Mark Donohue or How To Drive Just About Anything To Victory

Born on March 18, 1937, Mark Donohue was one of the most famous American racecar drivers. Known for his ability to set up his own cars, Donohue recorded numerous wins with Shelby Mustang, Lola T70 MkIII, McLaren M6A, Chevrolet Camaro, AMC Matador, McLaren-Offy, Porsche 917/30 and Carrera RSR.

“Captain Nice” broke into international sports car racing in 1965, finishing 11th in Walt Hagnsen’s Ferrari 275 at the 12 Hours of Sebring. The same year, Donohue also won the B Class (Shelby Mustang GT350) and Formula C (Lotus 20) of the SCCA Championships.

Win after win

After a fourth place finish at the 1966 24 Hour of Le Mans in the Shelby American Racing Ford GT40 MkIV, Donohue dominated the 1967 USRR Championship with Roger Penske’s Lola T70 MkIII, winning six out of eight races. He defended his title the following year in Penske’s McLaren M6A Chevrolet.

Donohue also had an historic Trans-Am series campain in 1968 in a Chevrolet Camaro, also owned by Roger Penske, winning the class for the second time at the 12 Hours of Sebring. Donohue scored 10 wins out of 13 races setting a record which would stand for 29 years. Another huge succes came in 1972, when Donohue won the Indianapolis 500 in a Peske McLaren-Offy, after three previous attempts. One year later, he drove a AMC Matador to Penske’s first NASCAR win.

Taming of the Can-Am beast

In 1973, Penske Racing and Mark Donohue were commissioned by Porsche to assist with the development of the 917/30, a more powerful and aerodynamic version of the 917/10, with an output of up to 1.500 horse power, provided by a 5.4 liter turbocharged flat 12 unit. Although the 917/30 was almost uncotrollable because of its insane power, Donohue managed to win every race but one during the 1973 Can-Am season. The Porsche 917/30 is, even now, regarded as one of the most powerful and most dominant racing machines ever built.

IROC succes and Talladega record

Donohue won the inaugural IROC series in 1974, a competition in which all pilots raced identical Porsche 911 RSRs. “Captain Nice” raced to victory in three out of four events, defeating some of the best drivers of the era, such as Denny Hulme, A.J. Foyt, Emerson Fittipaldi, Peter Revson, Bobby Unser or Richard Petty.

After Porsche withdrew from the Can-Am series, Penske and Donohue decided to use the 917/30 to set the world closed-course record. This was achieved on August 9, 1975, at the Talladega Superspeedway in Talladega, Alabama, with an average speed of 221 miles per hour. Donohue and Porsche held the world record for eleven years.

Formula 1 challenge and death

Donohue made his debut in Formula 1 in 1971 with a Penske-White Racing McLaren at the Canadian Grand Prix, finishing in third place. He came back at the end of the 1974 season, racing in Canada and USA in the Penske PC1. After nine races in 1975, Penske and Donohue dropped the PC1 and started using the March 751.

On August 18, during a practice session for the Austrian Grand Prix, held at Osterreichring, Donohue lost control of his March and hit the fence, suffering a head injury which led to a cerebral hemorrhage. He died the next day, aged 38, just nine days after the Talladega record run.

A gifted race car driver who could drive just about any kind of car and win, Mark Donohue is, without a doubt, one of the greatest names in motorsport history. After his death, he was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame and Sport Car Club of America Hall of Fame.

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.”, Mark Donohue

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  • Justin

    Donohue is a legend for sure. Another one we lost way too early.

  • Fantastic article! Donohue was truly a great driver and all around top bloke!

  • MrBOB

    He was without question an Extreme and Un Matched driver.
    Having a Beyond Gifted Ability to Drive Supremely Fast & to Win.

    Despite his Obvious Abilities to rule on the race track..
    He was also a Great person & Always available to his fans ..

    I used to Marvel at watching him race in person at the Glen..
    Even as a young kid, as my Father would ask to take my picture with him, he was Always as Polite as can be (even when Exhausted Right after a race)

    I do Not think there has been a driver of his equal (even to this day )
    Can you Imagine what he would have been able to do, if he was in todays cars
    (at the age he was when he did all he did back then )

    Mark Donohue was indeed a racing Legend & GOD who never forgot he was a person like everyone else