Citicorp Can-Am Challenge, St Jovite, June 9, 1977
It was meant to rekindle past glories, but the first round of the new-look Can-Am was a shambles, saved by a win for the most futuristic car in its depleted field. The SCCA’s plan was simple: rebody F5000s as central-seat ‘sportscars’. But the Schkee — pronounced sha-kee — was more rebodied than most. Its Lola T332 underpinnings were wrapped in an all-enveloping shape: faired-in rear wheels, integral wing and splitter, Targa-type cockpit — an out-there look that recalled Can-Am’s past. It helped that Bob McKee was in charge. This Illinois engineer had kick-started the British sports-racer/American engine theme with his 1961 Cooper-Buick for Rodger Ward. He’d also built the Howmet turbine racer. And run Can-Am’s first turbo in ’69. He was receptive to left-field ideas. Which is why, when industrial engineer Mike Williams said his cars looked outdated, Bob listened.
“He had interesting ideas,” says McKee. “There was no wind tunnel involved; we just kinda eyeballed it. But it worked. The Schkee had lots of downforce; our first wing bowed in the middle.”
Two were built: for Tom Klausler, a talented but broke Formula Atlantic racer, and Doug Schulz, the team owner. But only one was ready for St Jovite — and that arrived a day late, by which time favourite Brian Redman had back-flipped his Lola T333 at the infamous yump and broken his neck. With a temporary chicane in place, Klausler took pole ahead of Chris Amon’s Wolf-Dallara.
“It was raining at the start,” says Klausler. “I made a good start, but on lap four I spun — and stalled — yet didn’t lose the lead.” He’d been 9sec ahead after the first lap. “But halfway through it dried and I had to pit for slicks. We had to take the rear bodywork off. It took an age.” Four minutes, no less. After that he hauled in leader John Gunn, at 4sec per lap, sufficient to hustle him into a mistake: Gunn’s T332 thumped a kerb and broke a wheel. The Schkee would win by a lap.
It was no fluke. Klausler took pole at Laguna, round two, but an engine failure put him out before the start. And he led at Road America, round four, only to tangle with a backmarker. But thereafter the Schkee slipped back as the T333s raised the bar.
“More money would have helped,” says Klausler. “But I was running the show as well as driving, I was inexperienced and we made some silly mistakes. St Jovite was the definite highlight.” — PF