In a radical departure from past practice, the SCCA is abandoning the traditional method of qualifying for most of its professional series, and instead will use the one-car-at-a-time system that is common in USAC and NASCAR races. The new method of qualifying, which is effective immediately, is compulsory in the Can-Am, L&M Continental 5000 and Trans-Am series, and is optional for the Formula B Continental and Two-Five Challenge series for under 2.5-litre saloons.
Under the new system there must be at least two qualifying sessions at each event, and these sessions will be separate and distinct from the practice sessions. During the qualifying sessions the drivers will be sent out one at a time but they will only have a maximum of five laps per session—one warm-up, three timed flying laps, and one cool-off lap. Each driver’s fastest time, regardless of the session in which it is recorded, will determine his grid position.
Hank Loudenback, the SCCA’s Director of Professional Racing, said three distinct benefits are expected from this new procedure: spectator appeal will be increased since the public address system announcer will be able to concentrate on one car at a time; the timekeeping will be more positive and accurate since the cars will be at spaced intervals; and wear and tear on the cars will be reduced, resulting in better starting fields. This system works reasonably well on the USAC and NASCAR ovals, but these tracks are relatively short and the lap times small (35.33 sec., for example, for a Grand National stock car at the 1.5-mile Atlanta track). The lap times at the average SCCA road circuit are much greater, however, and raise a number of potential problems. At the 3-mile Donnybrooke circuit, for example, the best lap time is approximately 1 min. 30 sec. That means it would require 7 1/2 minutes for each car to complete five laps, and over three hours to give each car in a field of 25 just one qualifying attempt. This problem could he eased somewhat by putting, say, three cars on the track at a time but at 30-second intervals so that each driver still has a theoretically clear track ahead of him. But it doesn’t require much imagination to visualise the complaints that would be generated if a faster car caught, and was baulked by a slower one; or if one car dropped oil all through the line right in front of the cars following. Nonetheless, this system has been used for qualifying at Indianapolis for years and they get 250,000 people for the first weekend of qualifying, so the SCCA may well be on the right track.
One other significant point made in the same SCCA announcement is that the chief steward may, at the request of the race promoter (organiser), place cars that were unable to qualify at the back of the starting grid. Loudenback pointed out that pre-race publicity and advertising often is based on the appearance of one or more prominent drivers, and it is only fair to the spectators that they be allowed to start even though they might fail to qualify for a legitimate reason.
The revival of a Trans-Canada rally, which has been mooted for some time, has now been confirmed. The new rally is being sponsored jointly by the Governments of Canada and British Columbia, and there is no connection with Shell, the sponsors of the previous rally across Canada. Since the new event is being run as part of the programme to celebrate the 100th anniversary of British Columbia’s entry into Canadian Confederation, it is known as the British Columbia Centennial Car Rally ’71. It will start in the federal capital, Ottawa, on June 23rd and end in the BC capital, Victoria, on Confederation Day, July 1st. The rally is in experienced hands since it will be run by Jim Gunn, organiser of the former Shell 4,000 rallies. The route will cover approximately 4,800 miles and Gunn plans to incorporate as many European-style special stages as Canadian conditions (and politics) will allow.
Richard Petty, who has already won more NASCAR Grand National races than any other driver, is off to the fastest start ever seen in the Southern stock car world. Out of the ten races he has run so far, his Plymouth has won five and has finished in the top ten nine times. Petty, of course, has one of only two works cars in this year’s Grand National series (and his firm, Petty Engineering, prepares the second one, a Dodge, for team-mate Buddy Baker), and this obviously gives him a slight edge over all the other independently-entered cars. In fact, Petty’s strongest challenge has not come from his fellow NASCAR drivers, but from USAC veteran A. J. Foyt. Admittedly driving a Mercury prepared by the Woods brothers, one of the best crews in NASCAR, Foyt completed a highly successful foray into NASCAR territory by coming from behind to snatch victory from Petty in the 12th annual Atlanta 500. It was Foyt’s second win in four NASCAR races, and followed a second-place finish in one of the qualifying races for the Daytona 500, third in the Daytona 500 itself (behind Petty and Baker) and victory in the Miller High Life 500 at Ontario (over Baker and Petty).
As he had done at Ontario, Foyt started the Atlanta race from the pole position, but this time he was in trouble quite early when a cut tyre on the 37th lap knocked him out of the lead and put him a lap down. However, he clearly had the fastest car on the track and this, together with three yellow flag caution periods enabled him to regain the lead by the 120th lap of the 328-lap race. Altogether he led the race on six occasions for a total of 205 laps, but it wasn’t a complete runaway because he only took command from Petty for the last time with 12 laps to go, and his Mercury crossed the line just 1.8 seconds in front of Petty’s Plymouth. Finishing third, fourth and fifth, all one lap back, were Pete Hamilton’s Plymouth, David Pearson’s Ford and Bobby Isaac’s Dodge. Two laps further back was Baker in his Dodge. Foyt will, of course, spend this month preparing, practising and qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 on May 29th, but he said he may return to NASCAR for the World 600 at Charlotte the day after Indianapolis. Since Foyt has already walked off with $87,000 in NASCAR prize money, it would be understandable if the stock drivers are praying for rain on May 29th so that the Indianapolis race has to be postponed to the 30th!—D. G.