American Comment

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The Rules Committee of the United States Auto Club has recommended that the present U.S.A.C. stock block engine limit of 5.25-litres be increased to 5.5-litres, for the 1971 season. The recommendation must be approved by U.S.A.C.’s Board of Directors before it goes into force—and they have the option of accepting it or modifying the size, up or down—but as it stands it disappoints many people. The proponents of stock block engines argue that the costs of racing have become astronomical and that one way to reduce them would be to encourage the use of stock block engines by increasing their size to make them competitive with the turbocharged engines. The size most commonly advocated is 6-litres, the same as that to be used for stock car racing in 1971. (There have also been suggestions, but no more than that, that the Can-Am series could be made more competitive by imposing a 6-litre limit on the presently unrestricted engines.) It would seem sensible to have a common engine size for several types of racing—for one thing the larger market would attract more engine tuning firms—but U.S.A.C. doesn’t have a reputation for being sensible. Besides, the U.S.A.C. Establishment was weaned on Offenhauser engines and they have a vested interest in keeping them alive. Ford and Chrysler are both unhappy with the small increase that has been recommended. “The proposed (5.5-litre) engine would be without heritage,” said Jacque Passino, Ford’s Competition Director. “The rule change was proposed to entice the independents to compete with a comparable, inexpensive stock block engine . . . (but) the manufacturers have nothing to offer without building a whole new engine at substantial cost to us. The new rule will only discourage universal participation by independents. Ford would prefer to build a 366-inch (6-litre) engine economically attractive to all types of racing.” Robert Rodger, Chief Engineer for product planning at Chrysler, seconded Ford’s protest. “The 5.5-litre engine will not reduce the cost of racing by making stock blocks competitive at Indianapolis,” Rodger said. “Moreover, the rules recommendation will only complicate things for a manufacturer already engaged in a programme of developing a passenger-car engine for U.S.A.C. competition (as Chrysler has been doing with the 5.25-litre engine developed for Andy Granatelli’s team).” Granatelli was equally outspoken. “If the U.S.A.C. Board of Directors upholds the Rules Committee recommendations . . . Championship racing as we know it today is headed straight for oblivion. The current policy condemns all new development in racing car design and does nothing to halt the already prohibitive cost of fielding successful racing machinery.” The Rules Committee also made no move to revoke the ban on four-wheel-drive that comes into force next year or to increase the permitted size of turbine engines (which many agreed were restricted too harshly in the emotional atmosphere that followed their near-victories in 1967 and 1968).

* * *

There have been eight U.S.A.C. Championship events since Andretti won the Indianapolis 500 and although Andretti has established himself firmly in the lead for the championship, there has been no one-man domination of the winner’s circle. In a 150-mile race at Milwaukee, Pollard in a Gerhardt turbo-Offenhauser won from Malloy in a Lola turbo-Offy and Foyt in a Coyote turbo-Ford. At Langhorne Bobby Unser scored his first victory since the 1968 Indianapolis 500 by winning from Pollard’s Gerhardt and Dallenbach in an Eagle turbo-Offy. Andretti then showed his versatility by winning the 12.42-mile Pikes Peak hill-climb in a front-engine dirt car. Though not a race, the climb counts toward the Championship. In U.S.A.C.’s first road race of the season, at Continental Divide, Johncock’s 1968 Eagle-Ford won from Gurney’s 1969 Eagle-Ford and Foytes Coyote-Ford. Andretti then picked up two victories in a row, the first in a 100-mile dirt track race in his hometown of Nazareth, Pa., and the second in a 200-miler at Trenton, where his Hawk turbo-Ford won from Dallenbach’s Eagle turbo-Offy and Mosley’s Watson turbo-Offy. The second road race of the season, at the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Raceway Park Circuit, was run as two 100-mile heats and Revson, substituting for the injured Brabham, drove to a well-earned overall win in a Brabham-Repco. It was the first U.S.A.C. Championship victory ever for the driver, the car and the engine, and ironically came not long after Repco had announced that it was discontinuing development of the 4.2-litre V8. Gurney in his Eagle-Ford won the pole position and led the first heat from start to finish to win from Al Unser’s Lola-Ford and Revson’s Brabham-Repco. Gurney didn’t complete the warm-up lap for the second heat before a fuel cell disintegrated and after both Al Unser’s Lola and Johncock’s Gerhardt lost their Ford engines Revson came through to win from Follmer’s Cheetah-Chevrolet and Andretti’s Hawk-Ford. Back at Milwaukee again for a 200-mile race Al Unser scored his first win of the year in his Lola turbo-Ford and his brother Bobby was second in his Eagle.

* * *

After losing four out of the first five Trans-Am races to Ford’s Mustangs, Roger Penske’s team of Chevrolet Camaros finally turned the tide when Donohue and Leslie finished first and second in the sixth event at Bryar Motorsport Park in New Hampshire. Revson and Follmer were third and fourth in Mustangs, with Titus fifth in a Pontiac Firebird. Two weeks later at St. Jovite Donohue made it two in a row when he won from Titus, team-mate Leslie and Motschenbacher in an American Motors Javelin. Three of the four works Mustangs were eliminated in a seven-car wreck that blocked the track and caused the race to be red-flagged. That put Chevrolet into the lead in the Championship for the first time this year and when Donohue made it three victories in a row at Watkins Glen—in a superb 2½-hour battle with Jones’ Mustang—Chevrolet edged slightly further ahead. After eight of the 12 races the standings were: Chevrolet 58 points, Ford 52, Pontiac 21 and American Motors 13. This was quite a reversal from the positions after five races, when Chevrolet trailed Ford 30 points to 42, and reflects Penske’s utter determination to win. “We weren’t getting the job done,” he said, “so everyone on the team worked twice as hard until we did.” The team’s refuelling stops provided just one example of their painstaking approach. The consumption rate of Trans-Am cars is such that each car has to make two stops in each race. The team already had the fastest stops—taking only 10 seconds from wheel stop to wheel start—but since several of these 2½-hour races had been decided by margins of little more than 30 seconds Penske wanted that time reduced. Engineers from the Sun Oil Co., Penske’s principal sponsors, scoured the aircraft industry for the best hoses and the fastest-operating valves with the least flow restriction. (Last year the engineers developed a method of cooling the fuel with dry ice before the pit stops, so that it would contract enough to squeeze almost 23 gallons into the car’s 22-gallon tank.) Their new efforts showed at St. Jovite, where Donohue’s fastest pit stop, measured from wheel stop to wheel start, was just 4.6 seconds! Yes, 4.6 seconds to get 23 gallons of fuel into a 22-gallon tank! Penske’s competitors have to get up very early in the morning if they want to catch him napping.

* * *

The S.C.C.A.’s Continental Championship for Formula A cars produced an interesting confrontation with the arrival of Gethin, leader of the Guards Formula 5000 championship in the Church Farms Racing Team’s McLaren M10, and Hobbs with a works-assisted Suttees TS5. Their first outing, in a race at Elkhart Lake that was divided into three heats of 100 miles each, was not too auspicious. Gethin qualified fastest and worked his way into the lead in each of the first two heats but repeated short circuits in his ignition switch ended any chance of victory and he finished 11th overall behind Adamowicz’s winning Eagle. Hobbs had even more misfortune, doing only two laps before a rocker arm roller broke. A much clearer indication of the relative abilities of the British and American drivers was given in the next race, at Lime Rock, when Gethin set a qualifying record and then shattered all the circuit records to win comfortably, and Hobbs, although handicapped by a loose rear wheel bearing, finished second ahead of Wintersteen’s Lola. By the next race, at Donnybrooke, Hobbs had the Suttees TS5 completely sorted but Gethin met more misfortune. Hobbs demoralised everyone, including Gethin, by qualifying 1.5 seconds faster than anyone and then winning both 105-mile heats from Adamowicz in the Eagle. Gethin failed to finish either heat, as a result of a puncture and then losing all his oil pressure. Despite their victory at Lime Rock, the Church Farms team was finding this foray into American racing somewhat expensive and they decided to return home to defend their leading position in the Guards championship. Hobbs, however, had won over $10,000 from his first and second place finishes—an ample incentive to persuade him to remain and pursue the rest of the series. (This may be “chasing dollars” as D.S.J, would put it, but professional racing drivers earn their living by racing and American racing organisations at least make some effort to ensure that their drivers don’t starve while doing so.) It is difficult to make a judgement based on only three races, but it does seem clear that when their cars were working properly, both Hobbs and Gethin had a distinct edge over their American competitors. Although he missed the first five races, in fact, Hobbs still has a chance to win the Continental Championship because after eight of the 13 events, he was in fifth place with 15 points behind Adamowicz (Eagle) with 30, Posey (McLaren) with 24, Wintersteen (Lola) with 22 and Cannon (Eagle) with 18.—D. G.

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