McLaren ’50 in 50′: History in America

The McLaren team have a long and successful history in the United States of America, not just in Formula One but also Can-Am and the Indianapolis 500.

Can-Am 1967-1972

The Canadian-American Challenge Cup (Can-Am) was a sports car series that ran from 1966 to 1986. McLaren contested it from 1967 until 1972 and proved to be highly successful. Bruce McLaren himself drove in the championship until his untimely death in 1970. McLaren Formula One drivers Denny Hulme, Peter Revson, Dan Gurney and Peter Gethin also contributed to the success. Races were held at a number of circuits in the USA and Canada including Mosport, Laguna Seca, Watkins Glen and Elkhart Lake. In 1967 the M6A, piloted by McLaren and Hulme, won the championship with five out of six victories. McLaren was the champion with Hulme in second. In one race, at Laguna Seca, McLaren managed to lap the entire field on his way to victory. In 1968 the positions were reversed as Hulme took the championship with McLaren in second. In 1969 the M8B won the McLaren team a third championship in a row with McLaren champion ahead of Hulme again. The championship was often referred to as the Bruce and Denny show due to their domination over the years. After Bruce’s tragic death while testing the M8D, the team chose to persevere to get the car prepared for the Can-Am championship, knowing it would have been what he had wanted. Hulme once again drove for the team, at first being partnered by Gurney and then by Gethin. It was a dominating season for the team as they took another championship and seven out of eight victories – the perfect tribute to Bruce. A fifth and final title was waiting for the team in 1971. Seven out of nine victories and Revson finishing first in the championship with Hulme in second. 1972 was a disappointing season in comparison with the team finishing behind Team Penske. Following 1972, McLaren pulled out of the Can-Am championship.

Indianapolis 500

The Indianapolis 500 has been running for well over 100 years. It is an annual event held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and is seen as being highly prestigious. McLaren have won the race as constructors on three occasions – 1972, 1974 and 1976. Mark Donohue won it for Roger Penske Enterprises (with a McLaren chassis and an Offenhauser engine), in 1972. He had finished second in 1971 but went one better the following year. He only led the final 13 laps out of 200. Next up was Johnny Rutherford at the wheel of a Bruce McLaren Motor Racing car. He started 25th and led 123 of 200 laps. He had tried, but failed, to win the Indy 500 on ten previous occasions. He won it again for the team in 1976, this time starting on pole position. The race was halted due to rain and after it was restarted the decision was made to stop it completely and Rutherford was classified the winner after 102 racing laps.

Formula One

After Monaco, Belgium and the British Grand Prix, McLaren’s next most successful race is the US Grand Prix (in its many guises). Under the title of the US Grand Prix, McLaren have won on eight occasions and are the joint second most successful constructor there – behind Ferrari and tied with Lotus. McLaren’s most recent win in America was at the inaugural Austin Grand Prix in 2012 when Lewis Hamilton took his final race win for the team. They also won the 1976 and 1977 races at Watkins Glen (with James Hunt taking victory); all three races in Phoenix (Alain Prost 1989 & Ayrton Senna 1990 and 1991); as well as twice at Indianapolis (Mika Hakkinen in 2001 & Hamilton 2007). Other victories in America, at races that did not take the title of ‘US GP’ include two in 1982 – Niki Lauda in Long Beach (aka the USA West Grand Prix) and John Watson in Detroit (aka the USA East Grand Prix). Watson also won the 1983 race at Long Beach. In 1988 Senna won in Detroit. This brings their total of Formula One victories in the USA to 12. Coincidentally, it is 39 years to the day that Emerson Fittipaldi won McLaren’s first ever championship at Watkins Glen.


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