Can-Am 1969

Round 3 – Watkins Glen

The Can-Am series of races took on a new dimension in the third round which took place at the Watkins Glen circuit on July 13th, with the appearance of the first car to be capable of challenging the McLaren supremacy, thus injecting a much-needed element into real competition. This car is the new Ferrari 612 for Amon and it is similar to the 1968 version which ran in this series, but is much more modified and lightened. The body is much smoother with no rear wing or nose spoiler as on the 1968 car although provision for the wings is made. It is also shorter than the McLaren Lola, but at 84 in. is 13 in. wider. There were no other significant new Group 7 cars, but because the Can-Am race was run on the day following the Watkins Glen 6-hour event, half a dozen entries from that race also appeared, including Siffert, Redman and Dean with Porsche 908 Spyders, Servos-Gavin, and Rodriguez with Matras, and Bonnier's Lola with 5.7-litre Chevrolet engine. McLaren and Hulme were again the fastest qualifiers and once more shattered the best Formula One times as at Mosport and St. Jovite. McLaren won pole position with a time of 1 min. 02.21 sec., which was an average of 133.1 m.p.h. on the 2.3-mile circuit. This time is three seconds faster than Stewart's lap record in the G.P. Matra, and two seconds faster than Andretti's pole-winning time in the Lotus for the United States Grand Prix.

Hulme completed the front row after gaining a time of 1 min. 02.54 sec., and Amon showed the tremendous potential of his Ferrari when, after having missed most of the practice, he qualified with third fastest time after only 36 laps with a time of 1 min. 03.73 sec. Surtees' McLaren M12 was fourth with a time of 1 min. 04.40 sec. Bonnier was fastest in the 6-hour car with 1 min. 08.08 sec. and Siffert was next with 1 min. 08.54 sec. in his 6-hour car, not capable of an overall win, but the drivers partly made up for their smaller engines and produced several battles that lasted for about 87 laps of the 200-mile race.

McLaren and the Hulme McLaren M8B jumped into an immediate lead from Amon and Surtees from a rolling start and settled down to an order after only a few laps. The whole field was very dose to qualifying order and remained that way for much of the race.

Although about 1½ sec, slower than McLaren and Hulme, Amon and Suttees maintained a strong pressure and forced the works McLarens to go faster than in either of the first two events. Surtees fell back with overheating at quarter-distance, and dropped out of the first ten when his engine lost a valve or broke the rocker arm. Amon, however, kept his pressure on the McLarens throughout the race, forcing Hulme to a new circuit record of 1 min. 02.6 sec. (132.27 m.p.h.), and the Ferrari finished third, 30 sec. behind Hulme, who was only a car's length behind McLaren.

Parsons' Lola T163 held fifth place for most of the race, and inherited fourth place when Surtees' engine fell sick, but had to revert back to fifth place when the engine of his own car lost velocity stack ten laps from the end. The young Canadian driver, Eaton, in a McLaren M12 fought off the more experienced driver Motschenbacher in an identical car for half the race until the American's engine failed, and after running in sixth place for half the race, finished in fourth place after one of the best drives of his career. Five of the six 6-hour cars finished in spite of running 800 miles in two days with only brief inspection, and this should surely give a lesson in reliability to the Can-Am teams.

Siffert finished in sixth place in a Porsche, followed by Bonnier's Lola, Servos-Gavin's Matra, the Dean Porsche and Rodriguez' Matra.

The performance of the Ferrari was the highlight of the race, and this promises much tougher battles for the McLarens in the remainder of the series.—D. G.