Grand Prix Classic

The Questor Grand Prix
Ontario Motor Speedway, 25-28 March, 1971

Built in 1970 by the Questor company, a US conglomerate, the Ontario Speedway cost a remarkable US$25.5m. The track was 3.21 miles in length, following the standard USAC oval configuration, with a road circuit section infield, which would be linked with a section of the banking to provide a Grand Prix configuration. The nineteen turns were numbered rather than named, with the number 13 skipped for superstitious reasons. Seating was provided for some 140,000 spectators (both infield and in grandstands), and the track was situated some 40 miles from Los Angeles. It had state of the art facilities, including a sophisticated electronic timing system which provided a real-time feedback of placings for the spectators.

The owners persuaded FISA to schedule a second American Grand Prix for the 1972 season at the Speedway. In these times it was standard for a proposed Grand Prix venue to hold a non-Championship race the year before the intended championship event. The Questor group put up a prize fund of $278,400, which raised interest, and also decided to boost spectator interest by opening up the competition to Formula A cars. Formula A was a 5-litre class not unlike Formula 5000 which was moderately popular, ran by the Sports Car Club of America. The 1971 Questor Grand Prix promised to be an exciting event.


Entry Notes

Unfortunately, the only date available, March 28th, clashed with both Formula One's traditional pre-season Race of Champions at Brands Hatch, and also the USAC round at Phoenix. Despite this, the entry was very good. Scuderia Ferrari sent Mario Andretti, at the time primarily known as an USAC driver, and the Belgian Jacky Ickx to Ontario, both driving the 312B models with which Andretti had already won the South African Grand Prix in that year. The team's other regular driver, Clay Regazzoni, had been dispatched to the Race of Champions. Yardley BRM sent a three-car team, as usual believing in strength in numbers. Pedro Rodriguez was the only driver in the squad the have previously driven the new P160, although a brand new example was provided for Jo Siffert. Howden Ganley was still in the old P153. Gold Leaf Team Lotus were widely tipped to run the new 56B turbine car in the event, but after its disheartening debut at Brands Hatch the week before, the choice was left in the hands of lead driver Emerson Fittipaldi, who opted for the more conventional Lotus 72. Reine Wisell was also despatched by the Hethel outfit with Cosworth's brand new Series 11 variant of the ubiquitous DFV.

McLaren Motor Racing sent a two-car team, with an M19 for Denny Hulme, and an old M14A for Peter Gethin. Matra Sports entered just Chris Amon, in a single MS120B, with a year-old engine in the back. Motor Racing Developments wheeled out the famous lobster-claw BT34 for Graham Hill, while Tim Schenken had to make do with the old BT33. Tyrrell appeared with their original self-designed car, 001, but upgraded with the second series 11 Cosworth, in the hands of Jackie Stewart. STP March sent just Ronnie Peterson after teething troubles with the new 711, withdrawing their other entry. A second 711 was on hand, though, Frank Williams Racing sending along Henri Pescarolo, as well as Derek Bell in an old March 701. An even older 701 (as used by Chris Amon and Mario Andretti in 1970) was entered by STP for reigning Formula A Champion John Cannon. The planned Team Surtees entry of team owner John Surtees and Rolf Stommelen did not materialise, so the final Formula One entry was Pete Lovely in an old Lotus 49B, but he arrived late, and was only allowed in as third reserve.

The Formula A entry was a lot smaller. Lola's T192 customer car made up a large amount of the entries present with new examples going to past champions Lou Sell and Tony Adamowicz, as well as a third being loaned to reigning USAC Champion Al Unser. The prototype T192 was loaned to the Penske team, who entered Mark Donohue in the car. Yet another T192 was run by Bob Bondurant, who had driven a handful of Grands Prix in 1965-66. Charlie Hayes entered two of the older T190s which his team had modified extensively, and with Bobby Unser (a respected USAC driver but had humiliated himself in his one try in Formula One with BRM) and Ron Gable driving. The team also entered Jack Byers in a non-modified T190 as a reserve driver. All were powered by Chevrolet V8 engines.

Two 1970-spec McLaren M10B cars were also there, one for Briton David Hobbs (who had driven in a couple of Grands Prix) and one for the great A.J. Foyt. Again Chevrolet V8s were used, but Hobbs was unfortunately entered late due to a mix-up and was only registered as a reserve. Two Surtees TS8 cars were on hand, one for Sam Posey (who would later drive in a pair of US Grand Prix for Surtees' works F1 team) and the other for Peter Revson (between his two spells in Formula One after an unsuccessful period with Reg Parnell's team in the mid-60s). The final Chevrolet-engined car was a little more unusual. Another past F.A. Champion, Gus Hutchison, was driving the American ASD (Aero Structure Developments). The futuristic-looking car was moulded from unusual materials, and featuring a wing-mounted radiator and rising rate front suspension. Lotus' unsuccessful Type 70 had one entrant, George Follmer (later to dominate CanAm with Shadow and get a year in their Grand Prix car) using a modified Boss Ford engine. The final Formula A entry was Swede Savage, a young American driver under the watchful eye of Dan Gurney, running a 1969 Eagle with a Plymouth V8 powerplant.

[Full Entry]


Qualifying

Three days of track familiarisation were allotted, the first, on Wednesday, was untimed with four hours allowed on the other days. Only Ferrari and the Formula A boys were on hand on Wednesday, with Andretti managing to badly damage his Ferrari with an excursion from the track. The following day the rest of the Formula One teams arrived, and the speed picked up. However, Andretti, Foyt and the Unsers were all absent at the USAC event in Phoenix.

Stewart led the list, lapping a 1m 43.143s, with Ickx timed at 1m 43.7s and Amon at 1m 43.919. Close behind were Hulme and Siffert, while Donohue was the only Formula A driver keeping on the pace. For the Friday, Stewart's car had the 11 series Cosworth replaced with an older unit in order to preserve the new one for the race. He still improved, building up to a lap of 1m 41.777s. Jacky Ickx managed to shave seven tenths off his time, while Siffert and the Lotuses all closed into the 1m 42s. Amon struggled with mechanical problems in the lone Matra, but towards the end of the session things hotted up as the affable Kiwi got the car up to speed, and the USAC returnees also entered the fray again.

Although the Formula One cars were almost universally faster, several were suffering component failures due to the Speedway's banking, most notably the BRM P160, which was suffering breakages of the rear suspension mounting located between the engine and the gearbox. Nevertheless. Formula One cars monopolised the top 6, followed by the superb Donohue, with Follmer the only other Formula A car to break the top 10. Andretti made 12th with very little mileage, with Pescarolo just behind him, on a similarly limited laps.

The other three USAC drivers were looking distinctly unimpressive, having ambled back from the Phoenix race (although, unlike Andretti, they didn't have Formula One contracts to maintain), with Al Unser the best at 26th, brother Bobby a place behind, and Foyt 30th and last. Stewart borrowed the McLaren before Foyt arrived, and set a time good enough for 11th, despite very few laps in the car. Foyt, however, was unhappy with Stewart's set-up. The most disappointed man was David Hobbs, who had registered 21st time, but was first reserve after his late entry. Lovely, who would have started ahead of both Unsers, and Byers, slowest of all, suffered similar fates.

[Full Grid]


Race - Heat One

Due to inadequate fuel tanks in the Formula A cars, the race was split up into two 32 lap heats, supported by various national events. The race was blessed with fine weather, but cursed with the Indycar-style rolling start, behind a Porsche pace car driven by actor James Garner, best known to Grand Prix fans as 1966 World Champion Pete Aron. The crowd, while 65,000 strong, filled only around half of the available seats, a disappointing turnout for the organisers.

The start was less than spectacular, although Ickx used every single prancing horse available to nip past into the lead, ahead of Stewart, Amon, Hulme, Hill and Siffert. The little Swiss spun on lap two though, and caused a hold up to all those behind as he tried to regain traction, falling back to 12th. The group chasing the leaders was now fronted by Donohue, with Andretti, Rodriguez, Fittipaldi, Wisell and Pescarolo all swarming behind him. Stewart really had his work cut out for him in overtaking Ickx, and Hill was falling back from the lead battle, and towards the clutches of the flying Donohue. Hulme made an uncharacteristic mistake, spinning his way down the field after trying to get past compatriot Amon.

After six laps Foyt pulled into the pits and retired, complaining about his car's handling, while the second best placed Formula A driver, Follmer, went out with a large oil fire burning away on the back of his Lotus. Hill was the first of the significant Formula One runners to disappear, feeling his Cosworth tightening and deciding to call it a day. By quarter distance, or half of the first heat, the F.A. cars were dropping like flies. Savage had a bad shunt in the old Eagle, and was rushed to hospital with leg injuries; Bondurant and Al Unser both had Chevrolet failures; Revson's gearbox broke and Posey pulled up in a cloud of smoke with an overheated engine. Stewart managed to outbrake Ickx at last, and the Belgian pulled into the pits for a long stop to have a puncture remedied.

The Scot now led comfortably from Amon, then came Andretti, who had managed to dispose of Donohue after a huge battle, then Siffert in 5th, followed by Ickx, Fittipaldi, Wisell, Schenken, Peterson, Cannon, Pescarolo and Ganley. Pedro Rodriguez had limped into the pits with suspension trouble, but was now lapping at very impressive speeds.

Pushed by Andretti, Amon began to catch Stewart, but then suffered a puncture and fell to tenth. Andretti began to close on Stewart, and Donohue was also looking very good. As Andretti passed Stewart on lap 29, to the roar of the crowd, Donohue pulled into the pits with faulty fuel injection. Stewart was suffering from heat exhaustion, and as a result Andretti pulled away over last couple of laps. Siffert took a distant third, Hulme 4th, the delayed Ickx 5th and Amon 6th. Schenken ran out of fuel, but was seventh followed by Ganley, Donohue, Grable, Gethin, Bobby Unser, Bell and Sell. Pescarolo had retired late on with a fractured cross member, and Peterson with a shock absorber failure. Both Lotus cars stopped with engine trouble.

Heat One Results

Pos.
Driver Car
For.
Laps
Time/Retirement
Pts.
1
Mario Andretti Ferrari
1
32
56m 03.052s
40
2
Jackie Stewart Tyrrell-Cosworth
1
32
+ 3.000s
35
3
Jo Siffert BRM
1
32
+ 45.229s
32
4
Denny Hulme McLaren-Cosworth
1
32
 
30
5
Jacky Ickx Ferrari
1
32
 
28
6
Chris Amon Matra
1
32
 
26
7
Tim Schenken Brabham-Cosworth
1
31
+ 1 lap
24
8
Howden Ganley BRM
1
31
+ 1 lap
23
9
Mark Donohue Lola-Chevrolet
A
31
+ 1 lap
22
10
Ron Grable Lola-Chevrolet
A
31
+ 1 lap
21
11
Peter Gethin McLaren-Cosworth
1
31
+ 1 lap
20
12
Bobby Unser Lola-Chevrolet
A
31
+ 1 lap
19
13
Derek Bell March-Cosworth
1
31
+ 1 lap
18
14
Lou Sell Lola-Chevrolet
A
30
+ 2 laps
17
15
John Cannon March-Cosworth
1
30
Throttle
16
16
Ronnie Peterson March-Cosworth
1
26
Suspension
15
17
Emerson Fittipaldi Lotus-Cosworth
1
25
Engine
14
18
Sam Posey Surtees-Chevrolet
A
25
Overheating
13
19
Gus Hutchison ASD-Chevrolet
A
25
 
12
20
Pedro Rodriguez BRM
1
21
+ 11 laps
11
21
Reine Wisell Lotus-Cosworth
1
17
Ignition
10
22
Henri Pescarolo March-Cosworth
1
16
Bodywork
9
23
Al Unser Lola-Chevrolet
A
16
Oil Pressure
8
24
Bob Bondurant Lola-Chevrolet
A
15
Engine
7
25
Tony Adamowicz Lola-Chevrolet
A
12
 
6
26
Peter Revson Surtees-Chevrolet
A
11
Gearbox
5
27
Swede Savage Eagle-Plymouth
A
11
Accident
4
28
Graham Hill Brabham-Cosworth
1
8
Oil Pressure
3
29
A.J. Foyt McLaren-Chevrolet
A
6
Suspension
2
30
George Follmer Lotus-Ford
A
3
Rocker arm
1

Race - Heat Two

The order of the first heat determined the rolling grid for the second race, so Andretti started from pole, leading the 22 remaining cars. Foyt had been persuaded to rejoin, and Peterson would do so as well, admittedly after a further 17 laps had been ran.

Stewart just out-dragged Andretti into the lead of the second heat, followed by Jo Siffert, Ickx, Hulme, Amon and Donohue, still keeping up and far and away the most impressive Formula A driver. Stewart really had the hammer down, finding himself 2s on Andretti after just a couple of laps. Pandemonium broke out behind when Ickx made a desperate lunge at Siffert, and departed the circuit, taking the Swiss driver with him. The latter was able to limp back to the track and continue at a much slower pace, while Ickx only lasted another lap before a puncture forced him to sheepishly exit.

Donohue's reign in third was brief as his fuel injection finally died on him, and Foyt pulled out again. Andretti was having trouble getting his Firestones up to heat, but once he did he scythed into Stewart's lead. The Tyrrell driver had broken his rear roll bar, and the resulting handling characteristics were causing him grief on the Ontario banking. It was all but over as far as the lead was concerned once the flying Italian-American caught Stewart, as the Scot believed that his handling problem would cause to much danger should he try and defend.

As Andretti began to pull away, Stewart began to get to grips with his car, and was able to put up a sturdy defence against Amon. Siffert's suspension finally fell to pieces, a legacy of the Ickx challenge, while his team-mate Rodriguez was tearing through the field, now picking off Hulme for fourth place.

Andretti overcame a down-on-power engine to take his second Ferrari win, while Stewart just about led Amon and Rodriguez over the line, the Mexican taking fastest lap on his last tour of the circuit. Siffert managed to coax the BRM along for enough laps to be ranked 13th.

Heat Two Results

Pos.
Driver Car
For.
Laps
Time/Retirement
Pts.
1
Mario Andretti Ferrari
1
32
55m 45.358s
40
2
Jackie Stewart Tyrrell-Cosworth
1
32
+ 12.300s
35
3
Chris Amon Matra
1
32
+ 12.583s
32
4
Pedro Rodriguez BRM
1
32
 
30
5
Denny Hulme McLaren-Cosworth
1
32
 
28
6
Tim Schenken Brabham-Cosworth
1
32
 
26
7
Ron Grable Lola-Chevrolet
A
32
 
24
8
Peter Gethin McLaren-Cosworth
1
32
 
23
9
John Cannon March-Cosworth
1
31
+ 1 lap
22
10
Tony Adamowicz Lola-Chevrolet
A
31
+ 1 lap
21
11
Howden Ganley BRM
1
30
+ 2 laps
20
12
Lou Sell Lola-Chevrolet
A
29
+ 3 laps
19
13
Jo Siffert BRM
1
28
+ 4 laps
18
14
Gus Hutchison ASD-Chevrolet
A
27
+ 5 laps
17
15
Henri Pescarolo March-Cosworth
1
24
Suspension
16
16
Ronnie Peterson March-Cosworth
1
17
+ 15 laps
15
17
Derek Bell March-Cosworth
A
15
Suspension/Gearbox
14
18
Sam Posey Surtees-Chevrolet
A
13
Engine
13
19
Emerson Fittipaldi Lotus-Cosworth
A
10
Gear linkage
12
20
Bobby Unser Lola-Chevrolet
A
9
Engine
11
21
Mark Donohue Lola-Chevrolet
A
5
Fuel pressure
10
22
A.J. Foyt McLaren-Chevrolet
1
2
Blown engine
9
23
Jacky Ickx Ferrari
1
2
Flat tyre
8
24
Reine Wisell Lotus-Cosworth
1
-
Did Not Start Second Heat
7
25
Al Unser Lola-Chevrolet
A
-
Did Not Start Second Heat
6
26
Bob Bondurant Lola-Chevrolet
A
-
Did Not Start Second Heat
5
27
Peter Revson Surtees-Chevrolet
A
-
Did Not Start Second Heat
4
28
Swede Savage Eagle-Plymouth
1
-
Did Not Start Second Heat
3
29
Graham Hill Brabham-Cosworth
1
-
Did Not Start Second Heat
2
30
George Follmer Lotus-Ford
A
-
Did Not Start Second Heat
1

Overall Results

A bizarre points system, taking results in both heats, decided the results. Andretti took an overall victory by nearly 16 seconds (giving him $39,400 prize money in total), while only Hulme in third and fourth-placed Amon were unlapped - the two Kiwis tied on points, with their aggregate times used to decide the placing. Hereafter results generally went to the finishers who made up the numbers in the two heats, with all three BRMs in the top ten. Grable's Lola was the only Formula A car to make the prize-winning group. Ickx and Rodriguez were each given two extra points for recording the fastest lap in each heat.

The race was popular with the crowd, despite only Andretti and Stewart having really been in the hunt for victory. The Formula A cars were certainly at a disadvantage to the Formula One cars - a more interesting race may have been Formula One against USAC, which would have been interesting as the American cars would have been faster on the oval sections, but the Formula 1 cars more nimble on the infield course. As it was, the race was more akin to a Grand Prix with a Formula 2 class.

Overall Results

Pos.
Driver
For.
Pts.
1
Mario Andretti
1
80
2
Jackie Stewart
1
70
3
Denny Hulme
1
58
4
Chris Amon
1
58
5
Tim Schenken
1
50
6
Jo Siffert
1
50
7
Ron Grable
A
45
8
Peter Gethin
1
43
9
Howden Ganley
1
43
10
Pedro Rodriguez
1
43
11
Jacky Ickx
1
38
12
John Cannon
1
38
13
Lou Sell
A
36
14
Mark Donohue
A
32
15
Derek Bell
1
32
16
Bobby Unser
A
30
17
Ronnie Peterson
1
30
18
Gus Hutchison
A
29
19
Tony Adamowicz
A
27
20
Emerson Fittipaldi
1
26
21
Sam Posey
A
26
22
Henri Pescarolo
1
25
23
Reine Wisell
1
17
24
Al Unser
A
14
25
Bob Bondurant
A
12
26
A.J. Foyt
A
11
27
Peter Revson
A
9
28
Swede Savage
A
7
29
Graham Hill
1
5
30
George Follmer
A
2

Postscript

The race was popular with the crowd, if not the drivers (several of the American veterans, notably the Unser brothers and Foyt were unhappy with both the track and their uncompetitive machines, while the Grand Prix drivers were unhappy with the banking), but the Questor Group ran into financial trouble as a result of the lavish event, and the plans for a World Championship Grand Prix were never realised. There would be a second American race later, but this went to the Long Beach street circuit.

The Ontario Speedway was sold on in 1980 to Standard Oil, who closed and demolished the circuit. A housing development now stands in its' place.


Article History

Version 1.0 of this article originally submitted for the 8W Special, available online here.

Version 2.0 was written 23.04.06, with thanks to the guys at the AtlasF1 board for help with the full result.

Version 3.0 (current) was written 22.04.10, with mainly aesthetic changes. If anyone has further details, especially for finishing off the results and entry list, or complete practice times tables, or a circuit map that isn't drawn by someone as unskilled as I am, please contact me.