For 1969 the Can-Am series, with the end of the SCCA's United States Road Racing Championship (USRRC) series, was expanded from 6 events to 11. Added for the first time were Watkins Glen and Mid-Ohio road courses as well as two super speedways at Michigan and Texas, albeit including their road course extensions while the race in Las Vegas was gone and forgotten. The first race would now be in the summer on the 1st of June at Mosport, Canada, one of three races in Canada.
The Porsche-Audi team continued their dalliance with the series without fully committing money and resources. John Surtees had formed an unhappy partnership with Chaparral, no longer fielding a car of his own.
The first race would take place on the 1st of June at Mosport Park. McLarens filled the front row with Bruce McLaren grabbing pole but behind them was a customer McLaren driven by John Surtees and the customer was Jim Hall's Chaparral! Surtees would race the white McLaren while the Chaparral 2H was undergoing some last minute modifications. This must have been a bitter pill for Hall, less so for Surtees. Chuck Parsons in a Lola T163 qualified 4th. Dan Gurney in his McLeagle could do no better than 6th. Gurney had retired from F1 and beside Indy was hoping to make a bigger push in Can-Am but was let down when he could pry extra funding from Ford. There were twenty-one starters in a race witnessed by a disappointing crowd of 30,000 spectators. At the start Bruce McLaren took the lead but his teammate Hulme was passed by first Surtees on the inside and then Parsons. Unfortunately for Parsons he had made the wrong tire choice and his rain tires soon began to overheat as he fell back. Surtees however had passed McLaren for the lead was re-passed. Surtees was back in front on the 6th lap.
Surtees' engine began to over heat and he was passed by both Bruce mcLaren and Dan Gurney who was now in second. By lap 30, whatever was slowing Hulme down had disappeared and he was now in the lead. Gurney had a rear upright break on his car and was out of the race. Surtees was still nursing his overheating McLaren in 3rd which is where he finished behind Hulme in 2nd and McLaren in 1st, with first place now gaining 20 points.
Surtees was still driving the white Mclaren at St Jovite. Gurney's Ford engine broke a piston forcing him to with draw from the race. Bruce McLaren again qualified on pole followed by Hulme, Motschenbacher and Surtees. St Jovite was Denny Hulme's turn to win with McLaren coming in 2nd followed by Chuck Parsons. In sixth place was Fred Baker driving an ex-Donohue McLaren M6B entered by the popular comedy team, the Smothers Brothers. Again the crowd was disappointing with only 20,000 attending the race. Surtees who had run an inspired race was clipped by Bruce McLaren suffering body damage that eventually brought out a black flag. Chaparral had order extra body panels but they had not arrived in time for this race. Indy racer, Joe Leonard finished 8th driving a Olds powered McKee Mk7, the first turbo-charged engine to finish a Can-Am race. It would be a month before the next race.
Now back in the United States the race came to Watkins Glen, a village in Schuyler County, New York. A local law student by the name of Cameron Argetsinger dreamed of bringing European style racing to the village where he spent his summer vacations. Argetsinger's father was a highly successful corporate lawyer who had a home in Burdett, only three miles from Watkins Glen. Argetsinger drew up a course that encompassed asphalt, cement and dirt roads in and around the village. With the help of his colleagues in the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) the dream became reality on October 2, 1948, "The Day They Stopped the Trains," in the first post-World War II road race in the U.S. The race was moved to a temporary course in 1953, and 2.3-mile permanent circuit was built in 1956.
|"My real concern, a selfish one I admit — was where to race my MG-TC," he says. "I had always thought a Watkins Glen circuit would be the ideal set-up because it would have everything in the way of challenge. I had even laid out a course during the winter of 1947 and '48 on our living room rug in my home in Youngstown, Ohio", where he was attending the university.
Cameron Argetsinger - Motorsport Magazine
The series was given an extra boost by being combined with the six-hour sports car race held on Saturday. Chris Amon brought an improved Ferrari 612P to the race with which he qualified a strong 3rd behind the two McLarens. Surtees qualified 4th in the White McLaren. Qualifying 10th was another white car, a Porsche 908 for Jo Siffert. The race even included a Matra 650 driven by Mexican star Pedro Rodriguez.
The race saw both McLarens in the lead while Surtees was able to pass the Ferrari before losing a cylinder. The Ferrari had to slow due to overheating but was able to finish 3rd approximately 30 seconds behind the two McLarens with Bruce taking the checkered flag. Jo Siffert in the 3-litre Porsche was able to bring his car around to an uneventful 6th, wondering what more horsepower would have brought him. Rodriguez came home 10th in the Matra.
It was back to Canada for the next race at Edmonton Speedway Park. The new Chaparral caused quite a stir when it finally appeared, driven by a reluctant John Surtees, who reluctantly was able to qualify the car in 6th. The race saw a three way battle between the two factory McLarens and Amon's Ferrari until Bruce McLarens engine failed on the 36th lap. Hulme was able to hold on for the win with Amon 2nd and George Eaton running with a flat tire 3rd followed by the reluctant Surtees in 4th. Only seven cars were running at the end of the race.
Mark Donohue and Penske racing were back for Mid-Ohio in a Lola T163 while Jo Siffert had a 917PA. The Porsche would qualify 7th while the Penske qualified a well deserved 3rd , just ahead of Chuck Parson's Lola T163. Surtees, no less reluctant, qualified the Chaparral 2H in 5th. Amon could qualify no better than 12th suffering problems with his ferrari's handling.
With the McLarens in the lead the race evolved in a battle for third with Amon having joined the fun. Surtees had to pit with a broken goggle strap. Donohue had a half shaft brake while Amon passed the Lola of Chuck Parsons in 3rd. Siffert's Porsche was behind Parsons in 4th followed by Surtees.
Just before the end of the race Bruce McLaren dove into the pits, his oil pressure gauge registering zero but with only a few laps remaining he was told to soldier on. Later it was found that the oil pump had seized. Hulme won the race with another McLaren 1-2 followed by Amon, Siffert, Surtees and Canadian George Eaton. After five races Hulme had 75 points to 70 for McLaren followed by Chris Amon with 39.
A 8.1-litre Ford-powered Ex-Revson Mclaren M6B that was entered by Holman-Moody caused a bit of excitement at Road America. The car would be driven by Mario Andretti who would qualify 3rd only to be let down by a CV failure at morning warmup. In the race the closest car to the McLarens was Amon's Ferrari which was running in 3rd until his oil pump also failed. Unlike the McLaren at the last race Amon was not able to continue. Chuck Parsons would come in 3rd in a race won by McLaren followed by Hulme in 2nd. Surtees suffered a cut tire and fearing suspension damage he stopped his Chaparral on the course.
|Replying to complaints about the McLaren domination of the series, Bruce McLaren perhaps uncharitably remarked that "you don't feel like going to the circus or a zoo without seeing the elephants, no matter how many monkeys there might happen to be ..."
After Road America the were five more races left to run, the McLaren Team would go on to win every race this year. Of the five remaining Denny Hulme would win two, Bridgehampton and Riverside while Bruce McLaren would win at Michigan, Laguna Seca and the season ender in Texas. The elephants had beaten the monkeys.
At Bridgehampton Surtees was back in the white McLaren and though he qualified a more competitive 4th behind the Ferrari 612 his engine gave out 12 laps from the finish. Amon also suffered engine problems and Jo Siffert finished 3rd. At Michigan International Speedway, Dan Gurney was given the third Mclaren with the understanding that he was not allowed to beat either of the works cars. Driving the third factory Mclaren from the back of the grid he obediently drove it to 3rd place. Surtees who was suffering from Bronchitis was replaced by Andrea de Adamich who finished a respectable 5th behind Siffert. Amon was not able to make the start due to a seized engine prior to the race. Jackie Oliver joined the series at Laguna Seca driving a Autocoast Ti22 designed by Peter Bryant. Able to complete only a few shakedown laps the car would start from the back of the grid alongside Amon driving one of the factory McLaren M8Bs while he was waiting for a new engine for his Ferrari. The Chaparral's engine failed on the pace lap and was not able to start the race. Amon for his part made fast progress through the field before hitting one of the tire markers and having to pit for a new nosepiece. He would later be forced to drop out when his differential broke. Andretti was actually able to finish the race in the 8.1-litre Ford-powered McLaren M6B in 4th behind Chuck Parsons Lola T163 in 3rd. Oliver was able to gain some well needed test miles finishing 13th in the Ti22.
Amon finally got his new engine at Riverside driving what was now designated the Ferrari 712, the largest engine Ferrari had ever built up to that time. With it he qualified a strong 3rd. Any chance of a race though was ruined when Amon was black flagged for a push start, a silly rule that has ruined more than one Can-Am race but one that the bureaucrats seemed particularly fond of. The fact that in a series with few limits the need for an onboard starter makes no sense at all. Mclaren proving that he was human crashed out of the race. Behind Mclaren were the cars of Gurney and Parsons battling for third and now 2nd. Oliver who qualified a strong fourth dropped out when his differential broke. Surtees started 14th but quit with what he said was a sick engine, thus ending his race and sadly his once distinguished Can-Am career. With Hulme winning, Parsons took 2nd and Andretti 3rd for his best finish of the year.
Normally the season would have ended in Las Vegas at the Stardust Raceway but new ownership and a rare rainstorm literally washed the track away and the race would be held at the Texas World Speedway. Andretti qualified a surprising 2nd next to Hulme. At the start he was able to pass Hulme for the lead only to suffer a blown engine joining Amon with another blown engine. Hulme not wanting to be left out also suffered an engine failure giving the win and the Championship to his boss who won the race with Canadian George Eaton in 2nd. Jack Brabham making a rare Can-Am appearance was able to take his Alan Mann Racing Open Sports Ford into 3rd place. The car was designed by Len Bailey, who had been involved in the Le Mans GT40 program. Behind the McLaren pair in the Championship came Chuck Parsons, Jo Siffert and George Eaton. Peter Revson, Dan Gurney and Mario Andretti were bunched together for a disappointing 11th in the Championship.
The reason for McLaren's domination was not some example of technological brilliance or a huge budget. It was just the fact that no other team ran a consistently professional operation with sufficient testing and attention to detail. Chaparral, for all of their technical brilliance failed to finish more times than not. Lola, and Ferrari never seriously challenged the smaller McLaren team while the other teams were mostly amateurs racing against professionals with half or more of the field dropping out due to mechanical failures of one sort or another. Racer John Cordts who came in 10th in the Championship scoring 24 points admitted that during his Can-Am career he would be more or less homeless for weeks at a time.