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50 Years of the Safety Car in F1 - A Mosport First

Monday, Sept. 25, 2023

Earlier this year at the Formula One Canadian Grand Prix in Montréal, there was a tribute made to the fifty year anniversary of the first safety car ever deployed in a Grand Prix. Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (CTMP), which as Mosport hosted Formula One from 1967 until 1977, holds this little known part of F1 history. This past weekend marked the official anniversary of the date on September 23rd of 1973.

For those who may have been there, or remember it well, many refer to this race as the “Confusion Grand Prix.” The race began in wet conditions with Sweden’s Ronnie Peterson on pole at a time of 1:13.697. Roughly 30 laps into the race there was an incident involving Jody Scheckter and François Cevert. In the changing weather conditions and with a hazard on-track, the safety car was deployed in Formula One for the first time ever in series history.

A bright yellow Porsche 914 was used to pace the field, and the car was driven by Canadian racing legend Eppie Wietzes.

Pit stops were not a usual occurrence at that time in Formula One. So when an avalanche of cars pitted for dry tires it created a lot of confusion about who the leaders were.

In 2019, CTMP co-owner Ron Fellows was able to interview Emerson Fittipaldi for a special 60th Anniversary video in which the two-time World Champion recounted some of his best ‘Mosport’ memories.

Fellows asked Fittipaldi about the 1973 race, remembering how they had put the safety car out in front of the wrong car.

“They sent the pace car out in front of Howden Ganley,” Fellows recounted to the Brazilian legend. “There was all this chaos because nobody had seen it done before.”

“At that time there was no electronics, it was all done with a pencil and a little square,” Fittipaldi remembered. “And you checked the box every time you went by to make sure you went by.”

During all that chaos Peter Revson, who had gone a lap down early in the race, was somehow able to un-lap himself. And while the Williams team was busy servicing his teammate, Howden Ganley decided to stay out behind the safety car and believed himself to be the leader of the race. Fittipaldi also thought he had gained the lead at one point, and at the end of the race Lotus team owner Colin Chapman went so far as to throw his hat in the air as the Brazilian crossed the start-finish-line; as was his tradition when winning a race.

“So I go to the podium to receive the trophy and one of the officials starts yelling ‘no no you have not won! Come down from there!” Fittipaldi said, laughing.

After a delay in which multiple timing and scoring sheets were reviewed, the officials decided that Peter Revson had won the race in his McLaren. It would prove to be Revson’s last win in Formula One, as he was killed in March of 1974 while testing for the South African Grand Prix. Both Fittipaldi and Ganley felt that they had won the race.

The safety car was an unusual occurrence in Formula One until the early 1990’s when the role of its use was made official and became a regular part of Grand Prix racing.  But regardless of the chaos that ensued, it happened at ‘Mosport’ first!

A version of this article appeared in the 2023 CTMP souvenir program.


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