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Howden Ganley tells his side of the 1973 Grand Prix of Canada

One of the strangest and most controversial Formula One Grand Prix races ever held was run off at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.

  • Howden Ganley

On Sept. 23, 1973 — 44 years ago today, exactly — one of the strangest and most controversial Formula One Grand Prix races ever held was run off at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, nee Mosport.

It has gone down in F1 history as a race in which if anything could go wrong, it did. Fog delayed the start, scorers keeping lap charts became confused as cars went into the pits and out and back in again and a safety (or pace) car was deployed for the first time in a world championship Grand Prix and it just added to the bedlam.

It was raining when the seventh Grand Prix of Canada started — and then, it stopped. The track dried up, meaning the 26 drivers — who’d all started the race on wet-weather tires — had to go to the pits to have dry-weather tires put on.

Unlike today, teams didn’t do pit stops often and they sure didn’t practice them. Some didn’t have enough team members, and one guy might have had to change two wheels. If there were two cars on a team, only one could be serviced at a time. There was no radio communication, so pit boards and hand signals were used.

Ergo, when the rain stopped, most of the 26 cars headed for the pits, which weren’t really long enough for everybody to be in there all at once, and the pit lane itself was quite narrow. Sometimes — as in the case of Jackie Stewart — a driver would enter the pits, only to find his teammate’s car (François Cevert’s) up on jacks and be waved through to take another lap. Then, again in the case of Stewart, when he went back into the pits for his tire change, his car wound up falling off the jack.

One word could be used to describe the scene: Chaos. If you prefer two: Utter chaos.

Once everybody had made their stops and were racing around again, not quite knowing where they were in the scoring, Cevert and Jody Scheckter crashed together, and organizers decided for the first time in Formula One history to send out a pace car (or safety car, as it came to be known) to keep the field in line while the wreckage was cleared. The driver of the pace car, Canadian racing champion Eppie Wietzes, pulled the yellow Porsche he was driving in front of an Iso-Ford being raced by New Zealand pilot Howden Ganley.

For years, people — fans, other drivers, organizers — have maintained that Wietzes, who has always said he was just following orders, pulled in front of the wrong car, that Howden Ganley wasn’t the leader at the time. What nobody has ever been able to say is who was the leader.

Whatever, it just added to the confusion so that when the checkers were thrown, nobody was really sure who had won. Was it Ganley? Jackie Oliver? Peter Revson? Emerson Fittipaldi? Mike Hailwood? James Hunt?

In the end, organizers decided Revson had won, with Fittipaldi second and Oliver third. Revson got to keep the trophy — his last in F1, as it turned out; he was killed at the South African Grand Prix early in 1974 — and the order of finish has been in the record books ever since.

So, a few weeks ago, I’m in California for the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, and I’m wandering around my hotel — I’m there with the Infinity Motor Co., incidentally — and I see this guy who looks vaguely familiar. So, I look at him for a while, and then I look at him some more, and finally the penny drops. It’s Howden Ganley, now 75 years old with grey hair like me. I make a beeline for him.

Howden Ganley

“Who really won the 1973 Canadian Grand Prix?” were the first words out of my mouth.

Emerson Fittipaldi,” he replied immediately.

“And where did you finish?” I continued.

“Third,” he said.

Boy, I thought to myself. That sure doesn’t line up with what are today the official results. So, I asked Ganley, who was actually at the hotel selling his book, The Road To Monaco — My Life In Motor Racing, why he thought it was Fittipaldi.

“My wife (Judy Kondratieff, a U.S. sports car racer who was an SCCA regional champion) was the best keeper of lap charts,” he said. “It was not unusual for other teams and sometime race organizers to double-check what they had against hers. We went over and over what she had for weeks after that race. There’s no doubt that Emerson won, with Jackie Oliver probably second and me probably third. We thought, initially, that I had won but when we checked and rechecked, I was in third.”

So, I said, tell me about the day. This is fascinating stuff.

“I’d made good progress in the rain,” Ganley said, “and I’d passed a lot of people so, for sure, I was in the lead. As it dried up, I saw what was happening in the pits, and I said there was no way I was going in there. My teammate, Tim Schenken, had stopped, but I waited till things calmed down. I eventually made a very good stop, and the pit lane was clear; I was in and out. So, off I go again — but I didn’t know if anyone had gone by me while I was in the pits.

“Anyway, we came up behind the safety car. Peter McIntosh was an ex-Red Arrows guy from the RAF (like the RCAF Snowbirds), and when he retired, he went to work for Bernie (Ecclestone); he was Bernie’s man on the ground who did the leg work at the races. He was in the safety car. He was motioning to me that I was in the lead, and I thought, ‘Well, that’s lucky; nobody has overtaken me while I’ve been in the pits.’

“Anyway, the pace car pulls off, and I thought, ‘Well, I’m in the lead,’ so I just took off. I could see Jackie (Stewart) creeping up on me, but he was a lap behind (because of the incident in the pits). Emerson got past and maybe Ollie (Jackie Oliver). But Peter Revson never passed me on the track or while I was in the pits, so, he couldn’t have won.

“This is not to take anything away. Peter was a good racer and a fine driver and he was a friend. I was his mechanic at one time earlier on. But, my view, which is slightly controversial probably, is that at the end of the race, they didn’t have a clue as to who had done what. Judy went up with her lap chart and they weren’t interested in hers, unfortunately, but I think they knew where everyone had started, and once they tossed out those who had dropped out of the race or were so far back they weren’t considered, they made all the lines join up to make a lap chart. Revson started second so he won, and Emerson started fifth so he was second, and so on. In any event, I got sixth, and I guess they thought they had to throw me a bone. One point.”

One point for sixth place. Upwards of 30 cars would start Grands Prix in those days but only the top six drivers were awarded points — nine to the winner, six for second, then four down to one for the third through sixth finishers. These days, if you finish in the top 10 — and there are only 20 cars in Grand Prix racing this season — you win points,

“I just started to write a column on this very subject,” said Ganley, who started in motor sport as a reporter writing about races and still contributes to New Zealand Classic Driver and Vintage Race Car. “As you said, half the field gets points now. It’s kind of like kids all go to a party these days and every kid has to get a present or else they get pissed off. It used to be when I was a kid, the guy who’s birthday it was got the presents.

“Let’s, for instance, look at the U.S. Grand Prix of 1971, which I recall very clearly. Thirty cars started that race, 15 finished, and Jo Siffert and I were both in the points in BRMs. There were much bigger fields in those days and only six got points. It was tough.

“I kept getting seventh places, so I was outside the points. If that was today, I’d be in the thick of a points battle. One day, I’m going to sit down and work it all out: How would I have done if the points were awarded like they are today.”

That’s not the only difference between Ganley’s generation and today’s. Back then, many drivers — Denis Hulme, Graham Hill, Ganley — got into F1 racing as mechanics and worked their way into the cockpit as drivers. Today, young guys show up with the money and they get to drive.

“These days, telemetry saves all these kids,” said Ganley — who lives part of the year in California, another part in England and who takes a trip home to New Zealand annually to “brush up my accent.”

“Telemetry sorts everything out for them. When you didn’t have that, you had to know your stuff. There’s a photo in my book of Monaco 1966, and I’m working on Bruce McLaren’s car and right next to me is Bruce himself, and he’s also working on the car. A Formula One guy today wouldn’t know where to start.”

Ganley drove in F1 from 1971 to 1974 and started 41 World Championship Grands Prix. No podiums, he placed fourth twice and scored points five times for a total of 10 championship points. He also raced in numerous nonchampionship Formula One races.

He has fond memories of Old Mosport. “It was a challenging circuit,” he said. “I was very proud of the fact that I could go through Turn One flat out. Nobody else could do that. However, Turn Two brought me back to reality. I wasn’t too good through two (a sweeping left turn that goes downhill and is off camber, to boot).”

I asked him about his greatest accomplishment and, without hesitating, he said it was marrying his wife, who died of cancer in 2007.

“It was at the Spanish Grand Prix in 1971. I’ve got this long-running romance with a Swedish countess going, so about two or three weeks before Spain, I get a call from Patty McLaren, who still owned the (McLaren) team at that time. She said, ‘I have a lovely American friend coming to stay with me, and we’re going to the Spanish GP — because she went to all the races — and I really want you to meet her,’ and I said, I’m all right with girlfriends, thank you very much. At that time, I had no intention of getting married to anyone, but I had a good rotation of girlfriends.

“So, we get to Barcelona and after first practice, Patty comes down to BRM and she says, ‘Come on, I want you to meet my lady friend.’ Yeah, yeah, yeah. The next day, she’s on my case again, and if you knew Patty McLaren, it was best not to argue with her, so I said OK.

“So, I come up there, and I’m introduced to this vision. And I thought, ‘Whoa, out of my league here.’ Anyway, I married her. It was a bit on and off, but in the end, it was the most wonderful thing I’ve ever done.

“I’ve said to people that if God had come to me afterwards and said, ‘Howden, you can go around again, and you can have two world championships and win the Monaco Grand Prix and all that but you can’t have her,’ I’d say, ‘Forget it.’ ”

Howden Ganley

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