6 June 1982
Back across the Atlantic went the teams for the second of three races to be held in the USA – a record. This race, at the newly-developed street circuit in the “Motor City” of Detroit, was officially designated the United States Grand Prix, but was widely referred to as the Detroit Grand Prix to save confusion. Ferrari still only had one car present, and reports indicated that Patrick Tambay had been approached to drive, but had to get out of his CanAm contract and wanted to test the car, so he would probably first race at the French Grand Prix. The Toleman team were also absent from Detroit as their transport back from Monaco had been delayed, leaving them unable to make it on time; they would return for the Canadian race. Ligier went back to the drawing board on the JS19 and ran a pair of JS17s for their drivers, while Brabham once again split the difference, putting Piquet in a BMW turbo car and Patrese in a Cosworth.
The short straights, right-angled bends and bumpy surface were expected to benefit the Cosworth runners, and an extra familiarisation session was planned for Thursday, only to be cancelled when an FIA inspection decided that the run-off areas and tyre barriers weren’t up to spec. Work went on overnight and most of Friday as well, limiting free practice to just one hour. Having schlepped the cars all the way over to Detroit, the teams were in no mood to try and cancel the race, though, and it was agreed to have two separate one-hour qualifying sessions on the Saturday. Prost – foot still strapped up from his Monaco prang – took the pole position, with de Cesaris alongside, then Rosberg and Pironi. Winkelhock was an impressive 5th, having learned the new course quicker than anyone else, Giacomelli 6th and the two Loti behind. Several top drivers had fared badly in the morning session – Lauda 10th, Patrese 14th, Arnoux 15th, Watson 17th – and Piquet had failed to set a time after a crash. However, as the second session began, it rained, and with no chance of anyone improving their times, the grid stayed as it was and the reigning World Champion failed to qualify. In fact, the time he did set in the wet was even slower than that of Emilio de Villota, who may not have qualified, but still did better than Piquet.
Riccardo Paletti managed to qualify his Osella in 23rd. but he damaged his car in the morning warmup. It was repaired just in time for the race, but unfortunately team-mate Jarier managed to clip a wall on the formation lap and came in to the pits, commandeered Paletti’s car and headed off to take the start. With the spare Osella already damaged in qualifying, poor Riccardo was unable to race. Manfred Winkelhock came in for a quick repair after a similar wall-clip had rendered his fine qualifying moot, and finally the race was able to start.
The front-runners got away cleanly, but in the pack Mauro Baldi had a nightmare lap in the Arrows; bumping into Boesel, Alboreto, Salazar and Henton before mercifully putting his car in a wall before the end of the lap. The damage to Boesel’s March was too much and he retired, but the others managed to keep going, though Alboreto and Salazar both had to pit for repairs. Manfred Winkelhock’s race came quickly unstuck as the repair had affected his steering and sent him into a tyre-wall. Jarier was out on lap two as well with ignition failure and de Cesaris suffered yet another driveshaft failure on the same lap. Five cars were out already and a Monaco-style battle of attrition looked on the cards, especially when on lap six, Roberto Guerrero got out of shape, was clouted from behind by de
Angelis’ Lotus, which flipped the Ensign up in the air and heavily back down onto its wheels. Jochen Mass and John Watson jinked through, but Patrese was left with nowhere to go but into the tyre wall. He hopped out, as did Roberto, and the Brabham promptly caught fire. A comedy of errors ensued as the inexperienced marshals tried and failed to extinguish the small fire, and with no cranes or tow-trucks in place, the two cars formed a new chicane on the corner and the race direction panicked and red-flagged the race on lap seven.
It took an hour to clear the two cars and reform the grid, with the 18 remaining cars arrayed in their positions as at the end of lap six: Prost, Rosberg, Pironi, Mansell, Giacomelli, Cheever, Lauda, Laffite, Daly, Arnoux, de Angelis, Mass, Watson, Surer, Henton, Serra, Alboreto and Salazar. The times from the first “race” would be added to those of the second to provide an aggregate winner, which meant Prost had a 3-second lead in timings, if no longer on the track.
Prost got away in the lead again with Rosberg chasing and Pironi, Giacomelli and Cheever following a little way behind. Mansell took a bump at the hairpin and dropped back behind Lauda. First Arnoux, then Prost, found the same engine problem beginning to plague them – a persistent misfire near the top of the rev limit – and Rosberg began to reel in the leader, before catching him and pulling a risky outside pass, unaware that the Renault was in trouble. Back in third, Pironi’s Ferrari was not handling well and he was increasingly holding up Giacomelli, Cheever and Lauda, and John Watson was on a charge. 13th at the restart, he passed both Loti on lap 16, Mass on 17, Arnoux on 18, Laffite on 24 and then a lap later was past Daly for 7th and closing on Giacomelli, now running 6th. Four more laps and he was past the Alfa, looking more like a leader carving through backmarkers than a driver battling for position. Giacomelli wasn’t going to let Watson have it all his own way, though, and tried to come back through – unfortunately there wasn’t room, they banged wheels and the Alfa was out – Watson continued on his way undamaged. On lap 33, Watson made another spectacular move, taking Lauda, Cheever and Pironi on a single lap to go third and set off after Rosberg. Inspired, Lauda pulled a similar move to dispose of Cheever and Pironi within a lap, before Cheever also got past the Ferrari and his team-mate Laffite followed, only to hit the back of Pironi’s car, damaging both but not enough to put either out.
Meanwhile, three laps later, Watson was now behind Rosberg and blasted straight past the Finn, who was having gearbox troubles, but when Lauda tried to follow through he got it all wrong and ended up in a wall. With no-one left to pass, Watson simply had to finish, which he duly did, to win his second race of the season in remarkable circumstances. With Rosberg
dropping further back, it was left to a delighted Eddie Cheever to come second, with Pironi hot on his heels in third, also happy to have managed to drag the unresponsive Ferrari onto the podium. Rosberg finished fourth, over half a minute on aggregate behind Pironi, with Daly fifth and Laffite finally opening his 1982 account in sixth place. Despite the at times farcical organisation problems, the racing had been good and the result popular and deserved. John Watson took the lead in the world championship and McLaren extended their grip on the consturctors’ title, while Renault looked in deep trouble with no points in the last five races.
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