Mark Donohue | The “forgotten” drivers of F1 (2024)

Mark Neary Donohue Jr. (18 March 1937 – 19 August 1975), nicknamed “Captain Nice,” and later “Dark Monohue,” was an American racecar driver known for his ability to set up his own race car as well as driving it to victories.

Donohue is probably best known as the driver of the 1500+ bhp “Can-Am Killer” Porsche 917-30 and as the winner of the Indianapolis 500 in 1972. Cars that Donohue raced include: AMC Javelin, AMC Matador, Chevrolet Camaro, Eagle-Offy, Elva Courier, Ford GT40 MK IV, Ferrari 250LM, Ferrari 512, Lola T70, Lola T330, Lotus 20, McLaren M16, Porsche 911, Porsche 917/10, Porsche 917/30, Shelby Cobra, and Shelby Mustang GT350R. Info from Wiki

Bio by Stephen Latham
Although well known for racing Porsche’s 1500bhp 917-30 CanAm car and winning the 1972 Indianapolis 500, Mark Donohue raced a wide variety of cars, including an AMC Javelin, AMC Matador, Chevrolet Camaro, Eagle-Offy, Elva Courier, Ford GT40 MK IV, Ferrari 250LM, Ferrari 512, Lola T70, Lola T330, Lotus 20, McLaren M16, Porsche 911, Porsche 917/10, Porsche 917/30, Shelby Cobra, Shelby Mustang GT350R plus Penske’s McLaren M19A and PC1 in Formula One plus achieved a number of track records along the way.

Born in New Jersey, Mark’s racing began while studying mechanical engineering at university in Rhode Island, when he started racing his 1957 Corvette. In his first race, a hillclimb in New Hampshire, despite competing against experienced racers with high-performance cars, he achieved the best time of the day.
From this, victories in regional events led to national wins, in 1961 winning the SCCA national championship in an Elva Courier and over the next four years he raced an Elva Formula Junior, a TVR Grantura, a rear-engined Cooper-Offy midget, a Shelby Cobra, an MGB, a NART Ferrari 250LM and a Shelby Mustang. In the MGB he won 1964’s Bridgehampton 500-mile SCCA endurance event and 1965 he and Walt Hansgen took victory in a Shelby Mustang at a 500 mile sports car race at Watkins Glen.

He and W.Hansgen raced a Mecom Racing Team Ferrari 275 at the 1965 12 Hours of Sebring, finishing eleventh, and in that year he won two divisional championships, in SCCA B Class in a GT350 and in SCCA Formula C in a Lotus 20B. He was signed by Ford to race one of their GT40Mk11 at Le Mans in 1966, though he and co-driver Paul Hawkins retired after twelve laps, but earlier that year he and W.Hansgen finished third at the 24 Hours of Daytona and second at the 12 Hours of Sebring. He returned with Ford to Le Mans the following year and he and Bruce McLaren took fourth place in the Shelby American Racing GT40 Mark IV.

During this time, Roger Penske asked him to drive his Lola T70 Spyder in the USRRC but in his first race, at Watkins Glen in June 1966, although he qualified well he retired due to an accident. But he went on to win at Kent, Washington, followed by a Can-Am race at Mosport and the Tourist Trophy at Nassau. From this though he dominated 1967’s Championship with the Penske Lola T70 and won at Las Vegas, Riverside, Bridgehampton, Watkins Glen and Mid-Ohio and was third at Laguna Seca. In the following year they entered a McLaren M6A and again dominated the series though suffered three DNFs due to mechanical problems.
In 1967 he also began racing in Trans Am, winning three races in the Chevrolet Camaro and he went on to finish fourth in the 24 Hours of Daytona and won the Trans Am class at the 12 Hours of Sebring. 1968 would see him successfully defend his Sebring victory, winning with Craig Fisher, and he went on to win ten of the thirteen races, a Trans Am record which would last for 19 years. In 1970, and now running an AMC Javelin, he took three victories and AMC finished second overall in the Manufacturers’ Championship but the following year he won seven races and AMC won the Manufacturers’ championship for the first time.

Roger Penske made his first move into Indy cars in 1968, with Mark racing an Eagle-Chevy at Mosport and Riverside and the team competed in their first Indy 500 in 1969, with Mark finishing seventh and receiving the Rookie Of The Year award. Then in 1972, he won in a Penske McLaren-Offy, plus set a record speed of over 162 mph, which stood for twelve years.

1971 saw his debut in Formula One, racing a Penske McLaren at 1971’s Canadian Grand Prix at Mosport Park, and he took a third place podium finish. In 1971 and 1972, Penske and Porsche worked on developing a car for competition in the Can-Am series and Mark was involved as a test and development driver. However, at one test, he was fortunate to only suffer a broken leg when the car lifted and tumbled down the track; the front of the car was torn away, with Mark still strapped to his safety seat, and his legs hanging outside the car. They eventually began development on a 917-30, which was on pole at every race and won six of eight races in 1973’s Can-Am championship and became known as the ‘Can-Am killer’ due to its dominance. In 1975 he achieved a world closed-course speed record at Talladega, with his average speed being 221.120 mph (355.858 k/h) and this held for 11 years until beaten by Rick Mears at Michigan. Porsche and McLaren eventually withdrew from the series when the oil embargo led to fuel limitations being imposed on the races though the car is considered one of the most powerful, dominant, cars ever created.
Alongside this he also competed in a number of NASCAR Grand American races and then raced a Penske Racing AMC Matador in the 1972–1973 NASCAR Winston Cup Series, winning the season-opening race at Riverside.

Mark competed in the SCCA’s Formula 5000 in a Lola and only entered two USAC races, at Indianapolis and Ontario then drove in IROC in 1973-74 (where all drivers raced Porsche RSRs). He won the first and third races at Riverside and the final race at Daytona, and was only beaten by George Follmer, but in winning the IROC championship, he beat drivers such as Denny Hulme, Richard Petty, A. J. Foyt, Emerson Fittipaldi, Bobby Allison, David Pearson, Peter Revson, Bobby Unser, and Gordon Johnco*ck.

Despite announcing his retirement, he returned to race Penske’s F1 car in the two final races of 1974, the Canadian and US GPs. A full F1 season was planned for 1975 and although there were fifth-place finishes in Sweden and Great Britain there were three retirements in the first six races. Then, he and the team then moved on to the Austrian GP at the Osterreichring. During a practice session, a tyre failure caused him to lose control and hurtle into catch fencing at the fastest corner on the track and a marshal was killed by debris from the accident. Mark did not appear to have suffered any significant injuries though his head struck a catch fencing post. He was walking and talking after the accident but within hours, he began suffering a worsening headache and after going to hospital he lapsed into a coma and succumbed to his internal injuries.

Mark was buried at St. Teresa Cemetery in Summit, New Jersey and drivers who paid their respects at the funeral included Mario Andretti, Gary Bettenhausen, Bobby Allison and Tom Sneva while Roger Penske led the pallbearers carrying his coffin from the church.

Mark was awarded an Engineering and Science Award in 1973 by Drexel University plus in 1990 was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame and the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America while in 2006 he was inducted into the Sports Car Club of America Hall of Fame.

Mark’s son, David, followed in his father’s footsteps and became a successful racer, competing in a wide variety of racing, including NASCAR’s Busch Series and Craftsman Truck Series, and won the GT2 class at the 1998’s 4 Hours of Le Mans. Almost exactly 40 years after Mark’s victory there, David won the 2009 Daytona 24 Hour race in a Brumos Riley-Porsche (with Antonio García, Darren Law and Buddy Rice). In 2013, competing in a GX class race at the 24 hour of Daytona he won in a Napleton Porsche Cayman S.

Mark Donohue | The “forgotten” drivers of F1 (1)
Mark Donohue: the professional who changed motor racing
Mark Donohue was not simply quick, his approach to racing changed the sport. Sam Posey, his friend, rival and team-mate, remembers his too short life. More here https://www.motorsportmagazine.com/archive

Mark Donohue – America’s wonder boy – from

Mark Donohue | The “forgotten” drivers of F1 (3)

Gallery F1 Indy 500 and F5000 Can-Am and USRRC Other

Mark Donohue | The “forgotten” drivers of F1 (4)

Mark Donohue | The “forgotten” drivers of F1 (2024)
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