THE WET HELL

In Fuji 1976 Briton James Hunt won the worldchampionship under dramatic circumstances


Niki Lauda (A)/Ferrari 312T2


James Hunt (GB)/McLaren Ford M23B

 

When Niki Lauda had arrived at the foot of Japan´s holy mountain, the 3776 metre high Fujiyama, that´s summit is covered with snow deep into the summer, he had been aware of the fact of not being absolutely physically fit. At the Nuerburgring he had not only been confronted with lung injuries being dangerous for his life, but also with intensive burnings of his face. One of his eye lids had been so seriously damaged, that he was not able to see clearly.

It was the first Japanese Grand Prix ever, taking place at the Fuji Speedway, that had been opened in the sixties, on 24th October, 1976. Millions of race fans all over Europe were sitting in front of their television screens to witness the final decision between Niki Lauda and James Hunt in the worldchampionship. But the only thing they were able to see, were horrible weather conditions and endless discussions between drivers and officials. Then it was said, the race was cancelled, the spectators went to bed.

But that decision was revised at the last possible time, at 7:00 A.M. CET. A radio message early in the Sunday morning made parts of the audience return to their TV sets as fast as possible. What nobody had believed some hours before: The final round of the 1976 worldchampionship was transmitted live.

In spite of leaving out the Spanish, the German and the Dutch Grand Prix before, Niki Lauda had come to Japan with a 3 point championship lead ahead of Hunt, but the Briton had won both the last races in Canada and the United States.

While James Hunt from the front row was able to take the leading position under extremely wet conditions, Lauda could not see anything, as well caused by the fact of being captured on 21st position as by his eye injuries. So he decided to give up in lap 2 to leave the circuit immidiately together with his wife Marlene. Also both Brabham Alfa Romeo drivers Carlos Pace and Larry Perkins and Emerson Fittipaldi from Brazil´s Copersucar team stopped driving voluntarily because of the irresponsible weather conditions to compete in.

At that point James Hunt was confronted with the problem of keeping a minimum lead of 4 points ahead of Lauda until the end of the Japanese Grand Prix to become the 1976 world champion. In the middle of 73 laps race the rain stopped and shortly before the finish the moisture nearly disappeared completely from the track. But this also made the things become difficult, because most of the soft wet weather tyres began to die. The McLaren pit with Teddy Mayer and Alistair Caldwell could not decide to take Hunt in for a quick tyre change. So this decision was made by a puncture, Hunt suffered from at left front 5 laps before the end of the race. The pit stop took 27 seconds and made Hunt drop back to 6th place. But during the last laps he could overtake Clay Regazzoni´s Ferrari and Alan Jones in the Surtees Ford to finish 3rd place. That was enough to win the worldchampionship one point ahead of Niki Lauda.

After Hunt´s dropping back Patrick Depailler in the Tyrrell Ford P34 sixwheeler took the lead of the first Japanese Grand Prix, but after also being hit by a puncture, he came home 2nd. Mario Andretti in the JPS Lotus Ford did an excellent strategic job to his tyres and received the chequered flag as the winner of his second Grand Prix overall since Kyalami 1971.

For the first time Japanese drivers, teams and tyre companies competed in Grand Prix racing in a professional way. The Ford Cosworth powered cars came from Kojima and Maki, the tyres from Dunlop and Bridgestone and the drivers were Masahiro Hasemi, Kazuyoshi Hoshino and Noritake Takahara. But none of them was able to establish permanently and so it was no wonder, that it took 20 further years to make a top Grand Prix rubber company out of Bridgestone.

The Fuji Speedway only one further time was the host of the Japanese Grand Prix. That was in 1977 and the event was won by James Hunt. It was the 10th and last Grand Prix victory of his career. The Briton retired from active competition at mid-season 1978 to become a very popular BBC television commentator partnered by legendary Murray Walker for many years. James Simon Wallis Hunt died on 15th June 1993 at the age of only 45 years caused by a heart attack.

J H

The Fuijiyama is the holy mountain of Japan

 

The Fuji Speedway looks simple to drive, but
has got in most cases fast corners.

 

The hell is wet. John Watson in the last race of the Penske Ford shortly ahead of Jody
Scheckter`s Tyrrell Ford P34 sixwheeler during the opening lap of the 1976 Japanese
Grand Prix.

 

A Grand Prix driver like a pop star. James Hunt in the McLaren Ford M23B became the
first British world champion since Graham Hill back in 1968.

 

Big in Japan. Marlboro McLaren pit with team manager Alistair Caldwell (middle).

 

Did the fastest lap in the race: Masahiro Hasemi with the Japanese Kojima Ford KE007
on Dunlop tyres.

 

Won their first Grand Prix since Monza 1974 :
Colin Chapman (front) and his team manager
Peter Warr (behind) of John Player Team Lotus.

Results:
Qualifying:

J Hunt/GB (McLaren) 1:12.80 l M Andretti/USA (Lotus) 1:12.77

J Watson/GB (Penske) 1:13.29 l N Lauda/A (Ferrari 1:13.08

C Pace/BR (Brabham) 1:13.43 l J Scheckter/ZA (Tyrrell) 1:13.31

V Brambilla/I (March) 1.13.72 l C Regazzoni/CH (Ferrari) 1:13.64

M Hasemi/J (Kojima) 1:13.88 l R Peterson/S (March) 1:13.85

J Mass/D (McLaren) 1:14.05 l J Laffite/F (Ligier) 1:13.88

T Pryce/GB (Shadow) 1:14.23 l P Depailler/F (Tyrrell) 1:14.15

G Nilsson/S (Lotus) 1:14.35 l J P Jarier/F (Shadow) 1:14.32

H J Stuck/D (March) 1:14.38 l L Perkins /GB (Brabham) 1:14.38

A Jones/AUS (Surtees) 1:14.60 l A Merzario/I (Williams) 1:14.41

H Ertl/D (Hesketh) 1:15.26 l K Hoshino/J (Tyrrell) 1:14.65

N Takahara/J (Surtees) l E Fittipaldi/BR (Fittipaldi) 1:15.30

H Binder/A (Williams) 1:17.36

Did Not Qualify: T Trimmer/GB (Maki) 1:30.91

 

Race: 73 Laps = 318.207 km

1 Mario Andretti/USA, Lotus Ford, 1:43.58.86 h = 183.615 km/h

2 Patrick Depailler/F Tyrrell Ford, + 1 Lap

3 James Hunt/GB, McLaren Ford, + 1

4 Alan Jones/AUS, Surtees Ford, + 1

5 Clay Regazzoni/CH, Ferrari, + 1

6 Gunnar Nilsson/S, Lotus Ford, + 1

7 Jacques Laffite/F, Ligier Matra, + 1

8 Harald Ertl/B, Hesketh Ford, + 1

9 Noritake Takahara/J, Surtees Ford, + 3 Laps

10 Jean Pierre Jarier/F, Shadow Ford, + 4

11 Masahiro Hasemi/J, Kojima Ford, + 7

Fastest Lap: Masahiro Hasemi/J, Kojima Ford 1:18.23 min = 200.54 km/h

 

Final Worldchampionship Standings:

1 J Hunt/GB 69 Points

2 N Lauda/A 68

3 J Scheckter/ZA 49

4 P Depailler/F 39

5 C Regazzoni/CH 35

6 M Andretti/USA 22

7 J Watson/GB 20

8 J Laffite/F 20

9 J Mass/D 19

10 G Nilsson/S 11

11 R Peterson/S 10

12 T Pryce/GB 10

13 H J Stuck/D 8

14 C Pace/BR 7

15 A Jones/AUS 7

16 C Reutemann/RA 3

17 E Fittipaldi/BR 3

18 C Amon/NZ 2

19 V Brambilla/I 1

20 R Stommelen/D 1

 

Galleria Fuji 1976
by project * 2000

 

 

© 2001 by researchracing

 

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