Road America was host for the fifth Can-Am race of the season in 1972. Porsche was back again for another shot at the dominating McLarens and this year they were not fooling around. For their first try at the Can-Am, Porsche brought cars better suited for the endurance racing at which they excelled. They did not fare as well in the sprint type Can-Am race. Last year, they had a car designed more for Can-Am racing in the 917-10 Spyder that Jo Siffert had managed to bring home in second place, despite the car being well down on power to the huge Chevy engines.
This year Porsche showed up with a new 917-10K Spyder, but they had fixed the power problem by applying twin turbochargers to the venerable old 5.0 flat-12 engine. This version produced a whopping 1000 hp and the K version had a new aero package as well. In addition, the car was to be campaigned by the great Roger Penske with L&M sponsorship. Penskeís usual driver, Mark Donahue, had suffered a knee and ankle injury in a pre-season testing crash. So Penske put George Follmer behind the wheel of the new McLaren beater.
Even so, McLaren was not giving up without a fight. Hulme had won the first and third races of the season, but Follmer had taken the new Porsche to victory in the second and fourth races. Road America was the fifth race in the season this year. However, the writing was on the wall, and the new McLaren M20 was hard pressed to keep up with the Porsche Panzer, scoring its wins as Penske and Follmer debugged the 917-10K.
George Follmer in the Porsche 917-10-K
Peter Revson was teamed with Hulme in another works M20. Last years M8Fís had been purchased by Gregg Yound for himself and Francois Cevert. Carl Haas had a new Lola T-310 for David Hobbs, and the UOP Shadow team was back with two MK IIIs for Jackie Oliver and Carlos Pace. Peter Gregg and Milt Minter were entered in Bromos sponsored non-turbocharged Porsche 917-10s
Lothar Motschenbacher was the only driver to have started every Can-Am race ever held. That streak ended this weekend when he had to miss the race because he was recovering from burns suffered in a crash in an F5000 race.
The weather gods frowned on us on Saturday. It poured rain all day, and very few of the Can-Am cars came out for qualifying. Most of the cars had posted times in dry conditions on Friday and had no hope of improving on that time. I say most of the cars because Revson and Follmer were in Ontario, California, qualifying for an Indy car race and missed the Friday session. They both splashed around the track in Saturday qualifying, but were relegated to positions well down the grid.
Denny Hulme had his M20 on the pole with a blistering 2:04.562, 115.605 mph, the fastest lap ever turned at Road America. Cevert was alongside Hulme on the front row, with Gregg and Minter making up the second row, and Oliver and Hobbs in row three. Follmer was back on the seventh row. Revson would start 23rd in the 33-car field.
It rained steadily for the Formula B race as well, but Chuck Sarich managed to splash his way to the FB win. It was not easy to see the cars with the rain pounding down and the rooster tails of water sent up by the rain tires. All in all, we had a soggy, miserable time huddled in our rain gear on the side of the hill in Canada Corner. But, what the hell, we were race fans, so we stuck it out.
Vast sections of the track grounds were a quagmire, and hundreds of spectatorís cars were stuck in the mud. The track recruited local farmers to come in and pull cars out of the mud. The area we parked in at the top of Canada corner was mostly gravelly soil, and none of us required the services of the local farmers.
Conditions were no better in Old Man Miller's field either. We had been able to pitch our tents on Friday before the rain, so they were pretty dry. Unfortunately, Mike (a member of the famed Chicago Pyramid team) and his wife Donna did not arrive until Saturday, and we helped him pitch his tent in the pouring rain on soggy ground. We made no attempt to build a campfire, so there were no limericks that night. Liz and I spent most of the night in our tent where we were able to remain relatively dry.
Not so for Mike and Donna, as water leaked into their tent and soaked into their sleeping bags. All their clean clothes were also wet. They were not happy campers and Mike did not even bother to pack up his soggy tent on Sunday morning. He just left it for whoever wanted it, and he and Donna headed for home. We rarely saw Mike and Donna in Old Man Miller's field after that.
Sunday morning gave us cloudy skies, but no rain, so we did not have our rain gear on as we took our customary place on the hillside. One guy below us decided not to take any chances and arrived wearing a bright yellow rain suit, pants and boots included. We quickly dubbed him Banana Man. Either Banana Man had had an early start or could not hold his booze well because it was readily apparent that his state of inebriation was well ahead of the usual pace. By mid morning, Banana Man had passed out laying face down and spread-eagled on the hill.
The storm clouds were soon replaced by a bright sunny sky and the temperatures went up accordingly. Only Banana Man was wearing rain gear and it had to be warm in that suit, especially when the shade moved away from him and the sun began to beat down on him. Despite this, Banana Man did not move. In fact, he did not move a muscle all day. He just lay there, face down, baking in the sun. Jimmy, always the concerned one as usual, called down to his friends, "Hey! Is Banana Man dead?" One of his buddies went over and checked on him, "No, heís still alive."
The morning passed into afternoon with the sun blazing down and racecars roaring past us and up Thunder Valley. All the while, Banana Man never moved. Jimmy decided to try an experiment. He went and set a fresh, ice cold Bud within Banana Manís easy reach. We were sure that even in his comatose state, a drunk of Banana Manís caliber, with any pulse at all, would at least make a reflexive grab for the beer. Nothing, he never even twitched. Now we were even more convinced he had to be dead despite his friendís assurances to the contrary. All afternoon he lay there, never moving.
Then late that afternoon, it happened. Banana Man moved his foot! Canada Corner erupted in cheers, "Banana Man lives! Banana Man lives!" Apparently spurred on by these cheers, Banana Man lifted his head and looked around with bleary blood shot eyes and promptly passed out again. At the end of the day, his buddies carried him away and I guess we will never know if he lived or not.
There was a Super Vee Gold Cup support race on Sunday morning which was won by Bill Scott, with Gregor Kronegard second, a fellow named Elliot Forbes Robinson in third and a guy named Bob Lazier in fourth.
At the start of the Can-Am, Hulme came through Canada Corner in the lead followed by Cevert and Oliver. Follmer and Revson began carving up the field from the back and on lap 8, Follmer took his Panzer past Oliver and Cevert into second. He also set a new race lap record time at 2:07.264. The speed of his Porsche was truly awesome.
Jackie Oliver in the Shadow MK III
On lap 12, the PA told us that Hulme had coasted to a stop in corner five. He had a bad magneto and Follmer took the lead. Revson had made it up to fifth place before he, too, fell out with a bad clutch on lap 21. The McLaren dominance of the Can Am was over.
Follmer cruised on to the win with Cevert second and Peter Gregg in third. Jean-Pierre Jarrier was fourth in a Ferrari 712M. Follmer went on the win both the Can Am and Trans Am championship that year. He is the only driver to ever win two major Pro championships in the same year.
Peter Revson in the McLaren M20
Copyright © 2006 by Terry Aasen