Gordon Kirby's greatest Can-Am drivers
My personal choice for Can-Am’s six greatest drivers are Bruce McLaren, Denny Hulme, John Surtees, Mark Donohue, George Follmer and Jim Hall. McLaren was the heart and soul of Can-Am. His team set the standard through the series’ early years as the ‘Bruce and Denny Show’ swept all before it, finishing 1-2 in the championship in 1967, ’68 and ’69. Bruce McLaren won the championship in 1967 and ’69, with Hulme taking the title in ’68. After Bruce’s death in the spring of 1970, Hulme came through to win the team’s fourth Can-Am championship, with Peter Revson leading Hulme in another McLaren 1-2 in 1971.
John Surtees won the first Can-Am championship in 1966 driving his own Team Surtees Lola T70 when he was at the peak of his powers. He started racing and developing the elegant T70 in 1965, but suffered serious injuries in an accident at Mosport that September. The indomitable Brit came back the following year to win three of six Can-Am races and take the series’ inaugural title. Surtees finished third in the 1967 Can-Am series behind McLaren and Hulme, and also raced a Chaparral in 1969.
Mark Donohue dominated the 1973 Can-Am, winning six of eight races and taking all eight poles with Penske’s mighty turbo Porsche 917/30.
He engineered and developed the 917/30, bouncing back from a testing accident in spring 1972 aboard a 917/10. A rare racer/engineer/manager, Donohue won the United States Road Racing Championship with Penske in 1967 and ’68. He also finished second, fourth and third in the 1966, ’67 and ’68 Can-Am series driving Penske Lolas and McLarens before successfully tackling Porsche’s turbocharged Can-Am assault in 1972 and ’73.
George Follmer took over the injured Donohue’s 917/10 in 1972 and went on to win Penske’s first Can-Am title. The following year Follmer drove a similar 917/10 for privateer Bobby Rinzler and was the only man to challenge Donohue’s faster, more powerful 917/30. Follmer also won the USRRC title in 1965 and was a Can-Am front-runner in 1966, ’67 and ’68 driving Lolas for a variety of teams, Penske included.
Rounding out Can-Am’s six greatest drivers poses a tough choice between Jim Hall and Dan Gurney. I choose Hall over Gurney because the Texan’s Chaparrals personified the spirit of Can-Am. Hall was never able to win a Can-Am race but his high-winged Chaparrals and revolutionary thinking defined Can-Am. Gurney raced his own AAR Lolas and McLarens in Can-Am, but was primarily occupied during those years with his Eagle F1 and Indycars. Dan scored the only Can-Am win for a Ford-powered car at Bridgehampton in 1966.