Gordon Kirby – The US Scene

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Redman’s Can-Am classic

Thirty-five years ago this month, the original, unlimited Can-Am series came to a close when the promoters at Riverside cancelled that season’s final race. Only five Can-Am races were run in 1974 as the series imploded following the SCCA’s decision to impose a fuel mileage limit, effectively banning the Penske Porsche 917/10s and 917/30s which had swept aside the McLaren team and dominated the previous two seasons.

Going into ’74 the SCCA declared that the new global energy crisis had created an emergency situation requiring immediate rule changes. This resulted in Penske and Porsche pulling out of Can-Am, which was then dominated by the UOP Shadow DN4s driven by Jackie Oliver and George Follmer. The pair finished one-two in that year’s first three races before Roger Penske gave the 917/30 a final outing in Brian Redman’s hands at Mid-Ohio in July.

After sweeping the 1973 Can-Am championship with the 917/30 – a car he developed with Porsche’s engineers – Mark Donohue had retired, although he would make a tragic comeback in 1975 with Penske’s short-lived F1 team. Redman, meanwhile, was on the way to winning the first of three consecutive North American F5000 titles in ’74 with Haas/Hall racing, and had also won 15 World Championship sports car races between 1968-73 aboard Gulf Ford GT40s, Porsche 908s and 917s, and Ferrari 312PBs.

“I had an interesting experience with the 917/30 in ’74,” recalls Redman. “Effectively it had been outlawed by the SCCA. It couldn’t make the fuel consumption that was required. The tank size had been reduced as well. But Roger Penske called and asked if I’d like to drive his 917.

“I went to meet him and there he sat at his polished table. He asked if I’d like to drive the car at Mid-Ohio. I said, ‘Yes, but it can’t run.’ He said, ‘Don’t worry. It can run.’ He asked, ‘How much do you want?’ I said, ‘$5000’, and he said, ‘Brian, you’re the first reasonable race driver I’ve ever met!’

“Of course, Mark Donohue was retired at that time and was the team manager. He wasn’t happy and I don’t blame him. Here was a car he had developed and won the championship with hand over fist the previous year. Now he was the team manager and the car was being brought out of mothballs for one more run.”

To make the required fuel mileage Redman had to use second gear where Donohue (left, with Redman) had been able to use first the previous year. Still, he found the powerful 917 a pleasure to drive.

“That car was very good,” says Brian. “Donohue had done a tremendous job developing it. The 917/30 had enormous throttle lag. You had to be sure that when the power did come in you were in pretty much a straight line, because the lag was so great you had to open the throttle well before you wanted the power.

“You took turn one at Mid-Ohio in third gear at perhaps 120mph. When you came off the power and turned into the corner the back end would come sliding out, but gently. So it became quite easy to let it slide and calculate when to open the throttle. And then, boom! There was 1000hp to shove you down the track.

“Coming onto the back straight there was a second-gear right-hander. There was too much power to use first gear, but as soon as it came into the power band you could hear the tyres going, ‘Chip! Chip! Chip!’. And the next lap when you looked at the road you’d see black tyre marks in a series, one after the other, but each was only about a foot and a half long. The rear tyres weren’t spinning but they were winding up and breaking loose and then gripping again. That car went 180mph down the straight at Mid-Ohio. Fantastic!”

Redman qualified the 917/30 on pole, two-thirds of a second off Donohue’s ’73 time, but more than a second quicker than Follmer and Oliver. The Shadow DN4 was the last of the ground-shaking 8-litre Chevy-powered Can-Am cars, but the Shadows couldn’t match Donohue’s record lap times from ’73 aboard the unrestricted 917/30.

“In those days there was a heat and then the final,” remembers Redman. “The heat was wet and I managed to win over Follmer and Oliver. At that time the Shadow was a formidable machine.

“It was very wet at the start of the final but it looked like it could dry out. I said to Mark, ‘What happens to the handling if we groove the slick tyres to get rid of the water and then it dries out?’ He said, ‘Nothing.’ So I got a fairly good start and got off into the lead, but Follmer and Oliver were right behind me.

“Early on, maybe the fifth lap or so, I made a mistake. Around the back of the track there’s a corner where the car goes light. It was second gear, probably 80mph, and you had to back off and try to time the throttle opening to when the weight was back on the wheels. Well, I did it a bit too soon and the result was I went completely sideways. While I was trying to sort that out Oliver and Follmer passed me.”

The Shadow drivers were bitter rivals, and Follmer was desperate to win after finishing second to Oliver in three straight races. “I dropped back a bit,” says Redman. “Then I caught up to them and there was this amazing ding-dong battle where they were hitting each other frequently! The Carousel, where you go uphill through a left-hander and downhill into a tight right-hander, is not a place where you can pass a car of similar performance. But Follmer went charging down the inside, hit Oliver and sent him sideways.

“That broke the bodywork on Follmer’s car and he was out. Oliver just slid sideways and was okay. I tried hard but once the track dried out the handling completely went away. That fine, initial oversteer had gone. All it did was push like a mad dog. At one point I got on the grass and almost hit the barrier.

“So I finished second and I was disappointed, because I thought we should have won. But it was a good race and the best crowd they’d had at Mid-Ohio up until that time.”

Redman’s battle with the Shadows couldn’t halt Can-Am’s inevitable demise, but it went down in history as the last great Can-Am duel. It was also a classic battle between dissimilar cars – an anathema in today’s spec car-sodden world but essential to what made the Can-Am such an appealing form of motor sport.

Can-Am 1966-74, RIP. Sadly, none of motor racing’s sanctioning bodies learned anything from the multitude of lessons spawned by that much lamented, boundary-pushing series.

*****

Stewart blossoms as a team boss

Tony Stewart is enjoying an excellent first year as an owner/driver in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup series. He scored his first win in his new role at Pocono in June (above) and also took the points lead – a remarkable achievement. After 10 years with Joe Gibbs’ top-ranked outfit, including 33 wins and two championships (2002 and ’05), Stewart decided last year to take the plunge into team ownership. With Chevrolet’s help and no upfront investment he was able to acquire a half-interest in Gene Haas’s unsuccessful team. Haas’s operation is the USA’s largest manufacturer of CNC machinery, but he recently spent two years in jail for tax evasion.

Stewart, 38, came up through midget and sprint cars, winning USAC’s midget championship in 1994 and becoming the first driver to win all three of its midget, sprint car and Silver Crown titles in ’95. He graduated to the IRL series in 1996 and won the title the following year before moving to NASCAR with Gibbs in ’99. Today, Stewart owns the legendary Eldora Speedway dirt track in Ohio as well as a midget team. He also hosts his own weekly radio show.

Indiana born and bred, Stewart lives in Columbus, about an hour south of Indianapolis. Always a little paunchy, he is not known for pursuing fitness or diet regimens. He’s been sick in the closing laps of road races at places like Watkins Glen, but is renowned for racing anything, anytime and struggles to hold his tongue when he feels the need to criticise NASCAR, Goodyear, or anyone!

Stewart’s car carries number 14, A J  Foyt’s number for many years. Foyt was Stewart’s hero as he grew up and, like Foyt, Tony’s an outspoken character. And his fan base is huge, second only to Dale Earnhardt Jr.

*****

Wilson: Coyne win my most important

At Watkins Glen on the first weekend of July Justin Wilson produced a simply virtuoso performance to score Dale Coyne Racing’s first win in 558 starts and 25 years of trying. Coyne’s little Chicago-based team has just 16 full-time employees and Wilson’s victory at the Glen was one of the biggest giant-killing acts in recent Indycar history.

“It’s fantastic to get Dale’s first win and also [his wife] Gail’s,” said Wilson. “The two of them have put a lot of heart and soul into this. I think this is the most important victory of my career and I’m looking forward to enjoying it tonight.”

Coyne started his career as a driver in Super Vees and then Indycars. He moved his team into CART’s Indy Car World Series in 1984, running an outdated Chevy stock-block-powered car for a number of years before hanging up his helmet.

Wilson has said that the team’s ultimate goal is to win the championship. “It’s just one step at a time, one foot in front of the other, and just keep learning and improving,” said Justin. “The only thing that’s going to taste sweeter than this victory is our first win on an oval. That’s what we’ll work towards and we’ll get there. Our goal is to win the championship and we’ll keep working towards that.”

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