Surtees (surprise!) wins, the race; McLaren (no surprise) wins the Can Am Cup
Stardust GP, Las Vegas
USARACES IN THE 1960'ies
THERE IS AN old proverb saying "The more things change, the more they remain the same," or perhaps it is "The rich get richer and the poor get poorer." The two, not as different as you might think, boil down to the celebrated dictum by James Seely OCE that "There ain't no such thing as racing luck; all other things being equal, bringing a poorly prepared car is a waste of time." And so it worked out with the well-prepared and well-thought-out McLaren equipe taking five out of six in the Can-Am series this year. Careful students of the art will note that everyone else was faked out through lack of proper preparation, too-cautious tactics, poor equipment, or crass stupidity including the day-Iate-and-adollar-short syndrome. The Dearborn effort fell flat on its face (makes it obvious about the competence of the Ford coordinator, doesn't it?), even Chaparral couldn't hack it in spite of special works engines, and two happy Kiwis went home with almost all the loot. In short, we saw professionalism at work.
It is a bit of a shame really that all this keen effort was not directed towards proper racing cars; i.e. single-seaters. The Can-Am machines aren't even proper prototypes, as there aren't even places for headlights, for instance, let alone room for a mythical passenger. The advent of yet wider special wheels and tires meant that bodies bulged progressively more
sideways and sported extra extensions on the fenders, with the inevitable effect that already marginal aerodynamics went up the slot on many cars. Why not make Formula Libre or Formula stock block single-seaters out of them to provide a real spectacle and perhaps a truly International Formula I? As it is, on first glance they are alike as two peas and my request for information from McLaren's chief mechanic Tyler Alexander elicited the response that "There were orange ones and green ones and blue ones and red ones." Actually, as the series went on they began to look a bit different but boiled down to Lolas and McLaren's of various vintages with a sprinkling of oddments, the only one of which consistently worth a damn being the always-dangerous Chaparral.
As you no doubt have read by this time, either here or elsewhere, Denny Hulme won the first three Can-Ams at Elkhart, Bridgehampton and Mosport, then Bruce McLaren won the next two at Laguna Seca and Riverside. Going into the final event of the series, the Can-Am cup winner had to be either McLaren or Hulme and Bruce had an edge on points as he had a pair of second-place finishes to go with his two wins, while HuIme hadn't finished in the races he didn't win.
Last round was at Las Vegas' Sawdust Speedway an androit which is chiefly remarkable for having slot machines in the john instead of just the ones bolted to the doors. As it was season's end, I will draw a merciful veil (while apologizing to those we have not mentioned) over the overheatings, blowbys, and things that went bump in the sump during practice. Numerous expensive and highly-thought-of engines were coughed, Hall's big Chev was showing definite signs of stress by puking out oil (it is thought that G M backroom boys had gone for a little more power), and Sam Posey's unusual Caldwell, which had been showing signs of suspension breakages and thrilling handling, broke its steering at full blast and went off in the desert Somewhere West of Laramie. The Ford three-pronged attack (four if you count Gurney) operated at something less than peak efficiency, as despite mechanical cannibalism poor Andretti's Weslake-headed Honker ran clean out of engines and didn't start Sunday while Jerry Titus, fighting an unequal battle with Shelby's yellow King Cobra (referred to by one of its mechanics as the Lotus 50), got one step out of phase with its bouncy back end; the resulting wreckage being towed in looking like a sand casting.
Somebody said once that the trouble with Forrimla Vees was that they had stock Volkswagen drivers as well; this applies to the Can-Ams, which seem to have their quota of stock Chevrolet drivers. Be that as it may, as the field led by Parnelli Jones from Row 2 blasted into Turn 1, Rich Muther found that there was a little less room than he had counted on and had no option but to spin, dropping the egg smartly into the fan. When the Desert Song property sandstorm had cleared away McCluskey's yellow Lola was considerably bent, Herrera and Settember retired at the pits, Ferrari's Williams found his injection slides too full of rocks to continue, Hugh Powell, seeking a way around through the fallout on the inside, met nose to nose with Don Morin, and Gary Wilson found himself motoring the wrong way up toward Turn 7 and the approaching pack before he had presence of mind enough to pull a "U."
This left P. Jones, hoping that his newly modified intercooler was working, leaving Hulme, McLaren, Hall, Donohue, Revson, Spence, Surtees and Gurney in the ruck. The pressure was partially removed from him when Hulme straightaway pitted to change a punctured tire and then the dreaded McLaren, who had already that morning found signs of water in the oil, slowed considerably and then retired. Scarcely had this come to pass when the white Chaparral flitted past Jones, who was shortly to drop out in his turn as a result of a missed shift which bent the selector forks, and went into the lead followed by Donohue and a resurgent Gurney Revson had pitted to investigate body damage caused by Jones, who allegedly had tossed a tire at him (isn't it time we got rid of
these anachronisms?), which meant that Spence and Surtees moved up a slot.
Hall was fairly well thundering around, giving an odd twitch or two through Turn 1 but well holding off Gurney, when all of a sudden about the 20th lap there was a big cloud of blue smoke and Mr. Hall's Chevrolet expired on the back straight, being followed into the pits by a disgusted Gurney, whose crankshaft damper had broken up. This left the steady Donohue in first being harried by Spence, whose expertise has made an old car competitive and who deserves a better ride, and Surtees, who is too well appreciated to require any comment from me. John was pressing on a bit and got by Spence just about the time that Mike's oil pressure began to
play tricks, but for that matter Fearless John was in no shape to take on Donohue either as the gearbox was playing up (he later lost 2nd and 3rd) and he had to hold it in with his knee.
This leading group was pulling away from a depleted field, of which Motschenbacher, Amon's Ferrari (good handling but no torque), Skip Scott, Revson, Canada's John Cannon, Morley, Hulme (making up time and just about to unlap himself), Hayes, and Parsons, were the best; FolImer going slow to team orders, as the car had been sold, but later to retire with a big hole in the gearbox. This was by no means the final drop-out as Motschenbacher ran over some sharp bit which deflated a tire and sent him into the guard rail in Turn 1 while Scott spun out back and couldn't restart the hot engine. .
Comes already drama at the end. Cannon went out with a holed radiator, Parsons boiled away most if not all of his coolant, 4th-place Hulme blew up with a resounding bang on the 51st lap (with 19 to go to make up a minute's deficit on Donohue, he most likely would have caught Spence for third at least), and then Revson swirled into the pits for fuel. Some was sloshed in but then the overheated V-8 wouldn't catch on the starter. There then commenced a bout of what the mechanics calIed priming the cylinders and everyone else called a push start (I think that he did actually switch it off for a second and on again while it was still turning) so Pete got away after losing a position to Hayes (in Dick Smothers' Chevy-engined bull fiddle) on the road, but several more if one of the numerous protests stick.
All was over but the shouting and a happy Penske was getting ready to welcome Donohue, a comfortable 17 sec ahead of Surtees, across the line. Instead a dusty red Lola appeared bearing a wide-eyed and speculative Surtees, seconds before the sputtering and banging Sunoco Lola of Donohue took the checker with tanks dry. And while everyone was still running around about that, there was a tremendous bang and flurry at the corner just before the finishing line. Fifth-place Amon and Morley had been scrabbling home and
somebody spun. Morley's crippled car limped across, but the Ferrari, having dealt the bridge abutment a shrewd blow, stayed put.
So it was that the shouting took precedence over the all with Ferrari's Lini screaming "E combinato . . . e lIna fr*g*t*ra" because of the accident and the organizers putting those who were actually rolling after those who weren't, those just ahead of Revson filing protests about the push start, sundry others grousing loudly about Muther, and complaints flying thick and fast. That's what you get when you mix amateurs with pros, but at the other end McLaren was happy with the series Championship, Surtees was happy with his first finish in four starts, let alone a win, Hulme was happy with his share, and both Spence and his owner Soucy were pleased indeed at finally getting on the leader board.
Next year can we have them single seaters please? And a bit of weeding out of slow drivers?
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