American Comment

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Two American Championships have been decided in the past month and a third has come close to a decision. On the same weekend, but on opposite sides of the country, Mario Andretti put an unbreakable grip on the United States Auto Club’s National Championship and Mark Donohue won the Sports Car Club of America’s Trans-Am Championship for Chevrolet for the second year in a row. Andretti won the USAC’s Championship by scoring his seventh victory of the season in USAC’s final eastern race, the Trenton 300, over the rebuilt 1.5-mile kidney-shaped track in Trenton, NJ. It was a victory brought about largely by perseverance because the turbocharged Ford engine in Andretti’s new STP Hawk was fitted with a new fuel injection system which improved its somewhat marginal fuel consumption, but at the expense of top-end power. As a result, Andretti was only the sixth fastest qualifier and he only took the lead on the 142nd lap of the 200-lap race after the five faster cars had either retired or been slowed down by mechanical trouble. At the end, though, Andretti was five laps in front and the 600 points he earned brought his season total to 4,065. Defending Champion Bobby Unser picked up 120 points for finishing seventh, raising his total to 1,925, but with only 1,600 points at stake in the remaining four western races it was impossible for anyone to catch Andretti. This was Andretti’s third National Championship in five years of USAC racing and clearly stamps him as the outstanding American driver of the present. He won his first USAC Championship in 1965, his maiden year on the circuit, and showed that this was no fluke by winning the Championship again in 1966. In both 1967 and 1968 he was leading the standings going into the final race but in each case he lost the Championship by a whisker to that year’s winner of the Indianapolis 500—A. J. Foyt in 1967 and Bobby Unser in 1968. This year, of course, Andretti got around that problem by finally winning the Indianapolis 500 himself.

* * *

Chevrolet’s Camaros were assured of at least a tie for the SCCA’s Trans-Am Championship when Ronnie Bucknum drove Roger Penske’s second Sunoco-Sponsored car to victory in the 10th race of the season at Seattle International Speedway, but the team’s number one driver, Donohue, then put the Championship completely out of Ford’s reach by winning the final two races. These were the sixth and seventh consecutive victories for Penskes team and left them with a record of eight victories, three seconds and one third in the 12 races. Their nine best scores gave them a total of 78 points, 14 more than Ford’s Mustangs, which could only muster 64 points from four victories, four second places, two thirds, one fourth and one did not finish. The Donohue/Bucknum/Penske record is even more noteworthy by the fact that they ran only two cars against the four campaigned by Ford for all but one or two races. The Fords, particularly the car prepared by Bud Moores team for Parnelli Jones, were often faster than the Sunoco Camaros, but mechanical and tyre problems, coupled with pit work that was no match for that of the super-efficient Penske team, combined to withhold victory from their grasp. Pontiac’s Firebirds, suffering from failure of the factory to produce sufficient new 5-litre engines for homologation, finished a distant third in the Championship with 32 points. American Motors’ Javelins, which only entered the Trans-Am for the first time last year and surprised everyone by nearly taking second place from Ford, were very disappointing this year and could only muster 14 points from the 12 races. The under-2-litre division of the Championship was a complete rout as Porsche 911s swept to 11 victories and one second place, for a total of 81 points. Alfa Romeo finished second with 28 points, followed by BMW with seven and Austin-Cooper with four. Next year, however, the under-2-litre division of the Championship will be a much more even contest because the Porsche 911 will no longer be classified as a sedan. Next year is also likely to bring much stronger opposition for Chevrolet and Ford in the over-2-litre division because latest reports have both Plymouth and Dodge preparing two-car teams for Trans-Am racing. Plymouth will campaign Barracudas and Dodge a pair of their new Challengers.

* * *

With the Can-Am Championship the private property of the McLaren team, the only other SCCA Championship to be decided is the Continental Championship for Formula A (Formula 5000) cars. The Championship was nearly wrapped up at the 12th race of the series when David Hobbs in a Surtees TS5 scored his third victory in seven starts, but Sam Posey in a McLaren kept the Championship alive, by finishing second, ahead of series leader Tony Adamowicz in an Eagle. This result left Adamowicz with 47 points, Posey with 41 and Hobbs with 37, and as a result the Championship will not be decided until the 13th and final race of the series at Sebring on December 28th. Hobbs cannot catch Adamowicz but Posey could just do so if he wins the final race and Adamowicz finishes fourth or lower.

* * *

The Watkins Glen Grand Prix Corporation has rejected a $950,000 offer to buy the 2.3-mile circuit that is the home of the US Grand Prix. The offer was made by a group organised by Cameron Argetsinger, the Watkins Glen Banker who is Executive Director of the non-profit corporation. The corporation’s 11-man board of trustees rejected the offer because “it was inadequate” and because “we have a tradition and a legend. If it were taken over by private enterprise the tradition and legend might be lost”, according to the President of the corporation, Henry Valent.—D. G.

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