Donohue and the M16

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Sir,

Your article on the McLaren M16 in the May issue reminds me of the very favourable early impression it made upon at least one of the drivers.

I had been at university with Mark Donohue and spent a couple of days visiting him in March 1971. He had just returned from an intensive series of tests in the new M16 at Indy, a Ferrari 512 for Sebring, and a Lola F5000 car for the Questor GP at Ontario.

Despite all of his travelling and testing and the various cars he had driven, he couldn’t stop talking about the M16. Obviously this was because the car was a quantum leap beyond what he had previously experienced and beyond the competition. Where the Ferrari and Lola were just competitive in their arena, the McLaren was almost 10mph faster than the previous best at Indy. The grip was beyond anything experienced before. He was gobsmacked, as you Brits would say.

He loved the power of the turbo-Offy but said that keeping pistons in the engines was a real challenge for the engine builders and Penske was working to source ever more robust pistons. He also talked about the vibration which would shake everything loose from the car in short order. I suppose there was no way around that in those days before balance shafts.

Certainly the McLaren M16 was a step beyond.

David Belden, Woodstock, CT, USA