Our last book review had a photo of Hurley Haywood in a Porsche 917-10 at the Mosport Can-Am race. This month’s column looks back at that race. One of the defining features of the Can-Am series was the paucity of regulation. There was no minimum weight or maximum engine size. Turbo boost, tire size, or structural material were free. The cars did need to have at least the pretense of a second seat and -as the series progressed from its beginnings in 1966 — more rules were introduced. One of the most significant rules introduced was the banning of movable aerodynamic devices.
Porsche had a considerable presence in this race as there were six 917-10s (the previous year’s car) and the mighty 917-30. The latter was run by Penske just as the current Porsche 963 team is run by Penske, both in Europe and North America. Piloted by Mark Donohue, this now iconic, yellow and blue Porsche raced with around 1,100 horsepower. The engine had shown 1,500 hp on the dyno.
The other Porsche 917s were customer cars. Porsche has usually made its racecars, even top-class prototypes, available to customers and that continues today. The current 963 was just delivered to customers in North America and Europe. At the 1973 Can-Am race, Porsches were entered for Jody Scheckter, Hurley Haywood, Steve Durst, George Follmer, Charlie Kemp, and Hanz Weidmer. This is a stellar group with a Formula One World Champion, Le Mans and Daytona winner and Can-Am champion among them.
Not surprisingly Donohue had the pole over Jody Scheckter by over a second and a half. According to the lap chart we kept at the time, Scheckter led laps two and three and then from lap six to thirty when he crashed due to a blown tire. Donohue had hit a backmarker and damaged the right front corner of the Porsche and pitted for extensive repairs. Penske persuaded Donohue to continue after the repairs and he finished seven laps down. Due to troubles befalling other front runners, Charlie Kemp took the lead after Scheckter’s crash and held it to the end.
At the time, the Toronto Star stated that Kemp had won his first race as a full-time professional before “an enormous crowd of more than 60 000 fans, the largest ever to see a sports attraction in Canada.” He won $15,000, as the Can-Am series paid only prize money, unlike other series of that time which paid appearance money. Donohue went on to win six of the next seven races and was easily the champion. The other race that year was won by George Follmer, also in a Porsche. The previous year, while filling in for Donohue at Penske, Follmer had won the series.
This was the last great season of the Can-Am as it continued for only one more year. Some say it was Porsche’s domination which killed the series but McLaren, with their papaya-coloured cars, had won five straight years which hadn’t hurt the series. The cars were spectacular, and drivers were able to use previous season cars which helped fill the grid. However, times were changing and an unlimited type series, which could have meant unlimited budgets, was becoming untenable. Those of us who were there have fond memories of the race excitement, car performance and the colourful display of these fabulous beasts. The cars were over the top in some cases. The Mosport race was commonly the first race of the season, so we didn’t get to see a lot of the innovative cars. As this was the first race, some teams weren’t ready but both McLaren and Penske had very high standards even back then. These races and cars were instrumental in making me a race and Porsche fan to this day.
The photograph is of the winner, Charlie Kemp, taken by my friend Stephen Wreakes, with whom I attended a lot of races during the 1970s. Steve is happy to share the photo with our members and asks for credit to be given if used on social media. </>