Watkins Glen International is a motor racing venue found in New York State, USA, near the town of Watkins Glen. Commonly nicknamed "the Glen" (but actually called "Watkins" by locals), Watkins Glen hosted the FIA Formula One World Championship for twenty seasons, from 1961 until 1980. The Glen would also be the last purpose built race circuit to host the United States Grand Prix until the completion of the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.
Racing in Watkins Glen originated on a 6.6-mile public road circuit in the local area in 1948, before an accident killed a child and injured several others in 1952. For the next three years, the race used a 4.4 mile track completely outside of town, before a purpose built closed course was completed in 1956. The new circuit was chosen to host the US Grand Prix in 1961, after two financial failures at Sebring and Riverside in the previous two seasons, but its proximity to the densely populated eastern seaboard areas of the US and Canada meant that the 1961 edition of the race was a success. The circuit became a firm favorite and the permanent home of the US Grand Prix for the next 20 years, often hosting the season finale. But the track ran into financial problems, and after the organizers defaulted on prize money for the 1980 race, Watkins Glen was removed from the calendar, never to return.
The popularity of the Glen saw the organisers handed several awards for the best organised Grand Prix, but early developments were not replaced, and by 1980 the venue looked dated. That year proved to be the final time that the Glen would host the US Grand Prix, and the track filed for bankruptcy the following year. It sat unused for a couple of years, before Owens Glass corporation, a major employer in the region, purchased the track from the bankruptcy court and started to refurbish it.
Original Public Road Course
The original course was laid out on public roads, with the start/finish and pits on the main street of the town. The course then turned right and went uphill into the rural area west of town. The track was reminiscent of the early days of racing, with more than 30 corners in its 6.6 miles, and portions of the track ran on asphalt, concrete, oiled gravel and even simple dirt, with a narrow stone bridge crossing at the far point of the track and a level railroad crossing on the back straight. After the accident that killed a small boy in 1952, it became obvious that racing down the town's main street was too dangerous, so a new track was laid out in 1953, entirely outside of town.
Second Public Road Course
The second course was a less demanding and interesting 4.4 mile circuit, to the southwest of the original track. Of the nine corners, five were 90° right handers, with long straight stretches in between. But this was never anything but a temporary home, while the permanent track was built, within the route of this public road course. It did have the advantage of not running down the main street of the town, and having the entire route paved. Plus it was seen as a dry run, to acclimate the neighbors to the sounds of cars that would emanate from the permanent course, under construction on the eastern side of the second course.
First Permanent Course
The first permanent course was a quick, 2.3 mile layout patterned after the original 6.6 mile road course. A short straight at the lowest part of the track was used for start/finish and the pits, which meant that the pits were among the smallest and most primitive in racing. The track went into an uphill and difficult right-left-right sequence, leading onto the Front Straight, running half a mile over the crest of a low hill. It then dipped into a slightly banked 160° sweeper (called "The Loop"), leading onto the Back Straight, even longer than the front, but with a slight left kink about 2⁄3 along. Then there was a right sweeper, called "Fast Bend", followed another left hand kink, then a sharp right called "The 90". After The 90, you are back on the short start/finish straight. By 1970, the last year before the upgrade, lap times were getting very close to a minute, and traffic was an issue through most of the race.
Due to the straight line speeds generated by Formula Libre cars, a tight right-left-right chicane was constructed within The Loop. Known as "The Kink", it was an acknowledgement that the track was too fast for high horsepower cars. When Formula One used a 1.5 liter engine formula, The Kink was not a concern. But when 3 liter engines can into use, there were those who felt use of The Kink would be necessary. But the track management decided to allow the old circuit to be used on a year-by-year basis, and before the 1970-71 reconstruction project, it never seemed to be a serious issue.
Grand Prix Course
Soon after the 1970 United States Grand Prix, work began on a major rebuilding of the track. The entire section from Fast Bend to The 90 was rebuilt, and a four corner section was added to the southwest of the track.
Fast Bend became a fairly tight 80° lefthander, leading onto a brand new short straight. At the end of that was a new right bend of just over 90°. A new 1⁄2 mile (0.8 km) led to The 90, which was now about 100°. This new straight now had the start/finish, and a very long, wide and safe pit road was on driver's right. This new configuration measured 2.428 miles/3.9075 km, but was only used for the 1971 Six Hours and CanAm races, before being relegated to SCCA and NASCAR events.
Also under construction, but completed later in the summer was the section known at "The Boot". The F1 and other higher classes actually left The Loop at a different angle, veering about 20° counter-clockwise from the old back straight. This new section is comprised of a shorter straight, a 135° left sweeper, a similar downhill straight, a sweeping 180° right, a somewhat longer undulating uphill straight, a 110° right followed by a short downhill/uphill straight and a tighter 100° left leading onto the back straight. The elevation changes turned what could have been a dull addition into a driver favorite.
The entire new section now measured 3.377 miles/5.435 km, and with safety upgrades to the rest of the track, the facility was now one of the best.
Grand Prix Course (with Esses Chicane)
Following the deaths of Formula One drivers François Cevert in 1973 and Helmuth Koinigg in 1974, a chicane was added to the area where Cevert was killed, better known as the Esses. This chicane would slow the cars while traveling through this dangerous area in the track.
After Formula One dropped the track from the calendar, this chicane was removed.
Current status: Used as a seven-turn road course for NASCAR.
Formula One History
- Hamilton, Maurice, Grand Prix Circuits, (Glasgow: HarperCollins, 2015), pp.92-5
- 'Watkins Glen International', wikipedia.org, (WikiMedia, 24/12/2015), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Watkins_Glen_International, (Accessed 06/01/2016)
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|V T E||United States Grand Prix|
|Circuits||Sebring (1959), Riverside (1960), Watkins Glen (1961–1980), Phoenix (1989–1991), Indianapolis (2000–2007), Austin (2012–present)|
|Formula One Races||1959 • 1960 • 1961 • 1962 • 1963 • 1964 • 1965 • 1966 • 1967 • 1968 • 1969 • 1970 • 1971 • 1972 • 1973 • 1974 • 1975 • 1976 • 1977 • 1978 • 1979 • 1980 • 1981–1988 • 1989 • 1990 • 1991 • 1992–1999 • 2000 • 2001 • 2002 • 2003 • 2004 • 2005 • 2006 • 2007 • 2008–2011 • 2012 • 2013 • 2014 • 2015 • 2016 • 2017 • 2018 • 2019 • 2020|
|Non-F1 races||1908 • 1909 • 1910 • 1911 • 1912 • 1913 • 1914 • 1915 • 1916 • 1917–1957 • 1958|
|See also||United States Grand Prix West • Indianapolis 500 • Detroit Grand Prix • Caesars Palace Grand Prix • Dallas Grand Prix • Questor Grand Prix|