The most powerful sports racing car ever produced was the Porsche 917/30, a turbocharged monster having in its ultimate form a 5.4 liter flat 12 motor that could put out over 1500 bhp. It was created to break the hold of the McLaren’s on the CanAm series and succeeded all too well – its total domination led to the end of the CanAm as an international sports car series. The 917/30 was provided only to Roger Penske’s team and was usually driven by Mark Donohue, as here winning the Buckeye Cup at Mid-Ohio on August 8, 1973. George Follmer, who had also driven for Penske in the past, was second in a Porsche turbo 917/10, the only other car to complete the 84 lap distance, but he was some two and one-half minutes back. Donohue won six the the eight CanAm races in 1973, having been sidelined for the first two due to injury.
Mark Donohue came up through the Sports Car Club of America’s amateur racing scene, initially driving an Elva Courier in races in the northeast. His talents were quickly recognized and he was given some “rides” in important races with competitive machinery. Donahue had a college background in mechanical engineering and used it to help him with vehicle set-up and the physics of race car driving. He was one of the real initiators of adapting this technology to the sport.
In the mid-1960s Roger Penske, himself a talented driver who had stepped out of the cockpit to run his own team, got together with Donohue to begin an intense driver/car owner association – in some ways akin to that between Jim Clark and Colin Chapman at Lotus. Together they focused on being just a bit better than their competitors: better cars, better preparation and attention to achieving “the unfair advantage,” words which became the title of Mark Donohue’s book about his career and focus to win.
Donohue and Penske found success in every American racing series in which they participated, but both found Formula 1 a more difficult challenge. In 1975 they stopped using the Penske F1 car in favor of a March. Like with Jim Clark at the Hockenheimring in 1968, a tire deflated on Donohue’s car at the very fast Österreichring during practice causing a crash which at first did not seem terribly serious. However, closed head injuries were much less understood then versus today and Donohue went into a coma and died the next day.
Photo by Bill Fox ©The Klemantaski Collection