Al Unser has been reinstated as the second-place finisher in the final USAC race of the 1970 season at Phoenix. Unser’s turbo-Ford Colt crossed the finish line 6/100ths of a second behind Swede Savage’s Gurney Eagle Ford but was disqualified at the post-race inspection because its fuel capacity was marginally over the maximum of 75 (US) gallons. When Unser’s team appealed, however, USAC Executive Director William Smyth announced that “after a thorough check by the USAC technical committee, we discovered that the container used to measure the fuel was not calibrated accurately… chief mechanic George Bignotti and his crew were well within the fuel limits and we regret the confusion”.
As a result of Unser’s reinstatement Roger McCloskey, who was leading the race in his turbo-Ford Scorpion until he ran out of fuel on the last lap, is moved back from second place to third and all other finishers also move back one place. In addition to picking up the second-place prize money Unser was equally pleased at being awarded the 240 Championship points that go with second place because that raised his season’s total to a record 5,130 points. The previous record of 5,025 points in one season was set by Mario Andretti when he won the USAC Championship in 1969.
Shortly after announcing that there would be no rules changes for the 1971 Can-Am series—and that, therefore, Jim Hall’s controversial ground-effect Chaparral 2J would be allowed to run—the SCCA and the Canadian Automobile Sports Club ran into a roadblock when the CSI refused to accept their proposed supplementary regulations regarding aerodynamic devices and insisted that Appendix J Group 7 rules apply. The Group 7 rules specifically prohibit movable aerodynamic devices (such as the fans that create the partial vacuum under that Chaparral), but the supplementary rules proposed by the SCCA and the CASC made no mention of such devices. Since this year’s Can-Am series is, for the first time, an official FIA championship the SCCA and CASC agreed to accept the CSI ruling—and, in effect, agreed that the Chaparral 2J could no longer compete.
Meanwhile, the SCCA and CASC had announced a 10-race, $1-million 1971 Can-Am schedule, with Johnson Wax sponsoring the series for the sixth consecutive year. However, in an attempt to spread the available money more evenly, and also attract more works entries, the financial structure of the series has been completely revised to reduce the importance of the year-end Championship Fund and increase the attraction of the individual race purses. The year-end Championship Fund has been reduced from $200,000 (split among the top 10 in the standings) to $50,000 (split among the top three only), but the individual race purses have been increased from a minimum of $61,500 last year to a minimum of $75,000 this year. One unusual feature of this $75,000 minimum is that $20,000 will be split among the top 10 qualifiers and the remaining $55,000 will be split among the top 20 finishers (instead of the top 25 last year). In addition, rules requiring slower cars to qualify within a certain percentage of the pole winner’s time will be much more strictly enforced. The object of the new system is to encourage quality rather than quantity and the $20,000 for the top 10 qualifiers at each race will ensure that the leading drivers will get a reasonable sum even if they do not finish. This $20,000 is, in effect, a disguised form of starting money, which is something several European entrants have been seeking for a number of years.
Since it is now an FIA Championship, the Can-Am will not conflict with any Grand Prix event and the SCCA has also arranged the schedule so that there are no conflicts with either Trans-Am or Continental Championship races. The complete Can-Am schedule is: June 13th, Mosport; June 27th, St. Jovite; July 11th, Road Atlanta; July 25th, Watkins Glen; August 22nd, Mid-Ohio; August 29th, Elkhart Lake; September 12th, Donnybrooke; September 26th, Edmonton; October 17th, Laguna Seca; October 31st, Riverside.
The SCCA has also announced changes for its other two major Championships, the Continental series for Formula 5000 cars and the Trans-Am series for sports saloons. The most important change in the Continental series, which up to now has been the weakest of the three Championships, is a hefty 75% increase in the guaranteed race purses. Since much of the money and sponsorship for the series is being put up by L & M cigarettes, the name of the series has also been changed to the L & M Continental 5000 Championship. Concentrating on quality rather than quantity, the number of races has been reduced from 13 to nine (with a possible tenth race to be added later), but the average guaranteed purse has been increased from $19,400 to $34,000. In practice there will be seven US events with purses of $35,000 and two races in Canada with purses of $30,000. In addition to the usual trophy, L & M will also present the overall series champion with a bonus of $2,500. In two changes borrowed from the Can-Am series, the SCCA announced that at each event $10,000 of the guaranteed purse will be paid to the top 10 qualifiers, with the remainder split among the top 20 finishers only. First place will be worth $4,500 in the American events and $4,000 in the Canadian races. Also borrowed from the Can-Am is a rule that the finishing order will now be determined by the number of laps completed, whether or not a car is running at the finish. The present L &M Continental 5000 schedule is: May 2nd, Laguna Seca; May 23rd, Road Atlanta; July 5th, Mid-Ohio; July 18th, Elkhart Lake; August 1st, Edmonton; August 15th, Donnybrooke; September 6th, Lime Rock; September 11th, St. Jovite; October 3rd, Riverside.
With official works entries from Ford, American Motors, Dodge and Plymouth, and semi-official entries from Chevrolet and Pontiac, last year’s Trans-Am Championship was one of the best in the history of the series. This year, however, the outlook is not nearly as bright because virtually all of these teams except American Motors have decided to withdraw from competition. That will leave Roger Penske, who runs the two-car team of Javelins for American Motors, with no factory opposition and it is unlikely that he will be seriously challenged by any of the private entries. The SCCA, however, has no intention of standing still and has announced a schedule of 12 Trans-Am races—each with a guaranteed minimum purse raised by 20% to $30,000. In the senior Trans-Am events, for cars up to 5-litres displacement, the minimum purses have been raised from $20,000 to $24,000. In the parallel but separate Championship for smaller sedans, previously limited to 2-litres or less, the maximum displacement has been raised to 2.5-litres and the minimum purses have been increased from $5,000 to $6,000. This jump to 2.5-litres for the smaller cars is designed to increase the appeal of the “junior” series by attracting the entry of the new American sub-compacts such as Ford’s Pinto and Chevrolet’s Vega. The 12 races for the larger cars will all last a minimum of 1 hr. 45 min., while the events for smaller car will be of at least one-hour duration. The Trans-Am schedule, which has no conflicts with the Can-Am and only three with the Continental series, is: April 4th, Dallas; April 18th, Riverside; May 2nd, Seattle; May 16th, Bryar; May 31st, Lime Rock; June 6th, Mid-Ohio; June 20th, Edmonton; July 4th, Donnybrooke; July 17th, Elkhart Lake; August 1st, St. Jovite; August 15th, Watkins Glen; September 19th, Road Atlanta.
With American tobacco companies now banned from advertising cigarettes on television, their increasing involvement with motor sport as an advertising outlet is shown in the announcement by the J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., maker of Winston cigarettes, that it is entering stock-car racing with a $100,000 programme of Winston Cup awards for NASCAR’s Grand National drivers. Reynolds thus joins L & M, which supports the SCCA’s Continental series, and Marlboro, which sponsors USAC’s Championship Trail. The Winston Cup awards will be given to the NASCAR drivers at three intervals during the season at approximately the one-third and two-third marks, and at the end of the year. The awards will be based on the driver points standings at these three intervals, with the first two payments totalling $25,000 each and the final payment $50,000.
Bobby Isaac, NASCAR’s 1970 Grand National Champion, overcame decidedly adverse conditions to set a new world closed-course speed record of 201.104 m.p.h. at Alabama International Speedway. Driving a 1969 Dodge Charger—a 3,900-pound car with a 7-litre Chrysler Hemi engine—Isaacs turned four laps of the 2.6-mile speedway faster than the previous record of 200.447 m.p.h. set earlier last year by Buddy Baker, also in a Dodge and also at Alabama. Despite near-freezing temperatures of 36 degrees and winds from 10 to 18 m.p.h., Isaacs made his record 201.104-m.p.h. run on the 22nd lap of a 24-lap run around the high-banked track.
Carroll Shelby is returning to racing and will field an ex-Dan Gurney 1969 Eagle, powered by a turbocharged Ford engine prepared by Falconer & Dunn, in the three 500-mile races on this year’s USAC schedule—at Indianapolis, Pocono and Ontario. The driver will be Danny Ongais, who has little oval racing experience but is a leading drag racer. Shelby shut down his former racing operation after the 1969 season because he felt it had become too big and inefficient. He has now formed a new team, Shelby-Dowd Performance Inc., with one of his former right-hand men, Al Dowd, as president. Carroll Smith, Shelby’s former top-flight vice-president (engineering), returns as team manager and chief mechanic. The team, which has received some backing from Goodyear, will be based in the Venice, California, shop where the original Shelby Cobras were built.—D. G.