American Comment

THE 1969 Can-Am series has been completed and despite all the dire forecasts by the prophets of doom there now seems little doubt that it was a success. It is true that the series was completely monopolised by the McLaren team, with McLaren scoring six wins to Hulme's five and the pair of them finishing first and second in all but three of the eleven races. It is also true that after being flattened by the McLaren steamroller in the early races some competitors despaired of ever catching the bright orange cars. Before the series reached the halfway mark, however, these pessimistic competitors realised that the fault lay not with the McLaren team but with themselves. There is no secret to the McLaren success. The team has three years of Can-Am experience behind it and McLaren himself has made a total commitment to the series—even to the extent that it takes preference over his Formula One programme. Neither is there anything omnipotent about the M8B cars. They are sophisticated but simple, functional but not fussy, and if anything they sacrifice performance for reliability. As Gurney remarked after he had driven the team's spare car to third place at Michigan: "There is nothing outstanding about it—but it does everything very well." On top of everything, the team is tightly organised and its mechanics work harder than anyone else to check, recheck and double-check that the cars are as well prepared as anyone can make them. The McLaren team, in short, was doing the job properly and to blame them for being successful is absurd. If the Can-Am Series did lack something in competitiveness, it was not because the McLaren team did the job the way it should be done but because other competitors failed to emulate their example.

Fortunately there were exceptions, teams that believed the McLarens could be beaten—or at least given a good run for their money. Amon joined the series in the third race at Watkins Glen with a 6.2-litre Ferrari and promptly finished third. He was second at Edmonton and third again at Mid-Ohio, but from then on ran into continuous engine and oil pump drive problems. A long-promised 6.9-litre engine did not arrive until the final two races and showed great promise but the lubrication problem persisted and the car was never able to show its true potential. (Part of the problem lay in the fact that the oil filter and cooler were on the scavenge side of the pump rather than the more usual pressure side.) Jim Hall's radical new Chaparral, the 2H, made its debut at Edmonton with Surtees driving, but it never matched the success of his previous designs and Surtees finally abandoned the effort before the final race in Texas. By then, however, Hall already had a later design built and running and it was very nearly entered for the final race. The 2H, it must be remembered, was originally intended for the 1968 series but was delayed by development problems. The latest model is built and running more than six months before the 1970 series begins, giving ample time for it to be refined into a competitive machine.

One 1969 car that was never competitive but was nevertheless one of the best in the series was the 4.5-litre Porsche 917 PA driven by Siffert. Since the car was little more than an open version of the 917 Group 4 car, it was grossly overweight and underpowered for Can-Am racing, where engines of 7-litres are common and 8-litres are not unknown. But the car's backers, Porsche-Audi of the United States (with Ginther as team manager), had no illusions about beating the McLarens in their first year. The whole object of entering the car was to gain immediate experience of the Can-Am series—to find out exactly what type of racing was involved, to sound out the opposition, and then to come back next year in an all-out effort with a car designed specifically for Can-Am racing. It is a programme requiring considerable patience and it may well have lacked any short-term benefits at all. In the long run, however, it is possibly the soundest approach of all toward beating the McLaren team. As it turned out, the combination of Porsche's traditional reliability and Siffert's great ability netted five finishes in seven starts (one third place, three fourths and one fifth), which corned fifth place in the overall championship and more than $50,000 in prize money.

Finally, there was the Ford programme. Ford originally had great plans for the 1969 Can-Am series and was going to supply engines for cars entered by Gurney, Shelby and Holman & Moody. This plan was abruptly scrapped long before the first race and while Ford twiddled its thumbs, Chevrolet cleaned up all the marbles. Holman & Moody, however, believed that Ford did have the basic ingredients for a competitive engine and at the sixth race at Elkhart lake they showed up with a modified McLaren M6B fitted with an 8-litre all aluminium engine derived from the 7-litre engine used by Ford in NASCAR stock-car racing. With Andretti driving, the car qualified third fastest right behind McLaren and Hulme and well ahead of the fourth fastest qualifier, but failure of a constant velocity joint prevented it from starting. The engine's later performances were handicapped by the continued use of a Hilborn injection system, which has rarely proved suitable for the wide variations in throttle openings encountered on road circuits. When the Hilborn system was replaced by Lucas injection for the final race the immediate improvement was evident when Andretti qualified second fastest behind Hulme (breaking the McLaren team's monopoly of the front row for the first time in the series) and then led the race for four laps before a piston gave way.

None of these teams—Ferrari, Porsche, Chaparral and Ford—competed in all 11 races and none of them ever broke the McLaren domination, but all of them learned a great deal and all of them plan far stronger and more serious programmes for the 1970 series. There were also indications that other European teams are showing more than a passing interest in next year's Can-Am. Brabham gained first-hand experience by driving Ford's G7A (an admittedly outdated car) at the Michigan race and Alan Mann's Open Sports Ford in the final race. Colin Chapman took a very close look at everything when he showed up for the Monterey race, while Keith Duckworth and Mike Hewland claimed to be "on holiday" when they appeared in the pits at Riverside! Even accepting this explanation at its face value, their obvious interest hardly supports those who suggest that the Can-Am series is dying.

Meanwhile, the Sports Car Club of America expressed its confidence in the series by announcing before the final race that the rules for Can-Am cars will be continued with no major changes for three more years. Jim Kaser, the Club's Director of Professional Racing, said: "The professional competition board's decision reflects SCCA's confidence in the concept of unlimited displacement sports/racing cars. The Can-Am rules have remained essentially unchanged since the beginning of the series in 1966. With this action, the board is giving assurance that this successful formula will remain unchanged for at least another three years." The SCCA announcement also noted that "The current season is the most successful in the four years the series has run. Race purses have grown from $178,000 in 1966 to $540,000 this year. The Championship Award Fund, an additional bonus distributed to the top 10 drivers on points at the end of each season, has increased from $55,000 in 1966 to $200,000 . . . (and) . . . spectator attendance has grown from 250,000 in the first year of the series to (almost) 400,000 this year." There is no reason to doubt that this growth pattern will continue. There are already more promoters asking for 1970 Can-Am races than there are dates available, and the SCCA has every intention of insisting that the minimum prize money for each race be increased. The figure this year was $60,000 ($45,000 for the race itself and $15,000 for the Championship Fund), and this may be raised to $75,000 or more per race in 1970.

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There have been surprising changes and welcome additions to the line-up for the 1970 edition of the SCCA's very popular Trans-Am series for sports saloons. Perhaps the biggest surprise came from Roger Penske, the owner of two Chevrolet dealerships, whose Camaros, driven by Donohue, have won the Trans-Am series for Chevrolet for the past two years. Penske has announced that he has signed a three-year contract with American Motors to campaign a pair of Javelins in the Trans-Am. Chevrolet does not have a factory team and reports that Jim Hall will run a team of Camaros are unconfirmed. Carroll Shelby has decided to concentrate solely on engine development, so Ford's works Mustangs will only be campaigned by Bud Moore. Meanwhile, Chrysler Corp. is taking a serious interest in Trans-Am for the first time. Gurney has signed with Plymouth to run a pair of Barracudas, while the Autodynamics team of Ray Caldwell and Sam Posey will run a Dodge Challenger for Chrysler's Dodge division.—D. G.