Mark Donohue

Date of birth : March 18 1937
Deceased : August 19 1975

Biography Mark Donohue

Mark Donohue was born in  Haddon Township, New Jersey, where he grew up. Later he went to university in  Providence, Rhode Island. At the age of 22, while he was still in university, he began racing his 1957 Corvette. The first event he entered showed his talents. He won the hill-climb in  Belknap County, New Hampshire. In 1959 he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering.

From then on, it went up-hill with Mark Donohue’s race career. In 1961 he won the SCCA National Championships. Mark Donohue’s talent didn’t go unnoticed. In 1964 he joined Griffith Motors as design engineer. That same year he was offered a seat in an MGB by Walt Hansgen to compete in the Bridgehampton 500. Mark Donohue accepted the seat and showed his gratuity by winning the race. This impressed Walt Hansgen and he arranged for Mark Donohue to team up at the 1965 Sebring 12H in a Ferrari 275. They finished 11th in that race. In February of ’65 Donohue was named as Comptroller at Griffith Motors but was soon spirited away from Griffith by Roger Penske early in 1966.

Mark Donohue’s first Le Mans 24H.

In 1966 Mark Donohue teamed up with Walt Hansgen at the Daytona 24H finishing 3rd and at the Sebring 12H finishing 2nd. Thanks to his friendship with Walt Hansgen,Ford offered a contract to Mark Donohue to drive a Ford GT40 at the 1966 Le Mans 24H. Unfortunately Walt Hansgen died while testing the Ford GT40 so Mark Donohue had to team up with Paul Hawkins. Due to technical problems his first entry at the Le Mans 24H was not successful. They left the race after just 12 laps, finishing 47th overall.

Roger Penske

At Hansgen’s funeral, Roger Penske spoke to Donohue about driving for him. In his first race for Penske, at Watkins Glen in June 1966, Donohue qualified well but crashed the car at the top of a hill, destroying the car. Mark Donohue went back to Ford in 1967 where he teamed up with Bruce McLaren. The combo was not the best when you consider the personal basis, but it worked fine on the track.  In 1967, Penske contacted Donohue about driving Penske’s brand new Lola T70 spyder in the United States Road Racing Championship. Donohue dominated the 1967 United States Road Racing Championship, driving a Lola T70 MkIII Chevrolet for Roger Penske.

Trans-Am

Donohue began his 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.

Roger Penske and Mark Donohue started experimenting in this period and they gave their cars an acid-bath. The acid ate metal of the car, making them fundamentally lighter. However in a post-race inspection stewards discovered that the car under its required weight. Mark Donohue faced disqualification but Roger Penske stepped in and with the threat of Chevrolet to abandon all help to the Trans-Am series, problems were solved.

Rookie of the year

In 1969 Roger Penske and Mark Donohue competed for the first time in the Indianapolis 500. Mark Donohue finished 7th overall and took the Rookie of the year award home. The consecutive years he finished 21st and 7th at the Indianapolis 500. However 1972 was a successful year at this endurance race : victory for Mark Donohue and Roger Penske.

Porsche 917/30

Penske Racing was commissioned by Porsche to help with the development of the Porsche 917/10. Mark Donohue tested the car intensively and offered his engineering knowledge to the Porsche engineers. This way they could design a car that would be able to compete in the Can-Am Series. At Road Atlanta, Mark Donohue demanded larger brakes to provide more efficient cooling. However some mistakes were made in the process of changing the brakes. Results were disastrous. The new brake ducts interfered with the bodywork. The rear bodywork flew of the car making it extremely unstable. The car lifted and tumbled several times down the track. The front of the car was completely torn off. While still in his safety seat, Mark Donohue sat with his legs hanging outside the car. It looks like a miracle but he only suffered a broken leg. George Folmer refused testing the 917/10 during Donohue’s recuperation.

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 recuperating.

Later Porsche, Penske, and Donohue started the development of the 917-30. Complete with a reworked aerodynamic body and a 5.4-liter turbocharged Flat-12 engine whose output could be adjusted between approximately 1100 and 1500 bhp by the turn of a knob.

Donohue set the world closed-course speed record driving the Porsche 917-30 at the Talladega Superspeedway in Talladega, Alabama on 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.The 917-30 is referred toast as  “The Can-Am Killer” as it dominated the competition. It won every race but one of the 1973 Can-Am championship. SCCA however imposed fuel limitations for all Can-Am races due to the existing Arab Oil Embargo. This made  Porsche and McLaren to withdraw from the series.

The first IROC Champion

Donohue raced in the inaugural IROC series in 1973/74, racing identical, specially-prepared Porsche RSRs. Of the four-race series, Donohue won the first and third of three races at Riverside International Raceway and the final race of the year at Daytona. The only person to beat Donohue was his former Penske Trans-Am teammate, George Follmer.

Death

Donohue recently had 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 into the catch fencing at the fastest corner on the track. A track marshal was killed by debris from the accident, but Donohue did not appear to be injured significantly. It is said that Donohue’s head struck either a catch fencing post or the bottom of the wood frame for an advertising billboard located alongside of the racetrack. A headache resulted, however, and worsened. After going to the hospital of Graz the next day, Donohue lapsed into a coma and died.