This weekend marks the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach down in Southern California. It’s a marvelous weekend of racing that you absolutely want to watch if you can. The race has a long and storied past, playing host to various sports car and open wheel series for decades. Back in 1978 the street course was on the Formula One calendar, and it was a true ripper of an event. Those over-powered under-tired cars designed by engineers with only a passive understanding of a new technology called aerodynamics made for a wild oversteery tire-spinning lap, somewhat akin to riding an angry bull.
Today’s obsession is this onboard video, an incredibly clean and beautifully shot one, considering it was the late 1970s. Here’s this guy, a Frenchie, Patrick Depailler, running around in his Gitanes-sponsored Ford-powered Tyrrell 008. He’s trying to win the damn thing, but after a weekend of practice, qualifying, and racing, he falls just short, finishing third to Carlos Reuteman’s Ferrari and American Ford/Lotus-driving Mario Andretti.
I simply cannot imagine driving anything like this at any rate of speed even approaching this. Depailler was a truly talented driver, getting every inch out of the car and the track alike. The spectacle of it all! The sound! The simplicity of the cockpit! It’s all just so aesthetically and sonically right for a race car. I’d really love F1 if we could get back to a simpler and more cost-effective formula that required drivers to really be up on the wheel to go fast.
He never won a championship and only took the checkers at two Grands Prix in his 95 career starts, though wound up on nineteen podiums. Just two years after this video, he would be dead from head injuries sustained after a suspension failure in testing at the Hockenheimring. The modern cars may not be as exciting to drive or spectate, but the safety advances made cannot be overstated.