The Group 7 category was essentially a formule 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 United States 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.
On-track, the series was initially dominated by Lola, followed by a period in which it became known as the 'Bruce and Denny Show', the works McLaren team dominating until the Porsche 917 was perfected and became almost unbeatable. After Porsche's withdrawal, Shadow dominated the last season before Can-Am faded away to be replaced by Formula 5000. Racing was rarely close - one marque was usually dominant - but the noise and spectacle of the cars made the series highly popular.
The energy crisis and the increased cost of competing in Can-Am meant that the series folded after the relatively lacklustre 1974 season; the single seater Formula 5000 series became the leading road-racing series in North America and many of the Can-Am drivers and teams continued to race in this. F5000's reign lasted for only two years, with a second generation of Can-Am following. This was a fundamentally different series based initially on converted Formula 5000 cars with closed-wheel bodies. There was also a 2L class based on Formula 2 chassis. The second incarnation of Can-Am faded away as IMSA and CART racing became more popular in the early 1980s but remained active until 1987.
Can-Am remains a well-remembered form of racing due to its popularity at the time, the spectacular cars and the lineup of talented drivers. Can-Am cars remain popular in historic racing.
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 color for the team. The McLaren team was considered very "multi national" for the times and consisted of team owner and leader Bruce McLaren, fellow New Zealander Chris Amon and another "Kiwi" and the 1967 Formula One World Champion,Denny Hulme, Team Manager Teddy Mayer, Mechanics Tyler Alexander, Gary Knutson, Lee Muir, George Bolthoff, Gary Knutson, Frank Zimmerman, Tom Anderson and Haig Altoonian & (USA), Don Beresford & Alec Greaves(UK),Cary Taylor, Jimmy Stone, Chris Charles, Colin Beanland, Alan McCall and Alistair Caldwell(NZ). The M6 series were a full aluminum monocoque design with no uncommon features but, for the times, there was an uncommon attention to detail in preparation by the team members. The M6 series of cars were powered by smallblock Chevy engines built by Al Bartz Engines in Van Nuys, CA., They 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. McLaren went "in house" with their engine shop in 1969. The M8B, M8C, M8D and M20C were developments of that aluminum monocoque chassis. McLaren so dominated the 1967-1971 seasons that Can-Am was often called the "Bruce and Denny Show" after the drivers who very often finished 1-2. In fact there waseven a 1-2-3 finish at the michigan International Speedway on September 28, 1969. McLaren 1st, Hulme 2nd, Gurney 3rd. Sadly, 9 months later, 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. McLaren continued to succeed in Can-Am after Bruce's death with a number of other drivers, but the works Porsche effort with turbocharged flat-12 engines and a high development budget meant that they could not keep up with the 917. Although private McLarens continued in the series, the works team withdrew to concentrate on Formula One (and USAC, for several years). 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.
The Lola T-70, T-160, T-163, and T-260 were built for various customers and were generally either Chevy or Ford powered. The Lola T-70 driven by John Surtees won the first Can Am championship. Later Lolas adopted more radical aerodynamics and Jackie Stewart achieved some success at the wheel of a T260 but the car was never fully developed.
British-born mechanic and engineer Peter Bryant designed the Ti22 (occasionally known as the Autocoast after one of the team's major backers) as an American-built challenger to the British McLarens and Lolas. The car made extensive use of titanium in its chassis and suspension, and Bryant experimented with aerodynamics and with early use of carbon-fibre to reduce weight. Although the car was quick it did not achieve consistent success; problems with the team's funding saw Bryant move on to Don Nichols' UOP-sponsored Shadow team. The Shadow marque had made its debut with an astonishing car with tiny wheels and radiators mounted on top of the rear wing designed by Trevor Harris; this was unsuccessful, and more conventional cars designed by Bryant replaced them; Bryant was sidelined when Shadow moved into Formula One but after his departure turbocharged Shadow came to dominate 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 (530 hp). 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 only weighing in at 1800 lb (816 kg) with better downforce this car won every race in the 1973 championship. The Porsche dominance was such that engine rules were changed to try to reduce the dominance of one marque by enforcing a fuel-consumption rule for 1974. This kind of alteration of rules to promote equality is not unknown in other forms of American motorsport. In 1975, after the demise of the category for which the car had been created, 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 was capable of over 250 mph (402 km/h) on the straights.
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 and Caldwell competed, alongside real exotica like the astonishing four-engined Macs-It special.
The name was once again revived in 1998, when the United States Road Racing Championship broke away from IMSA. Their top prototype class was named Can-Am, but the series would fold before the end of 1999 before being replaced by the Grand American Road Racing Championship. The Can-Am name would not be retained in the new series.
|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 / VDS 001-Chevrolet|
|1982||Al Unser Jr.||Galles Racing||Frissbee GR3-Chevrolet|
|1983||Jacques Villeneuve||Canadian Tire||Frissbee GR3-Chevrolet|
|1984||Michael Roe||Don Walker||VDS 002-Chevrolet / VDS 004-Chevrolet|
|1985||Rick Miaskiewicz||Mosquito Autosport||Frissbee GR3-Chevrolet|
|1986||Horst Kroll||Kroll Racing||Frissbee KR3-Chevrolet|
|1979||Tim Evans||Diversified Engineering Services||Lola T290-Ford|
|1980||Gary Gove||Pete Lovely VW||Ralt RT2-Hart|
|1981||Jim Trueman||TrueSports||Ralt RT2-Hart|
|1982||Bertil Roos||Elite Racing||Marquey CA82-Hart|
|1983||Bertil Roos||Roos Racing School||Scandia B3-Hart|
|1984||Kim Campbell||Tom Mitchell Racing||March 832-BMW|
|1985||Lou Sell||Sell Racing||March 832-BMW|
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