Two drivers were injured seriously yesterday in a multi-car crash at the start of the Italian Grand Prix auto race, a contest that was won by Nikki Lauda but which cinched the driving title for Mario Andretti.

Andretti, 38, mathematically clinched the title after Sweden's Ronnie Peterson was injured in a fiery collision involving 10 cars just seconds after the start of the race watched by about 150,000 at the Monza Autodrome.

Doctors who examined Peterson at Niguarda Hospital in Milan said he suffered multiple compound fractures of both legs, second and third degree burns on the legs and crushed heel.

"It could take a year or more for him to regain full use of his legs," one doctor said.

Also hospitalized was Vittoria Brambilla of Italy, who suffered head injuries and was reported in serious condition.

After nearly three-hour delay to clean up the track, the race was restarted with 20 of the 24 original drivers.

Andretti's Lotus crossed the finish line first, followed by Gilles Villeneuve of Canada by a Ferrari, but both had been penalized one minute for starting early. So Lauda, who crossed the finish line third in an Alfa-Brabham, was awarded the victory. He was timed in 1 hour 7 minutes 54 seconds, for an average speed of 129 mph.

The organizers ruled that John Watson of Ireland, also in an Alfa-Brabham, was the runnerup, with Carlos Reutemann of Argentina third in a Ferrari.

Andretti became the first American to win the title since Phil Hill in 1961.

Going into the race, Andretti had 63 points. Peterson, the only driver with a mathematical chance to catch him, had 51, but will be unable to compete in the two remaining Grand Prix events.

The race was run over 40 laps instead of the usual 52 because of the impending darkness in late afternoon.

After the race, both the Lotus and Ferrari teams said they would officially appeal the penalty against Andretti and Villeneuve. But the jury re- [TEXT OMITTED FROM THE SOURCE]