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Kemp won the season opener at Mosport and Follmer beat Donohue in the next event at Road Atlanta while Penske and crew were trying to make the monster behave. But then, settling down to the task, Donohue ripped off the rest in straight victories, devastating various lap records by as much as seven seconds and coasting home far ahead of a generally beaten and breathless Follmer.
Rinzler is not upset because his team has been so soundly thrashed in the Can-Am. He accepts the reality that Penske appeared with a superior car and driver combination and used them well. "It's the cost of competition with these turbocharged cars that's bothering me," he says. "It's reached a point where nobody can afford to compete except Roger. Two 917-30 Porsches exist in the entire world and do you know who's got 'em? Roger Penske, that's who. And there isn't a car anywhere that can beat them. Now Roger is saying that if you want to beat him, all you've got to do is call up Stuttgart and Porsche will whip you up one just like his. Only one trouble: you better send along a certified check for 450,000 Deutschmarks, or about $220,000. Two hundred and twenty thousand for just the car, no spares, no instruction manual, no full tank of gas, no nothing—just the car. Then you better plan on a couple of spare engines for $74,000 each and then send about four mechanics to Germany for a few months—after you've paid for a Berlitz course—to learn how to run the whole freaking thing. If you want to do something like that, Roger is right, you can race him."
Rinzler, whose short, round body almost quivers with rage discussing the issue, claims his total racing expenditures for the 1973 Can-Am have exceeded $800,000. Some of this has been recovered through sponsorship aid and prize money, but his net loss will still reach six figures. He claims that his bank account will not stand another season of the same brand of racing.
"It's the turbochargers that make the cars so expensive," he says. "If you don't turbocharge, you're just plain out of it. The guys in the Can-Am who are running the big old Chevys like McLaren used might just as well be in another race. We've got to cut the cost of competition and the best way to do that is to pull off the turbos. We have recommended that turbocharging be banned for the 1974 season.
"Naturally Roger doesn't want to change. He's got the fastest car around and that thing won't run with the turbocharger pulled off. It has a special body that creates a tremendous aerodynamic downforce to keep it glued to the track. It needs that 1,200 horsepower just to push it along. With a regular engine it'd be stone slow and Penske knows it."
Penske refuses to rise to Rinzler's bait, but instead chooses to recite—with justifiable pride—how he and Donohue helped Porsche develop the 917 turbo cars from a point where they were cranky, slow and unreliable to an indisputable position as the fastest road-racing automobiles in history. "Team McLaren dominated this series for five years, but there was never any talk of banning them," he says. "And you could not buy a duplicate car like they were winning races with. You can buy a Porsche like ours. Of course it's expensive, but all racing cars are expensive.
"Rinzler has tried to cut us off at the pass," says Penske. "If he wants to beat us, he ought to at least try the same car. Racing is a tough business and I've got an obligation to deliver for my sponsors and to the Porsche factory. The SCCA announced twice this summer that the same Can-Am rules would be in effect for 1974. How can they possibly consider changing them now? After all, this is the Can-Am, which is supposed to be an unlimited class of racing. Our Porsche is an engineering masterpiece and it can't be banned overnight."
Penske is fighting hard to keep his supercars in the hunt, but the opposition is swirling around him on all sides. Since less than a dozen turbocharged 917s of all types are in competition in the U.S. or Europe, he can hardly expect a groundswell of support from other loyal owners. What is more important to Penske is that the rest of the Can-Am owners have Chevy-powered McLarens, Lolas, Shadows, etc. that have been rendered obsolete by the turbochargers. To a man they support a quick surgery job that would return all engines in the series to normal aspiration.
Roy Woods, a wealthy Californian whose McLaren M20 is generally the fastest of the non-turbo cars, says flatly, "We just won't compete in 1974 if the turbos remain. It would be unfeasible to do it without a Porsche, while to campaign such a car would in my estimation cost an extra $300,000. It just isn't worth it."
Tracy Bird, a weathered Arizona businessman who operates as the executive director of SCCA, is being pressed for a decision about the Can-Am and the turbo controversy. Realizing that he faces the prospect of staging a series next year with an exclusive scattering of budget-buster Porsches on his starting grids, Bird is ready to act, regardless of Penske's protests and the club's recent affirmations that the turbos would remain. "I've known Roger for years and I think I know when he's firing for effect," Bird says with a smile.