Brabham, Gardner & Hawkins
Australian drivers can’t boast the prolific success – or anywhere near the number of Can-Am starts – of their New Zealand counterparts, but the quartet who did contest events certainly didn’t lack for dramatic experiences or exotic machinery.
The sustained success of New Zealanders in the Canadian-American Challenge Cup is in stark contrast to the haphazard and poorly rewarded involvement of Australia’s leading drivers in the famed series. While Denny Hulme and Bruce McLaren were Can-Am’s only two multiple series champions, it wasn’t until the final appearance of an Aussie in the series that a driver from New Zealand’s great sporting rival even managed to finish on the podium.
That was Jack Brabham in Texas in November 1969, the second of his two outings in the series for Ford. Prior to this was a string of frustrating and eventful outings for the four Australians credited with a Can-Am start: Brabham, Frank Gardner, Frank Matich and Paul Hawkins.
It was the latter who got things rolling – quite literally – for his countrymen when he fronted for the very first Can-Am race, at St Jovite, Canada on September 11, 1966. Hawkins became the inaugural member of the ‘CanAm Flying Club’ when his Lola T70 took off in practice.
Car owner Jackie Epstein recalled the incident in the Ivan McLeod-written Hawkins biography Hawkeye.
Left: Blue oval bigwigs twisted Frank Gardner’s arm for a one-off outing at Riverside, 1969 in its ‘Open Sports Ford’. This car was one of Ford’s many half-baked Can-Am machines. Note how the wing supports are connected to the rollover hoop.