Can-Am 1969

Round 1 Mosport

The Canadian-American Challenge Cup series for unlimited displacement Group 7 cars has been expanded to 11 races this year from six in each of the first three years, but the expansion was not reflected in the field for the first 1969 race at the Mosport circuit near Toronto. Only two cars were really ready to race and they, of course, were the two 7-litre, Chevrolet-powered M8B McLarens for McLaren and Hulme, who have overwhelmed the Can-Am series for the past two years. All of the McLaren team’s potential challengers except Gurney were handicapped by receiving their cars too late for complete preparation–and Gurney was handicapped by having to go into battle with a "small" 5.65-litre Ford engine in his 1968 M6B McLeagle after Ford decided it could not come up with an engine that was competitive with the big all-aluminium Chevrolets.

Apart from cut-outs behind the front wheels to aid the extraction of air and the addition of a wing mounted on the rear suspension, the works McLarens are virtually identical to the M8As that ran last year. Gurney’s M6B sported two wings, the front one chassis-mounted, but they were removed when the rubber bushings in the attachment points began to break up. (The S.C.C.A and the C.A.S.C., the joint sanctioning bodies for the series, only received official notice of the ban on wings on the first practice day. They decided not only that this notice was far too short, but also that since the Can-Am is a strictly North American Championship they would make up their own minds of the subject of wings. They may still ban wings but only after giving the competitors reasonable notice.)

Apart from Gurney, the McLaren’s only potential threats came from Surtees in Hall’s back-up McLaren M12 (Hall’s radical new wingless Chaparral not being ready); Motschenbacher and Eaton also in M12s; and Parsons in the latest T162 Lola fitted with a Chaparral-prepared engine. Revson in a Kar Kraft G7A (a Group 7 version of the Mk. 4 Ford, build by Ford’s racing offshoot for the 1967 Can-Am series but never raced) and Leonard in a Cro-Sal McKee with twin turbochargers fitted to the 6.4-litre Oldsmobile engine both withdrew on race morning because of engine trouble.

With everyone except McLaren and Hulme still finishing off their cars, practice and qualifying were lack-lustre affairs. McLaren again showed his complete preparedness within the first half-hour of qualifying when he lapped the 10 turn, 2.46-mile course in 1 min. 18.2 sec. (181.12 k.p.h.)–2.5 sec. under the lap record set in 1967 by Hulme in an M6B McLaren and 4.2 sec. under Clark’s fastest time in a Formula One Lotus. Hulme, having just returned from Indianapolis, took a little longer to get down to 1 min. 18.8 sec., but it was the end of the afternoon before Surtees reached 1 min 20.0 sec. and Gurney 1 min. 23.9 sec.

A slight drizzle just before the start produced the usual scramble for the right tyres and when the drizzle stopped Parsons was stuck with rain tyres on his Lola when the wheel nuts jammed. McLaren led the 21 starters into the first corner of the 80-lap race and at first it looked as though there might be a real race as Surtees stayed glued to McLaren's exhaust pipes, with Hulme third, Gurney fourth, and Motschenbacher fifth. Surtees took the lead on the fourth lap, and again on the sixth and seventh laps, but then his engine began to overheat and he fell back at the rate of one second a lap as he restricted himself to 5,000 r.p.m. instead of 7,500 r.p.m. This early battle was actually more apparent than real because the lap times were as much as 10 seconds off the qualifying times. With Surtees falling back and Hulme suffering from a chronic lack of cockpit ventilation, Gurney provided the only remaining challenge and stayed within five seconds of McLaren for 49 laps until a rear suspension upright failed. McLaren and Hulme then sailed home to an uncontested victory. Motschenbacher, who trailed Surtees for most of the race despite losing the clutch on the first lap, had retired with no oil pressure just after the halfway mark. Parsons, losing four or five seconds a lap because of his rain tyres, held fourth place up to the final lap when a tyre deflated and he was passed by Cordts in an old but very reliable Mk. 3 McLaren.—D. G.

Round 2 St. Jovite

The field for the second round of the Can-Am series, held on the Laurentian Mountain circuit of St. Jovite in Quebec, was virtually the same as that at Mosport, with the addition of Titus in the ex-Easton McLaren Mk. 3 fitted with 5.57-litre Ford engine, Baker in the 7-litre Chevrolet-powered McLaren M6A driven in last year’s series by Donohue, and Leonard in the McKee with twin turbochargers fitted to its Oldsmobile engine. The turbocharger waste gates used at Mosport were too small, almost doubling the boost to over 20 p.s.i. and causing a destructive rise in temperature.

The 2.56-mile St. Jovite circuit provided a good opportunity to compare the relative performances of Group 7 and Formula One cars since the Canadian Grand Prix was held there last September. In that race, Rindt in a Brabham and Amon in a Ferrari were on the front row with identical times of 1 min. 33.8 sec., an average speed of 101.71 m.p.h., and Siffert in a Lotus-Ford lowered the absolute lap record, set by Al Unser’s 4-w-d Lola in a U.S.A.C. Championship race, from 1 min, 35.7 sec. to 1 min, 35.1 sec. It soon became obvious that the Group 7 cars would shatter these records when, during the first unofficially-timed practice session, Hulme and McLaren in their 7-litre M8A McLarens recorded 1 min. 32.3 sec. and 1 min. 32.8 sec. During the official qualifying session a certain amount of personal rivalry between these two drivers resulted in their times being lowered still more, McLaren finally winning the pole position on the very last lap of practice with a time of 1 min. 31.7 sec. (104.03 m.p.h.), which was 0.5 sec. faster than Hulme and 2.1 sec. faster than the best Formula One practice times. Motschenbacher in McLaren M12 was third fastest at 1 min. 34.6 sec., followed by Surtees in a similar car at 1 min. 35.2 sec., Parsons in a Lola T163 at 1 min. 36.4 sec., and Eaton in another M12 McLaren at 1 min. 37.9 sec. Baker, Titus and Leonard, the newcomers to the series, took the next three spots and Cordts filled out the top 10 with 1 min. 39.8 sec. in a McLaren M6B—an excellent time considering his 5-litre engine was the smallest in the field and giving away 2-litres to everyone in front of him except Titus. An unfortunate casualty in qualifying was Gurney, who had just fitted the biplane wings to his McLaren M6B (see "American Comment" in this issue) when his engine expired with a hole in the cylinder wall. Lacking a spare engine, he had to scratch.

Motschenbacher only just made the start after a makeshift repair to a sheared fuel injection pump driveshaft but after McLaren and Hulme led the first lap, he and Surtees jumped into first and second ahead of McLaren on the second lap. Surtees took over on the third lap and Motschenbacher gradually fell back until two successive pit stops for stronger throttle springs dropped him to 14th at the 12-lap mark of the 60-lap race. His fighting come-back to fourth at the finish was a highlight of the race. Meanwhile, for one-quarter of the race, McLaren, Hulme and Surtees treat the crowd to a great spectacle as they lapped the circuit almost wheel-to-wheel and exchanged the lead seven times in 15 laps. As at Mosport, however, this battle was more apparent than real for their lap times were six to eight seconds off their qualifying times (except for one lap of Hulme’s) when he set a new absolute circuit record of 1 min. 33.8 sec. (101.71 m.p.h.).

On the 22nd lap this race broke up when Surtees eased up momentarily at a 180-degree hairpin because of a waved yellow flag and McLaren ran into him from behind. McLaren later admitted that the accident was entirely his own fault, but meanwhile both drivers visited the pits for repairs. McLaren fell to sixth place but in the process of slicing his way back he equalled Hulme’s lap record of 1 min. 33.8 sec. Surtees’ car was more extensively damaged and he was forced to retire on the 41st lap when the entire rear bodywork flew off. Hulme completed the 60-lap, 159-mile race at a record average speed of 97.55 m.p.h.—0.3 m.p.h. faster than his winning average in last year’s Canadian Grand Prix. McLaren came all the way back to finish second, with Parsons third one lap down, Motschenbacher taking fourth from Cordts with just three laps to go, and Baker sixth.—D. G.