Road Atlanta

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As a result of financial difficulties experienced by the Bridgehampton circuit on Long Island, the seventh round of the Can-Am series was held at an entirely new circuit, Road Atlanta, about 50 miles north of Atlanta, Georgia. It was the first Can-Am race ever held in the southeastern part of the country and it proved to be one of the most remarkable in the five-year history of the series. The circuit itself is 2.52 miles in length, 32 to 40 ft. in width and very much an uphill and down dale affair. There was considerable criticism about several blind corners, but the more the criticism grew, the more one suspected it was an excuse for having to work much harder than at most other American circuits. Vic Elford, for one, liked the course and said that, “for once, someone has really used their head in designing it”. Elford, indeed, had good reason for liking the course because it proved ideal for Jim Hall’s Chaparral 2J, which he had been invited to drive following the car’s first and only previous appearance at the Watkins Glen Can-Am. Since that time the car has been fitted with larger, Hurst/Airheart brake calipers; the auxiliary Rockwell JLO engine has been converted to Lucas fuel injection to eliminate vapour lock trouble; and the drive for the two suction fans has been moved outside the rear body so that it cannot be fouled by stones and other debris flying around the “vacuum chamber” under the rear body.

The modifications certainly proved effective because by the end of the first day of practice Elford was half a second faster than Hulme’s McLaren, and very enthused about the car’s potential. “You get to the stage of thinking that it’s just not possible that the car can go around any corner at that speed,” he said, “and adapting to it mentally is the most difficult approach because no other car has ever gone around a corner as fast as this one … Another great thing about the suction is that it doesn’t allow the car’s handling characteristics to change as you go through a corner … Whichever way it’s set it remains like that at all times whether it’s a slow corner or a fast swerve – it remains absolutely constant”. Elford also said the braking is almost “frightening because it allows you to go into the corners so much deeper”.

He backed up his enthusiasm during qualifying when he put the Chaparral on the pole position over 1-1/4 sec. faster than Hulme’s McLaren. It was the first time since 1967 that a McLaren team car had not sat on the pole for a Can-Am race. Gethin was the third fastest qualifier, followed by Revson, Eaton and Brown, but this upset in qualifying was to be followed by even more stunning upsets in the race itself. Unfortunately they weren’t provided by the Chaparral because on race day the auxiliary engine, after being cleaned the night before, refused to run properly.

Hulme and Gethin took the lead from Elford, Revson, Brown and Eaton, but within 10 laps Hulme had crashed into the back of a car he was lapping and wrinkled the chassis of his McLaren. While Gethin took over the lead, Elford lost seven laps in the pits having the Chaparral’s auxiliary engine attended to, but on the 20th lap of the 75-lap race Gethin spun and damaged his front body section. It was quickly replaced in the pits but not before he fell to sixth place. It was Revson’s turn next but he led for only nine laps before a tyre became unseated on its rim and the Lola crashed heavily into and earth bank. Brown should then have taken over, but he crashed into Revson’s car and it was George Eaton’s BRM in the lead! Gethin, by this time had recovered to second place, with Tony Dean’s 3-litre Porsche 908 about to take over third from Dave Causey’s 7-litre Lola T163. Eaton held the lead for longer than anyone else before him (20 laps) but then his engine suddenly expired and sent him into a bank – putting Gethin back in front again, with Dean second and Causey third. The carnage was still not over, however, for on the 67th lap, just as he was being black-flagged for ignoring a yellow flag, Gethin suddenly found a gearbox full of neutrals and had to park the car. No one was more surprised than Tony Dean when his little Porsche 908 running like a clock all through the race, swept under the chequered flag first. It was, perhaps, the end of an era, for it marked the first time in 19 races that the McLaren team had been shut out of the winner’s circle in a Can-Am race. The last occasion was in 1968 when John Cannon won at Laguna Seca in pouring rain.–D.G.

Results:
Can-Am – Round 7 – Road Atlanta – Atlanta, Georgia

1st:A. Dean (3.0-litre Porsche 908) ……………….. 1 hr. 49 min. 45.88 sec. – 103.45 m.p.h.

2nd:D. Causey (7.0-litre Lola T163 ……………….. 1 hr. 50 min. 57.9 sec.

3rd:L. Motschenbacher (7.6-litre McLaren M12) .. 72 laps

4th:O. Koveleski (7.0-litre McLaren M8B) ……….. 72 laps

5th:R. McCaig (7.0-litre McLaren M8C) …………… 72 laps

6th:V. Elford (Chaparral 2J) ………………………….. 69 laps

7th:P. Gethin (7.6-litre McLaren M8D) …………….. 66 laps

8th:D. Durant (7.0-litre Lola T70) ……………………. 66 laps

9th:G. Lawrence (7.0-litre McLaren M12) …………. 62 laps

Fastest lap:

P.Revson (7.6-litre Lola T220) and P. Gethin (7.6-litre McLaren M8D)

1 min. 18.05 sec. – 116.40 m.p.h. (new record).

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