All the Canadian-American Challenge Cup races are theoretically of equal importance, but one event, the Times Grand Prix at Riverside in California, has traditionally been considered the major race of the series. Among the reasons for this are thorough promotion by the sponsors, the Los Angeles Times, the largest purse in the series ($60,000 plus an additional $20,000 in accessory money), the largest crowds of the series (averaging 80,000 people), and the above-average facilities of the circuit. This year the Times Grand Prix was the 10th in the 11-race series and once again it attracted the most complete and most competitive field. The McLaren M8Bs for McLaren and Hulme led the entry, of course, and were little changed from their one-two finish at Monterey—though McLaren himself was decidedly under the weather. The Holman and Moody crew had traced the roughness in Andretti’s 8-litre Ford engine at Monterey to a pinched fuel line, but the newly-crowned USAC champion lost two more of the rare all-aluminium engines during practice. Following Gurney’s switch from Ford to Chevrolet, Alan Mann replenished the Ford ranks and surprised everyone by unveiling a brand new car. Listed on the entry form only as Open Sports Ford, the chassis plate identified it as AMR/CA/1001. The new car, driven by Frank Gardner, bears some resemblance to Mann’s 3-litre Group 6 prototypes but the only parts in common to both cars are some of the suspension pieces. The chassis is an aluminium monocoque and power was supplied by a Lucas-injected 7-litre Ford with iron block and aluminium heads. The long-awaited 6.9-litre engine for Amon’s Ferrari was finally dispatched from Italy but was then lost by the air freight people and could not be installed until just before the final day of qualifying. Even then it exhibited the same oil pump drive problems that had plagued the 6.2-litre engine. The problem was finally traced to restrictions in the system and changing the coolers appeared to rectify the situation. Among the changes in other entries, Jack Oliver’s titanium car, the Autocast Ti22, was fitted with a wing; Siffert’s Porsche 917 PA sported a new, more wedge-shaped front body; and Chuck Parsons had an entirely new Lola T163 with revised body and front suspension.
A connecting-rod ventilated McLaren’s engine on the first day of qualifying, leaving him only fifth fastest (1 min. 37.14 sec.) behind Hulme’s 1 min. 34.03 sec. (126.342 m.p.h.), Amon’s 1 min. 35.09 sec. (with the smaller, 6.2-litre engine), Gurney’s 1 min. 36.70 sec. in his McLaren M6B-Chevrolet and Andretti’s 1 min. 36.84 sec. in his McLaren M6B-Ford. McLaren lost yet another engine on the second day of qualifying (piston failure being suspected) but in the dying minutes of the session he joined Hulme on the front row with a time of 1 min. 34.43 sec., just behind Hulme on pole. Times are not comparable with earlier years because alterations have made the track much faster. Amon, Gurney and Andretti all failed to improve their times as a result of engine changes but Oliver vaulted up to fourth fastest in the titanium car with a time of 1 min. 36.23 sec.
In the race itself Hulme and McLaren again showed their heels to the rest of the field, but while Hulme led every one of the 61 laps to score his fifth victory of the series, the left rear A-arm on McLaren’s car failed at over 100 m.p.h., and he crashed heavily on the 35th lap. The car was extensively damaged and a marshal received two broken legs but McLaren escaped with a shaking-up. Gurney and Parsons, with Andretti in close attendance, continued a race-long duel for second place but then a head gasket blew on Gurney’s engine and in the final five laps, just as they were lapped by Hulme, first Parsons and then Andretti slipped past to finish second and third only 0.62 sec. apart. Gurney was 43 sec. back in fourth place, with Revson two laps further back in fifth. Gary Wilson completed 57 laps in his Lola T-163 and Dean finished his sixth consecutive Can-Am with his 3-litre Porsche 908 in seventh place. Surtees went only four laps before the Chaparral’s engine gave out and Amon retired after five laps, furious at being black-flagged for what the officials claimed was a push-start. An oil leak put Siffert out after only 17 laps. but Oliver diced with Gurney and Parsons until his differential failed and Gardner climbed as high as seventh before suspension failure put the Alan Mann car out on the 36th lap.—D. G.
The 11th and final round of the 1969 Can-Am series was held at Texas International Speedway, the southern “branch” of the American International Raceways group that includes Michigan International Speedway and Riverside. The circuit is situated about 60 miles northwest of Houston and like the M.I.S. complex it includes a 2-mile banked oval track and a 3-mile road circuit. The road circuit utilises almost one mile of the banked track, with the remainder laid out inside and outside the oval. The entire complex was built in less than eight months and was still receiving finishing touches when the Can-Am circus arrived to wrap up the series. The entry list of 27 drivers was down considerably from Riverside but with two exceptions it included all the main series competitors. The exceptions were Gurney, who did not enter his Chevrolet-powered McLaren M6B, and Surtees, whose disenchantment with Hall’s Chaparral 2H finally reached the point where he declined to drive it any more. Hall engaged a relatively unknown driver, Tom Dutton, to replace Surtees but Dutton crashed early in practice and the extensively damaged Chaparral was withdrawn. In other changes, Brabham replaced Gardner in Alan Mann’s Open Sports Ford (now fitted with an 8-litre all-aluminium engine similar to that in Andretti’s McLaren M6B) and Cannon reappeared with the Ford G7A that Brabham drove in the Michigan race, while Andretti’s 429’er now had Lucas injection.
The improvement was immediately apparent as Andretti eclipsed both Hulme and McLaren and set the fastest times throughout most of the first day of practice. Amon, too, was going very well with his 6.9-litre engine in the Ferrari and was second fastest for most of the day. Hulme was very close behind in third spot but McLaren, who had switched to the team’s spare car after his Riverside crash (actually Hulme’s 1968 M8A updated to M8B specifications), was hampered somewhat by differential failure. When official qualifying was held on the second day of practice Andretti confirmed the potential of his Ford engine by continuing to split the two McLaren team drivers with a best time of 1 min. 32.6 sec. He couldn’t quite match Hulme, though, and the New Zealander used the last session to wrap up the pole position with a time of 1 min. 31.6 sec. at an average speed of 117.904 m.p.h. McLaren was almost two seconds back in third place and his time of 1 min. 34.3 sec. was only one-fifth of a second faster than Amon—but Amon’s engine had given up and he had to revert to the 6.2-litre for the race.
Andretti jumped into the lead at the start and led the first four laps until being passed by Hulme. McLaren was playing a waiting game in third, with Amon fourth and Revson, Oliver, Eaton, Brabham and Siffert in a close five-way duel for fifth. Andretti and Amon were once more out of luck, however, and both retired with piston failure on the 11th lap of the 70-lap, 210-mile race. Oliver retired after 22 laps with a massive oil leak but Brabham, Eaton, Revson and Siffert continued their great battle for third place and the young Canadian didn’t give an inch to his more experienced competitors. McLaren took command from Hulme on the 46th lap but on the 60th lap the seemingly “impossible” happened—a piston failed on Hulme’s car and the 1968 Can-Am champion suffered his first “dnf” of the 1969 series. Eaton, who had taken third place from Brabham on the 39th lap and was driving perhaps the best race of his career, advanced to second place and held it to the chequered flag—the only driver on the same lap as McLaren at the finish. Brabham was one lap down in third place but Revson’s engine swallowed a valve with five laps to go and Siffert finished fourth on the same lap as Brabham.
McLaren’s victory raised his final total to 165—five more than Hulme—and brought him the Can-Am championship for the second time in three years. McLaren’s total winnings came to over $158,000 and Hulme’s to $146,000—almost double their 1968 figures—and raised the McLaren team’s winnings in four years of the Can-Am series to over $523,000. Parsons finished third in the championship with 85 points and Siffert’s 4.5-litre Porsche brought him a very well earned fourth place (to say nothing of $50,000) with 56 points. Eaton’s second place in the final race advanced him from seventh to fifth with 50 points and he was followed by Amon with 39, Motschenbacher with 37 and Tony Dean, who picked up 31 points and $34,000 with his remarkable little 3-litre Porsche 908.—D. G.