Can Am

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Can Am
Don Packwood Gallery


Lola T70Lola Cars International Ltd. was a racing car engineering company founded in 1958 by Eric Broadley. Lola Cars started by building small front-engined sports cars. Eric Broadley was quick to realize the sales potential for a car designed to accept a variety of production-based US engines. World Champion John Surtees, whose Team Surtees joined forces with Lola Cars to form Lola Racing Ltd as a works development and racing arm was a critical component to the Lola T70s success. Surtees honed the T70 over months of development, and in his hands it quickly proved itself capable, with a Chevy V8 in the back, of circulating British circuits faster than contemporary F1 cars. Roger Penske Racing with new driver Mark Donohue were also impressed with the Lola T70 and ordered one for their efforts. Theirs was a somewhat longer process, having received a chassis from the factor and an engine from Traco Engineering they were left to their own devices in getting the car race ready. American Dan Gurney and his All American Racers would run a Lola T70 with a Ford engine, utilizing special high-performance cylinder heads he had commissioned from Harry Weslake. Gurney's efforts were always hampered by a lack of support from Ford as Chevrolet dominated early the early Can-Am years.

Mclaren M1AAfter a successful Tasman Series campaign Bruce McLaren was looking for new worlds to conquer. McLaren was intrigued by the cash-rich sports car races in America currently dominated by Chaparral. In 1964 he bought a Cooper-based Zerex Special from Roger Penske and powered it with an Oldsmobile V8 from Traco Engineering in California. He raced this car until his own Mclaren-Elva M1A was completed. Initially Mclaren considered offering this car to customers as well but wisely decided to farm this out to Trojan Limited in England who had previously bought the Elva sports car business. With the Mclaren M1B, Trojan was able to sell 28 examples of the car putting McLaren on a sound financial footing. McLaren would build two special versions of the M1B for the new Can-Am series, this time the cars were beefed up and powered by 5.4 litre Chevrolet V8s later bored out to 6.0 Liters putting out more than 500 hp.

Chaparral with support from General Motors would have monocoque chassis and aluminum block Chevy engines. Jim Hall would have Phil Hill as his teammate driving Chaparral 2Es.

"In those days our hero was not so much Colin Chapman - who was most people's - but Jim Hall. There was great respect for Jim Hall. He and Bruce weren't friends, but there was no animosity. There was real competition and underneath it was great respect."

1966 Can-AmIt looked for all the world that the new Can-Am series would be a battle between Lola, McLaren and Chaparral, at least initially. Large-bore sports cars were already racing in the United States for a number of years before the inaugural race for the new Can-Am series that was held at Le Circuit Mont-Tremblant in St Jovite, Canada. Located 13 km south of the village of Mont-Tremblant, Quebec, Canada. The circuit in the located in the Laurentian Mountains, carved out of the rolling hillside the track is 4.26 km (2.65 mi) in length. The first two sections of the circuit were built in 1964 and extended by another mile in 1965. The extension featured long straights and included a small hill, nicknamed "the Hump". Besides motorsports the area is famous for its winter sports.

Chaparral had been the car to beat for the last two years but the team was absent from St Jovite, their new cars, not yet ready. A crowd in access of 50,000 would see the cars that started the race on Sep 11th, 1966. Pole position was won by John Surtees driving his own Lola T70. Joining him on the 3-car front row were two red M1B McLarens driven by team owner Bruce McLaren and his co-driver Chris Amon.

1966 St JoviteSt Jovite, coming out of turn 8 on the back straight has a small hump that could cause the car to go airborne which happened to Hugh Dibley, ironically an airline pilot when his Lola flew over a fence and into a spectator area. Miraculously no one was hurt and Dibley would henceforth be famous. Anyone doing a similar feat of catching air and flipping his car was referred to as doing a "Dibley". Shaken but not stirred, Dibley was a non-starter in the race.

Chris Amon was able to grab the lead at the start but a sticking throttle caused him to go off course further into the lap causing damage to his front bodywork. McLaren and Surtees diced back and forth while Amon came storming back through the field. Mclaren let his fellow New Zealander through and 4 laps from the finish Amon set a new lap record that beat Surtees' best qualifying mark by over 1 second. Still try as he might Surtees was able to hold him off. The race was won by John Surtees followed by Bruce Mclaren in 2nd and Chris Amon in 3rd.

The next race was at Bridgehampton Race Circuit located near Sag Harbor, New York. The 4.95 km circuit opened in 1957, the same year as Laguna Seca Raceway. It was called it “The Bridge” and mostly the drivers that raced there loved and feared the place. No less than Stirling Moss called it the “most challenging course in America.”

The site layout featured a jaw-dropping 180-degree view of Long Island 's North Fork, Shelter Island, Sag Harbor and the sailboats on Peconic Bay. The circuit had four vertical elevation changes totaling 130 feet and eight distinct corners, including a banked hairpin curve around a hillock at the lowest point of the course. A flat-out straightaway nearly 3/4 of a mile long suddenly disappears into a hair-raising decreasing radius downhill curve, known as Millstone Turn. More than one international star has called this steep decline, which is blind and taken flat out in most race cars, the most difficult turn in racing. Sam Posey, for one, said that sailing off the abyss in a sports racer was like “flying into an air pocket” in a plane.

After missing the first race at St Jovite, the Chaparral 2E astounded the other participants with it's large wing, fully two years before they appeared in Formula 1.

"The 2E was very easy to drive left foot on the brake and right foot on the go pedal. There was no clutch, just a two speed fluid torque-converter. When you weren't braking, you kept your left foot on the fail-safe pedal. This kept the wing fiat. When you took your foot off the pedal, the wing automatically flipped to the high-downforce position. You could feel the difference immediately. It lowered the top speed by at least 25mph."
Phil Hill

Jim Hall qualified the winged wonder on pole but after a series of incidents with teammate Phil Hill's car, Hall allowed Hill to use his car during the race. Hill would start the race from fifth. This also elevated Mclaren, Surtees and Gurney to the front row of the grid. Gurney led from the start followed by Surtees, Hill, Mclaren and Amon. Hill was able to get pass Surtees who would retire with an oil line failure. Gurney was able to maintain a steady lead but then a linkage on the wing locked the airfoil in the cornering position (high-drag) simulating a giant airbrake allowing Amon to pass and then McLaren. Dan Gurney driving a Lola-Ford T70 would win the first and last victory by a Ford engine in the entire series. Following Gurney were two McLarens driven by Chris Amon and McLaren with Phil Hill 4th.

Chaparral 2EThe series returned to Mosport Park. Canada's first permanent motor racing facility and one of a handful of circuits to have continued in operation for more than 50 years without any layout alterations. Plans for a circuit near Bowmanville in Ontario were first proposed in 1958. By 1960 further progress had been made and a swooping 3.957 km track making the most of the countours of the land was drawn up by one of the Mosport directors, Alan Bunting. It was finally completed in May 1961, at double the original $250,000 estimate.

The first day of practice was marred by bad weather and Chaparral decided not to risk their cars or drivers. On the second day Jim Hall set the best time but the rules that year gave precedence to the first day qualifiers, somewhat similar to the rules at Indy. This put Hall 10th, Surtees 11th and Hill 12th. Others who had not set a practice time joined them at the rear of the grid.

To make matters worse the race was a standing start with Surtees leading the charge from the middle of the grid with the result that several cars came together. Both Surtees and Follmer earned trips to the hospital but beside scrapes and bruises the drivers were ok. After a restart Gurney led the opening laps before being passed by the McLarens and Denny Hulme, who at the time was driving a Lola T70 for Sidney Taylor Racing. The quartet put on a stirring display before Hulme fell back with handling problems, eventually having retired with a broken half-shaft. McLaren suffered engine trouble as did Hall, while Hill's Chaparral suffering from low oil pressure was rammed by Amon as he tried to lap the American. Amon had to deal with wobbly steering that put him out of the race. Gurney looked set for an easy win, then his battery went flat. Donohue driving a Lola T70 took a shock win with Hill, despite having to stop for oil towards the end of the race, was able to finish a distant 2nd, Chuck Parson in 3rd.

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The final three races were run in the United States at Laguna Seca in Monterey, California, Riverside International Raceway in Southern California and Stardust International Raceway near Las Vegas, Nevada. Laguna Seca on the coast near Monterey. The track was built in 1957 at a cost of $1.5 million raised from local businesses and individuals on part of the US Army’s Fort Ord military base after the nearby Pebble Beach Road Races were abandoned for being too dangerous. The most famous feature of the 1.9-mile road course involves Turns 8 and 8A—or more commonly known as The Corkscrew.

The Corkscrew is a one-of-a-kind turn in motorsports. Here’s what makes the hard-left, hard-right combination so spectacular: At the apex to Turn 8 (the left-hander and entry to The Corkscrew), the elevation change is a 12 percent drop. By the time a race car reaches the apex of Turn 8A (the right-hander), the elevation is at its steepest – an 18 percent drop. The Corkscrew drops 59 feet between the entrance of Turn 8 to the exit of Turn 8A—the equivalent of a 5 ½ story drop—in only 450 feet of track length. From Turn 8 to Turn 9, the elevation falls 109 feet, or just over 10 stories.

The had a few more prominent names join the action, Parnelli Jones and Jackie Stewart driving a pair of John Mecom entered a pair of Lola-Fords. Both suffered engine failures with Stewart a non-starter and Jones having to "borrow" a Chevy from Penske. John Mecom was not the slightest bit amused.

"Roger ... He didn't give it to us because Roger never gave anything away", says Mecom. "But he arranged for us to get one of his extra Chevy engines.:

1966 Can-AmThe Chaparrals would add endplates to their rear wings and new spoilers in front. Both of the white cars qualified on the front row with Jim Hall earning pole position. Qualifying 3rd was Bruce McLaren and next to him was Dan Gurney. The first heat ended as it began with Hill and Hall switching positions and McLaren in 3rd. The final heat had Hall leading in the early part of the heat before handing the lead over to Phil Hill. Parnelli Jones with the borrowed engine started 27th but had made it all the way up into 4th and was challenging Surtees for 3rd. Without a way past Jones made one and the two cars collided, with Surtees out with a broken suspension. Jones was still running and catching the pair of Chaparrals who let him by, knowing that they would still win the race on aggregate. Hill would take his Chaparral to victory over Jim Hall. Mecom would switch to Chevys for the rest of the year.

1966 Can AmRiverside International Raceway was built in 1957 near Riverside, California. The track was built to accommodate several different configurations, depending on the type of car and race length. The three options on Riverside Raceway were the long course (3.27 miles (5.26 km)), the short course (2.5 miles (4.0 km)), and the NASCAR (2.62 miles (4.22 km)) course. The original racetrack had a 1.1-mile (1.8 km) backstretch from 1957 to 1968.

At the race McLaren's car was now equipped with 5.9-litre fuel-injected Chevy engines that allowed him to grab pole and the lead only to suffer a misfire until his engine finally quit. Surtees and Hall had a tremendous duel only for the oil pressure on the Chaparral forcing Hall to accept 2nd place. Graham Hill driving another Team Surtees Lola came in third. While appearance money was not supposed to be available it was an open secret that Team Surtees ($8,000), McLaren ($6000) and AJ Foyt ($1500) were given money under the table. The final race was held at the featureless Stardust International Raceway in Las Vegas. The raceway in Spring Valley featured a flat 4.8 km, 13-turn road course, and a quarter-mile drag strip. It was built in 1965 by the Stardust Hotel and Casino to attract high rollers to the hotel.

Don Chase, a Las Vegas Sun copy editor and local auto racing enthusiast who covered four of the five major auto races at Stardust for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, said he didn't recall the track being too expensive to build, probably because it opened before it was finished. Watkins Glen, which for years hosted the U.S. Grand Prix Formula One race, was considered a rudimentary circuit, but Stardust made it look like the Taj Mahal of motor sports. "There weren't grandstands, just regular bleachers, and there wasn't a lot of paving," Chase recalled. "There were some really marginal restrooms. But back in those days, it really wasn't that bad for auto racing."
Las Vegas Sun

Both Chaparrals started on the front row but as always they were let down by their automatic gearboxes off the line, this being 1966. Surtees hurtled by on the inside to take the lead on the way to the championship. Bruce McLaren eventually came in second followed by Mark Donohue in 3rd. Both Chaparrals suffered broken rear wings though Hill was able to soldier on and finished 7th .

1966 can - Am“Las Vegas was quite an experience,” Surtees says. “You had to acclimatize to a sense of timelessness. The hotels doubled up as casinos, there were no clocks anywhere and there was always the same amount of interior light. When you left in the morning to go to the track you’d pass all these people playing slot machines… and in many cases they’d still be there when you came back in the evening."

The series, at least from the spectators point of view had been a resounding success. There were three competitive marques that contested the series in it's first year as well as a slew of smaller teams. For the winning teams the Can-Am series was a relative gold mine. Surtees would collect $70,000 in prize money, more than he would have won had he taken first place in every F1 race for the year. (F1 drivers made their money based upon appearances)

1966 Canadian - American Challenge Cup
1 John Surtees Team Surtees Lola T70 MK2 27
2 Mark Donohue Roger Penske Racing Lola T70 MK2 21
3 Bruce McLaren Bruce McLaren Racing McLaren M1B 20
4 Phil Hill Chaparral Cars Chaparral 2E 18
5 Jim Hall Chaparral Cars Chaparral 2E 12
6 Chris Amon Bruce McLaren Racing McLaren M1B 10