The Porsche 917. A legend. A rules killer. A juggernaut.
And my favorite car if it wasn’t apparent from my previous posts.
Philipilihp’s post yesterday was a perfect lead-in to this car as it’s sort of a continuation of an amazing relationship between a legendary racing team, legendary drivers, and a legendary make.
First let’s talk about Team Penske, America’s most successful racing team. Now known for NASCAR; Penske really got its name running in Trans-Am and winning. This is also when the first legendary relationship was made. Penske and his golden boy, Mark Donahue.
Later Penske and Donahue would tackle Indycar. Donahue would win the first of 17 (!!!!) Indy 500's for Penske. Penske had already been competing in Can-Am at the time, but not fielding a championship winning team. Not only competing in Indycar and Can-Am, Penske would compete in NASCAR and even Formula 1 in the early 70s. I’m not sure any team ever was able to compete at the top levels of that many series at the same time.
But back to Can-Am...
Penske had joined in their inaugural year in 1966 and got 2nd place in the driver’s championship with Donahue at the wheel. After getting 3rd a few times and a 4th place driver’s championship finish, Penske stepped away for a few years.
Enter 1972. McLaren had become a dominant force, wiping the field with their 700bhp Chevy V8s for the last 5 seasons.
Luckily for Penske, Porsche was looking for a new race series for the monster, the Porsche 917 as it was just outlawed from LeMans with their new engine displacement rules. Since Can-Am was essentially a no-holds-barred racing series, Porsche decided to throw turbos onto their 600 bhp machine. It was the only way to match the power figures McLaren was putting out.
As if the 917 needed more bullets on its resume, this was the turning point for turbocharging. Although some racecars had dabbled in turbocharging in the past, Porsche was about to start a revolution.
Enter the Porsche 917/10.
The lack of rules in Can-Am had lead to an arms-race in power. With the diesel truck turbos now added to the 5.4 liter flat 12 power plant, Porsche was able to churn out over 1000bhp... with the boost turned down. Besides the insane power outputs, bodywork was also altered for extreme downforce to handle the corners on the Can-Am tracks. With 1000 bhp, they new they would have no issues with top speed with the extra drag from the aero. I’m pretty sure you could feed a family of 6 on that rear wing...
After working with Porsche perfecting the 917/10, Donahue and Team Penske were ready for the 1972 season. The first race was at Mosport Park in Ontario. Even though they got pole position, it didn’t really go to plan, but the Porsche and Donahue certainly proved themselves. I found an excellent video on the race here:
For the tl:dr version: Donahue was running away with the race, but ended up having an engine problem. For the short nature of Can-Am races, if you needed a pit-stop you were likely going to have a hard time. Donahue and the team got the car fixed and it managed to climb back to 2nd place. Very impressive for its first time out.
Unfortunately Donahue was injured in his car during practice and was forced to miss much of the rest of the season. But remember Philipilihp’s post? Donahue had a partner, George Follmer.
It’s a shame Donahue gets recognized more often (yes of course he was an amazing driver, probably the best American racer ever), but Follmer is the reason Penske racing took the championship and solidified the Porsche 917/10 as the monster it was. Follmer would get first place in 5 of the 9 races that season even having sat out the first race. Even when Donahue came back for the last 3 races of the season, Follmer managed to win 2 of those with Donahue taking 1.
The real winner? The Porsche 917/10.
A Porsche 917/10 managed to get either 1st or 2nd place in 8 out of the 9 races of the season. For its first time out in a race series that had been won by the competition for the previous 5 seasons...
The car you see here was from the final race of the season when Follmer took the win at the Los Angeles Grand Prix. Even missing the first race, Follmer would have twice (!!!!) the amount of points as the second place driver for the season. Because he missed most of the season, Donahue only managed to get 4th... running 4/9 races... which is still crazy impressive.
This excellent model is a resin example made by TSM. You may notice it doesn’t look quite look the same as the car seen in the video in terms of the logos. That’s because this came with decals for me to install. I’m not great at it, so I’m gonna hold off on that. Not sure why TSM decided to install most of the decals, and leave off the main L&M logos for the car... ah well. It’s still a looker. I’m always amazed at the detail these diecast companies can put into a 1:43.
It even has an excellent stand!!
In the 1973 season, Porsche, Penske, and Donahue would solidify the 917 in the history books by making the most powerful racecar in history. 1973 was also the year Penske, Porsche, Sunoco, Donahue, and Follmer would race in Philipilihp’s Porsche 911.
Later this week I’m hoping I can see this car (and the Sunoco monster) in person. Canepa has them both and have been restoring the cars this year.
Also for everyone going to Rennsport Reunion, 917's will be doing exhibition laps each day and their ‘race day’ is on Saturday. Woot woot!