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1970 McLaren M8D Can-Am car

Photo: Bob Krueger
Photo: Bob Krueger

My greatest racecar would have to be a choice between my first F5000 car, the 1969 McLaren, or, the 1970 McLaren Can-Am car. The first Formula 5000 car I raced was the McLaren M10A with the big rear wing. Bruce McLaren and I got the car working very well, it was a fantastic car. When I tested the car for the first time at Goodwood with him, my God, was it a fast car! In certain respects it was frightening. However, after a day or so of driving it, I wanted more and more power. Racing with the car was a joy; I won the first four races of the inaugural F5000 championship in 1969, at Oulton Park, Mallory Park, and two races at Brands Hatch. I had a clutch problem with the car at Silverstone and retired out of the fifth race of the season. However, my lead in the championship was so strong I was able to compete in three races in the USA before returning and winning the 1969 F5000 Guards Championship. Success followed me across the pond, I won at Lime Rock.

The McLaren M8D Can-Am car was a car that I’d tested at Goodwood. Needless to say, the M8D was a much bigger and heavier car than the F5000 M10A single-seater. In the wet, I have to admit the car was very tricky and twitchy, especially at some circuits. When driving through corners, you’d have to engage the clutch because the car would have so much horsepower it would take you off—even on tickover! My first Can-Am race was at Edmonton, Alberta, replacing Dan Gurney in the team. Dan had left to concentrate on his Eagle Indycar project. Edmonton was the third race of the series and, very sadly, a series that could no longer boast the talent of Bruce McLaren.  He’d been killed testing the car at Goodwood in early June 1970—I was there on that fateful day. Up to that point, Can-Am had been affectionately referred to as the Bruce and Denny show in deference to the strangle-hold the pair had had on the series. So, no pressure for me in my first race! Denny Hulme gave me a great deal of help and assistance, especially during practice for the race. We were out on circuit trying differing setups with wing angles, ride heights, tires, and tire pressures, trying to find the ultimate setting for the track. I felt the car had too much understeer and it took time to dial it in. I, too, had to alter my driving style to accommodate the idiosyncrasies of the car and its behavior. At the end of qualifying, Denny took pole position and I joined him on the front row just four-tenths behind. The race outcome was similar to qualifying—I followed Denny across the line. My third race in the car at Elkart Lake gave me a victory. It was very pleasing, especially after negotiating the very tight and twisty Mid-Ohio circuit in such a powerful car the week before. I finished the season a respectable 3rd in the championship. My success was, in the main, due to the car Bruce had put so much work into prior to the start of the season, and which he had paid the ultimate price developing.

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