Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Remembering Penske's first racer Mark Donohue - 40 Years after...

An example of Chevrolet's BAD ARSE Zed-28 Camaro that Mark Donohue drove to Trans Am titles serves as the cover car for the '01 SOVREN Historics' at what is now once again Pacific Raceways in Kent, WA. (The Tomaso Collection)
As I noted previously this June during the Austrian Grand Prix weekend, Team Penske's first "Hired Gun" Mark Donohue died forty years ago from injuries suffered at the Ostereichring August 19, 1975...

Mark Neary Donohue, Jr. was born March 18, 1937 in Haddon Township, New Jersey and graduated from Brown University with a  degree in Mechanical Engineering and most likely is best known as the winner of the 1972 Indianapolis 500.

Yet for Mwah, Donohue's name sparks thoughts upon those Nasty Camaro Zed-28 Trans Am racers and the  Killer Porsche 917/30 Panzerwagon - along with his Indy 500 racecar.

As its A-L-L Foggy Bottoms now, but I'm ARSE-sumin' that the No. 8 Bowtie T/A cover car belonged to Issaquah, WA's Tom Armstrong? Who was part of the PacWest Racing Group's Ownership.

Yet instead of reinventing the wheel, since I've already previously chronicled (briefly) some of Donohue's accomplishments, along with another fallen comrade known simply as 'Revvie. I'll defer Y'all to the following;

As the motor racing community has just spent the Hungarian Grand Prix weekend commemorating the life of stricken Formula 1 driver Jules Bianchi, ironically, although motor racing has improved tremendously overall in concerns regarding safety. Jules, like Mark Donohue, albeit different circumstances, nevertheless both succumbed from head injuries.

Drivers who participated in the race and subsequently died in another racing accident: Patrick Depailler, Ronnie Peterson, Tom Pryce and Rolf Stommelen. While Tony Brise, Stommelen's team-mate at Graham Hill's Hill Embassy F1 Team and Carlos Pace were killed in subsequent plane crashes.

Yet the '75 Austrian Grand Prix entry list reads like a veritable Who's Who with no less than five eventual  world champions participating, with "Niki-the-Rat," aka Niki Lauda the most successful with his three championships: 1975, 1977 and 1984.

'EMMO, nee Emerson Fittipaldi who won two titles in 1972 & 1974 was on the grid, while Lauda's '76 title protagonist, and eventual world champion James Hunt finished runner-up.

Mario Andretti, America's last world champion in '78 was racing for Vels Parnelli Jones, along with Jody Scheckter who won the '79 title for la Scuderia.

Meanwhile, the races winner, Vittorio Brambilla, his lone F1 victory scored that day, died from a heart attack in 2001 at the age of 63. While Hunt passed away in 1993 at the age of 45 and 'Regga, nee Clay Regazzoni died in 2006 - with all three being Formula 1 race winners.

As 'Regga was the most serious of two drivers injured in Formula 1 from that grid, becoming paralyzed for life after his massive shunt at Long Beach, CA. While the affable Frenchman Jacques Laffite suffered a career ending crash at the 1986 British Grand Prix.

Ironically, Laffite's non-start classification at Silverstone left him tied with then record holder Graham Hill for most Formula 1 starts at 176-apiece, which has subsequently been smashed several times since with 'Rubino, nee Rubens Barrichello holding the current record at an 'Uber Amazing 322 starts!

Other Grand Prix winning drivers from this race include: Carlos Reutmann, John Watson and the aforementioned 'Regga and Laffite to name a few, being amongst a total of 14 winning F1 drivers overall. Along with Jochen Mass who won the rain soaked '75 Spanish Grand Prix, where the sport's only female racer to ever score points, Lella Lombardi  were both taking part in Austria that fateful weekend.

Alas, enough of the tragedy, as Y'all are probably saying where's the Penske part in this story, besides the fact that Roger Penske's hand chosen driver and friend perished from head injuries two days after that fateful Austrian Grand Prix weekend. As I've never noticed before that a track marshal also died from Donohue's accident before, a la the late Jeff Krosnoff.

The "Real" ex-Mark Donohue '72 Indy 500 winner on display at the IMS Hall of Fame museum 'Wayback in 2010. (The Tomaso Collection)
While arguably my All-time favourite IndyCar is the very same one Mark drove to victory lane in 1972, that beautifully prepared Sunoco blue McLaren M16B Offenhauser, which I've had the pleasure of seeing many times at El Capitano's Penske Racing Museum in Scottsdale, AZ. I'm always drawn to a lesser car of Donohue's, his '73 Porsche 911 Carrera RSR IROC championship winner, while "Wattie's" (John Watson) Penske PC4 also sits on display.

Yet if I think about it a little further, Donohue, for whom always immediately conjures up the saying "The Unfair Advantage" simply raced in a more dangerous time, possibly a bi-product of drivers jumping into anything they could get their racing gloves upon.

While I tend to forget Donohue drove for others besides Penske, along with competing in several disciplines, i.e.; SCCA Sedans & Formula Cars, Trans Am, Sports Cars, NASCAR, Can Am, Formula 1, IROC and Oh Yeah, Indy cars.

As the list of cars Donohue drove includes: AMC Javelin, AMC Matador, Eagle-Offy, Elva Courier, Ford GT-40 Mk II & IV, Ferrari 250LM, Ferrari 512M, Lola T70, Lola T330, McLaren M16B, Porsche 911, Porsche 917/10, Porsche 917/30, Shelby Cobra and Shelby Mustang  GT-350R - to name just a few!

As I've had the privilege of seeing that Uber NASTY Porsche 917/30 Panzerwagon in action at Laguna Seca, along with those BAD ARSE Camaro Zed-28's! Plus the aforementioned Porsche 911 Carrera RSR and two versions of the 1972 Indy 500 winner...

As once again, "FoMoCo," nee Ford Motor Company let another prodigious talent slip thru its grasp after "Captain Nice" won an SCCA B-Sedan championship aboard one of 'Ol Schel's GT-350R's, along with tossing about a Cobra 289 before Roger Penske plucked Messer Donohue from TVR Obscurity!

As ironically, all three of Donohue's Ford GT-40 co-drivers: Walt Hansgen, Paul Hawkins and Bruce McLaren also died in racing car accidents, albeit McLaren's death came during testing his latest McLaren Can Am creation in '70. Hansgen's came  during Pre-race testing at Le Mans in 1966 and Hawkins in the 1969 Tourist Trophy Sports Car race at Oulton Park.

As it was Hansgen who originally spotted Donohue's talent - including the pair co-driving a Ferrari at  the Sebring 12 Hours to an 11th place finish, as Hansgen had brought him on as team-mate.

With Walt's input to Ford,  Donohue was signed to drive one of their brace 'O GT-40's at Circuit de la Sarthe upon Ford's 1966 assault, with Hansgen & Donohue originally slated to drive a Mark II GT-40 for renown NASCAR team Holman & Moody.

Donohue subsequently drove with Hawkins upon Hansgen's death at Le Mans where the pair retired after only 12-laps.

Yet prior to le 24 Heurs du Mans, Hansgen & Donohue had netted third place and runner-up finishes in the Daytona 24hrs and Sebring 12 Hours respectively earlier that season.

The following year, Mark was part of Shelby American's 1967 Ford GT-40 Mk IV squad where he co-drove the No. 4 with McLaren to a fourth place finish.

And along with his notable triumphs in those Uber NASTY Sunoco Trans Am Camaro Zed-28's, famous for their Acid Dipping exploits, including the vinyl top roof chassis! Mark not only won the Trans Am championship but also won the `   title in a Chevrolet powered Lola T70 Spyder. Along with his latter Can Am success.

As another of my All-time favourite Sports Car  is  that 'Mega Sweet Ferrari 512M once again resplendent in Sunoco blue! For which the highly modified Ferrari was co-driven by a current Formula 1 colour commentator fondly known as 'Hobbo. As David Hobbs and Donohue, who started from Pole, finished third in the 1971 Daytona 24 Hours, 14-laps behind the winning Porsche 917 after spending  an hour in the Pits for accident repairs.

Ironically, Hobbs had co-driven to victory in the Monza 1000km Sports Car race aboard a John Wyer Automotive Ford GT-40 with Paul Hawkins in 1968.

And if Y'all delve deep enough into roger Penske's legendous' racing exploits, you'll find that "The Captain's" team, along with himself has raced just about everything with four wheels upon I-T! Excluding his Moving Trucks Me Thinks; Hya!

And Mark Donohue's fingerprints, legacy and DNA are all intertwined with Roger's early successes, be  it in the United States Road Racing Championship, (USRRC) Trans Am, Indianapolis 500 along with Indy Cars and Can Am or International Race Of Champions.

Mark Donohue was instrumental in all of it, along with F1, which I'd presume led  to the eventual establishment of Penske Cars IndyCar program abroad. Since after all, the "Unfair Advantage" was  simply in pursuit of Engineering Excellence...