CanAm, short for Canadian-American Challenge Cup, was a sports car racing series that persisted from 1966 through 1974. It used the FIA Group 7 category with two races occurring in Canada and four races in the United States. Funding was initially provided by J-Wax.
The CanAm series was astonishing and 'wide open.' There were minimal regulations on the aerodynamics, engine sizes, and vehicle mechanics. The main rules were a body that enclosed the wheels, complied with the safety requirements, and had seating for two.
In Europe, the Group 7 cars were mostly designed for short distance races rather than the endurance racing. There were no homologating requirements and limited regulations.
In North America, the CanAm series was appealing for many reasons. The price money was good and the competition and the races were exciting. The cars were faster than the Formula 1 cars of that era. The sport evolved to having cars well over 1000 horsepower with low weight, aerodynamic bodies, and large wings to create necessary down-force. Turbo-charging and supercharging were widely used. The bodies and mechanical components were made of exotic metals such as titanium. The series became a testing ground for many manufactures interested in examining technology without the worries of new or imposing regulations. Among the top manufacturers in the series were BRM, Shadow, Porsche, Chaparral, Lola, and McLaren.
The first Can-Am race was on September 1966 at St. Jovite Raceway. Famous drivers, manufacturers, and cars were entered, totaling 34 entrants. John Surtees of England entered a Chevy small-block powered V8 Lola T-70. George Follmer, Kiwis Bruce McLaren, Chris Amon, and John Cannon also showed up with powerful cars ready to contend for the first ever Championship of Can Am Racing. At the end of the season it was Surtees who was crowned the champion after winning three of the races. Dan Gurney captured a victory at Bridgehampton while driving a Ford powered racer.
For 1967, McLaren entered a potent M6A racer which dominated the season with Bruce McLaren easily capturing the championship. The M6A was powered by a small-block Chevy V8 capable of producing over 520 horsepower.
McLaren continued their dominance for the next four years. Dennise Hulme won the Championship in 1968 and 1970 with Bruce McLaren securing another championship victory in 1969. Bruce McLaren was was killed while testing a McLaren Can-Am car and was not around to compete during the 1970 season.
Many of the cars were quick but suffered from either reliability issues or were underdeveloped when compared to the McLarens. The Chaparrals and Lolas were especially fast and offered plenty of competition for the McLarens. By 1968, most of the cars were powered by all-aluminum big-block Chevrolet engines producing over 620 horsepower. Manufacturers from other racing series were lured into CanAm racing due to the prize money. Ferrari even entered the ring with their 612P driven by Chris Amon. With a V12 engine and using engines that were 6.2 and 6.9 liters in capacity, it was very quick but not as perfected as some of the other cars in the circuit.
The Porsche 917/10 was similar to other 917's but purposely built for Group 7 of American CanAm racing. It used even more lightweight materials and a larger fuel tank. The larger tank allowed the vehicle to complete a 200 mile race without needing to refuel. During its first season of racing, it was not as successful as hoped. The 12-cylinder engine was not powerful enough to compete for first place. So the 917 was fitted with turbochargers. With the turbochargers and 950 horsepower, the driver needed to be very cautious due to the sudden power increases produced by the turbochargers.
The Lola T220 provided the most competition for the McLaren team but was unable to secure the championship. One of the team drivers for Lola, Peter Revson, left Lola in 1971 to drive for McLaren in their new M8F car. Lola entered their newest creation, the T260 driven by F-1 Champion Jackie Stewart. The cars once again provided McLaren with competition but it was not enough. Revson finished first in the championship followed by Hulme, both in McLarens. Stewart and his Lola finished in third place.
During the 1972 season Mark Donohue and George Follmer drove the Porsche's in competition. Donohue was faster but due to an accident was unable to complete the season. Follmer was left to capture the championship, which he did.
In 1973, Porsche 917/30 was outfitted with twin-turbochargers and a 5.4 liter, 12-cylinder engine. It was capable of produced between 1100 and 1500 horsepower. It could go from zero to sixty in 2.1 seconds and had a top speed of 238 mph. The 917/30 was only available for Team Penske's driver Mark Donohue. It dominated and demolished the Can-Am series with Mark Donohue winning the championship.
In 1974 it was banned from racing in the CanAm series because the CanAm series had begun to lose its fan base since there was no competition. Regulations were created that limited the fuel capacity of the vehicles. The Chevrolet powered vehicles were again contenders. Jackie Oliver and George Follmer, driving a Shadow DN4, proved to be the fastest of the season. The other manufacturers were using outdated cars and were unable to keep pace. 1974 was the final year for the CanAm series.
The demise of the Can Am Championship series was due to a number of issues. North America was experiencing a recession and an oil crisis. The cost of creating competitive cars had skyrocketed. The general public was loosing interest and sponsorship was withdrawing. At the close of the 1974 season, the Series was canceled.
In 1977 the SCCA reintroduced a revised Can Am series allowing Formula A/5000 series cars to be entered. The series never gained much popularity had a limited lifespan.
In modern times many of these Can Am race cars are still being raced at vintage races. Their legacy and power are still impressive and the ear-deafening roar of the engine is enough to put a smile on any enthusiasts face.