McLaren first ran a works team at Indianapolis in 1970 with the M15, which also appeared in the other big 500-mile events at Ontario and Pocono. For the 1971 season Gordon Coppuck designed the all-new M16 (or M16A as later versions caused it to be known) borrowed its wedge shape from the Lotus 72 which had proved so successful in Grand Prix racing in 1970. Coppuck felt that the sleek shape would ideal for Indycar racing, and he was to be proved right. The car was unveiled at the Colnbrook factory in January 1971, some four months before action got underway at Indianapolis. As was standard in those days, it used a 2.6-litre Offenhauser engine, mounted in a supporting frame. The engine was mated to a Hewland gearbox with three speeds instead of the two usually favoured at Indy, the idea being to provide better acceleration out of pit stops. Works drivers Denny Hulme and Peter Revson gave the car its first testing miles at Ontario Motor Speedway, before Roger Penske took over and ran with Mark Donohue at Phoenix and Indianapolis. Penske had abandoned plans to run a Lola and had instead become McLaren’s first Indycar customer entrant. In the qualification for Indianapolis 500 new M16 cars proved to be very fast. Revson ultimately took pole at a record speed, with Donohue earning second place and Hulme – never a fan of ovals – in fourth. With three cars at the front, a debut win for the M16A seemed assured. But the race proved somewhat disappointing, with Revson managing only a low-key second behind the Colt of Al Unser, Donohue stopping with gearbox problems, and Hulme spinning early on before having engine trouble. Nevertheless, McLaren had made its mark and M16-series cars had won three of the six 500-mile races held since their debut – in 1972, 1974 and 1976.
|1971||USAC National Championship||Indianapolis 500|
|Denny Hulme||85||McLaren Cars|