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When McLaren was bringing its new MP4-12C to the United States, there were fears that Americans wouldn't recognize the name. After all, the team from Woking is known principally for competing in Formula One, which has had a spotty presence in the U.S. at best. Those fears proved to be misplaced, as customers in the States have been snatching up all the McLaren supercars they can get their hands on. And part of that might come down to the days when McLaren didn't only race in America, it dominated.
The bulk of McLaren's victories on this side of the Atlantic were notched up in the Canadian-American Challenge Cup, a radical form of sports-prototype racing campaigned in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, which Bruce and company won five times in a row. But Can-Am wasn't the extent of McLaren's success in America.
In 1970, the team entered into the Indianapolis 500 with its own car design. The following year, McLaren came back with a radically different design that scored pole position and finished the race in second place. And the year after that, the legendary Mark Donohue piloted his McLaren M16B fielded by the Sonoco-Penske team – complete with its Offenhauser four-cylinder turbo engine producing upwards of 700 horsepower – to the checkered flag.
Not only did McLaren win at Indy that year, but it also won races in Formula 1, Formula 2 and Can-Am, entering the history books as a force to be reckoned with. It would go on to win at Indy twice more in 1974 and 1976, and became the first car to exceed 200 miles per hour on the famed oval in 1977.
NEW YORK (MAY 10, 2012) On May 27, 1972, McLaren claimed its first victory at the 'famed' Indianapolis 500 with Mark Donohue behind the wheel of the number 66 Sunoco-Penske. To commemorate the 40th anniversary of its first win at Indianapolis, McLaren will participate in the second annual Celebration of Automobiles on May 12, 2012 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway infield.
With support from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum, the display will feature the 1972 winning Indy car, McLaren M16B. The dichotomy of old and new and constant innovation will be illustrated with examples of the 2012 McLaren 12C and rolling chassis.
"McLaren has a long and rich history in racing, especially in North America," explained Tony Joseph, Director, McLaren Automotive, Inc. "We couldn't be more proud to celebrate the 40th anniversary of McLaren's first win at Indy within the same year we launch McLaren Automotive, our own dealer network and our first model, the MP4-12C.
"The McLaren M16B was designed by Gordon Coppuck and had innovative and front and rear wing design for its time. Even looking back 40 years ago, it offers great examples of McLaren's ongoing strive for technological innovation and to be the best in everything it does," said Joseph.
Featuring an Offenhauser 4-cylinder turbo engine, 700-750 bhp, and a Hewland LG 500 4-speed transmission, team owner Roger Penske ran two cars – one for Donohue and the other for Gary Bettenhausen. In the end, Donohue led the last 13 laps of the race and earned his place in history as well as Penske's first victory at the 500.
McLaren went on that year to become the only team in history to ever win at Indianapolis, in Formula 1 and 2 and in Can-Am in the same year. In addition, McLaren saw the checkered flag two more times at the Indianapolis 500 in 1974 and 1976 with driver Johnny Rutherford.
"Following three years of its legendary domination of the Can-Am series, it was of little surprise when Team McLaren's 1970 debut at Indianapolis began with the track opening for practice on May 1 and all three team cars promptly going out, nose-to-tail in a stunning show of readiness," said Donald Davidson, Indianapolis Motor Speedway historian. "They didn't win that year, but with a markedly different design in 1971, Peter Revson sat on the pole and finished second. With a Penske-entered McLaren winning in 1972 with Mark Donohue; McLaren's own Johnny Rutherford capturing two poles and two races between 1973 and 1976, and Penske's Tom Sneva coming along in 1977 to turn the Speedway's first ever 200 mph lap, it seemed like EVERYBODY had to have a McLaren."
For tickets and information on the Celebration of Automobiles, please visit www.indianapolismotorspeedway.com/celebrationofautomobiles.