Can-Am - "Power and Speed Solves Many Things" #BlogPost

In 1966, the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile, or FIA, created a new category of race cars, Group 7. The series these would be driven in was called Can-Am, which would be sanctioned by the Sports Car Club of America, or SCCA. The series would consist of six races, two in Canada, and four in America. The cars would have to be purpose built, two seat race cars, have two doors, fenders, a self-starter, headlights, taillights and a dual braking system. That’s it. The car designers and team owners had free reign. They could do whatever and however they wanted to do it to win.

For the first season, sixteen teams arrived at Circuit Mont-Tremblant in Quebec, Canada for the first ever race. Six Lola T-70 Mk.2’s, Eight McLaren M1B’s, a lone Webster Special and a lone Ford GT40 all arrived to race. John Surtees won the event in a Lola T-70, followed by Bruce McLaren in one of his M1B’s, then Chris Amon, in another McLaren. The next event was held at Bridgehampton, in New York. This time Dan Gurney in his Lola prevailed, taking the victory over Chris Amon. The series ended up with a tight Championship fight between Surtees and Mark Donohue, in their respective Lola’s.

For 1967, there were new innovations about in the Can-Am garage area. The cars became machines of brute force. Jim Hall’s Chaparral 2G’s, Bruce McLaren’s M6A’s, Lola Cars’ T70 Mk.3B’s and Ralph Slayer’s McKee Mk.7’s were all running NASCAR developed Chevrolet 427ci V8’s that were developed for two ton stock cars, not fifteen-hundred pound lightweight sports cars. Chaparral set the stage for innovation, attaching an extremely large wing on top on their 2G, to gain downforce. McLaren, however, had figured out how to get more power out of the V8, and their M6A took five out of the six races of the 1967 season, with Denny Hulme taking three wins, and Bruce McLaren two. John Surtees won the final race in a Lola.

For 1968, more innovations were made to get a jump on the field. Chaparral had played with their engine over the offseason, claiming even more power. McLaren was still ahead with their new M8A, however. Denny Hulme and Bruce McLaren led every lap of the first event at Road America. Adversity would strike McLaren though, with both cars retiring out of the next round at Bridgehampton. McLaren reduced their compression ratio, from 12:1 to 13:1, for the next four rounds, winning three of them, and the other going to John Cannon’s older McLaren M1B.

1969 would end up looking very similar to 1968, with the bright orange McLaren’s becoming a familiar site in victory lane. Denny Hulme and Bruce McLaren won every race in the new McLaren M8B. The most apparent feature of the car was its engine. The engine was a 430 cubic inch Chevy V8, which was optimized with a shorter stroke, meaning the near fifteen-hundred to a thousand pound car had 630 horsepower to propel it. The car was fitted with a large wing, like the Chaparral’s. But, the car was widened, allowing for the car to still run stiffer springs, but keep the downforce that the wing generated. The competition never had a chance.

Jim Hall had an accident at the end of the 1968 Can-Am Season. This accident effectively ended his racing career. Hall had a lot of time to think, and think he did. He showed up to the first race of the 1970 season with a completely different car. The Chaparral 2J was born over the offseason. When the car first arrived to Mosport Circuit for the first race of the 1970 season, many scoffed, and laughed at it. The car looked as if had been slapped together with pieces of aluminum and sheet metal at the track. When the car took to the track, many expected it to fall apart. They were shocked when it went two seconds faster than the next car, a McLaren.

Jim Hall had just put the first practical use of ground effect into motorsport. The car had vents in the front end of the car, which sucked air into the car, and was forced out of the back end of the car by two snowmobile motor powered fans in the back end. This created a vacuum under the car, which was reinforced by lexan skirts around the car, which glued it to the track. The car was fast, really fast. It out-qualified the next car by two seconds, and pulled an estimated 1.25 to 1.5 G in the corners. There was only one problem, the car didn’t work for an entire race. At points, it held lap leads on the field, before having a mechanical issue. McLaren’s team pushed for its ban before the 1971 Season. McLaren got what they wanted.

McLaren were there to capitalize, with Denny Hulme winning six races, and McLaren winning nine of the ten in the season. The only race McLaren didn’t win was at the new Road Atlanta circuit in Braselton, Georgia. The race was won by Tony Dean, in a Porsche 908/3. McLaren and their new M8D won the Championship with Hulme behind the wheel. McLaren’s Championship would be remembered as the first without their founder, Bruce McLaren. McLaren had been killed testing the M8D at Goodwood in June of 1970, the same car that won the 1970 Can-Am Championship.

In 1971, McLaren continued with their formula. Win a Championship, then develop the car over the offseason, rinse and repeat. McLaren’s new M8F won eight races in 1971, and Peter Revson won the Championship. The secret? An eight-liter Chevy V8 that made an estimated 700whp. Revson and Hulme dominated the Championship, with Jackie Stewart being the only person to win in a non-McLaren fielded car, winning two races in a Carl Haas fielded Lola T260.

In 1972, McLaren’s success with their formula ended. It ended through the input of five things. Porsche, Roger Penske, Mark Donohue, George Follmer, and a Turbocharged Flat 12. McLaren won two races, at Mosport and Watkins Glen. Roger Penske and his Porsche’s won Road Atlanta, Mid-Ohio, Road America, Edmonton, Laguna Seca, and Riverside. Follmer won the Championship with double the points of second place Denny Hulme, who was driving the new McLaren M20. However, it couldn’t outrun the 900whp Porsche’s.

I’ve been rushing this blogpost a bit to get to the 1973 Season. The reason, it was dominated by maybe the greatest race car of all time. Porsche fitted a 5.4 Liter Twin-Turbocharged Flat 12 into its 917. They revised the aerodynamics, lengthened the wheelbase, allowed the turbos to run 39psi of boost, and gave it the nickname “Turbopanzer.” However, it would come to be known as “The Can-Am Killer.” The Porsche 917/30 was born. The dyno numbers were staggering. The qualifying trim, the car made 1,580whp. The car still had the same brakes and tires as the 917/10 from the previous season, but had 600 more horsepower. It only weighed 1,800lbs (820 kg). The car was a monster.

The car missed the opportunity to win the first two races at Mosport and Road Atlanta, but it won all the rest with Mark Donohue behind the wheel. Donohue set the record for most wins in a single Can-Am season, with seven. At the final race of the season at the high speed Riverside International Raceway, the car was clocked at 240mph (386kph) down the backstraightaway. Most of the privateers were chased off by this monster, rather choosing to race in the Indianapolis 500 or Formula 1.

After the 1973 Season, Can-Am was forced to make some changes. The 917/30’s Domination, the Arab Oil Embargo, and Roger Williamson’s Horrible Fatal Accident at the 1973 Dutch Grand Prix all influenced Can-Am to implementing a 3 Miles Per Gallon limit on the cars for the 1974 Season. Porsche immediately pulled support from the series, and much of the technology that had been developed for the series that was all about speed and power was given up on. Shadow and their DN4 won the 1974 Championship, which was canceled after only five races due to lack of support. Can-Am, was dead.

The story isn’t over yet, however. On August 9th, 1975, Mark Donohue took the great Porsche 917/30 to the Alabama International Motor Speedway (Now Talladega Superspeedway). The 2.66 Mile Facility with 33 Degree banked corners was the perfect spot for a top speed record run. Donohue took his Porsche out on track, and blistered the closed course record for any car. His fastest average speed around the track was 221mph (356kph). This still stands as one of the fastest closed course speeds ever, with the highest being set in 2000 by Gil de Ferran during a CART Qualifying session at California Speedway.

Can-Am attempted a revival in 1977, but was killed off by the popularity of NASCAR, CART and IMSA extremely quickly. Can-Am still remains the closest series to a free for all racing series in motorsports history, and is ingrained in the history of motorsport forever.

School and Work have gotten in the way of the IROC BlogPost Series, but I hope to get Part 3 out soon. I hope you did enjoy this one though. I encourage you to do more research on Can-Am. It’s probably one of the greatest racing series of all time and I could not cover nearly enough in a simple BlogPost.



eventhough i’ve read about it a million times, heard about it a million times and even seen it in real life at goodwood. the porsche 917/30 continues to amaze me. nice post as always

04/05/2017 - 15:01 |
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.... 3

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

In my opinion it is the greatest race car of all time, ahead of the Penske PC-23, Williams FW14B, Lotus 49 and Porsche 962. Also, thanks for the complement!

04/05/2017 - 15:07 |
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This deserves an Editors Pick!

04/05/2017 - 20:45 |
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