Bruce McLaren

| 2 Nov 2015

Such were Bruce McLaren’s achievements throughout his career, it is easy to forget that he was only 32 when he died testing a Can-Am car at Goodwood in 1970. A truly gifted and versatile racer who had success in sports cars as well as single-seaters, the Kiwi’s legacy nonetheless runs much deeper than his own victories.

His skill on the track was matched by his engineering prowess, and quite possibly exceeded by his popularity and ability to inspire those who worked for his eponymous team. 

What began as Bruce McLaren Motor Racing Ltd in 1962 could easily have disappeared after the events of 1970, but the likes of Teddy Mayer, Alastair Caldwell and Denny Hulme dusted themselves down and carried on. Eventually, McLaren matured into one of the most successful constructors in Formula One history. 

From multiple world championships with the likes of James Hunt, Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost and Mika Hakkinen, to the seminal F1 road car, none of it would have been possible without the drive and determination of Bruce himself.

Copyright LAT




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As a result of a number of strong performances – particularly at the 1958 New Zealand Grand Prix, where he came to the attention of Jack Brabham – McLaren was selected for the ‘Driver to Europe’ scheme. The young Kiwi didn’t disappoint: he was entered into the German Grand Prix in the same year, leading the Formula Two contenders in his Cooper and finishing fifth overall, just behind the F1 Ferrari of Wolfgang von Trips.

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Following his successful inaugural season in Europe, McLaren joined the factory Cooper team alongside his mentor Jack Brabham. At the age of just 22 years and 104 days, the New Zealander won the 1959 United States Grand Prix at Sebring, becoming the youngest driver to win a Grand Prix – and earning a congratulatory kiss from Miss Sebring in the process. His record would stand until Fernando Alonso won the 2003 Hungarian GP.

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The Cooper team chose not to tinker with a winning combination for the 1960 season, retaining both Brabham and McLaren. Its faith was rewarded at the opening race of the season with a McLaren victory in Argentina. His form continued throughout the rest of the season, scoring second place at Monaco, Spa (pictured) and Porto, and third in France and the United States. As in the previous year, the young McLaren was bettered only by his consistently brilliant teammate, who won five out of 10 races to take his second World Championship.

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McLaren’s first victory of 1962 came at the Monaco Grand Prix, but it was a hard-fought battle. Despite starting strongly, he became locked into a scrap with Graham Hill and Jim Clark. By lap 55, however, Clark’s Lotus had retired, while Hill’s BRM began trailing smoke. McLaren took the lead with just seven laps to spare, and was followed over the line by the Ferraris of Phil Hill and Lorenzo Bandini.

Though McLaren had quietly set up his own firm in 1962, the real waves in the international racing scene were caused by Ford, which had withdrawn from the 1957 Automobile Manufacturers Association ban on racing and made several attempts to acquire Ferrari. When Enzo resisted, the US firm threw its weight behind a ‘total performance’ programme that had the goal of winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
The inevitable flood of investment resulted in the Ford GT, and it was Bruce McLaren and Phil Hill who were charged with testing the unreliable coupe in the heat of battle. Though it had made an appearance in testing at Le Mans, its race debut came in 1964 at the Nürburgring 1000km.

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At the end of the 1965 season, McLaren decided to leave Cooper and race under his own name alongside fellow Kiwi Chris Amon. The team made its World Championship debut at the 1966 Monaco Grand Prix, the opening race in a season that featured an increase in engine capacity from 1.5-litres to 3-litres.
Despite starting 10th on the grid, the McLaren lasted just nine laps before an oil leak put paid to the team’s chances. And they weren’t alone – nine other cars retired through mechanical failure, while Guy Ligier and Jo Bonnier were so far behind that they weren’t classified. The race still holds the record for the fewest classified finishers of any Formula One meeting: four.

Within two years of the Ford GT first being driven in anger by McLaren, the larger engined MkII variant had become reliable enough to win Le Mans – and it did it in style. McLaren was paired with Chris Amon, and took victory by only a few metres after Ford tried to engineer a dead-heat with the sister car of Ken Miles and Denny Hulme. A third GT40, entered by Holman & Moody and driven by Ronnie Bucknam/Dick Hutcherson, completed the podium.    

In addition to his success in Formula One, McLaren carved a successful niche in the no-holds-barred world of Can-Am. In 1967, cars designed by McLaren won five out of six races, followed by four out of six in 1968. By 1969, the McLarens were utterly dominant. Bruce and Hulme won all 11 rounds, and the series became known as ‘The Bruce and Denny Show’. 

Incredibly, it took less than two years for McLaren to score its maiden victory in Formula One. Fittingly, it was Bruce himself who was behind the wheel of the McLaren M7A Ford when it was first across the line at Spa in 1968.
In a sign of the changing times ahead, Ferrari and Brabham both experimented with rudimentary wings during practice. Other teams, including McLaren, would follow suit throughout the season.

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McLaren had earned a reputation for being at the forefront of design throughout the 1960s, a decade during which the relatively relaxed rules offered plenty of opportunity for teams to carve out a competitive edge. The M7C featured aerodynamic wings front and rear, but fell foul of the governing body’s decision to ban high-mounted devices during the 1969 Monaco Grand Prix. Having run only in first practice, the M7C earned the moniker ‘The Thursday Car’.

0 false 18 pt 18 pt 0 0 false false false McLaren died while testing a Can-Am car at Goodwood in 1970, following an accident caused by the rear bodywork coming adrift on the Lavant Straight. His words spoken after Timmy Mayer’s death six years earlier rang true of his own life: “Who is to say that he had not seen more, done more and learned more in his few years than many people do in a lifetime? To do something well is so worthwhile that to die trying to do it better cannot be foolhardy.”    

Two weeks after Bruce’s death, McLaren went to Mosport for a Can-Am race. Dan Gurney was drafted in to partner Denny Hulme, and took pole position then victory in the M8D. Hulme, still not recovered from burns sustained at Indianapolis but determined to race in honour of Bruce, finished third. Team stalwart Tyler Alexander recently wrote in his book A Life and Times With McLaren that: ‘Those two guys and that day brought BMMR back to life.’