1978 Daily Express Indy Silverstone (lost footage of USAC Championship Car Season race; 1978)

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Program for the race.

Status: Lost

The 1978 Daily Express Indy Silverstone was the 16th race of the 1978 USAC Championship Car Season. Occurring on 1st October at the Silverstone Circuit, the event would mark the first instance of a USAC Championship race overseas. The race would ultimately be won by A.J. Foyt in a Coyote-Foyt, with the event being shortened because of rain.

Background[edit | edit source]

By January 1978, it was confirmed that the USAC Championship Car Season would contain races from overseas for the first time in its history.[1][2][3][4] Both international races for the 1978 season would be hosted in England, with Silverstone planned for 30th September, and a race at Brands Hatch would occur on 7th October that was ultimately won by Rick Mears in a Penske-Cosworth.[5][6][1][2][3][4] It arose from agreements with the Motor Circuit Developments, who felt that British spectators may have interest in USAC racing, especially considering Formula One's popularity in the country.[2][5][3] While this was not the first time USAC cars visited Europe, with such vehicles racing in Italy in 1957 and 1958, these would be the first overseas to count towards the Championship.[2][1][4] The fact both races were also to occur on English road circuits would provide unknown qualities and challenges for USAC cars that primarily competed in oval tracks.[5][2][3]

A qualifying session in Michigan helped determine the top 16 competitors that would make the overseas trip, with Tom Sneva in a Penske-Cosworth setting the fastest speed at 209.059 mph.[2] However, issues began to emerge once USAC entered Silverstone, as rain caused delays for both practice and qualifying.[2][5] When qualifying did occur, Danny Ongais won the pole position in a Parnelli-Cosworth with a speed of 128.429 mph.[7][5][2] Earlier in practice, he set a lap time of 1 minute 18.45 seconds, around 2.5 seconds faster than the lap record set by Formula One driver James Hunt in a McLaren-Ford.[2][5] Directly behind him was Lola-Cosworth's Al Unser, with Mears lining up third.[7] A.J. Foyt qualified 10th out of 16 competitors.[7]

The race was originally scheduled to run on 30th September, but rain forced the start to be delayed until 1st October.[5][2][7] Despite a promotion stating "American Invasion – The Indy Cars are Coming.",[3] the event drew a poor attendance for Silverstone, with only around 6,000 in the stands on 30th September, and just around 4,000 the following day.[2] Nevertheless, the race did bring concepts generally unfamiliar to British fans at the time, including refuelling, the presence of a pace car, and a rare rolling start.[3][5]

The Race[edit | edit source]

With the starting order decided, the 1978 Daily Express Indy Silverstone commenced on 1st October.[7] Ongais maintained his lead from the start, and was accelerating away from his competitors.[5][7] Despite a spin from Wildcat-DGS' Gordon Johncock prompting an immediate caution period, Ongais again built up a lead, only to retire after five laps due to a broken half shaft.[5][3][7] Unser took over, leading ahead of Mears and Penske-Cosworth's Tom Sneva.[5][7] On lap 17, he pitted for fuel, but almost incurred a lap deduction following accusations that his Coyote had run over a fuel line.[5] However, officials deduced that Unser had merely nudged it, and thus he escaped punishment.[5] On lap 22 however, Unser was forced to slow significantly to avoid running out of fuel.[5] Johncock passed him, but fuel shortages forced him to relinquish the first position to Eagle-Cosworth's Bobby Unser.[5][7]

Once the initial pitstops were complete, Mears had assumed the lead on lap 25, Foyt being his main competition.[5][7] A lap later, Al Unser retired following a broken pinion gear.[7] On lap 27, the race was red flagged following downpour.[2][5] It resumed 30 minutes later, with Foyt again making several pass attempts on Mears.[5][2] Ultimately, he achieved the final lead change on lap 32, accelerating ahead of the opposition.[5][7] The race was again postponed after 38 laps because of rain.[2][5][7] With the downpour refusing to subside, the race finished 14 laps earlier than expected, Foyt therefore claiming victory and $33,445 in prize money.[7][5][3] Mears finished second, with Sneva taking third.[7][5][3]

Availability[edit | edit source]

According to IndyCar on TV, 45 minutes of highlights were televised by ABC later that same day as part of its Wide World of Sports, along with the US Gymnastics Trials.[8] Additionally, Issue 2,864 of Radio Times stated that the race with its original start date was to be broadcast on BBC One as part of Grandstand.[9] It remains unclear whether the delayed race ultimately aired on BBC television at a later date. Regardless, no broadcast of the race has resurfaced, with no footage currently being publicly available.

Gallery[edit | edit source]

Video[edit | edit source]

The 1978 Daily Mail Indy Trophy on CBS Sports Spectacular.

See Also[edit | edit source]

IndyCar Media[edit | edit source]

Silverstone Media[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]