Alan Jones called last Sunday's Canadian Grand Prix race, earning him the world's road racing championship, just right. Referring to his year-long battle with Brazilian Nelson Piquet for the title, he said, "We both have been so consistent it's frightening. We're due for a problem."
The problem was Piquet's, who went out with engine trouble while leading the Montreal events. Jones, a 33 year-old Australian, went on to win and clinch the title going into Sunday's Toyota Grand Prix here. It's a 200-mile dash over the Glen's 3.3-mile course for 24 invited starters. The cars are open-wheeled, single-seat Formula 1 machines powered by 183-cubic inch engines. No American has ever won a Glen Grand Prix.
"I feel I blew a chance to get this title on a plate last year," Jones said earlier in the week. "This year I was very competitive and I did win." sIn 1979 Jones won four Grand Prixes but did not finish seven others to wind up third behind the Ferrari pair of Jody Scheckter and Gilles Villeneuve. Driving a Williams again this year, Jones and Piquet in a Brabham swapped the point lead all season with Piquet leading into Montreal.
Jones, now living in Long Beach, Calif., is the son of a famous racing driver, Stan Jones. He won the 1978 Cam-Am Series for sport cars, his most notable earlier success. He stands to make "millions" in endorsements and fees from his new title. The money is so good, four recent world champions retired in their racing prime. Scheckter, 30, is quitting after Sunday's race.
"You get very tired of traveling eight months a year," Piquet pointed out.
"We spend a lot more time testing tires and the chassis than is done in American racing," Jones said. Both he and Piquet plan to return to their current teams next year.
While the title is settled, the fate of the Glen track is not. "The track was dreadful last year. Very dumpy," Jones charged. "Working conditions for the crews were unsatisfactory. Our cars are quite technically advanced so a lot of work goes on before a race."
Added Piquet: "The rough track here made driving (at speeds up to 170 mph) very difficult because the cars have hard springs."
For those reasons, the Glen was dropped from the 1980 Grand Prix schedule. The local not-for-profit group operating the track managed to raise enough money to repave the worst spots, improve safety, crew and press facilities, and have the race restored to the calender.
Losing the Glen would hurt the sport and the Finger Lakes area which benefits from the thousands of racing fans. It was on the streets of Watkins Glen that American road racing had it postwar rebirth in 1948 with amateur sports car races. Now that the race costs more than a half-million dollars to stage and the cars have six figure price tags, some feel the sport has outgrown its birthplace.