Mark Donohue: Wikis

  
  
  

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Mark Neary Donohue, Jr. (March 18, 1937 - August 19, 1975), nicknamed "Captain Nice", was an American racecar driver known for his ability to set up his own race car and drive it consistently on the absolute limit. Donohue is probably best-known as the driver of the 1500+ bhp “Can-Am Killer” Porsche 917-30, and as winner of the 1972 Indianapolis 500. Donohue's racing car pedigree is a veritable laundry list of great racing cars from the 1960s and 1970s. Cars that Donohue raced include: Elva Courier, Ferrari 250LM, Shelby Mustang GT350R, Lotus 20, Shelby Cobra, Ford GT-40 MK IV, Ferrari 512, Lola T70, Porsche 911, Chevrolet Camaro, AMC Javelin, AMC Matador, Porsche 917/10, Porsche 917/30, Eagle-Offy, McLaren M16, and Lola T330.

Contents

Early life

Donohue was born in Haddon Township, New Jersey. He attended The Pingry School, whereupon graduation, entered into study at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. Donohue graduated in 1959 with a bachelors degree in Mechanical Engineering and began racing his 1957 Corvette casually at the age of 22. He won his first event, a Belknap County, New Hampshire hillclimb, in this car. Eventually, through networking with various SCCA drivers, he was introduced to a well-known retired race driver and as-yet unsuccessful race team owner named Roger Penske.

Donohue met an experienced race driver named Walt Hansgen while running in SCCA events around the country (driving an Elva Courier with which he won the SCCA national championship in 1960, 1961). Hansgen quickly realized that Donohue had unusual talent as a driver, but more importantly, had an extensive working knowledge of vehicle mechanics and dynamics, due to his engineering background. Hansgen befriended Donohue, and even provided an MGB for Donohue to race at the 1964 Bridgehampton 500-mile (800 km) SCCA endurance event, which Donohue won. In 1965, Hansgen invited him to co-drive a Ferrari 275 at the 12 Hours of Sebring endurance race. This would be Donohue's big break into international sports-car racing. Hansgen and Donohue combined to finish 11th in that race. Also in 1965 Mark drove a GT350 to a SCCA B Class championship and a Lotus 20 to another championship in SCCA Formula C.

The Ford GT40

1966 proved to be a frustrating year for Donohue. Thanks to his friendship with Hansgen, word quickly spread to the Ford Motor Company about this young, quick driver. Ford quickly signed Donohue to drive one of their GT-40 Mk II race cars campaigned at the 24 Hours of Le Mans by the Holman & Moody racing team. Donohue would partner with Australian Paul Hawkins. Donohue and Hawkins only completed twelve laps and finished a disappointing 51st.

Donohue would be asked back to Le Mans by Ford the following year. Ford had developed a new GT-40, the Mark IV. Donohue would co-drive in the #4 yellow car with legendary Kiwi sports car driver and race car builder Bruce McLaren for Shelby American Racing. The two drivers did not agree eye-to-eye on many aspects of racing and car setup, but as a team were able to muster a 4th place finish in the endurance classic, a far better result than the previous year.

1966 would culminate with Roger Penske contacting Donohue about his interest in driving Penske's brand new Lola T70 spyder in the United States Road Racing Championship. Little did the two men know, this new partnership would transform their lives forever. The start was hardly propitious as Mark was to destroy the car at Watkins Glen in June, crashing the car at the top of the hill and having it burn to the ground.

Donohue dominated the 1967 United States Road Racing Championship driving a Lola T70 MkIII Chevy for Roger Penske. Donohue raced in seven of the eight races that year, winning six (at Las Vegas, Riverside, Bridgehampton, Watkins Glen and Mid-Ohio, while finishing 3rd at the Laguna Seca round behind Lothar Motschenbacher and Mike Goth.

In 1968, Donohue and Penske returned to defend their USRRC championship with the McLaren M6A Chevrolet. Donohue did not partake in the first race of the year at Circuit Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City. Donohue still dominated the series, but suffered three DNFs during the season due to mechanical problems with the M6A.

Trans-Am

Donohue began his historic Trans-Am series campaign in 1967, winning three of twelve races in a Roger Penske-owned Chevrolet Camaro. In 1967 and 1968, Trans-Am schedule included two of the most prized endurance races in the world, the 24 Hours of Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring. Donohue finished fourth at Daytona and won the Trans-Am class at the 12 Hours of Sebring.

1968 would be a banner year for Donohue in the Trans-Am series. He successfully defended his 12 Hours of Sebring victory the year before by partnering with Craig Fisher and driving his Penske Chevy Camaro to victory. Donohue went on to win a whopping 10 of 13 races. This was a Trans-Am series record which would stand for 19 years, until Tommy Kendall went 11 for 13 in the 1997 Trans-Am championship, winning the first 11 races that year in his All-Sport liveried Mustang.

Donohue was considered the leading Trans-Am driver of the late 1960s and early 1970s. His Camaros and Javelins won three Trans-Am championships (his last in 1971) while driving Camaros and AMC Javelins, all for Roger Penske Racing.

During their enormous success in Trans-Am, Roger and Mark would begin to experiment with their Camaros, searching for that all-elusive Unfair Advantage. They discovered that dipping a car's frame in an acid bath would eat away small amounts of metal from the frame, which, in turn made the car incrementally lighter, and allowed it to be driven faster around the track. The 1967 Z-28 won its last race by lapping the entire field of cars, raising eyebrows throughout the paddock. During a post-race inspection, race stewards discovered that the car was 250 pounds lighter than the 2800 pound minimum weight requirement. Donohue was to have his race victory taken away for cheating. But, owing to his keen business sense, Roger Penske stepped in. Penske threatened that any disqualification could potentially lead to Chevrolet pulling all support for the Trans-Am series. After considering the options, the race stewards allowed Donohue's victory to stand, but the rules for the 1968 season incorporated a change where all cars will be weighed during the pre-race technical inspection.

Penske and Donohue did not stop acid-dipping after the minor scuffle - the reduced weight allowed them to place weights of certain sizes in specific locations around the car, thus helping to balance the car while being driven on the limit.

They continued to use the "lightweight" car in 1968, at the Sebring 12 hour race. They changed the grille and taillight to the 1968 model, and then painted both cars exactly the same. They sent the legal weight car through tech inspection with the number 15 and again with the number 16 on it. Then they put both cars in the race, number 15 and 16, one car being 250 pounds lighter. They won the race and came 3rd overall, and went on to win 10 out of 13 races that year.

They also acid dipped the body on the Camaro, and had to caution people not to lean against it for fear it would dent.

The lightweight car was featured on an episode of Dream Car Garage on Speed TV in 2005.

Mark Donohue won the inaugural Pocono 500 at Pocono Raceway in 1971

Donohue and Penske tackle the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race

In 1969, Penske and Donohue raced in their first Indianapolis 500, where Donohue finished seventh, winning the rookie of the year award. Donohue raced at Indianapolis each year following, finishing 2nd in 1970 and finishing 25th in 1971. Donohue won the 1972 Indianapolis 500, driving as always for Roger Penske. He finished the race in his McLaren-Offy with a then record speed of 162mph, which would stand for twelve years. The victory was the first of Roger Penske's Indy 500 victories.

NASCAR

1972 Aurora AFX HO Scale "flying brick" Penske/Donohue Matador

Donohue raced in several NASCAR Grand American races, a NASCAR pony car division from 1968 until 1971. In 1973, driving an AMC Matador for Penske Racing in NASCAR's top division, the Winston Cup Series, Donohue won the season-opening event at Riverside. It was Penske's first NASCAR win in a long history of NASCAR participation, and remains to this day the last non-regular (non-full schedule) driver (road course ringer) to win a NASCAR Winston Cup road race. Although photographed with the more aerodynamic 1974 Matador coupe, he did not drive it in competition.

The Alleged Can-Am Killer

Between 1972 and 1973, Penske Racing (along with Donohue as the primary test and development driver) was commissioned by Porsche to assist with development of the 917/10. Donohue extensively tested the 917-10, offering up his substantial engineering knowledge to the Porsche engineers in order to design the best possible race car to compete in the Can-Am series. Donohue's desire to succeed almost led to his undoing. During testing of the 917-10 at Road Atlanta, Donohue had recommended larger brake ducts to the Porsche engineers, in order to provide more efficient cooling, and thus less fade and degradation as a race wears on. The Porsche engineers obliged, but in doing so, caused the new brake ducts to interfere with the bodywork closure pins, which attach the bodywork to the car. Coming out of turn seven, the rear bodywork flew off the car at approximately 150 mph (240 km/h), causing the car to become extremely unstable. The car lifted off the ground and tumbled multiple times down the track. The front of the car was completely torn away, leaving Donohue, still strapped to his safety seat, with his legs dangling outside the car. Amazingly, Donohue only suffered a broken leg. George Follmer, Donohue's old Trans-Am teammate, resumed testing the 917-10 while Donohue was on the mend. In classic Donohue style, Donohue said of Follmer testing his car:

The Can-Am Killer, Porsche 917-30, on display at the Porsche Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen Museum, Germany
It just doesn't feel right. Seeing another man driving your car, a car you know so well. I imagine it must feel like watching another man in bed with your wife.

Porsche, Penske and Donohue quickly started the development of the 917-30, complete with a reworked aerodynamic "Paris" body and a 5.4-liter turbocharged Flat-12 engine whose output could be adjusted between approximately 1100 and 1500 bhp by turning a boost knob located in the cockpit. During the development of this motor, the German Porsche engineers often asked Donohue if the motor finally had enough power. His tongue-in-cheek answer was "it will never have enough power until I can spin the wheels at the end of the straightaway in high gear."

This car is erroneously referred to as "The Can-Am Killer" as it dominated the competition, winning every race but one of the 1973 Can-Am championship. However, the SCCA imposed fuel limitations for all Can-Am races due to the existing Arab Oil Embargo. Because of this, Porsche and McLaren withdrew from the series. It is generally considered one of the most powerful and most dominant racing machines ever created.

Retirement and Formula One

Donohue announced that he would retire from racing after the 1973 Can-Am season. However, his retirement was short-lived, as he was lured back to full-time competitive driving by Roger Penske when Penske formed a Formula One team, Penske Cars Ltd, to compete in the final two events of the 1974 Formula One World Championship, and continue competing in 1975 with the new Penske PC1.

United States Mark Donohue
Nationality American
Formula One World Championship career
Active years 1971, 1974 - 1975
Teams Penske
Races 16 (14)
Championships 0
Wins 0
Podiums 1
Career points 8
Pole positions 0
Fastest laps 0
First race 1971 Canadian Grand Prix
Last race 1975 Austrian Grand Prix

Donohue debuted in Formula One on September 19, 1971 with a Penske-sponsored McLaren at the Canadian Grand Prix at Mosport Park, finishing on the podium in third place. After being lured out of retirement by his former boss, Penske, Donohue would return to Formula One, entering into the final two races of the 1974 Formula One season. Donohue finished in 12th place at the Canadian Grand Prix and failed to finish at the United States Grand Prix. A full-on assault of the 1975 Formula One season was planned. The 1975 season turned out to be a difficult one for Donohue and Penske. Donohue was able to muster 5th place finishes at the Swedish Grand Prix and British Grand Prix, but the new Penske PC1 chassis proved problematic, as evidenced by three retirements in the first six races. At the Austrian Grand Prix, Donohue's career, along with Roger Penske's Formula One aspirations, would take a tragic turn.

The first IROC Champion

Donohue raced in the inaugural IROC series in 1973/74, racing identical, specially-prepped Porsche RSR's. Of the four-race series, Donohue won the first two races at Riverside and the final race of the year at Daytona. The only person to beat Donohue was his former Penske Trans-Am teammate, George Follmer. In winning the first IROC championship, Donohue beat the best-of-the-best racing drivers of that era from all of the major championships, such as Denny Hulme, Richard Petty, A.J. Foyt, Emerson Fittipaldi, Bobby Allison, David Pearson, Peter Revson, Bobby Unser, and Gordon Johncock.

Donohue, Penske and Porsche decided to set their goals very high with the 917-30. After making various aerodynamic and suspension modifications to the car, Donohue set the then world closed-course record driving the Porsche 917-30 at the Talladega Superspeedway in Talladega, Alabama in August 9, 1975. His average speed around the 2.66-mile (4.28 km) high-banked oval was 221.120 mph (355.858 km/h). Donohue held the world record for eleven years, until it was broken by Rick Mears at Michigan International Speedway.

The following quote has been attributed to Donohue: "If you can make black marks on a straight from the time you turn out of a corner until the braking point of the next turn, then you have enough horsepower."

Death and Legacy

Midway through the 1975 F1 season, Penske abandoned the troublesome PC1 and started using the March 751. Donohue had recently arrived in Austria for the Austrian Grand Prix at the Österreichring race track following the successful closed-course speed record attempt at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama just a few days earlier. During a practice session for the race, Donohue lost control of his March after a tire failed, sending him careening into the catch fencing. Donohue's head was said to have struck either a catch fencing post, or the bottom of the wood frame for an advertising billboard located trackside. A track marshal was killed by debris from the accident, but Donohue didn't appear to be injured significantly. However, a resulting headache worsened and after going to the hospital of Graz the next day, Donohue lapsed into a coma from a brain hemorrhage and died.

In 2003, in commemoration of Penske Racing's 50th NASCAR win, Nextel Cup driver Ryan Newman drove a Dodge Intrepid painted to resemble Donohue's 1973 AMC (with a #12 and current Alltel decals) at the fall Rockingham, NC race. Penske's first NASCAR win came at the hands of Donohue.

Roger Penske's new Penske Racing complex in Mooresville, NC is decorated with various murals of Donohue and his racing cars, most notable the AMC stock car and the various Porsche prototypes that Donohue drove through his career. Donohue's racing legacy lives on in his son, David Donohue, a successful road racer in his own right, who currently races a Daytona Prototype Porsche Riley for Brumos Racing in the Grand-Am racing series who won the 2009 Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona.

Mark Donohue's other legacy was the book The Unfair Advantage (co-written with noted motorsports and engineering journalist Paul Van Valkenburgh) where he chronicled his entire racing career starting with his first races to his final full season of racing the year before he was killed. This was not merely an autobiography, but a detailed, step by step, record of the engineering approach he took to getting the absolute highest performance from every car he drove, always looking for that elusive "unfair advantage". Donohue (along with Penske) were pioneers in many rights, some as notable as the use of a skidpad as a tool for developing and perfecting race car suspension designs and setups. The book told how Donohue learned to exploit the antilock braking system and powerful turbocharged engine of several prototype Porsches, and also how he learned from various mishaps, including a near-fatal crash. Penske and Donohue also improved upon a process called "acid dipping" when racing in the 1967 and 1968 Trans-Am series, as discussed above. The book was published shortly before Donohue's death.

The book was re-released in 2000 by Bentley Publishers (Cambridge, MA). It includes information and additional photography that was not available before the first edition was published but understandably had few new events to describe, aside from the author's death.

Awards

Complete Formula One World Championship results

(key)

Year Entrant Chassis Engine 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 WDC Points
1971 Penske-White Racing McLaren M19A Ford V8 RSA
ESP
MON
NED
FRA
GBR
GER
AUT
ITA
CAN
3
USA
DNS
16th 4
1974 Penske Cars Penske PC1 Ford V8 ARG
BRA
RSA
ESP
BEL
MON
SWE
NED
FRA
GBR
GER
AUT
ITA
CAN
12
USA
Ret
NC 0
1975 Penske Cars Penske PC1 Ford V8 ARG
7
BRA
Ret
RSA
8
ESP
Ret
MON
Ret
BEL
11
SWE
5
NED
8
FRA
Ret
15th 4
March 751 GBR
5
GER
Ret
AUT
DNS
ITA
USA

Indy 500 results

Year Chassis Engine Start Finish Entrant
1969 Lola Offy 4th 7th Penske
1970 Lola Ford 5th 2nd Penske
1971 McLaren Offy 2nd 25th Penske
1972 McLaren Offy 3rd 1st Penske
1973 Eagle Offy 3rd 15th Penske

See also

References

  1. ^ 2006 SCCA Hall of Fame Class Announced; Champions Buffum, Donohue Among Inductees, Retrieved January 11, 2007

External links

Sporting positions
Preceded by
George Follmer
Trans-Am
Champion

1968-69 - Chevrolet Camaro
Succeeded by
Parnelli Jones
Preceded by
Bill Vukovich II
Indianapolis 500
Rookie of the Year

1969 - Lola-Offy
Succeeded by
Donnie Allison
Preceded by
Parnelli Jones
Trans-Am
Champion

1971 - AMC Javelin
Succeeded by
George Follmer
Preceded by
Al Unser
Indianapolis 500
Winner

1972 - McLaren M16-Offy
Succeeded by
Gordon Johncock
Preceded by
George Follmer
Can-Am
Champion

1973 - Porsche 917-30
Succeeded by
Jackie Oliver
Preceded by
First Champion
International Race of Champions
Champion

1973/74 - Porsche RSR
Succeeded by
Bobby Unser
Preceded by
Helmut Koinigg
Formula One fatal accidents
August 19, 1975
Succeeded by
Tom Pryce







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