Can-Am series — round one

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Mosport Park, Ont. (June 13th)

The sixth season of J-Wax-sponsored Group 7 competition in America got under way at Mosport Park, Ontario, on Sunday, June 13th, with Team Gulf McLaren taking up where they left off in 1970. Led by Denis Hulme, the Kiwis recorded a clear-cut 1-2 sweep, with Peter Revson backing up last year’s Champion by taking the chequered flag 0.9 seconds behind. It had been a relaxing victory—as had most of the team’s previous 29—and what competition there was came to an abrupt halt on lap 19 when Jackie Stewart retired his new L.& M.-sponsored Lola T260 Chevy with a broken crown wheel and pinion.

For most of the pre-race practice sessions, the latest challenger to emerge from Eric Broadley’s shops occupied everyone’s attention, not only because Stewart was driving it but also since it was a radical departure from most previous Can-Am cars in appearance. Among the novelties were included inboard damper units at the front sheathed in coil springs, mounted parallel to the ground, and a removable aluminium insert which covered the entire nose section between the front wings and which was punctured with dozens of 50-pence-sized holes each covered with wire mesh, the object of the exercise being to relieve lift and increase downforce. Lola’s Eric Broadley was on hand to give his blessing to the project, and readily admitted to the need for continued experimentation until a satisfactory compromise had been reached in the handling department.

Team McLaren, brilliantly orange as has been the custom for the past 4 years, contributed the usual clinically-clean pair of machines designated the M8F. Designer Gordon Coppuck had not set out to break new ground but concentrated on upgrading handling, braking, and aerodynamic efficiency. Featured in the process were narrowed front and rear tracks; inboard rear brakes, and a 3-inch longer wheelbase—in short, a partial return to 1969 thinking.

Of the 33 car-driver combinations inscribed on the entry list, fully 18 were McLaren originals in various stages of preparation. Aside from Team McLaren and Stewart’s Lola, Lothar Motschenbacher, the top private entrant of 1970, entered two cars, an ex-works M-8D for himself and a production M8C for Bob Bondurant. Sponsorship from film actor Paul Newman and Winters-Rosen Productions assured a lull stock of spares for a complete season. Bob Brown reappeared with his venerable ex-Gurney McLeagle (a reworked M6B McLaren), while Milt Minter, had acquired a 917 Porsche Spyder from Jo Siffert that had been redone to provide better cooling and aerodynamics, and which boasted the only 5-litre (actually 4.9-litre) engine in private hands. Jim Adams had the ex-Amon 1969 512 Ferrari, entered by Hollywood Sports Cars, and Tony Dean’s Road Atlanta-winning 908 had been sold to Dick Barbour. Another Dean-owned 908 was entered for former F3 driver Steve Matchett, while Dean himself, entered to drive the 1970 Series-winning M8D of Denis Hulme, was replaced by Chuck Parsons, pending his recovery from the Castle Combe F5000 shunt.

The ex-Amon March 707 was entered by Gordon Dewar of Ottawa, and there was a trio of production-line 1971 Lola T222s—one each for Bob Nagel, Dave Causey, and Hiroshi Kazato the All-Japan Sports Car Race Series Champion of 1970. Kazato’s mount perhaps raised the most eyebrows and led to much speculation. It was the last of a 9-car production line, and had been personally built by the ex-works Lola man, George Pfaff. One of the crew bore a strange resemblance to a Honda F-1 mechanic of 1966, and there were those odd ‘phone calls to Tokyo, almost at will, certainly after each practice period. It did not, therefore, take much fanciful thinking to imagine a behind-the-scenes, joint sponsorship by Nissan and Honda (or maybe Toyota), preparatory to a full-scale assault from the East come ’72.

By the time the grid was set, Stewart had snatched the pole position based on Friday’s times, Hulme was second fastest while Revson had stolen third from Cordts with a 1 min. 18.1 sec. Parsons was the unhappiest of the lot—he had blown the only engine available for Dean’s M8D (a McLaren 465 Chevy), and there was little hope of a spare for the morrow.

At the start Hulme got the jump on Stewart who had a moment at the back of Mosport’s hilly and very rough 2.459 miles on the pace lap, when his throttle struck open. Business as usual saw Team McLaren up front with Hulme leading, Revson third, and Cordts, Bondurant, Mottchenbacher, Brown, and Adams following in order. Stewart inserted the L & M Lola into the lead on lap 10, taking advantage of traffic, but the welcome sight of white instead of orange in the lead was all too short-lived. The Scot coasted to a stop on lap 19 with his crown wheel and pinion in dire need of replacement. The remainder of the race wore itself out, with Hulme completing the 80-lap, 198.72-mile distance in 1 hour 48 minutes 15.2 seconds at an average of 109.033 m.p.h., somewhat below Gurney’s 1970 speed of 110.214 m.p.h. Hulme’s fastest time of the race on lap 52 was indicative of the lack of competition.