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McLaren Indy Cars

In 1968, Bruce with Denny Hulme, made his only appearance as a driver at Indianapolis. They were to enter the race driving the previous year’s STP turbine car. Bruce was to drive a new turbine car built by Carrol Shelby. However, the American thought that car was too powerful and withdrew the entry before the race. It was later used as a promotional vehicle for Paul Newman's movie "Winning".

The discussion was made in July 1969 and Gordon Coppuck set about the design for the M15, basing it on the single seater Can-Am sports car experience in general tub layout and conception. In 1970 Bruce's team entered the 500 mile race with the M15, the first McLaren Indy car. The team won the prestigious award for engineering excellence.

1970 was a year that McLaren took Indianapolis by storm. Its first attempt at the Brickyard saw it take the prestigious designer’s award. The team built three cars based closely on the simple and yet effective Can-am designs using a broad monocoque tub skinned in 16 gauge Reynolds aluminium sheet over tree sheet-steel fabricated bulkheads.

The car was powered by a turbo charged Offenhauser 4 cylinder. Sadly Denny was burnt and Amon found that he could not build up to the speeds demanded. Peter Revson and Carl Williams took over the remaining two cars.

That McLaren Racing became a force in USAC racing in only five years is a tribute to the team's designers and managers. Oval racing requires totally different knowledge, experience and even equipment. Nevertheless, after a seven-year history of pure road racing the team entered the classic of all oval races in 1970, finished ninth and were awarded the coveted prize for engineering innovation. After this exploratory attempt they rewrote the record books, raising the qualifying speeds from 171 mph to 198 mph in just three years. In 1972 a privately owned and entered McLaren car won the race and the following year the team occupied fastest qualifying position at all three prestigious 500 mile USAC races. In 1974 only a small mechanical failure robbed the McLaren entry of a finishing position in the Ontario 500. Had Johnny Rutherford completed the distance he would have almost certainly gained the championship title for the British team.

Peter Revson and the M15

The Team for 1970, left to right - Alan McCall, George Bolthoff, Tyler Alexander, Tom Anderson, Bruce, Peter Revson (in the car) and Hughie Absolom.

M15A 1970

1970 was a year that McLaren took Indianapolis by storm. Its first attempt at the Brickyard saw it take the prestigious designer’s award. The team built three cars based closely on the simple and yet effective Can-Am designs. The car was powered by a turbocharged Offenhauser 4 cylinder. Sadly Denny was burnt and Amon found that he could not build up to the speeds demanded. Peter Revson and Carl Williams took over the remaining two cars

Chassis: Broad aluminium alloy panelled monocoque formed over steel and aluminium bulkheads, with the engine acting as two semi-stressed members in the rear bay

Suspension: Single top link with radius arm, lower wishbone anti-roll bar and outboard coil spring/shock units with adjustable ride height in front. Single top link, reversed lower wishbone, twin radius arms, anti-roll bar and outboard coil spring, shock units at rear. McLaren cast magnesium wheels with knock-off hub nuts, 15 x 10 front and 15 x 14 rear

Brakes: Lockheed ventilated discs, 11.97-inch diameter

Body: Formed by monocoque sides with detachable fibreglass upper panelling forming the nose cone and cockpit surround engine cover and chassis-mounted aerofoil. Side fuel sponson carrying 67 U.S. gallons

Engine: 2.6-litre 4-cylinder turbocharged Offenhauser with Hewland LG500 4-speed transaxle, modified with provision for external starting

Dimensions: Wheelbase 98.69 inches, front track 57.75 inches, rear track 58.06 inches, width at cockpit 45 inches overall length 156 inches, weight 1380 pounds distributed 31 percent front/70 percent rear.

M16A 1971


This is the wedge shaped Indianapolis car for 1971 using the turbocharged Offenhauser engine and a Hewland LG500 4-speed transaxle. The chassis is a full aluminum monocoque with Goodyear 75-gallon fuel bags and fiberglass body panels.

Chassis: Aluminium monocoque

Suspension: Front suspension by rocker arm and lower wishbone, and rear suspension is by reversed lower wishbone with a top link and radius rods. Shocks by Koni

Brakes: Lockheed

Body: Aluminium monocoque and fiberglass panels

Engine: Turbocharged Offenhauser engine and Hewland LG500 4-speed transaxle

Dimensions: Wheelbase is 101 inches, with front and rear track 58 inches. Wheels are cast magnesium of 15-inch diameter front and rear with 10-inch front rims and 14-inch rear rims. Overall length 155 inches, width at the cockpit 38 inches, weight 1380 pounds distributed 30 percent front/70 percent rear.

Photos: Michael Cooper and the Hunter family collection

 M16B 1972

Photo by Robin Thompson

 1972 Indianapolis/USAC cars developed from the M16A. These cars were built at Colnbrook in the UK and campaigned by the McLaren team and the Penske team.

 M16C 1973

Photo by Robin Thompson

1973 Indy

1973 – Peter Revson works driver for Team McLaren. Painted McLaren Orange. No 15
1974 – Salt Walther drove the car in Dayton Walther colours. No 33
1975 – Bob Harkey started then Salt Walther took over the car when his car failed. No 33
1976 – David Hobbs drove the car in Dayton Walther livery. No 33.
1977 – Did not qualify
1978 – Graeme McRae qualified, but was then "bumped" from the grid by a faster qualifier
1979 – Did not qualify
1980 – Jerry Karl added ground effects and a stock block 6 litre Chevrolet engine.
1981 – Jerry Karl ran as the Tonco Trailers Special

M16D 1974

Photo by Robin Thompson


Photos by P Ryan

1974 was McLaren’s year at Indianapolis with team driver Johnny Rutherford winning at the brickyard.

 M16E 1975/76

Photo by Robin Thompson

John Barnard re-worked Indianapolis/USAC.

M24 - 1977

The 1977 Indianapolis/USAC track car using the Cosworth DFX turbocharged engine.

Additional photos courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway

I was a Rookie at Indianapolis

By Eoin Young

I was a rookie at Indianapolis, journalistically speaking, and before I arrived in the Hoosier capital the picture people had painted for me was anything but encouraging.
It had been abdominally described to me as the culinary armpit of the United States. I was assured that as the plane began its final approach to Weir Cook Field the pilot would crackle the following message over the speaker system: "We are now approaching Indianapolis, please set your watches back 15 years…" In fact he didn't actually say that, but after a fortnight in or around the Speedway I began to form the impression that all the descriptions bore more than just a grain of truth.

You may be interested to know that the place for good steaks and antiquated race atmosphere is St. Elmo's in a sleazy area downtown, that the night life swings at the Holiday Inn Northwest and doesn't at Howard Johnson's across the freeway. HoJo's room service didn't even extend to a pot of coffee. And their barman figured he was doing you a favor just standing there.

In Indiana they don't encourage moving drinkers. Signs caution you to drink sitting down. Don't move your drink to another table, buddy, the barkeep will handle that tricky operation. In the garage area at the track a sign warns against attempting to smuggle in girls, shorts, or beer. Bruce Walkup fought a losing battle with the gateman because he was wearing Bermuda shorts. Would you believe these guys take their vacations to work at the track?

During the race the boozers, carousers, and sleepers in the Indianapolis infield probably have something. I was sitting on the grass just through the fence from the human zoo down at Turn 1, and I couldn't follow the progress of the world's most famous contest of speed, skill, and ballyhoo any better than the soberest of them could. And they looked as though they were having a lot more fun than I was.
Mrs. Unser Sr. went down to the victory circle for the second time in two years to collect the rent money from youngest son AI. In 1968 it had been Bobby. Al won the 500 at a reasonably leisurely pace slowed with a quarter-hour yellow light to 155.749 mph in his Johnny Lightning Special for sponsors Topper Toys and Firestone, and Ford, and Parnelli Jones and George Bignotti.

Statistics also gave the chance of rain on race day as 30 percent, and at 11:20 a.m. 40 minutes before the start umbrellas started sprouting like mushrooms all round the oval. It looked like being a tomorrow race but the humid gray skies were just teasing. The start was delayed half an hour and then it was delayed a further half hour when Jim Malloy's racer dragged a radius arm out of the monocoque and walloped the wall on the pace lap which played hen with the grouping of the field which was hardly military in ranks of three to begin with.

The race really started at HoJo's at 5:30 a.m. when the alarm call came through and we set out for the track. We could have eased the haste until after the all-night waiters had been swallowed up. When the gates opened at 6 a.m. there was a fair amount of action. At one gate a gridful of motorcyclists were waiting with revs wound on and the charge down into the tunnel was really something. Especially when the lead rider laid it down in the darkness. The all-night waiters were generally less than sober when the track opened and the continued supping throughout the night had turned most of them into either lovers, fighters or sleepers. Steve Krisiloff, who qualified on the first day and was first to be bumped, got bumped again when he walked into a fist and collected a 15-stitch cut above one eye. His assailant relieved the dizzy driver of his wallet as well.

Denny Hulme arrived out at the track early with his hands bandaged for his second day out of the hospital and sat himself on the pit wall to watch the endless stream of wall-to­wall marching girls and bands. And celebrities. And don't forget the biggest drum in the world. It was carried on the back of a pick-up truck with a hefty drummer on either side swinging alternately with giant bats that threatened to turn the truck over.

Two and a half million people waiting for action and the spitting rain didn't fill the drivers with great confidence. Graham Hill was all dapper in his role as non-combative commentator for closed circuit TV, with arch-rival Jackie Stewart joining him from up in the tower. He took time out to assist Denny in the appraisal of some of the better suspension characteristics in the parade.

Down at Turn 1 the zoo was getting restless. The half hour delay from rain had only partly dampened spirits and with the second delay with the pace lap crash, other diversions were arranged. Blanket tossing earned a lot of attention and applause until the law arrived. A respected protector of law and order in Indiana is known as a Billy Bad-Ass for some reason.

Rain delayed the start of Indy this year. Here Al Unser's crew holds sheets of plastic over the car while Foyt enjoys the scene

James Garner, film star and sometime race driver, received instant recognition from the caged section of the community when he wandered down with Larry ("Big T") Truesdale, boss of Goodyear's racing activities. Mr. Garner conducted one vocal group through the opening lines of "Back Home Again in Indiana" to wild applause.

The excitement as track owner Tony Hulman did his piece about starting the engines neared hysteria. Everybody waved and shouted to the drivers on the pace lap as though they honestly believed the drivers heard or cared.

Johnny Rutherford led into the first turn, courtesy of A. Unser, Esq., who didn't feel like taking his line on the inside if it was going to trigger a shunt. That's already been done. It reminded me of Bruce McLaren's story of the 1966 fiasco. He had been watching down at Turn 1 and when he saw a car arrive into the corner without any front wheels, he was about to turn to Chris Amon and say, "that's a funny way to start a motor race!" when he realized he was alone on the bank. Chris had seen the wheels in the air and departed. As it turned out he was one of the few casualties in the crash because he tripped over somebody's wheelchair and gashed his leg!

Al baby took the lead, kept it and cooled it, while Rutherford rode shotgun and all the other hot dogs tried to be third. My little lap chart was progressing in a surprisingly accurate manner as Lloyd Ruby marched up through the field from his lowly 9th row grid spot, but my mistake was in checking figures with the tower. Apparently instant electronic lap scoring isn't a feature of the Speedway yet. The electric eye was watching a race already ten minutes old. So I gave up and sat in the sun fighting off a doze. So much for the electric excitement. Peter Revson parked his McLaren not far away with magneto failure. Again. So I was able to do something constructive and ask him what had happened. He didn't know. It just stopped.

Jack Brabham had arrived late for qualifying because his crated car was delayed with truck strikes. He put his Offy­powered car on the 9th row with Lloyd Ruby, and then set about sorting it out.

Some doubters in Gasoline Alley wondered whether Jack would make the field, but the general opinion was that if Jack couldn't make the grid with the car he was quite capable of qualifying the crate the car came in.

His Offy was really pouring out the horsepower and Mark Donohue reported after the race that the Brabham had him out-gunned on the straight with his new Lola-Ford. Sorry, Sunoco Special. "If Jack hadn't waved me through, I'd have had difficulty getting by," reported Captain Nice to team boss Penske.

Jack's race ended with a Goodyear-smoking slide through the chaos surrounding Roger McClusky's wreckage at Turn 3. Jack came into the pits with square tires, some down to the canvas, and took on fresh rubber as is mandatory at the Speedway. He went back into the bunched field creeping round under the yellow and being herded through Turn 3 on the grass to dodge the safety workers cleaning up the muck on the track. When the green came on, Jack turned the wick up and passed several cars but then the fire went out and he pitted with number one piston in pieces. Bobby Unser also went sad in the down paced yellow running while he headed the pack which also included brother Al and hot-to-charge A.J. Foyt nigh on a lap down and unable to improve because the Unser family had him surrounded. Bobby's engine lost manifold pressure and he trickled round to the finish with what was then a 2.4-liter normally aspirated Ford V-8. Foyt dived out of the pack on the green, unlapped himself and set out to try and catch Al but then the Coyote's 2-speed box had a seizure and the top cog went up the slot. This left SuperTex in low running that TurboFord mutha just as high as it would go. Eleven-four made the Ford really wail as he crept along below the pit wall. It finally expired and AJ was given 10th place three laps down on the leaders.

The Foyt crew had done quite a job getting four cars in the lineup, but when it came to pit work on the boss's car they weren't so razor sharp. Fighting fractions of seconds on the track in his pursuit of Unser, AJ arrived for his pit stop to find the lot so cluttered with Coyotes that he couldn't find a place to park. He made another hurried lap by which time a space had been cleared. In his haste to get out on the last pit stop he departed before the last wheel jack had been removed. When the power came on, the wheel dropped to the road flinging the jack over the wheel and coming close to beaning Mr. Foyt.

Donohue came in second with the immaculate Sunoco Lola. Penske certainly does the job right. I think he plans on winning next year. He has to keep that Lear in the air and pay for the groceries somehow, although I believe American Motors have taken care of that for the next few years.

Mario didn't star. The McNamara started out just fine, but after four or five laps the handling went sour and by his own admission in the papers the next morning he was an accident looking for a place to happen. Oddly enough Mario took to the grass in the place where the accident did happen and clanked over something that rectified the handling problems.

It was a bad year for road racers, except for Donohue and Gurney. Bruce McLaren had made up his mind beforehand that he wasn't going to drive anyway, Denny Hulme fell victim to nasty fuel burns on his hands when a breather cap snapped open during practice and he watched the race with bandaged hands, while Chris Amon called his attack off after (a) seeing the extent of Denny's burns, (b) seeing Bobby Unser run four laps in the Amon McLaren for a pair at 166 when the best Chris had managed all month was 163, and (c) he was generally unhappy with the whole operation. He was fighting a losing battle and he knew it, so he went home. Hulme tried to persuade him to at least have a try at qualifying but Amon left Denny's hospital room saying, "no way I'm going out there again. If I do, I'll probably wind up in the room next to you." We pondered on the chances of them getting a twin room if this should happen.

Denny's bandages
Denis Hulme and friend. Hulme was a spectator this year after suffering burned hands as a result of fire in his McLaren-Offy.

John Cannon was thwarted at every move in the Bryant Heating and Cooling Volstedt. He hung one on the wall in practice, but the engine in the other car just didn't want to go, and it wasn't until it finally blew and had to be changed that they discovered a crack in the intake manifold. Tony Adamowicz was robbed by his own Indy inexperience as well as that of his crew. The yellow was flashed at him by mistake during his first lap and he slowed to 160.829. He picked up for two at 166 and one at 164 but the damage had been done and he was bumped by Billy Vukovich on the last day. His crew should have hauled him in earlier. The Adamowicz tale became worse. Having another try in a Gerhardt-Offy he was trying to summon up the boost pressure in one of the turns when it suddenly came on strong and kicked the tail out. He spun twice (deliberately, he said) and to retard his progress up to the wall again he slammed his foot on the brake. Hard. Harder. CRASH. The problem was that the good Tony hadn't driven the car before and the pedal he was pumping to the floor just happened to be the clutch which was in the center where the sprint car drivers prefer it. "It was in the center, and I knew it was in the center," bemoaned Adamowicz at dinner that night. His natural reactions had overpowered his recently attained knowledge. Sam Posey lost three Offy engines with burned pistons and then walloped the wall because, at his own admission he had come into the turn at twelve-tenths and locked up the back brakes.

The three McLarens circulating in line astern on the first day in May really shook up the establishment. Nobody did things like that on the first day, let alone funny-car road racers. The funny cars were awarded a certificate "of recognition in the field of car design for the Indianapolis 500" by the Indiana section of the Society of Automotive Engineers. And just about everybody remarked at the high standard of construction and preparation. Chief Engineer Tyler Alexander (now a director of the McLaren team) enjoyed the compliments to begin with but finally started to smoulder as the month dragged on and he thought the plaudits were being premature and laid on a bit thick. But they were certainly deserved. Peter Revson was the logical choice to replace Denny because Peter had done a good job for Brabham last year finishing fifth after starting from 33rd and last place on the grid. He had also driven Formula Junior cars with the Mayer brothers way back when, and Teddy was pleased to have him in the team. Peter was hopefully trying to inject some life into the story about Floyd Davis who qualified 33rd in 1940 and the following year started from 17th position and won. Revson fulfilled the first part by starting 33rd last year and at one stage in the proceedings he was 17th in the line-up although he spoiled his statistical chances by moving up to 16th when Krisiloff was bumped.

Carl Williams replaced Amon and he was a driver I had personally never heard of, however in the last couple of seasons he had driven back-up cars for Granatelli and Foyt and so obviously knew his way round in USAC circles. After a minimum amount of practice in the car he qualified at 166.590, and the demanding Mr. Mayer was well pleased with his choice of a number two driver. Mr. Williams also won favor with McLaren by turning out a very tasty barbecue steak at his apartment.

I liked the story about Amon who had been battling time, the walls and the track in general but being totally unable to raise a competitive time. Harlan Fengler came down the pits and cautioned Christopher to keep low out of the groove if he couldn't go any faster. "Keep low?" Chrissy is reported to have replied, "Hell, if I run any lower I'll be driving round the golf course!"

Pursuing the driver statistics we were told that Jack Brabham was the oldest at 44, and Mike Mosley youngest at 23. Dan Gurney was tallest at 6 ft 2 in., and Mario Andretti shortest at 5 ft 6 in. Mario was also lightest at 138lb and Jerry Grant heaviest at 200lb. The average age of the 33 starters was 33.7 years, the average height 5 ft 8 1/2 in., and the average weight 171.5 lb. There were 31 married drivers and only two bachelors: Peter Revson and Art Pollard.

I've decided that Indianapolis is a twin race to Le Mans. The race is a dead bore, an anti-climax to the enormous build-up during qualifying, and the day after it I already decided I won't be back again. But I'm sure I will be.

By Eoin Young

Driving the M16C

By Tony Roberts

When Fox Roberts Racing imported the M16 from San Diego in 1997 it had a ‘cooking’ cast iron five litre Chev V8 installed of about 400bhp. We presumed that the Americans had installed this engine so that the car could run as a Formula 5000 on the local scene. The suspension set-up and corner weighting was way out and the fuel cell was perished. After the first demo run at Whenuapai, we installed a new cell and sorted out the suspension, although the rear still had some basic problems and we then ran the car at the 1998 Formula Libre Grand Prix. At this point the car had the 10½ in clutch and a pull activated slave cylinder which made gear changing rather slow. The car’s weight without the driver was 1760lbs (800kg) and this meant that it was giving away over 300lbs to the F5000s. Driving the car in this condition was relatively easy because the weight of the car coupled with the large wings and lower power than the car was built for, made the car very stable. With the big wing on the back the car stayed ‘glued’ to the track and was predictable with very little wheelspin, even out of the hairpin. The amount of drag that the car generated, even with the wings almost flat, meant that it would only do 155mph down the back straight (15 mph slower than our big block Corvette!) Anyway, we really enjoyed this first race and with the attrition from accidents and breakdowns we managed to finish 4th at the end of 35 laps, with a best lap time of 1.01.2. The rear anti sway bar mount had come adrift, but otherwise we could have done another 35 laps. One thing that we have found though is that people in New Zealand expect a McLaren of any vintage to be competitive!

When the car first ran at Indianapolis in Peter Revson’s hands in 1973, it was powered by a 2.6 litre turbocharged Offenhauser engine making about 700bhp. The car was then raced by Salt Walther and others through the ‘70s at Indy and in 1979 was repowered with an aluminium 6.0 litre Chevrolet engine. The M16 then ran at Indy in 1980 and 1981 before being retired. The options we had were to either seek out an Offenhauser or go the stock block option. The aluminium 355 cu in stock block option was available from 1972 and would therefore be period correct as an option for the car. The availability of the Chev engines and the fact that the turbo lag on the Offenhauser would make the car difficult to drive on a non oval circuit swayed us towards the Chevrolet option. As luck would have it, an aluminium 355 cu in V8 was for sale shortly after we had run the car at Manfeild and we decided to purchase it. At the same time as installing the engine it was appropriate to also tidy up the clutch, rear sway bar mount, engine mounting brackets, dry sump tank leak, rear wing mount and general plumbing problems that the car had. The installation and general sorting out took longer than anticipated and we had the M16 only just completed before the Formula Libre GP of 1999. On the Thursday before the race I drove the car around for 20 laps at 4,000 revs to run in the new crown wheel and pinion and bed the brake pads. All the temperatures were good and just as I went out again to try the car for speed, the battery went flat!

Arrived at the track on Saturday, really looking forward to the drive, although a little apprehensive. The M16 had now shed 200lbs of excess cast iron (it now weighed 1540 lbs) and had just over 700bhp. I asked Duncan to set the car up with a fair amount of wing downforce as I was not sure how it would be to drive. Initially leaving the pits, the car felt much more lively, with an urgency it certainly had not had before!

Sweeping through Champion’s big curve and the esses the car felt great and much more balanced than with the previous heavy load in the back. Within a few laps we were well under the old lap times and once the tyres were hot and the car was straight, the acceleration was incredible, especially down the back straight where the M16 was now touching 185 mph. I only used 1st gear out of the hairpin once because the acceleration was so brutal I thought that the old car might break something. This is one thing you have to keep in mind when you are driving this car. It is over 25 years old, a genuine works car with a long history and probably worth more than me, so it’s not expendable and you have to drive within yourself. For the last practice on Sunday morning we eased the wings back for less downforce and I went out behind Graham Cameron. I guess Graham acted as a "hare" for me, as the first lap was in the 60s, then 59 seconds, 58 seconds, 57 seconds and then three laps in the 56s. Unfortunately engine problems plagued us in the race and forced our retirement after 10 laps. However, the team was well pleased with the cars improved performance as it now brings it to comparable performance with the top F5000s in New Zealand. The responsibilities we have to preserve this car and the other old McLaren cars were brought home to me in no uncertain terms by a few spins whilst trying to rapidly warm up the tyres at Manfeild last November. To this end, McLaren International kindly dispatched a set of old tyre warmers for use on the cars - with the warning - just don’t let the driver get too enthusiastic straight out of the pits! For next season starting at Manfeild in November, the engine will be rebuilt and slightly detuned to 650bhp. We hope to get in some practice track time to improve performance and we are intending to do the Ruapuna and Wigram meetings and possibly Teretonga in early 2000.

Today, the pair run Group 7 Sportscars Ltd, dedicated to building and supplying rebuilt and new parts for McLaren Cars.

Where is the car now? The car is currently owned by Harry Mathews in the USA.

The ground effects have been removed and the M16C is now back in its early 1970s configuration.

The five litre Chev engine produces approx 460bhp. Now owned by Harry Mathews, the M16C was owned by Trustees Duncan Fox and partner Tony Roberts and was campaigned under the Bruce McLaren Trust banner.


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