Jackie Stewart's Can-Am season


In 1971, Jackie Stewart raced not only in Formula 1 for Ken Tyrrell but also for Carl Haas in the Can-Am series. In those days the McLaren team dominated the Can-Am, winning four championships in a row from 1967-’70. In ’71, Lola founder and designer Eric Broadley produced an all-new car called the T260 to try to challenge the all-conquering McLarens and Lola’s man in America Carl Haas found the money from sponsor L&M cigarettes to pay Stewart to drive the new Lola.

The T260 was a complete departure from the smooth, fluid lines of the previous Lola Can-Am cars. “The T260 was totally new and it was extraordinary but I have to say it wasn’t the best looker,” Stewart observed. “Rather than having flowing lines it was a box-type vehicle like Jim Hall’s Chaparral ‘sucker car’ I drove at Watkins Glen in 1970.”

Stewart’s only pre-season acquaintance with the new car came in a rain-soaked shakedown run at Silverstone just before the car was shipped to Canada for the opening Can-Am race of 1971 at Mosport. Stewart beat the McLarens of Denny Hulme and Peter Revson to the pole at Mosport and ten laps into the race he was able to catch Hulme in traffic and pass him for the lead. But the Lola was trailing oil and it wasn’t long before its transmission broke, leaving the McLarens to score an uncontested 1-2 sweep.

The first win for Haas

Two weeks later however, at the fast, twisting and narrow St Jovite circuit in Quebec’s Laurentian Mountains, Stewart passed Hulme for the lead two thirds of the way through the race and went on the score a convincing victory over the factory McLarens. It was the first of many Can-Am wins for Carl Haas’s team.

“St Jovite was a good win,” Stewart says. “Because with that car, that track was hard work! The other race where we did quite well was Road Atlanta. We led the race, then had a puncture and a whole series of other problems but still turned the fastest lap of the race, quicker than Hulme’s pole time.”

Road Atlanta was the third round of the Can-Am season and Stewart qualified third behind Hulme and Revson. But in the race he chased both of them down and took the lead, pulling away before a rear tyre went down. Stewart hobbled into the pits and then there was trouble restarting the engine so he was three laps down when he rejoined.

After working his way back up to 13th place he had to pit again to cool his car’s seriously overheated brakes and fix a flapping front fender. Jackie went out again for some more hot laps in the distinctly second hand-looking T260 before finally retiring for good when a rear shock absorber broke.

The next race was at Watkins Glen where Stewart again qualified on the pole and led until another enforced pitstop to change a punctured tyre. He rejoined a lap behind new leader Revson, running as quick as ever before the transmission once again cried enough.

The T260 stayed together at Mid-Ohio the following month for Stewart to score his second and last win of the year after both McLarens suffered driveline failures. But thereafter Hulme and Revson were in control of the championship as the McLarens profited from steady development while the Lola effort foundered.

A difficult car to master

Stewart recalls some of the pieces tried by Eric Broadley to cure the T260’s deficiencies. “There were no wind tunnels in those days and Eric would suddenly arrive and under his arm was a new front wing,” Jackie grins. “There was one we called the ‘cowcatcher’. It was hung way out front of the car and what it was doing, I don’t know. The car was very short wheelbase and very difficult to drive. In comparison to the McLarens, the car was just a monster to drive and we were just trying to keep up.”

In fact, Stewart says the T260 was the most physically demanding car he raced in his entire career. “On the very fast circuits like Riverside it was awfully tricky because you never knew where you were going,” he remarks.

A combination of a hectic load of promotional work and racing around the world in two major categories eventually brought Stewart low with a case of mononucleosis. “I was flying back and forth from Europe to do Formula 1 and I won the world championship that year and two Can-Am races, too,” Stewart remarked. “But I also got mononucleosis, a really debilitating disease that took your energy away. You couldn’t sleep and yet you were overly tired. So it was a tough year, a totally exhausting year.”

Stewart was able to split the McLarens at Laguna Seca, beating Hulme into second place behind winner Revson. With five wins to Hulme’s three, Revson won the Can-Am championship. Stewart was a distant third but despite his struggles with the T260, the Scot enjoyed his year with Haas’s team.

“Berni and Carl ran their team like a family,” Stewart says. “They really cared about their drivers and the people who worked for them. We were always together socially and regularly had dinners together. They had one of those streamline motorhomes of that era. It was very robust but not as opulent as the McLaren motorhome.”

He pays Carl and Berni the finest compliment by comparing them to Ken and Norah Tyrrell with whom Stewart won all three of his F1 World Championships. “I loved driving for Carl and Berni,” Stewart remarks. “It was like Ken and Norah. It was the same kind of relationship.”

1971 Can-Am Top Five
Peter Revson (McLaren M8F) 142pts
Denny Hulme (McLaren M8F) 132pts
Jackie Stewart (Lola T260) 76pts
Jo Siffert (Porsche 917/10) 68pts
Lothar Motschenbacher (McLaren M8D) 52pts

But at the end of the year Jackie couldn’t resist an offer to join McLaren for the ‘72 Can-Am season. “I was approached by McLaren about whether I would drive for them the following year. I tested the McLaren and it was just like driving a passenger car compared to the incredibly nervous, pointy, short-wheelbase Lola where you were a millisecond away from an accident all the time.

“So I agreed to drive for McLaren. It was very sad to phone Carl because he had been so kind and generous with his time and attention. But I was a racing driver and I wanted to win. So I actually did sign a McLaren contract, but I then withdrew to get myself healthy again and focus on Formula 1.”

Despite his decision to depart the team, Stewart remains close friends of the Haas family to this day. “We’ve always been friends. My decision could have not allowed us to be friends. But he knew what I had been through. Carl and Berni had a great team of mechanics. There was a great spirit in the team and despite the problems with the car it was a very nice experience.

“The team was a very keen winner,” Stewart adds. “Most of Carl’s life, whether it was Can-Am or Formula 5000 or Indycars, he always had winning drivers and teams. He’s been a tremendous stalwart of motor sports and particularly road racing in America. To many people in Europe, Carl Haas represents American road racing more than any other man. I’m proud to have driven for him.”

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