Gordon Kirby's greatest Can-Am races
My first choice is Mosport in 1970 when Dan Gurney took over Bruce’s car after McLaren was killed in testing at Goodwood. Gurney was beginning to wind down his career that year, but he stood in for his departed friend at Mosport, St Jovite and Watkins Glen, helping pull the team together after the tragic loss of their leader.
Dan qualified on pole at Mosport ahead of Denny Hulme whose hands had been burned in a fire at Indianapolis two weeks earlier. Hulme took the lead at the start and led half the race before his bleeding hands forced him to give way to Gurney and Jackie Oliver’s Shadow. Gurney and Oliver battled furiously before Dan was able to pull away to win from Oliver with Hulme making it home in third place.
My second choice is Laguna Seca in 1966 wherein Phil Hill scored Chaparral’s only Can-Am victory with team owner Jim Hall finishing second in a one-two sweep for Chaparral. The race was run that year in two 100-mile heats with Hall qualifying on pole ahead of team-mate Hill. In the first heat the Chaparrals were unbeatable as Hill won from Hall followed by McLaren, Surtees and Donohue.
The Chaparrals looked like repeating their feat in heat two but nobody had counted on Parnelli Jones who came steaming through from the back of the field in John Mecom’s Lola T70. With a dozen laps to go the aggressive Jones caught third-placed Surtees before pushing him off the road under braking and going on to attack and pass both Chaparrals in the closing laps. But on aggregate Hill and Hall finished first and second in what turned out to be an historic occasion.
One of the most exciting Can-Am races anyone ever saw took place two weeks later at Riverside where Surtees and Hall engaged in a superb battle, trading the lead half a dozen times in very un-Can-Am-like fashion. Near the end, Hall’s Chaparral began to boil its fuel allowing Surtees to pull away and score his second win of the year. In Las Vegas’s Stardust Raceway season-closer two weeks later Surtees ran away on his own, easily beating McLaren and Donohue as he convincingly wrapped-up the inaugural Can-Am championship for his team and Lola. After his accident at Mosport the previous year, Surtees’ 1966 season demonstrated unparalleled resilience and fortitude.