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Sponsorship Clashes Hit USAC

The USAC Championship Car series, which runs throughout the year in America almost entirely on oval tracks and includes such races as the Indianapolis 500, the Pocono 500, the Ontario 500 and a multitude of other smaller events, has run into sponsorship problems. During 1971 the series was sponsored by Marlboro cigarettes and thus became known as the Marlboro Championship trail. The cigarette company were pleased with their sponsorship of the series and were all set to .sign a cheque for $150,000 an increase of 50%) to back the series for a second year.

Then came the bombshell. A rival tobacco company called Brown and Williamson, who have a brand called Viceroy, announced sponsorship of the strongest team in USAC racing—the Parnelli Jones–Vel Meltich Racing Team. This outfit had made news by not only retaining drivers Al Unser and Joe Leonard, but also acquiring the services of Mario Andretti from STP. It is all rather like having Jackie Stewart, Ronnie Peterson and Jacky Ickx in the same Formula One team. The team have also temped away Maurice Phillipe from lotus to design new cars for their 1972 programme and with top mechanic George Bignotti looking after the preparation the team is undeniably strong.

The writing was on the wall for Marlboro: they did not need very much imagination to see that a good proportion of the races they were sponsoring are likely to be won by cars backed by a rival and the idea did not appeal. Marlboro have thus withdrawn their sponsorship from USAC who presumably will now have to look for a backer in a different field. Meanwhile it will be interesting to see if Marlboro spend their money elsewhere. They could possibly back the Western US Grand Prix Formula One World Championship races scheduled for Riverside on the same day that Ontario Speedway (only 30 Californian miles away) holds its USAC round with Viceroy cars participating, it could replace Johnson Wax as a sponsor for the SCCA’s Can-Am Championship but that of corse has yet another rival firm, L & M, entering a prominent competitor. Possibly a better bet would be to save the money and promote the activities of its European Operation’s sponsorship of the multi-car BRM team.

Plenty of MeLarens

Although they will only be contesting the more important races the Viceroy team’s toughest opposition in USAC racing will come from McLaren cars, both those entered by the works from Colnbrook and from Roger Penske Enterprises. The works orange cars will only be seen in three major events. The team will be led by Peter Revson, who took pole position and second place at Indianapolis last year, and his number two will be the American Gordon Johncock as Denny Hulme has decided to give this category of racing a miss in 1972. The McLaren M16, which so shook the establishment at Indianapolis last year, has been updated.

The Penske team of shiny blue cars has a much fuller programme and will be running McLaren M16s and later the 1972 versions for Mark Donohue and a newcomer to the team, Gary Bettenhausen, a 30-year-old from Tinley Park, Illinois. All these McLarens will use turbo-charged Offenhausen engines but Penske may field a third car in some events for Britain’s David Hobbs and it is possible he would have power from a stock block American Motors unit.

Formula 5000 Continues to Grow

While Formula 5000 has never really caught on in Britain, despite the efforts of John Webb, it goes from strength to strength in the country where it originated—the USA. Sponsorship by L & M cigarettes is assured for the third year running for the 10-race Championship. Warwickshire’s David Hobbs has been one of the competition’s most regular runners for he finished runner-up in 1969 and third in 1970 in a Surtees, then switched in 1971 to Carl Hogan’s team and a McLaren and carried the Championship off in grand style.

Hobbs will be back in 1972, again driving for Carl Hogan’s team, who will be running two of the new Lola T300s with Hobbs’ teammate being the wealthy but professional American Brett Lunger. He, incidentally, has a busy programme ahead for he will be jetting back and forth to Europe for Formula Two racing as well.

In 1971 Hobbs’ main opposition came from the talented and extrovert American Sam Posey, who drove a Surtees TS8. John Surtees was so pleased with his performances that he gave him a Formula One race at Watkins Glen and will continue to support Posey in the L & M Championship. Another challenge to Hobbs is expected from George Follmer who will be driving one of the all-Australian Matich-Holdens which will be run by Roy Woods. His team is previously experienced in Can-Am and Trans-Am categories. Expect also a couple of British-based drivers and possibly the Sidney Taylor team which won the British 5000 Championship in 1969 and 1970. The Irishman is rumoured to be running the latest Chevron and the driver could be either Jack Oliver or Brian Redman. Road racing is gathering momentum all the time in the USA and the L & M series is becoming increasingly popular.