1978 Daily Mail Indy Trophy (partially found CBS and BBC One footage of USAC Championship Car Season race; 1978)

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Program for the race.

Status: CBS broadcast - Partially Lost / BBC One broadcast - Lost

The 1978 Daily Mail Indy Trophy was the 17th race of the 1978 USAC Championship Car Season. Occurring on 7th October at the Brands Hatch Circuit, the event would be one of two USAC Championship events to occur in England that year. The race would ultimately be won by Rick Mears in a Penske-Cosworth, after long-term leader and Parnelli-Cosworth driver Danny Ongais suffered a gearbox failure with 17 laps remaining.


By January 1978, it was confirmed that the USAC Championship Car Season would contain races from overseas for the first time in its history.[1][2][3][4] Both international races for the 1978 season would be hosted in England, with a Silverstone race commencing on 1st October which was won by A.J. Foyt in a Coyote-Foyt, while an event at Brands Hatch would occur six days later on 7th October.[5][6][1][2][3][4] It arose from agreements with the Motor Circuit Developments, who felt that British spectators may have interest in USAC racing, especially considering Formula One's popularity in the country.[2][6][3] While this was not the first time USAC cars visited Europe, with such vehicles racing in Italy in 1957 and 1958, these would be the first overseas to count towards the Championship.[2][1][4] The fact both races were also to occur on English road circuits would provide unknown qualities and challenges for USAC cars that primarily competed in oval tracks.[6][2][3]

A qualifying session in Michigan helped determine the top 16 competitors that would make the overseas trip, with Tom Sneva in a Penske-Cosworth setting the fastest speed at 209.059 mph.[2] Unlike with Silverstone, which was hampered with rain throughout the practice, qualifying, and race sessions, the 1978 Daily Mail Indy Trophy would commence on a sunny day.[6][3][2] However, to avoid any chance of the race being shortened by rain, USAC opted to race on a shorter track at Brands Hatch, now known as the "Indy Circuit".[6][2] While the rationale was that the short track would dry quicker, the move by USAC surprised both the drivers and tyre supplier Goodyear, especially considering the tyres were designed to cope with the long circuit and that Goodyear personnel only learnt of the decision through reading racing magazines.[6] Around 15,000 were in attendance for the race, which like with Silverstone, was considered a disappointing number.[2][6] This produced only half the revenue Motor Circuit Developments required to justify hosting future USAC races, thus marking the final IndyCar race in England until 2001.[6]

Prior to the race, qualifying commenced with Al Unser winning the pole position in a Lola-Cosworth with a speed of 105.811 mph.[7] Despite the tight nature of the small circuit conflicting greatly with USAC cars that were designed for ovals in mind, Unser's speed was the second fastest recorded at Brands Hatch at the time, beaten only by the Brabham BT46B Formula One "fan car".[6] Rick Mears qualified second, with Danny Ongais lining up third out of the 16 runners.[7] Meanwhile, Steve Krisiloff qualified 12th in a Wildcat-Offenhauser, but was unable to compete after wrecking his car during the warm-up session.[6][7]

The Race

With the starting order decided, the 1978 Daily Mail Indy Trophy commenced on 7th October.[7] Unser's race ended without completing a lap, following a clutch failure.[6][7] This allowed Ongais to assume the lead on the opening lap, where he proceeded to dominate the majority of the race.[6][3][7] Even following a few pitstops, Ongais remained in the first position.[6][7][3] However, his race would end after 83 laps when his gearbox and clutch failed.[6][3][7] Mears assumed the lead, and remained in comfortably front for the remaining 17 laps to claim victory and $33,701 in prize money.[6][7] Fellow Penske-Cosworth driver Tom Sneva finished second, with McLaren-Cosworth's Johnny Rutherford taking third.[6][7] Post-race, Mears admitted he was fortunate to win, stating, praising Ongais' performance as "marvellous".[3]


According to IndyCar on TV, 30 minutes of highlights were televised by CBS on 20th October 1978 as part of its CBS Sports Spectacular, attracting an audience of 3.2 million.[8] The broadcast has mostly resurfaced, with a video uploaded by Hayden Martin on 12th September 2018 containing just over 24 minutes of footage taken from two partial uploads of the race coverage.

However, according to Issue 2,865 of Radio Times, a live broadcast occurred on BBC One as part of its Grandstand program, with commentary being provided by long-time Formula One commentator Murray Walker.[9] Based on the Issue's synopsis, up to 40 minutes could have been televised on the channel.[9] The broadcast has yet to resurface however, with no footage from it currently being publicly available. Nevertheless, while a search of the British Film Institute (BFI) indicates it does not have this particular episode of Grandstand available in its archives, it does contain a documentary titled "The Indy Cars Come to Brands Hatch", a Monroe-sponsored documentary produced by Post Productions.[10] Having been obtained on 7th November 2007 as a 20mm film, the BFI enables only restricted access to the documentary.[11]



The 1978 Daily Mail Indy Trophy on CBS Sports Spectacular.

See Also