who left Don Nichols’ Shadow organization to join Williams Grand Prix Engineering. Frank Williams and Patrick Head built the companies first car, the Williams FW06, which was powered by a Ford Cosworth DFV. Jones scored points in the car’s third event in South Africa. But the highlight would be Watkins Glen, where he finished second.
With the death of Ronnie Peterson at the Italian Grand Prix, there was a vacancy Lotus. The team enlisted Jean-Pierre Jarier to drive the No. 55 Lotus 79 at the United States Grand Prix. He started the race in the ninth position but pitted on lap-11 with a flat tire. Jarier proceeded to work his way through the field and passed Jody Scheckter for third place. Unfortunately, he ran out of fuel and finished fifteenth.
The Shadow team started the 1978 season with the Shadow DN8 model and debuted the new DN9 at Long Beach with Hans Stuck; unfortunately, he could not start the race. By Monaco, Stuck and his teammate Clay Regazzoni were both racing the DN9. The No. 16 entry was driven by Stuck. Prior to round fifteen, he had a fifth-place result but seven DNFs. Stuck would retire on lap-1 at Watkins Glen with a fuel issue.
The No. 15 Renault RS01 was introduced by the team last year at the British Grand Prix. The car which, is powered by a 1.5-liter V6 turbocharged engine, is the first of its kind. Despite Renault’s success with turbocharging in sports car racing, the team had difficulty finishing races. However, that changed at Watkins Glen. After a string of seven retirements, Jean-Pierre Jabouille drove the RS01 to a fourth-place finish.
While many of the teams relied on their cars to be powered by the 3.0-liter V8 Cosworth, others such as Ferrari, Brabham and Renault used their own power plants. Included in this group was Equipe Ligier, which used the Matra MS76. The Matra engine was a 3.0-liter V12 used in the Ligier JS9. The team’s lone entry was driven by Jacques Lafitte. Laffite qualified tenth at Watkins Glen and finished eleventh.
The 1978 United States Grand Prix East at Watkins Glen would be the first Formula One start for American Bobby Rahal. Rahal’s racing resume included a successful stint in the 1977 Formula Atlantic Championship and this year he was competing in the European F3. At round fifteen, Rahal joined Jody Scheckter at Walter Wolf Racing driving the No. 21 Wolf WR5. Rahal finished twelfth after qualifying twentieth.
The Championship’s return to Watkins Glen International would be an opportunity for Patrick Tambay to redeem himself after failing to qualify for last year’s event. In 1978, Tambay joined James Hunt at Marlboro Team McLaren driving the No. 8 McLaren M26. Prior to the United States Grand Prix East, he scored points in four events. In round fifteen, Tambay would collect a fifth-place result.
Frenchman Rene Arnoux made his first start with Team Surtees at the United States Grand Prix East, driving the No. 19 Surtees TS20. The car was initially driven by Rupert Keegan, who failed to start five of the last six races he entered. The second Surtees entered at Watkins Glen was driven by Beppe Gabbiani, who was filling in for the injured Vittorio Brambilla. Gabbiani failed to qualify, but Arnoux finished ninth.
After two seasons of campaigning the six-wheel Tyrrell P34, the team returned to a conventional design. During the 1978 season, the Tyrrell Racing Organization used the services of Didier Pironi and Patrick Depailler. The No. 4 Tyrrell 008 entry was driven by Depailler. The highlight of the year was a victory by Depailler at Monaco. At Watkins Glen, he qualified twelfth but retired with a wheel issue. Pironi finished tenth.
ATS entered cars for Keke Rosberg and Michael Bleekemolen. Bleekemolen drove the No. 9 ATS HS1. 1978 was his second year competing in the World Championship. He failed to qualify for his one attempt last year. In his first two outings this season, Bleekemolen was not fast enough to make the cut. However, at Watkins Glen, he started twenty-fifth but retired on lap-43 with an oil leak.
The Arrows Racing team ended up in a legal dispute with Shadow during the 1978 season. Their new Arrows FA1 was designed by Patrick Head. However, Head also worked on the Shadow DN9. Citing that the FA1 was a copy of the DN9, the High Court of London barred Arrows from racing the car. The Arrow A1 was constructed as a replacement. Rolf Stommelen failed to qualify the No. 36 entry in all events except Watkins Glen.

1Carlos ReutemannFerrari 312T359-
2Alan JonesWilliams FW0659-
3Jody ScheckterWolf WR559-
4Jean-Pierre JabouilleRenault RS0159-
5Emerson FittipaldiFittipaldi F5A59-
6Patrick TambayMcLaren M2659-
7James HuntMcLaren M2658-
8Derek DalyEnsign N17758-
9Rene ArnouxSurtees TS2058-
10Didier PironiTyrrell 00858-
11Jacques LaffiteLigier Matra JS958-
12Bobby RahalWolf WR658-
13Brett LungerEnsign N17758-
14Clay RegazzoniShadow DN956-
15Jean-Pierre JarierLotus 7955Fuel
16Rolf StommelenArrows A154-
17Arturo MerzarioMerzario A145Transmission
18Michael BleekemolenATS HS143Oil Leak
19Niki LaudaBrabham BT46A28Engine
20Mario AndrettiLotus 7927Engine
21John WatsonBrabham BT46A25Engine
22Patrick DepaillerTyrrell 00823Wheel
23Gilles VilleneuveFerrari 312T322Engine
24Keke RosbergATS HS121Transmission
25Hans Joachim StuckShadow DN91Fuel System
26Hector RebaqueLotus 780Clutch
-Beppe GabbianiSurtees TS20-Did Not Qualify

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