Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Ever hear about the sabotage in the garages at the 1969 Can Am race at Riverside?

Controversy surrounding the 12th Riverside Grand Prix.

 According to one documented account, the Group 7 unlimited horsepower cars driven by Chris Amon and Lothar Molschenbacher "had been tampered with" prior to the $70.000 Oct. 26 Canadian-American Challenge Cup race.

 Amon, veteran Formula 1 pilot from New Zealand, was assigned to a factory Ferrari which encountered numerous mechanical problems prior to the race. Amon's crew discovered, in a routine check before the staging on the grid, that the cotter pin had been removed from the balance bar, a vital part of the braking system. Another pin was inserted.

Although the 700-horsepower Ferrari started after the rest of the 36-car field had been led away by the Barracuda pace car, it was blackflagged off the track three laps later for a push start by its crew.

All cars must be started internally, according to SCCA rules. Soon after the start the new brake lining worked itself loose, forcing a pit stop which put the crimson-and-white car out of contention. It finished 16th.

Although the saboteur or saboteurs were never caught, one fact remains: They had easy access into the garage area, enabling them to perform such an act. Motschenbachcr. a German-born mechanic-driver from Beverly Hills, discovered a left rear flex line of his McLaren MK-12 Chevrolet had been cut, presumably with wire cutters. The Molschenbacher crew changed the flex line and bled the brakes, arriving 10 minutes late at the pre-grid.

Unlike other sanctioning bodies such as the United States Auto Club (USAC) and the National Assn. for Stock Car Racing (NASCAR), the SCCA does not enact stringent security measures to bar non-participants from the pits and garages.

Anyone (child, girlfriend or grandmother) can purchase a $5 paddock pass which allows free reign in the working garages. A milling throng of 80,200 attended the Riverside Grand Prix. It seemed they all had paddock passes. At 10 a.m. on race day, it looked like Times Square on V-J Day. Drooling babes in arms, girls wearing that blank expression of "What's going on here?" and the perennial camera buff loaded down with $2,000 worth of equipment, strolled through the garages.

One mechanic, working on Dan Gurney's McLeagle Chevy, had to push his way through a layer of. six bodies to reach the car. As soon as he bent down to work on the left rear wheel hub, the young man found himself entombed by spectators leering over his head. Under such conditions it would be a simple matter to drop a foreign object, like a bolt or rock, down the engine stacks of the intake manifold. The cutting of a fuel line or brake lining would pose no special problems.

Riverside president Les Lichter denied any connection between the spectators and the tampering. "Although they (the spectators) may cause some inconvenience to the workers in the garages." said Richter. "It is very doubtful that sabotaging of cars occurs because of them. I think it would be unfortunate to make a rule and just say, 'No, you can't come in here anymore.' For many of these fans, the garage activity is more interesting than the ' race."

Sometime between 5 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. Sunday, the tampering was rumored to have occurred. Whether it was a crew member of a rival outfit or a 'sadistic spectator,' no one seemed to know. But can the racing fraternity afford to shun the incident? Racing is inherently dangerous without adding the specter of sabotage. More stringent laws, limiting access lo the garage area lo drivers, crew members and working press, should be enacted by the SCCA. A novelty for spectators can hardly be an adequate excuse for endangering a driver's life.

November 7, 1969
Independent from Long Beach, California · Page 47

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