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Watkins Glen, the 3.7-mile road circuit in the north of New York state, has been the scene of the World Championship's final round ever since 1971, the Mexican Grand Prix having been dropped from the calendar that year. This year there was added interest attached to the United States Grand Prix, for this was the event which would decide both the drivers' World Championship as well as the constructors' title and most of the cars which had been present at the Canadian Grand Prix stayed in North America for the second race.
Such was the intensity of competition at Watkins Glen, this intensity fostered by the added attraction of a first prize totalling 50,000 dollars, that many teams took the opportunity to test at the circuit during the two-week break between races. However, an unexpected bout of cold weather a couple of days before the start of official practice made it seem as though the race might have to be cancelled, but fortunately sunny skies and higher temperatures returned before the serious business got under way.
Last year Ronnie Peterson led the United States Grand Prix from start to finish, so his Lotus 721R8 looked as though it would be a suitable mount for a second year running, Particularly after his impressive showing at Mosport Park. Ickx handled 72/R5 as usual, while a third entry was made for the former Brabham and Surtees Formula One driver Tim Schenken who has had a bleak season this year driving the Ron Tauranac-designed Trojan-Cosworth T103. Schenken was assigned to the Lotus 76/JPS 9 on condition that he would have to give the car up to Peterson should the Swede damage his 72 or suffer some last-moment mechanical failure.