Can-Am started out as a race series for Group 7 sports racers with two races in Canada (Can) and four races in the US (Am). The series was initially sponsored by J-Wax. The Series used the FIA Group 7 category with unrestricted engine capacity.
The Group 7 category was essentially a formula libre for sports cars; the regulations were minimal and permitted unlimited engine sizes (and allowed turbocharging and supercharging), virtually unrestricted aerodynamics, and were as close as any major international racing series ever got to anything goes. As long as the car had two seats and bodywork enclosing the wheels, and met basic safety standards, it was legal... Group 7 had arisen as a category for non-homologated sports car 'specials' in Europe and for a while in the 1960s Group 7 racing was popular in the United Kingdom as well as a class in hillclimb racing in Europe. Group 7 cars were designed more for short-distance sprints than for endurance racing. Some Group 7 cars were also built in Japan by Nissan and Toyota, but these did not compete outside their homeland (though some of the Can-Am competitors went over to race against them occasionally).
SCCA sports car racing was becoming more popular with European constructors and drivers, and the US Road Racing Championship for large-capacity sports racers eventually gave rise to the Group 7 Can-Am series. There was good prize and appearance money and plenty of trade backing; the series was lucrative for its competitors but resulted, by its end, in truly outrageous cars with well over 1000 horsepower (750 kW) (some teams claimed 1500 HP in qualifying trim), wings, active downforce generation, very light weight and unheard of speeds. Similar Group 7 cars ran in the European Interserie series, but this was much lower-key than the Can-Am.
A second generation of Can-Am followed, but this was a fundamentally different series based initially on converted Formula 5000 cars with closed-wheel bodies. There was also a 2L class based in Formula 2 chassis.
The Can-Am is mostly remembered as the last series to allow unlimited motor racing before it became definitely over in 1974.
Notable drivers and technologyEdit
Notable drivers in the original Can-Am series included virtually every acclaimed driver of the late 60's and early 70's. Denny Hulme, Bruce McLaren, Phil Hill, Mark Donohue, Jim Hall, Chris Amon, Dan Gurney, Peter Revson, John Cannon, Masten Gregory, John Surtees, Parnelli Jones, Mario Andretti, Jack Brabham, Pedro Rodriguez, Vic Elford, and Jackie Stewart all drove Can-Am cars at one time or another.
Can-Am was the birth place and proving ground for (what was at the time) outrageous technology. Can-Am cars were among the first race cars to sport wings, effective turbo charging, undertrays, and aerospace materials like titanium. This led to the eventual downfall of the original series when costs got very much out of hand, but during its height Can-Am cars were at the cutting edge of racing technology. Noted constructors in the Can-Am Series included McLaren, Chaparral, Lola, BRM, Shadow and Porsche.
McLaren cars were specially designed race cars. The Can-Am cars were developments of the sports cars which were introduced in 1964 for the North American sports car races. The development variants M1A and M1B were raced as factory cars in the 1966 with Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon as drivers. In 1967, specifically for the Can-Am series, the McLaren team introduced a new model, the M6. The McLaren M6 also introduced what was to become the trademark orange colour for the team. The McLaren team consisted of team owner and leader Bruce McLaren and Denny Hulme. The M6 series were a full alumninum monocoque design with no uncommon features but, for the time, uncommon attention to detail. The M6 series of cars were powered by smallblock Chevy engines built by George Boltoff for McLaren and were the model of reliability. This was followed in 1968 by the M8A, a new design based around the Chevy Mark IV "big block" engine as a stressed member of the chassis. The M8B, M8C, M8D and M20C were developments of that aluminum monocoque chassis. McLaren so dominated the 1968-1971 seasons that Can-Am was often called the "Bruce and Denny Show" after the drivers. Sadly, Bruce McLaren lost his life on June 2, 1970 at Goodwood when the rear bodywork of his prototype M8D detached during testing resulting in a totally uncontrollable car and a fatal highspeed crash. Team McLaren went on to become a several time F1 champion and is still very much a part of F1.
Jim Hall's Chaparrals were very innovative, following his success in the United States Road Racing Championship (USRRC). Jim Hall's 2 series Chaparrals (built and engineered with a high degree of covert support from Chevrolet's research and development division) were leaders in the application of aerodynamics to racecars culminating with the introduction of the 2E in 1966, the first of the high wing race cars. The 2E was a defining design, and the 2G was a development of that basic design. The FIA banned movable aerodynamic devices and Chaparral responded with the 2H 1969. The 2H broke new ground, seeking to reduce drag but didn't achieve much success. The 2J that followed was perhaps the ultimate example of what Group 7 rules could allow in a racing car. It was a twin-engined car, with the by-then usual big-block Chevrolet engine providing the driving force, and a tiny snowmobile engine powering a pair of fans at the back of the car. These fans, combined with the moveable Lexan 'skirts' around the bottom of the car created a vacuum underneath the car, effectively providing the same level of downforce as the huge wings of previous vehicles, without the drag. Although far too mechanically complex to survive in racing environments, the theory was sound, and would appear in Formula One a few years later, first in Colin Chapman's Lotus cars, and even more directly in the BT46B 'Fan Car' of 1978.
Don Nichols' UOP-sponsored Shadow team made its debut with an astonishing car with tiny wheels and radiators mounted on top of the rear wing; this was unsuccessful, but later more conventional cars came to dominate the final Can-Am series as Porsche and McLaren faded from the scene.
The Porsche 908 spyder was used in Can Am, but was underpowered (350 hp) and mainly used by underfunded teams. It did win the 1970 Road Atlanta race though when the more powerful cars fell out. The 917PA, a spyder version of the 917K Le Mans car, was raced, but its normally aspirated flat-12 was underpowered (530hp). In 1971 the 917/10 was introduced. This was still not turbocharged, but was lighter and had cleaner body work, and Jo Siffert managed to finish fourth in the championship.
For 1972 the 917/10K with a turbo charged 900 horsepower 5 liter flat-12 was introduced. Prepared by Roger Penske and driven by Mark Donohue and George Follmer these cars won six of the nine races. In 1972 Porsche introduced an even more powerful car, the 917/30KL. Nicknamed the Turbopanzer, this car was truly a monster. With 1100 horsepower (820 kW) on tap from a 5.4 liter flat-12 and better downforce this car won every race in the 1973 championship. In 1975 Mark Donohue drove this car to a closed course world speed record of 221 mph (356 km/h) at the Talladega Superspeedway (then called the Alabama International Motor Speedway). It did over 250 mph (402 km/h) on the straights. It also helped kill Can-Am by being one of the most expensive cars Porsche ever made. No one could compete with this outrageous machine with the budgets of the day. For 1974 a 3 miles per US gallon maximum fuel consumption rule was introduced by the SCCA, partially due to the current fuel crisis, but also to try and take the teeth out of Porsche's dominance. Penske Racing only raced the 917/30KL once that year at Mid-Ohio (driven by Brian Redman).
These marques dominated the series for most of its existence; other vehicles occasionally appeared but were essentially making up the numbers. Well-established European manufacturers like Ferrari and BRM appeared at various times with little success, March tried to get a share of the lucrative market in 1970-1 but couldn't establish themselves, and Ford flitted across the scene with a number of unsuccessful cars based on the GT40 and its successors. Americam specialist marques like McKee, Caldwell, and the part-titanium Autocoast also competed, alongside real exotica like the astonishing four-engined Macs-It special.
Decline and revival Edit
1974 was the last year for the Can-Am championship. Spiraling costs, a recession in North America following the oil crisis, and dwindling support and interest led to the series being cancelled the end of the 1974 season. The Can-Am name still held enough drawing power to lead SCCA to introduce a revised Can-Am series in 1977 based on a closed-wheel version of the rules of the recently canceled Formula A/5000 series. This grew steadily in status, particularly during the USAC/CART wars of the late 70s and early 80s, and attracted some top road-racing teams and drivers and a range of vehicles including specials based on rebodied single seaters (particularly Lola F5000s) and also bespoke cars from constructors like March as well as smaller manufacturers. The series peaked in the early 80s but as the CART Champcar series and IMSA's GTP championship grew in stature it faded away and was gone by 1986.
|1966||John Surtees||Team Surtees||Lola T70-Chevrolet|
|1967||Bruce McLaren||Bruce McLaren Motor Racing||McLaren M6A-Chevrolet|
|1968||Denny Hulme||Bruce McLaren Motor Racing||McLaren M8A-Chevrolet|
|1969||Bruce McLaren||Bruce McLaren Motor Racing||McLaren M8B-Chevrolet|
|1970||Denny Hulme||Bruce McLaren Motor Racing||McLaren M8D-Chevrolet|
|1971||Peter Revson||Bruce McLaren Motor Racing||McLaren M8F-Chevrolet|
|1972||George Follmer||Penske Racing||Porsche 917/10|
|1973||Mark Donohue||Penske Racing||Porsche 917/30KL|
|1974||Jackie Oliver||Shadow Racing Cars||Shadow DN4A-Chevrolet|
|1977||Patrick Tambay||Haas-Hall Racing||Lola T333CS-Chevrolet|
|1978||Alan Jones||Haas-Hall Racing||Lola T333CS-Chevrolet|
|1979||Jacky Ickx||Carl Haas Racing||Lola T333CS-Chevrolet|
|1980||Patrick Tambay||Carl Haas Racing||Lola T530-Chevrolet|
|1981||Geoff Brabham||Team VDS||Lola T530-Chevrolet and VDS 001-Chevrolet|
|1982||Al Unser Jr.||Galles Racing||Frissbee GR3-Chevrolet|
|1983||Jacques Villeneuve||Canadian Tire||Frissbee GR3-Chevrolet|
|1984||IRL Michael Roe||Don Walker||VDS 002-Chevrolet and VDS 004-Chevrolet|
|1985||Rick Miaskiewicz||Mosquito Autosport||Frissbee GR3-Chevrolet|
|1986||Horst Kroll||Kroll Racing||Frissbee KR3-Chevrolet|
- CanAm History site
- Can-Am History, by Michael Stucker
- Can-Am Results 1966-1986
- Birth of Can-Am Racing, by Leon Mandel
- Can-Am at Laguna Seca, Monterey, California, by John S. Krill
- Can-Am Circus by Stéphane Lebiez
- Can-Am, Pete Lyons, Motorbooks International
- Can-Am Races 1966-1969, Brooklands Books
- Can-Am Races 1970-1974, Brooklands Books
- Can-Am Racing Cars 1966-1974, Brooklands Books