News of USAC & SCCA events
The past few weeks have seen a good deal of action in three of the United States major motor racing championships. In USAC racing the third of the three big 500s was run at Ontario and Roger McCluskey scored a surprise win in his last year’s McLaren when the favourites all dropped out. In the Can-Am series the L. & M. Porsche of George Follmer seems to have the advantage over the works McLarens, which are now proving unreliable, and in the Formula 5000 Continental Championship American Brett Lunger has scored two straight wins and could just snatch the title from New Zealand’s Grahame McRae.
After Joe Leonard’s three straight victories for the Vel’s Parnelli team wins including the big Pocono 500, the attention turned to that mammoth stadium at Ontario near Los Angeles in California. This was the final round of the big three and one of the richest races of the season.
Some of the practice speeds were fantastic and the fastest ever recorded in the history of USAC racing. Pole position was taken by Jerry Grant in his works Eagle-Offy at an average speed of 199.6 m.p.h. and the front row was completed by the two works McLarens of Peter Revson and Gordon Johncock. But on the eighth row of the grid, having qualified later on, and, in European terms, “out of session”, was Bobby Unser’s Eagle-Offy. He turned an incredible time of 2 min. 58.77 for the three laps of the 2 1/2-mile Ontario track and that is an average speed of 201.374 m.p.h.
The race itself was something of a disappointment with a halt at one stage for rain, a resultant squabble over who lay where, and several yellow caution lights when rabbits ran on the course! In the Ontario 500 cars have to make at least four compulsory pit stops, so the lead changes regularly. However, the consistent leader for much of the distance was the works McLaren driver Gordon Johncock. But with only 31 laps to go and a long lead he had a tyre burst and he crashed into the wall damaging the car badly. Pole man Grant retired during the warm-up laps with engine trouble, Al Unser with his Parnelli stopped in the opening laps with a broken throttle and early leader, A. J. Foyt, didn’t get far either due to transmission problems. Mario Andretti’s engine blew on lap 52 and Bobby Unser was out with a similar problem before half distance. Peter Revson lost his oil pressure and was also eliminated before half distance. Thus most of the top names were eliminated although Leonard was still going well and his fifth place looked good enough to ensure him of the USAC Championship for the second year running. But in the closing stages a piston broke and he was out of the race.
Coming out of all this after a steady drive in his last year’s McLaren was veteran Roger McCluskey and, in so doing, he scored his first ever major USAC victory. Second a lap behind was Rookie of the Year Mike Hiss who was deputising for the injured Mark Donohue in the Penske McLaren. Billy Vukovich finished third in his Eagle.
In last month’s issue we left the Can-Am with Denny Hulme in his Gulf McLaren and George Follmer in the turbo-charged Porsche 917/10 of the Roger Penske team more or less level with two wins each. Round 5 was at the Road America track in Wisconsin and here Follmer rubbed home his advantage by winning with a lap to spare and both the works McLaren of Revson and Hulme retired. Because of a heavy schedule Follmer missed most of practice and started from half-way down the grid.
So Hulme accelerated off pole position and immediately started to pull out a lead on Francois Cevert, driving one of last year’s McLarens sponsored by Mrs. Irene Young. But Follmer was charging through the field and, by lap ten, he was second and closing on Hulme who was experiencing some brake problems, while Revson had dropped back with clutch and brake problems having started from the back of the grid. Two laps later Hulme’s magneto failed and he was out of the race. Follmer went on to complete the 50 laps with never a problem and is now firmly at the top of the championship table. Cevert finished second but the other European drivers, David Hobbs in the works Lola and Jackie Oliver with the Shadow, both failed to finish. Peter Gregg took third place in his non-turbo-charged Porsche ahead of Frenchman Jean-Pierre Jarier, who drove an excellent race in the old NART ex-Amon Ferrari 712P.
The big question now is whether Team McLaren can catch up lost ground. The Penske Porsche effort is gathering momentum and, for the final four races, Mark Donohue will be back in action so that the team will run two cars.
In the American Formula 5000 Championship the young 26-yearold Californian driver Brett Lunger has been making the headlines in recent weeks. Lunger is the man who commutes across the Atlantic to take part in European Formula Two races with a March. He says this form of competition has helped him tremendously with the more powerful cars although, as yet, his best F2 position was a fourth at Mantorp Park in Sweden.
After starting the season well with the Hogan Racing, Haggar Slacks sponsored Lola T300 Lunger hit a patch of mechanical failures. But everything came right at Road Atlanta in late August, the sixth of the eight race series, Brian Redman’s Chevron won the first heat with Lunger second but the decision was reversed in the second heat, which was prematurely halted by a downpour. Lunger came out the winner from Redman and Skip Barber’s March.
The penultimate round of the series was at the little 1.5 mile track at Lime Rock in Connecticut and, this time, Lunger won both the heats. In the first, the Lola of John Gunn led and then spun off on the oily track giving Lunger victory and, in the second. it was the same story although this time it was Redman who spun off when leading. So Lunger added another 20 points to his score and as championship leader Graham McRae only managed one point out of both meetings, Lunger now has a slim chance of overhauling him. But to do so he must win with McRae out of the first eight. Second at Lime Rock was Brian Redman’ Chevron and third was Sam Posey’s Surtees which was pictured last month.