Can-Am Races

Rounds Eight and Nine

The eighth and final eastern round of the 11-race Canadian-American Challenge Cup series was held at the Michigan International Speedway circuit about 60 miles west of Detroit. Opened only last year, MIS is a multi-purpose facility which incorporates both a banked oval track (for USAC and NASCAR races) and a road circuit. The road circuit is three miles in length and is located partly inside the oval and partly outside in naturally rolling countryside. The only part of the oval track included in the road circuit is a short stretch in front of the pits and main grandstands. It is a relatively narrow circuit and the corners, particularly in the outside section of the course, are strung together so quickly that it is difficult to pass when off the line.

The circuit was being used for a Can-Am race for the first time and there were a number of surprises among the starters—including Jack Brabham, Dan Gurney and Andrea de Adamich. Brabham had been invited, on short notice, to drive the G7A, Ford’s mobile engine test bed which has been driven in previous Can-Ams by John Cannon, George Follmer and Peter Revson. The car has had as many engines as it has drivers and at Michigan it was powered by an 8-litre all-iron unit. This terribly heavy engine first ran its bearings and then broke a rocker arm, at which point Brabham quietly made an “insurance” arrangement with Bruce McLaren to drive the spare works M8B (Hulme’s up-dated M8A) in case the G7A didn’t start.

Gurney’s appearance was a surprise partly because it was his first Can-Am race since St. Jovite in June (where he did not start because of a blown engine) but mainly because after stubbornly sticking with Ford for years he had finally thrown in the towel and switched to the ubiquitous 7-litre, all-aluminium Chevrolet, to power his McLaren M6B. De Adamich’s appearance in Jim Hall’s “back-up” McLaren M12 was brought about by the fact that John Suttees was confined to bed with a respiratory infection that struck him at the Canadian Grand Prix.

Chris Amon in the Ferrari 612 took the wind out of the McLaren team’s sails by setting fastest time of 1 min. 35.3 sec. on the first day of practice and soon after qualifying began the next day he again beat McLaren and Hulme with a time of 1 min. 34.0 sec. Almost immediately, however, the bearings seized when the belt driving the oil pump failed. It was a great misfortune because with no spare engine available (a 7-litre unit had been promised but was held up by strikes in Italy) Amon was left without a drive. McLaren and Hulme then got down to serious business, Hulme claiming the pole with a lap of 1 min. 32.5 sec., followed by McLaren at 1 min. 32.9 sec., Jo Siffert in the 4.5-litre Porsche 917PA at 1 min. 35.9 sec., Peter Revson in his Lola T163 at 1 min. 36.8 sec., then George Eaton and de Adamich in their McLaren M12s. Gurney’s well worn Chevrolet engine wasn’t running on all eight and on Sunday morning, just before the race, it was he, not Brabham, who took over the spare works McLaren. However, because Gurney had not qualified in the car he had to start from the back of the grid.

This was perhaps fortunate for the spectators because apart from a charging drive through the field by Gurney this was perhaps the most processional Can-Am race of the season. Hulme and McLaren streaked into the lead as usual and they were followed, after the early retirement of Revson with a broken drive-shaft, by Siffert, de Adamich, Chuck Parsons’ Lola T163, Eaton (who was slowed by a fuel leak), Tony Dean’s Porsche 908, and Brabham. Apart from Gurney’s rush through the field (he caught Siffert on the 30th lap of the 65-lap race) this order remained virtually unchanged to the chequered flag. Gurney spent the last two-thirds of the race catching up with McLaren and Hulme and the three of them took the flag in line astern, McLaren leading, just six-tenths of a second apart. Siffert was fourth, one lap down, followed by de Adamich, Parsons, Dean and Eaton. Brabham went 47 laps in the G7A (a record for the car) before a wheel fell off, and David Hobbs managed to nurse a sick, Ford-powered McLaren M6B to 10th place.

The cast was slightly changed and the rather well-worn script of the Can-Am series underwent a minor revision when the ninth round of the series was held at the 1.9-mile Laguna Seca circuit near Monterey in California. The G7A was not entered and Brabham’s place as the leading Ford-powered contender was taken by Mario Andretti, who missed two Can-Am events while he was busy sewing up the 1969 USAC Championship. Andretti was driving the same rebodied McLaren M6B, powered by an 8-litre all-aluminium Ford engine, that showed such promise at Elkhart Lake. The car was now fitted with a wing and Andretti ran almost 200 miles of private practice at Laguna without incident but during official practice he was plagued by a misfiring engine and a broken suspension upright.

John Surtees was also back in harness, this time in Jim Hall’s Chaparral 2H. The car was withdrawn from two races after exhibiting a distinct reluctance to keep all four wheels on the ground, and it re-appeared with an absolutely monstrous wing, mounted on struts amidships, and measuring 42 in. from back to front. Amon’s Ferrari engine had been rebuilt by chrome plating the bearings but this expedient hardly lasted through the first practice session and as a last resort the engine was rebuilt a second time with the bearings ground undersize. A valiant effort, but when the bearings failed again on the morning of the race Amon, like Gurney two weeks earlier, found himself in the spare works McLaren M8B. And, like Gurney, he had to start from the back of the grid. The only significant new car at Laguna was the Autocast Ti 22, which, while conventional in design, was notable for the fact that virtually all stress-bearing members were fabricated in titanium. The car was built by British mechanic Peter Bryant. and Jack Oliver made his first Can-Am appearance as the driver.

McLaren and Hulme dominated qualifying even more than ever this time by posting not just the two fastest qualifying times, but the four fastest times! This was achieved by McLaren winning the pole in 59.53 sec. and then recording 1 min. 01.30 sec. in the team’s spare car. Hulme was second fastest (59.75 sec.) in his own car and third fastest (1. min. 0.95 sec.) in the spare car. Fortunately for the opposition, the two New Zealanders have not yet devised a means of driving three cars at once—but they partially solved the problem by offering the spare car to fellow Kiwi Amon after his Ferrari packed up. Until the Ferrari was withdrawn Amon had been third fastest behind McLaren and Hulme with a time of 1 min. 01.80 sec. He was followed by Revson’s Lola at 1 min. 2.71 sec., Gurney’s McLaren at 1 min. 3.30 sec., Eaton’s McLaren at 1 min. 3.32 sec., Siffert’s Porsche 917 at 1 min. 3.47 sec., Parsons’ Lola at 1 min. 3.67 sec., Andretti’s McLaren at 1 min. 3.81 sec., Motschenbacher’s McLaren at 1 min. 4.56 sec., and Surtees in the Chaparral at 1 min. 4.90 sec.

The start was utterly chaotic. Revson was left in the pits as the pace lap began; the Chaparral died during the first pace lap; the field was red flagged after the second pace lap because a tow truck was trying to retrieve the Chaparral; and on the restart Gurney was left on the grid. Gurney did get away soon afterwards but in his anxiety to regain his starting position he sideswiped Siffert’s Porsche and nearly knocked several other cars off the course.

McLaren and Hulme swept-off into the lead as usual (and exchanged it five times before McLaren took the chequered flag half a second in front of Hulme), leaving Revson, Eaton, Parsons, Andretti, Siffert, Motschenbacher and Gurney in dispute behind them. Revson, Eaton and Gurney all retired before the halfway mark, which handed third place to Parsons, fourth to Andretti and fifth to Siffert. Amon might well have dropped them all back one place had he not twice tangled with Siffert—once on the 54th lap (which required a pit stop to replace the broken front body) and once again on the 70th lap when the impact broke the McLaren’s right rear axle and caused its retirement.—D. G.