Ferrari: the Can-Am experience

Ferrari. A name that is synonymous with winning. More than 50 years of experience in racing; a legacy that includes multiple Formula One titles, as well as overall sports car racing victories on some of the toughest racetracks known. Tracks such as Spa, Nurburgring and the great French classic that is held every year at Le Mans. Almost every challenge the Maranello Prancing Horse has undertaken in the last 60 years has resulted in victory.
However, one series was not intimidated by the best of Italy. That series was the Can-Am Challenge, held between 1966 and 1974 in North America. The Can-Am, as it would come to be known, was perhaps the most exciting road racing series the planet has ever seen. Governed by the Sports Car Club of America, the series was conducted in accordance with the FIA ​​Group 7 rules for Sports Racing Cars.
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The Group 7 rules were pretty limitless in many ways, prompting manufacturers of all skill levels to run wild with creativity and build some of the most technically advanced cars of their time.
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In 1966, the first real season of Can Am, European factories had little interest in a series that only lasted from September to November and was made up of just six events. Most of the participants were independent teams. Teams like McLaren and Surtees, both led by Formula 1 champions, saw in Can Am an opportunity to build their reputation as manufacturers.
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Ferrari already had a championship-winning reputation. However, a young Mexican driver by the name of Pedro Rodríguez would fire Ferrari’s first shot in what would soon become the hottest road racing series on the planet.
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Bridgehampton, New York, was the second round of the inaugural Can Am Series. The 2.85-mile course located in eastern Long Island would be the first time a Ferrari would compete in a Can Am event. Pedro Rodríguez entered a Dino 206S Coupé that weekend in September.
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The young Mexican driver managed to reach 22nd position on a grid full of convertible sports racers powered by roaring American small-block V-8s. The race would result in the little Ferrari not finishing due to the loss of a wheel. Rodríguez would appear again in Laguna Seca with the Dino, this time with an 18th place in the general to demonstrate his effort.
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By early 1967, the Can Am was already being viewed as a fabulous series by many of the biggest names in North American road racing. The series caught the attention of Luigi Chinetti, the man at the helm of N.A.R.T. (North American Race Team), the team of choice for Ferrari backed by the factory in the United States.
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Chinetti would send one of N.A.R.T.’s P3 / 4 prototypes. to Maranello in early 1967 to be modified and run in the Can Am Series that year. While at the factory, the P3 / 4 would receive several modifications to help it move from the rules of Group 6 to Group 7. The car was lowered and started, although the headlights were retained. Provisions for a trunk and a spare tire were removed, as there was no need for such luxuries at Can Am racing. The P3 / 4 also received a reinforced roll bar.
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Ferrari would be absent from the opening race held at Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin in 1967. Although Chinetti and the N.A.R.T. he would arrive for the second race of the season at Bridgehampton. Lodovico Scarfiotti was selected to drive the P3 / 4 that weekend in September and achieved a grid position of 16th. Scarfiotti, a Formula 1 veteran, would drive the P3 / 4 to seventh in the race.
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Scarfiotti would drive the P3 / 4 again a week later at Mosport, one of the fastest tracks the Can Am Series has raced on. The N.A.R.T. P3 / 4 would start from 12th on the grid. The weekend would result in a DNF for Ferrari due to an accident.
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The fourth race of the 1967 Can Am season was to see the world’s most powerful sports cars visit the beautiful Laguna Seca race track on the Central California coast. This race would mark the appearance of two new Ferrari Can Am in P4 form. Now outfitted with fiberglass bodies, a massive rear wing, and a larger 4.2-liter engine, it looked like a big effort was brewing with Italy’s biggest name in racing.
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Chris Amon and John Williams were recruited to perform the driving duties. Amon, being the experienced driver that he was, performed well at Laguna Seca driving the number 23 Ferrari P4 from 16th on the grid to 5th. Williams also scored well on the weekend by completing 99 laps and capturing eighth place. Two weeks later, at the incredible Riverside Raceway in Southern California, the duo Amon and Williams would once again try to bring victory home to Maranello.
This time the results weren’t as promising as those at Laguna Seca, with Amon finishing 3 laps behind in eighth place and Williams crashing. The last Can Am event of 1967 was held in Las Vegas.
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A dusty track in the Nevada desert, Vegas was known for wreaking havoc on both the racers and its machines. Amon would put P4 13th on the grid, while Williams scored 18th on the grid. Williams’ career was short, as a stone was swallowed on lap 1, blocking the throttle and causing the number 27 Ferrari to be retired. Amon would also end up with a DNF due to an accident. Despite intermediate qualifying times, the P4s proved capable of podium results.
The 1968 season would be fundamental for Ferrari. Pedro Rodríguez would once again get behind the wheel of a Ferrari in Bridgehampton. With the P4 in 11th position, Rodriguez would have an off-course excursion early in the race that would lead to a dropout in a race that took heavy wear.
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Ferrari was going through a battle with the FIA ​​over rule changes made during the offseason. As a result, Ferrari did not participate in any sports car races as a factory effort in 1968, except one; the Stardust Grand Prix in Las Vegas. The car was the all-new Ferrari 612P, chassis number 0866. Bill Harrah, Ferrari’s west coast importer, provided the funds and the factory assisted the operation with full technical support. Mauro Forghieri was largely the man behind the design of Ferrari’s first and true Can Am competitor.
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The first generation 612P used a lattice frame that was reinforced with riveted and bonded sheet metal. The bodywork was full fiberglass, while the suspension was independent at all four corners. The 612P used a wing mounted just behind the cockpit. The wing incorporated 2 flaps that were hydraulically actuated by a pedal in the cockpit to help the car brake.
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A nose mounted air brake was also incorporated to work in conjunction with the fins via the pedal. This hydraulically actuated fin system proved complex and unfriendly with the car’s overall weight, which tipped the scales at nearly 1,700 pounds. The true centerpiece of the 612P was the engine. With a displacement of 6,222 cc, it was the largest engine Maranello ever built up to that point.
The engine had a dual overhead camshaft design with 48 valves and a compression ratio of 10.5: 1. Lucas indirect fuel injection was used to supply fuel to the powerful 12-cylinder, and a lubrication system By dry sump it ensured that all vital components received the proper amount of oil. The 612P used a 4-speed gearbox that helped the car put its 620 horsepower to the rear wheels.
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Many thought that the rumor of such a big Ferrari was just that, a rumor. The factory saw the delay of the debut of the 612P at the German head gasket manufacturer who was having trouble producing the proper gaskets for the largest V-12 to date. Once this was overcome, the tests began in Modena, where the car was expected to exceed the 50-second barrier. This did not happen, however the 612P achieved a 50.8 second lap in Modena, enough to satisfy the team and prepare for the Las Vegas race.
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Ferrari’s debut in Las Vegas was spectacular. At nearly six feet wide, and with its 6.2-liter V-12 producing a raw mechanical sound like no other in the field, the 612P was hard to miss to say the least. The factory took this effort very seriously, appointing Franco Gozzi as team leader, Mauro Forghieri as career engineer and Giulio Borsari as head of engineering. Three mechanics were also sent to accompany the car.

Chris Amon was designated for the driving duties at Stardust, where he was able to take ninth position on the grid with a lap time of 1: 32.2. Unfortunately, the weekend would sadly end as the 612P suffered from clogged injectors causing a DNF for its debut race.

The Ferrari 612P would reappear in 1969 to fight at Can Am, however Ferrari’s effort was spearheaded by Kiwi driver Chris Amon with Maranello playing a supporting role. The first appearance would be at the Watkins Glen Can Am race held in mid-July. Gone are the complex, hydraulically actuated, nose-mounted speed and high-wing brakes. This, along with all the new body work, allowed the car to lose some weight. The chassis and engine were the same as in the 1968 Las Vegas race, but the weight loss allowed Chris Amon to qualify third, just behind the McLaren M8Bs of Bruce McLaren and Denny Hulme. With such a high ranking position, it looked like a promising race for what would become known as the second-generation 612P. Amon remained competitive throughout the race and kept a surprising distance from the two bright orange McLarens. The end result would be a third place for Ferrari; but most importantly, a shot in the arm to the Can Am Series that was beginning to suffer from the dominance of the McLaren team.

Chris Amon would put on a spectacular show again with the 612P at the next race in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. The car was fitted with a new 6.2-liter engine for this event. This proved exciting as the engine is said to be the reason Ferrari’s gearbox broke during practice, but nonetheless Amon would once again occupy third position on the grid behind Bruce’s brilliant McLarens. and Denny. Shortly after the green flag, Amon was able to pass Bruce McLaren’s M8B to snatch second position. This started a battle unlike any McLaren cars had ever seen. Amon and McLaren would trade second for several more laps until the M8B’s Chevy engine died. This left second position to Ferrari, which he would retain for the rest of the race.

Amon would continue his podium streak with the big red Ferrari at Mid Ohio. Despite a poor result in 12th place qualifying, Amon managed to lead Ferrari through the group to finish third, one lap behind McLarens. Elkhart Lake was the next race, and the Ferrari 612P arrived with a major new aerodynamic wing mounted on struts over the rear of the car. Stiffeners were used to support the wing struts outside of the car’s roll bar. Amon and the Ferrari would start the race from seventh, but a faulty fuel pump would cause an early finish for the New Zealand driver and the 612P. Bridgehampton would give similar results for Ferrari, as Amon grilled the car in P3, his race would be interrupted once again due to a broken oil pump shaft. Pedro Rodríguez would save the reputation of the prancing horse at Bridgehampton with his 312P endurance runner. Pedro qualified 11th and drove the 312P to fifth place, some 4 laps behind the leader. Amon would take the big Ferrari to races at Michigan and Laguna Seca, but engine problems would cause the car to miss the grid at these two events.

Riverside Raceway, in late October 1969, would provide the backdrop for the largest Ferrari V-12 to ever turn a wheel in anger. Still retaining chassis number 0866, the car that originally debuted in Las Vegas a year earlier, Chris Amon and his mechanics installed a monstrous 6.9-liter V-12 engine in the big red car. Maranello was able to achieve the 6.9-liter displacement by stroking the original 6.2-liter engine. The addition of the larger engine to the 612P led to a new designation, the 712P, which indicates about 7.0 liters of displacement. Amon would use the extra displacement to overtake Jackie Oliver’s Ti22 for third-fastest on the grid behind both McLarens. Ultimately, the added power would be of no use as Amon recalled the Ferrari after officials black-flagged him for receiving an illegal starter. Amon would appear for the last time before leaving for March 1970. The last race of the 1969 season was held at Texas International Speedway. Amon used chassis number 0866 in the 712P trim to qualify, blowing the 6.9-liter engine and having to run the race with the replacement 6.2-liter unit. The big engine did the trick in qualifying, with Amon taking fourth place on the grid. The smaller engine wasn’t going to last either, as it too exploded early in the race, prompting another retirement. Chris Amon parted ways with Ferrari at the end of 1969, but managed to score 39 points in the Can Am Championship, which was enough to place him in sixth place in the overall standings.

The 1970 Can Am season would see Ferrari enter from various teams throughout the year. These cars were mostly Ferrari 512S models that were built according to the FIA ​​Group 6 rules to run in endurance races like Le Mans and Daytona. Chassis number 0866 would return to the 1970 fight, this time entered by its new owner, Earle-Cord Racing. It wouldn’t be until round eight of the series at Donnybrooke, a track in northern Minnesota, that Ferrari’s first true Can Am challenger would return to the race. The several months between the 1969 season and his return to the track in late September were occupied by a change in ownership and a return to the Ferrari factory to freshen up. However, while at the factory, chassis number 0866 would be equipped with a 5.0-liter engine similar to that used in Group 6 512S and 512M. This was another change of designation to that of 512P.

The 512P’s late September debut was promising. The driving duties for the Earle-Cord Racing entry were handled by Jim Adams, who managed to qualify sixth for round 8 at Donnybrooke. Adams was able to achieve fourth place in a low-wear race. The next two races would not see the 512P take the checkered flag as a gearing problem would recall the No. 76 Ferrari at Laguna Seca and an accident would end the scarlet car event at Riverside, the season finale.

The Can Am began its sixth racing season at Mosport in June 1971. Jim Adams and the Ferrari 512P posted the eighth fastest time on the grid and finished 5 laps behind Denny Hulme’s McLaren M8F Chevrolet. Chassis number 0866 would miss the race at St. Jovite, but would again qualify in the middle of the field for the 1971 Can Am race at Road Atlanta. A crank failure would put an end to the 512P’s race that weekend, but something much more spectacular was about to happen at Watkins Glen.

Watkins Glen, New York, was selected to present the brand new Ferrari 712M, chassis number 1010. It would be the first time since Las Vegas, 1968, that there would be an official Spa Ferrari SEFAC factory entry on a Can Am grid. The 712M was Ferrari’s second serious attempt to produce a Can Am Championship winning car; the first was the 1968 612P, which made a disastrous debut in its’ only factory-supported run in Las Vegas. The 712M used a modified chassis from a 512S / 512M endurance race car. The body was designed entirely from a blank sheet of paper to produce the greatest possible downward force. The massive 7.0-liter V12 was based on the same block architecture as the 512 endurance engine, but with provisions to accommodate an increase in bore and stroke. All new heads were designed using a dual overhead camshaft architecture with 4 valves per cylinder. Horsepower was calculated to be in excess of 650. Ferrari located the radiators on the sides of the car with large NACA ducts cut into the top of the bodywork on either side of the cabin to cool the giant red beast. Mario Andretti assisted the factory with its development efforts and was awarded the driving duties for the car’s inaugural race. With a fifth starting position, Andretti just put the 712M ahead of Mark Donohue’s Penske / Ferrari 512M, one of the Group 6 endurance cars that entered the Can Am race after competing in the 6-hour race of the days before. Andretti stayed at the top of the standings throughout the race, finishing fourth behind Jo Siffert’s Porsche 917/10 Spyder. While Ferraris would start the next three rounds of the 1971 season, these would be 512M models, and it wouldn’t be until Edmonton. that one of the Ferrari Can Am Spyder would appear again.

Edmonton would see the return of the Earle-Cord Racing 512P, again with Jim Adams at the wheel. While Adams achieved a sixth position in qualifying for the event, the number 76 Ferrari was unable to finish due to problems with its ring and pinion. The Can Am meet in mid-October at Laguna Seca would see the Ferrari show a bit better, with Adams driving the 512P up to eighth from 10th on the grid. The 1971 grand final was held at Riverside, where Adams was able to qualify 13th fastest in the Ferrari sponsored by NGK Spark Plug. The failure of the brakes early in the race would render the red warhorse unable to finish the event. Jim Adams would finish the 1971 season with 7 points, good for 25th in the Can Am points standings.

No Ferraris would be present at the first two Can Am events of the 1972 season. The third round took place at Watkins Glen and would mark the second appearance of the 712M. This time the 712M was entered by N.A.R.T., initially with Sam Posey selected to drive the great Ferrari. Posey chose not to take the wheel and the seat was given to Frenchman Jean-Pierre Jarier. The 712M was not observed to have the best handling characteristics, and little had been done to the car since it was last raced in 1971 to correct any problems. Jarier would bring out the best in him, driving Goodyear’s shod car from the back of the grid to 10th place, 12 laps behind the McLaren M20 of race winner Denny Hulme.

The 712M would not appear in the fourth round of the 1972 season, held in Mid-Ohio, but would be present in the fifth round in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. Jarier would drive the Ferrari to a tenth starting position on the legendary track. The N.A.R.T. the inning would move to fourth place, matching the best result of chassis number 1010 from the previous season’s solo outing at Watkins Glen. Jean-Pierre Jarier finished the 1972 Can Am season with 11 points, which earned him 13th overall. Ferraris would be seen on Can Am grills periodically after this, but these were 512M models made obsolete by the introduction of a 3.0-liter cylinder head that the FIA ​​put on all endurance sports cars for the season. 1972.

The last shot a large-caliber Ferrari Spyder would fire would be at Watkins Glen in 1974. N.A.R.T. took out chassis number 1010 for one last race. By then, Porsche had come and gone with its 12-cylinder turbocharged 917/30 Spyders, as had the McLaren team with their mighty big-block Chevrolets. Shadow emerged as the team to beat in 1974, but the big red Ferrari would have one last chance on the same track where he debuted two years earlier. The 712M now sported a rear wing that rose above the car’s tail section, as well as a revised intake intake that protruded above the roll bar to better power the largest 12-cylinder engine Ferrari would ever produce. . Sam Posey was offered to drive the 712M, which he accepted, only to break his foot while driving the car in practice. Posey was braking in progress when the pedal hit the floor of the 712M. The pedal effort applied by Mr. Posey was so great that he broke a bone in his foot and ended up handing over the driving duties to Brian Redman. Redman, starting from the back of the grid, ran a decent race until a rear suspension failure threw him off course. The final race for Ferrari’s biggest and most brutal car would end in a DNF.

Herbert Mueller would drive a 512M in the last Can Am race in 1974. The race was held at Elkhart Lake in late August and is considered the last Can Am race of the classical era. Mueller drove his 512M from ninth on the grid to sixth, one lap behind the McLaren M20, Scooter Patrick’s race winner. At the time, various factors led to the end of what most consider the largest road racing series to ever exist. Ferrari was well represented, largely by privateers, during the Can Am period of 1966-1974. While the only true Can Am contenders from the factory, the 612P / 712P / 512P (chassis number 0866) and the impressive 712M (chassis number 1010), did not enjoy stellar races within the series; It should be noted that a lot was gained in the development of the massive V-12 engines that powered the mighty red beasts of Maranello. Today alone, some 35 years after the last 712M race in upstate New York, have we seen Ferrari build a car with a 12-cylinder engine over 6.0 liters. The new FXX, featuring a 6262cc V-12 engine mounted on a medium boat with 800 horsepower, would have to be seen as a modern descendant of those huge 7.0-liter red monsters that once raced on the spectacular tracks. from North America. For many, it would be better to forget the Can Am Ferraris. But despite the difficulties of the red cars in the North American series, the fact that Ferrari took the time and effort to build some impressive racers is to be applauded. After all, it’s hard to argue that a great Italian V-12 sounds anything but fabulous, no matter how fast it is.