In November of the previous year Penske announced to the world that they would be leading the Porsche effort in the Canadian Challenge Cup series. The Porsche 917 had been the dominant car in the World Sportscar Championship in 1970 and 1971. But for 1972, the FIA limited Group 5 cars to an engine capacity of 3-liters. With the 4.5L flat-12 engine of the 917 no longer eligible in Group 5, and with an interest in boosting sales in North America.
McLaren in response hired World Champion Jackie Stewart to partner Denny Hulme.
|“I was approached by McLaren about whether I would drive for them the following year. I tested the McLaren and it was just like driving a passenger car compared to the incredibly nervous, pointy, short-wheelbase Lola where you were a millisecond away from an accident all the time." - Jackie Stewart
Johnson Wax which had been the title sponsor would end it's relationship with the series which resulted in the lack of any championship fund beyond scraping up enough money to buy a trophy. The 1972 Can-Am season would consist of nine rounds starting at mosport on the 11th of June.
Days before the first race at Mosport Park, Stewart was out and Revson was back due to Stewart's ongoing health issues involving mononucleosis and an ulcer. Both he and Hulme would be driving the all new McLaren M20 against the twin-turbo Porsche 917/10 of Mark Donohue. Shadow would have a new car for Jackie Oliver, this time without the silly little wheels. Neither BRM or a new Lola appeared at the first race which saw Donohue on the pole. Besides him was Peter Revson with Hulme and Oliver on the next row. The race for the first corner was won by Revson before the Porsche' horsepower advantage allowed the Penske car to take the lead. Oliver was soon out with transmission failure as Donohue extended his lead.
Penske ran into some engine trouble and had to pit, returning to the race in 9th, 3 laps down. Revson's engine failed on the 78th lap while Hulme was having problems of his own. Donohue was now in 2nd place but to far back to catch the Mclaren. Hulme would win the first race, with Donohue 2nd and Revson 3rd though not running at the end. The future looked dim for the McLaren team.
The next race at Road Atlanta saw all three top teams arriving early for testing. The McLaren team was able to improve their cars handling as well as their brakes, though the testing ended up destroying a couple of cars and putting one driver in the hospital. Oliver's Shadow had the throttle stuck wide open at around 160 mph causing the car to crash into an embankment, luckily the shaken drive was able to walk away. Donohue was not so lucky.
Going down the back straightaway, the wing, which produced a tremendous amount of downforce at high speeds, came off the back of the car,” Donohue claimed.
Actually the entire rear bodywork came off as well, frighteningly similar to the crash suffered by Bruce McLaren. When the car finally came to rest Donohue could only crawl away from the smoldering wreck fearing it may catch fire. His injuries would mean the team needed to fine a new driver as Donohue convalesced. It would be weeks before Donohue could walk unassisted and months before he would race.
The next race at Road Atlanta welcomed the new car from Lola, the T310 to be driven by F5000 Champion, David Hobbs. Jackie Oliver was back with the rebuilt Shadow and may have wished otherwise. The sensation of qualifying was François Cevert driving the ex-Revson McLaren M8F for the Young American Racing Team. Penske hired American racer George Follmer as Donohue's replacement. Follmer had driven for Penske off and on for a number of years including the Trans-Am series.
Hulme qualified on pole with Follmer next to him and Revson one place behind, next to Cevert. Follmer was able to pass Hulme on the outside with both Mclarens close behind. Revson's car lost power on the third lap while Hulme continued to follow the Porsche, powerless to make a pass unless Follmer made a mistake. Disaster struck when air under the front of Hulme car caused it to do aback flip and landing on it's rollbar. Revson who had stopped to repair his car was able to rush to the scene to assist his fellow driver. The badly shaken Hulme was able to walk away from the accident. George Follmer would go on to win the race, 2nd was Greg Young of Young American Racing Team, with Milt Minter in 3rd.
The 3rd round would be held at Watkins Glen. The race would be the Mclaren Team's final hurrah with Denny Hulme leading Peter Revson in their final 1-2. 3rd was Cevert while 4th was David Hobbs for Lola's best finish for a largely unsuccessful year. The win by Hulme would be the last victory for team from New Zealand and would mark the end of an era never to return.
Jackie Oliver's best race was the next round at Mid-Ohio when his Shadow came in 2nd to George Follmer's Porsche. Follmer had been under some pressure from Porsche management to "up" his game and his second win did much to calm everyone down. 3rd was Milt Minter. The best that McLaren could do was a 4th by Denny Hulme.
François Cevert continued to impress everyone qualifying 2nd at Road America to Denny Hulme. Perhaps Teddy Mayer had made a mistake and should have hired Cevert to partner Hulme instead of Revson. In the 2nd row were two Porsche 917/10s driven by Mark Minter and Peter Gregg. Follmer did not get to the track until Saturday and by then the track was slick and wet. Follmer could not qualify higher than 13th. Revson was also caught out having to start back in 25th. When the flag dropped Follmer and Revson wasted no time moving towards the front and after the 1st lap Follmer was in 10th, Revson 13th. By the end of lap 2 Follmer was in 6th with Revson in 10th. On lap 4 the Porsche was 4th and by the 7th he had passed Oliver and Cevert and was now 2nd with Revson in 5th. By lap 12 Hulme was out with an engine failure, he was joined by Revson, who suffered from clutch problems. Follmer took the win with Cevert in 2nd and Peter Greg in 3rd. Jean-Pierre Jarier was 4th in the NART Ferrari 712M.
The dashing Frenchman won the next race at Donnybrooke where neither McLarens scored any points for the second race in a row. Milt Minter scored another 15 points for the Vasek Polak Racing Team with Oliver's Shadow in 3rd. George Follmer was all set to win the race only to run out of gas! Donohue who qualified on poll on his return suffered a slow leak that eventually caused the tire to fail and Donohue an off-track excursion, which luckily ended in an open field.
A still recovering Mark Donohue won at Edmonton followed by Hulme in 2nd and Follmer in 3rd. Donohue had let Follmer by on the last lap not realized that his teammate was a lap down. The Brazilian Carlos Pace driving the second Shadows Mk3 finished in 4th place. The other Mclaren driven by Peter Revson finished in 6th.
Laguna Seca was dominated by the Porsches of Roger Penske Racing with Donohue on poll. While leading Donohue let Follmer by for the win with Cevert coming from the back of the grid to 3rd place. Both McLaren's failed to finish though Revson was awarded 19th place. Shadow was limited to one car driven by Jackie Oliver which didn't finish due to an oil leak.
At Riverside Follmer would start from poll with Denny Hulme along side him for what would be his last Can-Am race. Behind them were Donohue and Revson. Follmer would win the race with Revson in second and Donohue in 3rd. Hulme was hit by engine troubles and was not running at the end. George Follmer would win the Can-Am Championship with Hulme and Minter tied on points for 2nd , but Hulme ahead because of his two wins early in the season. Donohue finished 3rd despite missing half the races.
McLaren's Peter Revson would test a a car powered by Chevy's twin turbo engine producing in the region of 900 bhp but quickly realized they would need a car with more downforce, a new gearbox and a much stronger drivetrain. With Goodyear urging the team to concentrate on Indy there was no budget for the changes the much more powerful engine would require and McLaren decided not compete in Can-Am the following year.