On June 2nd, 1970 at Goodwood Circuit in England the rear wing failed on the McLaren M8D Bruce McLaren was testing causing the bodywork to peel away sending the M8D off the track at 270kph. After he’d received the news from the track, Bruce’s right-hand man Teddy Mayer called the factory together – requesting that they put down their welding torches, their hacksaws, their brooms.
He ushered them onto the workshop floor just after lunchtime on that warm summer day.
“Guys, I have the worst possible news,” said Mayer. “Bruce has just bought the farm.”
‘Buying the farm’ was a wartime euphemism for being killed – and everybody assembled in David Road would have well known its meaning.
“Let’s all just go home,” he sighed. “Have some time to yourselves. Take tomorrow off.”
The workforce, shattered, broken and directionless, walked away in a daze, their world over.
For the 1970 season both super speedways decided to give the Can-Am series a pass. Gone too, regrettably was Bridgehampton replaced with Donnybrooke International Raceway in Minnesota and Road Atlanta in Georgia. The first race would again be at Mosport Park, though two weeks later. The shattered McLaren team would have two weeks to pull themselves together. After the death of team owner Bruce McLaren, Dan Gurney was asked to fill in with the team.
Gurney immediately proved why many consider him one of the fastest drivers in the world by qualifying on pole with Hulme, still recovering from his burns that he receive at Indianapolis starting besides him. On the second row was Jackie Oliver driving an Autocoast Ti22 and Peter Revson in a Lola T220. The Ti22 was a well designed American built car by Englishman Peter Bryant that utilized a lot of titanium in its construction. Jackie Oliver was brought over from England with a salary of expenses plus $1000 per race or 40% of the purse, whichever was greater.
Starting 6th was the grotesque AVS Shadow with the absurdly small tires driven by a very brave George Follmer. While the low frontal area helped in straight line speed the general ride characteristics must have been torture to the tough American. Hulme led from the start but at the half-way point of the race the Ti22 was in second. Monetarily held up by traffic Hulme was passed by Oliver and Gurney. Finally Gurney was able to pass Oliver who would touch wheels with the McLaren of Lothar Motschenbacher causing the German driver to crash heavily. Gurney went on to win the race with Oliver able to soldier on in 2nd with Hulme finishing a very painful third.
The race at St Jovite's Circuit Mont-Tremblant is notorious for the hump on the very fast back stretch, and it was at this point that Oliver got a flying start, literally when instability created by the hump was aggravated by the turbulence generated from the cars in front of the Autocoast Ti22 caused Oliver's car to rear up and perform a complete back flip before landing and sliding on its nose. Fortunately for Oliver the titanium chassis absorbed all the damage and enabled him to escape virtually unscratched. Oliver was able to walk away from the accident but his race was obviously done.
Hulme's engine had come to a smoky end leaving Gurney to lead Motschenbacher to the finish with George Eaton driving the BRM P154 into 3rd place. Follmer driving the AVS Shadow dropped out on the 13th lap due to overheating. After the race, the Shadow was destroyed when the trailer carrying it was wrecked by a drunk driver in a stolen car. By the time a new car was built there would be a new driver.
The next race a Watkins Glen included a number of entries from the World Championship race held on Saturday. The star of the race was the radical new Chaparral 2J with ground effects on the part of two auxiliary motors sucking air from the bottom of the car. problems from these motors and the Chaparrals rear brakes however would hamper the car all weekend. Nothing would hamper it's driver however, F1 World Champion Jackie Stewart. Two cars were missing this weekend both from crashes, the Ti22 on the track and the Shadow on it's trailer!. The race began with Hulme and Gurney in the lead. They were soon challenged by the Porsche 917 sports car of Jo Siffert. Both McLarens were suffering from high temperatures but Hulme was able to hold on for the win trailed by five Porsche 917s and a Ferrari 512, an embarrassing result for the regular Can-Am entrants.
Though Gurney won the first two races from pole for the devastated team he was never completely comfortable driving for them. Forbidden to make changes to his car set-up without approval from team management and the team's desire for Gurney to make a full-time commitment to the team which would include Formula 1, would have resulted in having to abandon his own team AAR, at least temporarily was too much of a sacrifice for a driver that was finding his own driving in a McLaren against inferior competition less than satisfactory.
Englishman and British F5000 winner Peter Gethin replaced Gurney for the 4th race at Edmonton Speedway Park. Compared to his F5000 car the McLaren seemed big and heavy to the Englishman. The overheating issues that were plaguing the McLarens were isolated to their chassis installation rather than to the engines themselves. Modifications to the radiators and some duct work mitigated the issue. Hulme grabbed pole position and Gethin found himself along side. Lothar Motschenbacher qualified 3rd in his McLaren M8B alongside Bob Brown in his McLeagle. Things were back to normal when Hulme led a McLaren 1-2 with new man Gethin coming in 2nd and Motschenbacher 3rd.
At Mid-Ohio, Hulme won again but this time he was followed by Peter Revson in a Lola T220 driving for Carl Haas Racing. 3rd was Lothar Motschenbacher. Gethin's McLaren did not see the finish due to engine failure. During the race Vic Elford who had replaced George Follmer driving the AVS Shadow pulled in the pits on the 9th lap deciding that the car was not only a danger to himself but to others as well. The Shadow team would withdraw from the series until a more conventional car could be built.
Since joining the team, Peter Gethin did not seem totally comfortable driving the large bore sports cars which needed to be manhandled. Driving in these cars in the rain at Road America did not help things for the Englishman and the best he could do was qualify 6th. On Sunday, under blue skies, Gethin found new life. The leader after the 1st lap was Peter Revson but Gethin was already 3rd behind Hulme. By the end of lap two both McLarens were able to pass Revson's Lola. Hulme let Gethin into the lead and Revson suffered a deflated tire and resulting damage to his car forced him out of the race. Eventually Hulme made it back into the lead but 13 laps from the end he came upon a group of back markers. Having to take evasive action he spun his McLaren and stalled the engine. Dropping the clutch to start the engine was not allowed through a quirk in the rules which would later come to haunt Hulme. Getting a slow signal from the pits, Gethin was forced to wait for his teammate who then passed him back into the lead only to be disqualified. Gethin was given the win with Bob Bondurant in 2nd and Dave Causey in 3rd. Left unsaid was that the "bear was fit to be tied".
Road Atlanta saw the return of the Chaparral 2J, this time driven by Vic Elford who promptly placed the Chaparral on pole. The McLarens, led by Hulme could do no better the 2nd and 3rd. Next to Gethin was Peter Revson driving the Lola T220 for Carl Haas Racing. Since Watkins Glen the Chaparral had gone through a number of modifications including larger brakes, fuel injection and reworked extractor fans. At the start the Chaparral fell back to 4th. Hulme expecting the onslaught from Elford's car clouted a back marker as he was attempting to get some more distance on the Chaparral and was forced to retire. Ignition problems required the Chaparral to lose time in the pits, finishing in 6th place six laps down. Peter Gethin went off course as he lost traction on a patch of oil, returning after a new nose was fitted in 6th place.
Revson. who was now leading the race had his 2nd flat tire in as many races, causing him to lose control and crashed into a dirt bank that also collected the McLeagle of Bob Brown. This put the BRM P154 driven by George Eaton into the lead of the destruction derby. On lap 48 Eaton added his BRM to the scrap heap joined later by Gethin as his gearbox failed. In a race of survival, one of the last men standing was the virtual unknown Porsche driver, Tony Dean, in the lead with just nine laps to go. He crossed the finish line 72 seconds ahead of the second place Lola T163 of Dave Causey to win his first and only Can-Am and break the McLaren's win streak at nineteen races. 3rd went to Lothar Motschenbacher in his McLaren M12.
At Donnybrooke Speedway, the 8th round of the series Peter Revson set the fastest time for pole over Hulme and the March 707 driven by Chris Amon with Gethin joining Amon on the 2nd row. Sadly the Chaparral was nowhere to be seen but in its place there were the two Castrol BRMs driven by George Eaton and Pedro Rodriguez. Revson's new Lola T220 that replaced the one he crashed at Road Atlanta now had a wheelbase 10 inches longer which according the Revson improved stability, especially under braking. Hulme drag raced Revson into the lead while Revson was battling Gethin for 2nd until his throttle became stuck, A quick tip to the pits was met with a delay leaving it while a new throttle spring was being fitted. Amon was now behind Gethin and would soon challenge for 2nd place. When an internal pipe broke Amon had to retire his fuel starved car. The race however ended in a McLaren 1-2 with Hulme winning over Gethin. Peter Revson was one lap back in 3rd.
The Chaparral 2J was back at Laguna Seca and qualified on pole only to blow an engine during morning warm-up and not start the race. Autocoast had a new model car the Ti22 Mk II while Revson's Lola T220 and Amon's March707 looked much improved. The Mclarens of Hulme and Gethin moved to the front row with the Chaparral non-started. Without the Chaparral both McLarens took an early lead. Amon was the first to drop back with brake issues which also struck Revson's Lola. Gethin spun his Mclaren on some oil and stalled his engine. Not able to restart his car on its own he was forced to retire. Though Oliver tried his best to Denny Hulme into the lead the New Zealander had the race well in hand for a close win over Oliver's Ti22 Mk II in 2nd with Revson in third one lap down.
At Riverside Elford was again on pole by almost 2 second over Hulme with Revson in 3d next to Oliver in 4th. During practice the Chaparral was able to easily pass Hulme's Mclaren on the outside down in turn 9 to the consternation of the McLaren team. Meeting were called to discuss the Chaparrals unfair advantage, all were invited except the team that was under threat. Nothing was decided prior to the race though the knives were out for Hall's team, the team if a poll were taken, was probably the fan's favorite. Gethin could do no better than 6th in his last Can-Am race. Hulme grabbed the early lead The Chaparral again fell back in the early going because of it's automatic transmission but as it was getting ready to mount its challenge one of the suction motors failed and it's race was over before it began. The most fantastic race car ever designed had raced its last race. The car that epitomized the Canadian - American Challenge Cup and the team that gave it birth would never race in the Can-Am again. The race was won by Hulme but it was a hollow win. Oliver was 2nd and Pedro Rodriguez win 3rd. Hulme won 1970 Can-Am Championship. Peter Gethin blew his engine on the 21st lap.