Around and about: comment on the racing and club scene, November 1971

On the Can-Am trail

While in North America last month for the Canadian and US Grands Prix I was lucky enough to have a week in between the two World Championship races to spend my time as profitably as possible. Looking through the American calendar I realised I had the choice of the USAC race at Trenton, New Jersey, or the Can-Am race at Edmonton way over in Western Canada. It was a hard decision to make for I have never seen oval racing, but then again neither had I seen a Can-Am. Both appealed equally for different reasons, but I finally decided on Edmonton and, as is now history, this proved the right decision as the Trenton race was rained off.

The trouble with Can-Am is that every year since 1967 the Bruce McLaren Motor Racing team has so dominated the series that hardly anyone else has a look in. There have been gallant attempts, like the Chaparral, odd Ferraris, Jack Oliver’s Ti22 and others, but those Gulf-sponsored McLaren cars have just gone on winning. It is impressive but no one likes to see total domination—it just isn’t healthy.

The Molson Can-Am at Edmonton is described by our American columnist elsewhere in this issue in his normal style, so I thought it was worth jotting down a few personal thoughts on this class of racing as an outsider.

Most striking of all was the lack of keen competition, for all things being equal (and they weren’t at Edmonton) Team McLaren have got the whole thing so organised and wrapped up it is unreal. Experience is a tremendous asset and the McLaren team have been everywhere before, know all the answers and, above all, have a proven design which has just been developed and developed so that the present M8F is just about near perfect for the job. One should add that team drivers Denny Hulme and Peter Revson have these huge 8-litre cars doing just what they want. They have learned to handle the vast power from the Reynolds engine like no one else and it is no ordinary task.

The challenge comes mainly from World Champion Jackie Stewart in the L & M-sponsored Lola T260 which so far has proved not quite good enough to really frighten Team McLaren. It keeps them on their toes but that is about all. For one moment readers should not get the idea that Stewart is not making the best of the equipment he has got. Watching out on the circuit it is immediately apparent that he is trying harder than anyone else and that makes an impressive spectacle. But designer Eric Broadley tried non-McLaren ideas on this his latest car and they still need final sorting. Next year’s development of the T260, with Stewart at the wheel, and the L & M crew having that extra experience behind them, could make the difference. Incidentally, McLaren have their own engine shop run by Gary Knutson and Lee Muir and sometimes use Chevrolet-linered engines, as they did at Edmonton, or, whenever possible, use the linerless block motors cast in the special Reynolds aluminium. Stewart’s car, which is actually run by successful Lola importer Carl Haas, uses linered engines tuned by George Foltz.

The only other challenger McLaren have to look out for is Jack Oliver with the UOP-sponsored Shadow Mk. 2. This car has been sorted into something near competitive for owner Don Nichols by designer Peter Bryant, who built the Ti22 raced by Oliver last year. Oliver says the older car was better but the Shadow is getting quicker every race and at Edmonton there was no doubt that Oliver was driving his heart out.

The rest of the field can only hope to win if these people break down. There is Lothar Motschenbacher’s team, who run a last year’s works McLaren M8F for Motschenbacher, and a this year’s customer M8E for a second driver and there have been three so far this year. A chap called Bob Brown drives an M8E quite effectively, so do one or two others, and Tony Dean has another ex-works M8F, although this has seen little racing due to accidents. Vic Elford also drives an M8E for the professional ARA team, wasn’t at Edmonton but can challenge Stewart. There is a wealthy young Japanese gentleman called Hiroshi Kazato who drives one of this year’s Lola production models quite well and there are the Porsche 917 Spyders of Jo Siffert and Milt Minter. Siffert is obviously down on power but does well, for there is plenty of money for finishing third and fourth every time, while Minter likewise is a regular finisher. Little known over in Britain, Minter impressed me a lot with his fiery driving style.

I was also impressed by Jim Adams, who drives the Ferrari 612 raced in 1969 by Amon, and now powered by a 5-litre engine. Along with the flat-12 Porsches it lends a bit of class to the sound of Can-Am and Adams drives well, too. The rest are, with the odd exception, little more than club racers, most of the cars are presented quite nicely but the drivers are just not up to handling the equipment at their disposal. In any event they are unlikely to have engines or handling as good as the works McLaren.

As a spectacle I found Can-Am hardly impressive for the rumbling V8 just does not excite like the shrill note of a Matra V12 and surprisingly is not all that loud either. By simply looking at any Can-Am grid or results one can see the racing is hardly close, and having been brought up on Formula Three and Formula Two where whole grids of 20 cars qualify within four or five seconds of each other, this didn’t help either.

But at least one thing, Can-Am is fun if nothing else. Rarely have I seen Denny Hulme or Jackie Stewart so relaxed at a race meeting and they were undoubtedly enjoying their motor racing. There is also a tremendous amount of public relations activity or “hype”, as it is called, surrounding the Can-Am, and to this end there are countless Press receptions and similar gatherings. Gulf, who sponsor the McLaren team, have New Zealander Eoin Young as their man, Johnson Wax who sponsor the series have Stirling Moss keeping their name in the news, while L & M cigarettes employ a slick outfit called General Racing to handle their public relations. All three seem to vie with each other to buy your next meal and fill you with drink, which cannot be too bad as long as one keeps a sense of proportion.

On the subject of Stirling Moss, he was present at Edmonton and was obviously doing a very good job for Johnson Wax, but I could not stop thinking that I only wished he would get in one of those Can-Am cars and show them all how it is really done.

Basically that is Can-Am racing summed up as Team McLaren, good fun, not very serious motor racing and Press releases by the cart load. Next year Porsche could change all that.

• Our hint of a couple of months ago that the race-car preparation firm of Group Racing Developments in Griston, only a few miles from the Lotus works, would soon be in the racing car manufacturing business has come to pass very much as anticipated. The majority of the staff are ex-members of the Lotus Racing manufacturing firm which was closed down by Colin Chapman in the early summer because he felt customer racing cars could not be produced profitably. The man who ran Lotus Racing, Mike Warner, is revealed as the Co-ordinator for the rather complex group of manufacturing and marketing companies which have been formed. As well as GRD, which is the main company, there is also Group Racing Services Ltd. which is a service and repair facility, Griston Engineering Ltd. which manufactures components, and Reystan Racing Ltd. which markets spares from London headquarters.

Other directors of GRD Ltd. are designers Jo Marquart (formerly of the ill-fated and now defunct Huron outfit) and Dave Baldwin, accessory shop owner John Stanton and his partner John Reynolds, and Derek Wild who was senior development engineer at Lotus Racing Ltd. Gordon Huckle, a former chief mechanic to Team Lotus, is a director of GRS.

The first car has already been produced and sold to Canada for Formula B and by the time you read this a Formula Three GRD will have raced in the hands of Andy Sutcliffe, who has been signed up for next year. GRD basically plan to build Formula Two, Three and B models and possibly a 3-litre sports car. The basic single-seater design is a monocoque chassis following the trend established by March Engineering. Lack of space has precluded the inclusion of the “They Make Racing Cars” series for the past two months, but it should be back soon and no doubt we will be taking a closer look at GRD in the near future. Meanwhile, we will watch with interest the progress of the firm which is undoubtedly causing a considerable stir in the racing world at present.

• Most readers no doubt consider the racing season more or less over now but on Saturday, November 20th, you can turn on BBC television and catch the thrills of Formula Three. A meeting is to be run at Lydden (another circuit in jeopardy) on that day and will also include a saloon race. It should provide some first-rate dicing by the F3 boys. If you are really hardy you could even go down to the wilds of Kent. Times of transmission are not available as yet but no doubt the Radio Times will provide the information.

• Dr. Cecil Gibson is in the process of forming the Association of British Circuit Doctors. Dr. Gibson tells us the aim is primarily as a basis for the exchange of medical and technical information and is a strictly non-political body. Any doctors who officiate at speed events are urged to write to ABCD at 1, The Green, Anstey, Leicester.—A. R. M.