American Comment

Acting on the recommendations of a special Review Committee that was set up after this year’s Indianapolis 500, the Board of Directors of the United States A.C. has now carried out a major revamping of the various engine sizes that will be permitted in its Championship division. The new rules will go into effect on January 1st, 1969, and, as was surmised in this column last month, the biggest changes have been made in the two categories that performed best in the “500”— the turbines and the cars powered by supercharged (or turbo-charged) overhead-camshaft engines.

The Review Committee began its work with a complete study of the lap times set in the “500” by A. J. Foyt’s Coyote (powered by a standard 4.2-litre, 4-overhead-camshaft Ford) and Dan Gurney’s Eagle (powered by his 5-litre stock block Gurney-Eagle with non-overhead camshafts). These two had staged one of the best duels of the “500”, racing less than 1 sec. apart for more than 200 miles before a rod broke in Foyt’s engine. Eliminating those laps run under the yellow flag, the Review Committee found that the average lap times set by Foyt and Gurney were within tenths of a second of each other. They therefore decided to use these two engine categories as a “bench-mark” by which all the others would be judged. After extensive studies of the lap times, horsepower and torque curves of 10 different power-plants, the Board of Directors then changed two engine categories, eliminated one existing category, and introduced two new categories.

The turbine category underwent major surgery, the air inlet area, measured at the first stage of compression; being reduced 25% from 15.999 sq. in. to 11.999 sq. in. In addition, any turbines built to this formula must be of “automotive type” after January 1st, 1970. It is the third year in a row that turbine engines have been restricted, and follows a reduction of 33% from 23.999 sq. in. after ParneIli Jones nearly won last year’s “500” in the original STP Turbocar. In contrast, the category for supercharged overhead camshaft engines such as the turbo-charged Offenhauser and turbo-charged Ford was reduced by only 5.3% from 2.8-litres to 2.65-litres.

A comparison of the 25% cut for turbines with the 5.3% cut for supercharged engines suggests blatant discrimination against the former. The turbines were certainty faster in qualifying at Indianapolis, but this was largely because they had a completely clear track and could make full use of their four-wheel-drive and superior low-end torque to produce higher cornering speeds. In the race itself the heavy traffic in the corners virtually eliminated this one advantage the turbines enjoyed. Since they lacked top-end horsepower—as Andy Granatelli had been claiming all along—the turbines did not have superior speed down the straights and, under actual race conditions, were reduced to the same level as the turbo-charged powered cars. This is simply illustrated by the fact that Bobby Unser and Lloyd Ruby, who both used turbo-charged Offenhausers, led the “500” for 169 laps, while Joe Leonard’s Lotus turbine was in front for only 31 laps. A 25% reduction in turbine inlet area therefore seems hardly consistent with the aim of engine equality. Whether discriminatory or not, however, this argument will become academic in 1970 when those who want to run turbines will first have to find an “automotive type” turbine. Although the latest reduction may effectively bar turbines from Indianapolis next year, it is quite possible that one of the turbines now being introduced for lorries may eventually prove suitable for the 500-mile race.

So much for the turbines and supercharged engines; in their other modifications U.S.A.C. was far less controversial. In an effort to reduce the spiralling cost of racing and encourage the use of genuinely production engines, a new category to be called Production Rocker Arm was introduced. These engines, with a removable head and single, non-overhead camshaft, must be derived from a design of which at least 5,000 have been produced and sold to the public. They may be altered in any way except that the original cylinder block and heads must be used, the camshaft location must remain the same, and the number of main bearings must remain unchanged. If non-supercharged they will be limited to 5.250-litres and if supercharged to 1.333-litres. Engines such as the Gurney-Eagle, which originally fell in the stock production block category, remain unchanged at 5-litres, but the name of the category is changed to Special Rocker Arm to distinguish them from Production Rocker Arm. There will be no supercharged sub-division of the Special Rocker Arm category.

It will be interesting to see whether these changes do have the effect of equating the various engine categories and introducing greater variety of competition in U.S.A.C. racing. Andy Granatelli, naturally, has said that the turbine reduction will make it impossible for him to return to the Speedway with a turbine-powered car next year. But then, that is what he said after last year’s reduction. Danny Jones, the engineer largely responsible for the development of Ford’s new turbo-charged engine, told me that he didn’t think the 5.3% reduction in the size of supercharged engines would make too much difference because it could probably be made up by simply raising the turbo-charger boost pressure by about 1 lb./sq. in. At the same time Jones criticised U.S.A.C. for talking about the rising cost of racing on the one hand and on the other forcing the manufacturers to make such a small (but nonetheless expensive) design change that it won’t really affect performance very much. The new production rocker arm category should provide cheaper racing, but whether it will be competitive remains to be seen. The maximum size of 5.25-litres is only 250 c.c. larger than special rocker arm engines—such as the Gurney-Eagle—which are allowed much more extensive modifications of the stock designs they are derived from.

After Henry Banks, U.S.A.C.’s Competition Director, had outlined these changes to me, I asked him if the Board of Directors had received any criticism or had had any second thoughts about the ban on four-wheel-drive that comes into effect in 1970. Banks replied that the only strong criticism had come from Harry Ferguson Research Ltd. and as far as he knew the Directors had had no second thoughts on the subject. He repeated that the ban was imposed only in an effort to hold down the cost of racing. U.S.A.C.’s argument is that once two or three teams have 4-w-d, everyone will have to have it to remain competitive. And once everyone has it, the cars will be as equal as they are now but the cost per car will have gone up by the £1,000 or so required for the 4-w-d transmission. U.S.A.C. realises that the same argument could have been applied against, say, disc brakes, but it believes that the line has to be drawn somewhere. Although the situation does not look bright at the moment, there is some hope for the future. The decision to ban 4-w-d has been strongly criticised in the racing Press. George Moore, an influential reporter for the Indianapolis Star, said bluntly: “The banning of four-wheel-drive was a bad mistake. It shut the door on initiative and ingenuity. . . . There is quite a difference between regulation and ban. One regulates progress, the other stops it.” Moore suggested that the management of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was against the ban and predicted that it would not stand up. Several other observers close to the U.S.A.C. scene have also predicted that the ban will be rescinded if sufficient pressure is brought to bear.

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While these arguments about 4-w-d were being batted about, Al Unser, younger brother to Indianapolis winner Bobby, was out on the race track showing just what 4-w-d could do. After winning the first U.S.A.C. Championship race of his career—driving a front-engined Offy on a dirt track oval—Unser switched to George Bignotti’s 4-w-d Lola and promptly ran away with both heats in a 200-mile race over the 15-turn, 2½-mile road course at Indianapolis Raceway Park. The car was one of two that Eric Broadley built for this year’s “500”. One crashed in practice and the other during the race, in both cases after the right front wheel came off. The practice car, then fitted with only two-wheel-drive, was rebuilt by Broadley with strengthened hubs, and Hewland’s 4-w-d system installed. Unser showed the advantage of the system at I.R.P. not only in his speed, but also by the fact that he was the only driver who didn’t slide off the slippery track at one time or another.

Unser got his hat-trick the following week when he drove a 1967 two-wheel-drive Indianapolis Lola to victory in both heats of a 200-Mile race over the 1-mile paved oval at Langhorne, Pa. It was the first victory ever for the car and meant that in three weeks Unser had scored three wins in three different types of car on three different types of track. This victory string was broken the following week, but not before Unser again showed the superiority of the 4-w-d Lola. The race was a two-heat, 200-mile event run over the tight 2.65-mile St. Jovite circuit, which nestles in the Laurentian Mountains north of Montreal. Mario Andretti, who had won the race last year, won the pole position in his Hawk-Ford and streaked into the lead from Unser’s Lola. Andretti was 8 sec. ahead after 15 laps when two cars dropped oil all around the track. While everyone else began sliding, Unser took only four laps to erase Andretti’s lead, one lap to set a new lap record of 1 min. 35.7 sec. (99.69 m.p.h.), and one more lap to take command. It was a remarkable performance on an oily track and Unser emphasised the Lola’s advantage by pulling away from Andretti at 1 sec. a lap. Three laps from the end, however, the Lola ran out of fuel as the result of a split fuel cell, and Andretti coasted home to an easy win. The cell was repaired for the second heat and Unser was all set to do battle again when he crashed badly on the second lap. He was uninjured but the poor Lola mechanics took one look at the car and realised it was “back to England and another rebuild”. A tough break after only two races, but the superiority of 4-w-d had been vividly demonstrated. Andretti, incidentally, went on to score an easy victory in the second heat and thus end a winless drought that had lasted for eight months.

Mark Donohue’s domination of the Sports Car Club of America’s Trans-American series for saloons up to 5-litres finally came to an end, but not before he had won the series Championship for Chevrolet. Driving Roger Penske’s Chevrolet Camaro, Donohue stretched his winning streak to nine consecutive races before finally losing to Jerry Titus in a works Ford Mustang at Watkins Glen. Even at the Glen, Donohue won the pole position, set the fastest race lap, and led for 7/10ths of the race before brake trouble dropped him to third place behind Sam Posey in Penske’s second Camaro. The only other race in the series that Donohue has lost was the first one, at Daytona, in which victory also went to Titus, co-driving with Bucknum. With three races remaining in the 13-race series, Chevrolet is unbeatable with 84 points. Ford is second with 46 but closely pursued by American Motors, whose Javelins have 43 points. Porsche has long since wrapped up the under-2-litre division by winning its class in nine of the to races.—D. G.