Mark Donohue

Full Name:
Mark Neary Donohue jr
Born:
18th March 1937
Summit, New Jersey
Died:
19th August 1975 (Aged 38)
Graz, Styria (A), two days after crashing during the warm-up for the Austrian GP
Nationality:
American
Most recent race (in database):
Biography

A mechanical engineering graduate, Mark Donohue was a very analytical driver whose testing skills proved invaluable. He enjoyed a special relationship with Roger Penske and drove for "The Captain" for most of his career. Together they won in Indycars, NASCAR, Can-Am and Trans-Am but Formula 1 ended in tragedy.

Early racing career

His first steps in the sport were taken hillclimbing a Chevrolet Corvette during the late 1950s. An Elva Courier was acquired in 1960 and SCCA sports car victories soon followed. Donohue was a double SCCA champion during 1965 with a Ford Mustang and Lotus 23 but it was his performances in a Formula Junior Lotus 20 that year that proved crucial. Donohue impressed sufficiently to attract the attention of Walt Hansgen and earn his first professional contract.

That was with the Ford-backed Holman & Moody sports car team in 1966 – finishing third in the Daytona 24 Hours and second at Sebring when sharing a Ford GT40 MkII shared with Hansgen. However, Hansgen was killed while testing at Le Mans and it was in Penske’s Lola T70-Chevrolet that Donohue won races in both the United States Road Racing Championship and the inaugural Can-Am Challenge.

Championship success for Roger Penske

He won the 1967 USRRC title with the Lola and repeated the success in Penske’s Sunoco McLaren M6A-Chevrolet a year later. The oil company’s blue and yellow colours were familiar on America’s race tracks at the time with Donohue also winning back-to-back Trans-Am titles with Penske’s Chevrolet Camaro.

Winner of the 1969 Daytona 24 Hours with a Chevy-powered Lola T70 MkIIIB, Donohue made his Indianapolis 500 debut that year as Penske entered the race for the first time. He qualified a Lola T152-Offenhauser in fourth position but was delayed while a faulty magneto was changed. However, he recovered to finish seventh and claim the Rookie of the Year award.

Formula 1 debut

Second in the 1970 Indy 500, he qualified on the front row a year later and was dominating the race when forced to retire. Donohue gained some solace during 1971 by winning Indycar races at Pocono and Michigan, securing a third Trans-Am title (with an AMC Javelin) and starring on his Grand Prix debut in the final two races of the year. He drove a Penske-White Racing McLaren M19A-Ford in the Canadian GP and impressed on his F1 debut at Mosport Park. He qualified eighth and ran in the top four throughout − eventually finishing third despite a spin and pitstop to change goggles.

Indianapolis 500 winner

Despite that success, he remained in America for 1972 and enjoyed the greatest moment of his career by winning the Indy 500 at the fourth attempt. His McLaren M16B-Offy started from the outside of row three and he only took the lead with 12 laps to go. Donohue then led the remaining 30 miles to score Penske’s first victory in the race. The team also returned to Can-Am with the powerful Porsche 917/10 although Donohue broke his leg at Mosport Park so it was team-mate George Follmer who won the title.

Donohue returned to win the opening NASCAR race of 1973 and dominate the Can-Am Championship – winning the last six rounds to secure the title. Also third in Formula 5000 that year, he made a surprise decision to retire from the sport.

Tragic return to Formula 1

However, Penske persuaded him to change his mind and test the new Penske PC1-Ford F1 car. It made its debut in the final two GPs of 1974 with Donohue driving and the one-car team entered a full schedule in 1975. It was a frustrating campaign developing the car on his own and some in the sport doubted that Donohue would succeed at this level. He finished fifth in Sweden before the Penske was replaced by a March 751.

Fifth again in the chaotic British GP, Donohue crashed during the morning warm-up in Austria. His tyre failed when approaching the Osterreichring’s fast first corner and the March crashed over the barriers, killing a marshal. Donohue was conscious when transferred to Graz hospital and initial prognosis was good. However, he slipped into a coma and died two days later despite surgery on the serious head injuries he had received.

Championship seasons

Season Name Starts Poles Podiums Wins Position Points
1975 F1 World Championship
Penske Cars
11 (1) 0 0 0
0% win rate
15th 4
1974 1974 International Race Of Champions 1st -
1974 F1 World Championship
Penske Cars
2 0 0 0
0% win rate
0
1973 Can-Am Challenge
Penske Racing
6 0 6 6 1st 0
1973 SCCA L&M F5000 Championship
Penske Racing
6 0 3 0
0% win rate
3rd 64
1973 USAC National Championship
Penske Racing
3 0 0 0
0% win rate
0
1973 World Championship of Makes
Penske Racing
1 0 0 0 6
1973 Winston Cup Grand National
Penske Racing
1 0 1 1 0
1972 Can-Am Challenge
Penske Racing
1 0 1 1 0
1972 USAC National Championship
Roger Penske Enterprises
6 1 3 1
17% win rate
5th 1720
1971 1971 Trans-Am Series 1st -
1971 F1 World Championship
Penske-White Racing
1 (1) 0 1 0
0% win rate
16th 4
1971 USAC National Championship
US Racing
8 2 2 2
25% win rate
8th 1760
1971 International Championship of Makes
Penske-White Racing
North American Racing Team
3 2 1 0 5
1970 USAC National Championship
US Racing
4 1 2 0
0% win rate
11th 1040
1970 SCCA Formula A Continental Championship
Penske Racing
3 0 3 2
67% win rate
8th 52
1969 1969 Trans-Am Series 1st -
1969 International Championship of Makes
Penske Racing
1 0 1 1 8
1969 SCCA Formula A Continental Championship 1 0 0 0
0% win rate
0
1969 USAC National Championship
US Racing
5 0 0 0
0% win rate
23rd 480
1968 1968 Trans-Am Series 1st -
1968 1968 United States Road Racing Championship 1st -
1968 USAC National Championship
US Racing
3 0 0 0
0% win rate
34th 200
1968 International Championship of Makes
Penske Racing
1 0 1 0 4
1968 Can-Am Challenge
Penske Racing
1 0 1 1 0
1967 1967 United States Road Racing Championship 1st -
1967 International Championship of Makes
Shelby American
1 1 0 0 3
1966 International Championship of Makes
Holman Moody Racing
3 0 2 0 10
1966 Can-Am Challenge
Penske Racing
1 0 1 1 0

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