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bruce mclaren f1

Unforgettable: Bruce McLaren 1937-1970

bruce mclaren f1

The small island nation of New Zealand has produced some great high-flying Kiwis who reached lofty heights in the world of motor racing. Bruce McLaren was born on August 30, 1937, in Auckland.

Bruce inherited his passion for Motorsport from his dad, Les, who owned a service station and dabbled in club racing. Bruce’s racing adventures began as a teenager in an Austin 7 restored by his dad. Speed and talent were obvious from the beginning.

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His performance in the 1957 New Zealand racing season attracted the attention of Jack Brabham, who helped him get a ride with his Cooper team in Formula 2 Championship.

The young Kiwi was second in the 1958 British Formula 2 championship, only five points adrift of Aussie Black Jack.

Reaching the top echelon

bruce mclaren monaco 1962 winner

In the 1959 Formula 1 season, McLaren was teammate to Brabham in the Cooper team. McLaren’s first podium in the top tier came in the fourth Grand Prix of the season at Aintree where he finished third behind Stirling Moss and race-winning teammate Brabham.

History was made in the inaugural United States Grand Prix, the season finale at Sebring. McLaren became the youngest Grand Prix winner at the age of 22. This record was not broken until 2003 when Fernando Alonso took his maiden victory in the Hungarian Grand Prix.

McLaren started the 1960 season on a high note, winning the Argentine Grand Prix. He finished second in the championship behind Cooper teammate Brabham who took his second successive title.

McLaren’s third and final win for Cooper came in the 1962 Monaco Grand Prix, circuit where he had made his Formula 1 debut three years earlier.

McLaren team made its F1 debut at the 1966 Monaco Grand Prix

The story of Monaco '66

Bruce McLaren Motor Racing Ltd. was formed in 1963, and in 1964 he won the Tasman series. Two years later the McLaren team made its Formula 1 Championship debut in the 1966 Monaco Grand Prix.

At Spa in 1968, McLaren became only the third man – after Brabham and Dan Gurney – to win a Formula 1 championship race in his own machine.

Today, in Formula 1 McLaren is the second most successful Grand Prix team with 184 wins. Not surprisingly, the oldest team on the grid, Ferrari, has the most wins, 245.

McLaren team’s first world champion was Emerson Fittipaldi in 1974. Other championship winning drivers are; James Hunt, Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna, Mika Hakkinen and Ron Dennis’ karting protege Lewis Hamilton.

Le Mans & Can Am

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The Executive decision (Ford vs Ferrari) for a formation lap finish attributed to Leo Beebe of Ford Motor Company at the 1966 Le Mans 24 Hour race cost Ken Miles the victory, which was celebrated with much surprise and happiness by the Kiwi drivers of Ford GT40, Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon.

The North American Can-Am series became known as the “Bruce and Denny Show” as the orange Chevrolet-powered McLaren M6 and M8 won five championships in a row from 1967-1971.

McLaren taking the title in 1967 and 1969. Compatriot and 1967 Formula 1 world champion Denny Hulme took the top honors in 1968 and 1970.

The fifth and final CanAm championship for McLaren was won by American driver Peter Revson in 1971.

The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

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McLaren team has taken three victories at the Brickyard in the famous Indianapolis 500 mile motor race. The first McLaren victory in the Indy 500 came in 1972 with Mark Donohue, this was the first Indy 500 victory for Roger Penske.

“Lone star JR,” Johnny Rutherford, also won the Indy 500 driving for McLaren in 1974 and 1976.

Pursuit of perfection was the name of his game. Bruce was the heart and soul of McLaren racing. He designed, evaluated, and raced his cars. His whole life was dedicated to his craft and passion, which included driving the team lorry and sleeping on the shop floor.

The Last Lap

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On this day, June 2, 1970, his passion cost him his life. Bruce was travelling over 160 mph on the Lavant straight at Goodwood when the rear body work of the McLaren M8D came off. The car went out of control and crashed backwards into an abandoned marshal’s post. Sadly, the driver had no chance.

There was a CanAm race a week later at Mosport Park, near Toronto. Teddy Mayer, Bruce’s right-hand man and now team leader, drafted Dan Gurney to race for the team. He did. And they won. Just like Bruce would have wanted.

The final words are best left to fellow Kiwi and one of the first McLaren employees, Howden Ganley: “If Bruce had walked into the workshop one morning and told us we were all going to march across the Sahara Desert, we’d have immediately downed our tools and followed him.”