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Al Unser in the March 817, the quickest car of 1981, see here at Road America.  Copyright Glenn Snyder 2009.  Used with permission.

Can-Am 1981

The Lola T530 had dominated the first half of 1980 but two teams had proved quicker in the second half of the season, VDS and Brad Frisselle Racing, and they maintained their momentum going into 1981. VDS produced their own car, VDS-001, based on the Lola T530 chassis but with all-new suspension and bodywork. Frisselle did not have the money for a full effort in 1981 but produced several customer cars and one of these, driven by Garvin Brown Racing's Danny Sullivan, won the high-profile race at Caesars Palace in October.

After the collapse of his deal with Chevron in 1980, Paul Newman had gone to March and ordered three new 817s for Al Unser and Italian F2 driver Teo Fabi. Fabi proved incredibly fast and Unser quickly retreated to CART, to be replaced by Can-Am regular Bobby Rahal. The Lola T530s were utterly eclipsed. Brabham used his in the first few races and won at Road Amerca before the VDS-001 was ready and Sullivan had some limited success in his car before renting the Frissbee but for the Carl Haas team, dominant for the last seven seasons of F5000/Can-Am, everything went wrong. The revised T532 was wrecked before it could prove itself and driver Jeff Wood was out of his depth. Lola lost customers in all directions and their long grip on American road racing was shattered. Haas and Lola would find a new direction.

The races

14 Jun 1981 > Mosport Park

28 Jun 1981 > Mid-Ohio

11 Jul 1981 > Watkins Glen

26 Jul 1981 > Road America

16 Aug 1981 > Edmonton

06 Sep 1981 > Grand Prix de Trois-Rivières

13 Sep 1981 > Mosport Park

04 Oct 1981 > Riverside

12 Oct 1981 > Laguna Seca

16 Oct 1981 > Caesars Palace

1981 Budweiser Can-Am Challenge table

1Geoff BrabhamLola T530
VDS-001
487 pts2 wins
2Teo FabiMarch 817456 pts4 wins
3Al HolbertCRC-2420 pts3 wins
4Danny SullivanLola T530303 pts1 win
5Jeff WoodLola T530256 pts