THE PERFECTIONISTS

Penske Formula One from 1971 to 1977

Before Roger S. Penske started his career both as a team principal and as a highly respected businessman, he had been one of the best racing drivers all over the United States of America. He had competed very successfully in sportscar racing with the famous Chaparrals of Jim Hall. And he also had been twice a Grand Prix driver entering the grid of the United States Grand Prix held at Watkins Glen. In 1961 he had scored an 8th place driving a Cooper Climax and in the following year he had become 9th in a Lotus Climax. But at the end of 1965 , he decided to retire from active competition, because "I had got no more ambition as a racing driver." He also had to enter and to continue his father´s businesses.

From the time of his retirement on, Penske became an entrant for his friend Mark Donohue both in touring car and sportscar racing with the newly found CanAm Series (Canadian American Challenge Cup) as the ideal battle ground. Penske bought McLaren Chevrolets and organized sponsorship of Sunoco (Sun Oil Company) giving the car their traditional blue and yellow livery. Donohue, who had been given an engineer´s degree of a United States university, finished 2nd overall in 1966 and 3rd in 1968. With the cars entered by the Sunoco Penske team, Mark Donohue also won 3 US touring car and 2 road racing championships. With a Sunoco Penske McLaren Offenhauser he won the 500 Miles of Indianapolis in 1972, but the Porsche 917/10 turbo for the CanAm Series the same year was presented in the colours of cigarette brand L & M (Ligget & Myers). This was a semi-works entrance for the Stuttgart based Austrian-German sports car manufacturer and Mark Donohue had done most of the development work with this powerful group 7 two seater racing car at their very special Weissach test track. But before the 1972 CanAm season really made it´s way, Donohue sustained difficult leg injuries, making him stay out of the cockpit for nearly a quarter of a year, during a testing session at the Road Atlanta at the beginning of July. The Porsche 917/10 had lost his rear part of the bodywork with it´s wing and the following crash into the armco barrier made it become destroyed completely. Until the point of his reconvalescence Donohue was replaced by fellow countryman George Follmer, who won the 1972 CanAm championship ahead of the McLarens, that had dominated it since it´s foundation. Mark Donohue gave a fine comeback at the end of the 1972 season and to win the CanAm Series the following year. He drove the newest version of the Turbo Porsche, that was called 917/30, again in the blue and yellow Sunoco colours. That´s 5.4 litre 12 cylinder boxer engine was turbocharged, but air-cooled and reached up to 1.200 horse powers. After a decade of countless successes as the Penske team´s top driver, Mark Donohue decided to retire from active motor racing to enter the board of directors of the Penske group.

Already in the sixties and seventies the different Penske companies belonged to greatest ones on the automotive field all over the United States of America. Car trade and rental, garages, truck leasing, tyre and motor assessories´shops and the diverse racing teams brought high profits to the group, that was known for a top level of professionalism. It was said, the spirit of perfection had it´s origins in Roger Penske´s pedantic education of his German roots´father. No doubt, Penske´s racing cars were always in perfect condition and their reliabilty standard were much better, than that of their rivals, because the team spent more time and money on their preparation.

Also the atmosphere inside the team was of extraordinary quality. Donohue was only a few weeks younger than his boss and they respected each other as equal partners. While Roger Penske, who had been given a degree in business administration of Pennsylvania´s Lehigh University back in 1959, was involved in the organizational side or running a racing team, so was Donohue on the technical field.

Mark Donohue , Roger Penske

After giving the works Porsches a good hunt with the Sunoco Ferrari 512M in the 1971 Sports Car Worldchampionship, Penske Racing decided to enter Grand Prix. Roger Penske and his partner Kirk F.White hired the second McLaren Ford M19 (the first one was driven by Denny Hulme by the entry of Bruce McLaren Motor Racing Ltd.) both for the 1971 Canadian and United States Grand Prix at the end of the season and painted in the traditional colours of Sunoco. At Canadian Mosport Mark Donohue brought the car home a fine 3rd place in both his and the team´s maiden Grand Prix. The next round at US-American Watkins Glen, Mark Donohue as well as David Hobbs stood on the entry list, but Donohue decided to go to Trenton for a USAC race, handing over the cockpit of the Sunoco McLaren Ford to the Briton, finished a good 10th position. At that time Roger Penske announced, that Penske Racing would establish theirselves as Formula One constructors of their own rights within the following two years.

Because being involved in 4 United States racing programmes, it took until the beginning of 1974 for Penske Racing to do the first real steps for the realization of their Grand Prix project. Penske bought a workshop in British Poole and signed a contract with designer Geoffrey Ferris, who had been reponsible for the customers´s cars in the lower formulas at Brabham before. Ferris designed the Penske Ford PC1 (Penske Car 1) a pretty conservative way and using the conventional Cosworth DFV V8. With Mark Donohue now being a director at Penske Racing, first the whole project had been organized around Jochen Mass, a promising young driver from Germany, in the 1974 season only suffering under the bad equipment available of his Team Surtees.

 

Mark Donohue with his friend and team principal Roger Penske

 

But when the PC1 was ready for being tested the first time, Mark Donohue decided to declare the retirement from his retirement, he had expressed the year before. It became clear, that Donohue would lead the Penske Ford to it´s debut at the 1974 Canadian Grand Prix held at Mosport, and so Mass joined the works McLaren team. It was a hard work to establish a new American Grand Prix team, when Donohue was confronted with the fact, that he was only qualified 24th. And in the race he had to retire with a broken suspension. Home made rivalry came from another Grand Prix team founded in the United States the same time, that of Parnelli, owned by 1964 Indinapolis 500 winner and off road specialist Parnelli Jones and his old chap Vel Miletich. But in contrast to Penske Racing, who relied on Grand Prix novizes as Swiss skiing expert Heinz Hofer as their team manager and Austrian technician Karl Kainhofer as their chief mechanic, Vel´s Parnelli Racing signed contracts with very prominent representatives of that business. All the leading positions were entered by former Lotus employées. Andrew Ferguson had been appointed team principal, Maurice Phillippe chief designer and Dick Scammell team manager. Mario Andretti became the team´s driver and the Parnelli Ford VPJ4-1 simply was a modernized and lighter version of the very successful Lotus Ford 72. And so it was no wonder, that Andretti was able to score a fine 3rd place on the grid their second appearance, the 1974 United States Grand Prix of Watkins Glen, while Donohue qualified his Penske Ford 7th.

But in contrast to their Californian rivals based in Torrance (Penske Racing have got their headquarters in Reading/Pennsylvania), the crew of Roger Penske had got the advantage of signing up with a great commercial sponsor. That was the First National City Bank, who wanted to promote their travellers´cheques internationally by getting involved in the worldwide business of Grand Prix Racing.

When Penske Racing entered the 1975 Grand Prix season with a modified version of the PC1, they were optimistic to close the gap between them and the top teams McLaren and Ferrari very soon. In fact it was nothing more than a dream on the best way to become a nightmare. Donohue´s career climax was over and the PC1 was nothing more than an average lasts year´s car. The only countable result was a 5th place in Anderstorp´s Swedish Grand Prix and so Roger Penske did not hesitate to stop the domestic made car for buying a March Ford 751, that first appeared at Silverstone´s British Grand Prix that year with Donohue behind the wheel and giving him another 5th place. That was not the perspective both Donohue and Penske Racing wanted to have for the future, and so both agreed only to finish the 1975 season together and than to replace the American by Ulsterman John Watson, who had a difficult season in the underfinanced Matchbox Team Surtees. This way both parties were able to save their faces. At that time nobody of them could know, that things would turn the other way round very soon. In the warm up for the Austrian Grand Prix at Zeltweg, Mark Donohue sustained a puncture making him crash into the trestle of an advertising platform at very high speed. On the first view, he seemed to have escaped the wreckage completely unhurt, but after a while, not only a bad headache, but also signs of paralysis were diagnozed by the local surgeons. Immiadiate helicopter transportation to the university hospital of nearby Graz was ordered, but on Wednesday after the Austrian Grand Prix Mark Donohue died of a brain bleeding bringing him into deep coma.

Penske Racing left out the Italian Grand Prix at Monza and concentrated on the construction of their new car, the PC3. That looked very similar to the March Ford 751, they had bought earlier that year, because of it´s sportscar nose, but it was really a design of their own, done again by Geoffrey Ferris. The PC3 first was taken out on a circuit in the practice of the 1975 United States Grand Prix as ever taking place at Watkins Glen in the federal state of New York. But in the race John Watson, who meanwhile had left Team Surtees, went the conservative way, bringing the old PC1 model home an acceptable 9th place in the final round of that year´s worldchampionship.

John Watson

 

For the 1976 Grand Prix season John Watson remained in the team as their sole driver using the PC3 model until the Monaco Grand Prix, where the car got a wedge-shape nose-scone for the first time making it look a lot slimmer. According to new technical regulations being introduced at the Spanish Grand Prix earlier in that year´s spring, the PC4 gave it´s debut at the Swedish Grand Prix at Anderstorp. After early difficulties with the cut down of the length of the rear wing´s mounting, good results very soon came the team´s way. Both in the French and the British Grand Prix Watson finished 3rd places, and in the Dutch round of the championship at Zandvoort he gave world champion elect, James Hunt, a good battle for victory for many laps, before he had to retire with gearbox problems.

In the Austrian Grand Prix held at Zeltweg´s Oesterreichring, John Watson gave Penske Racing their maiden Grand Prix victory. After this triumph he had to cut off his beard, because he had made a curious bet with Roger Penske before. His boss had asked him several times before to get shaved, "because we need a shaved face for our image in the United States."

John Watson scored 20 points both in the drivers´and constructors´worldchampionship bringing them to 7th and 5th places in the final standings. No doubt, things looked very promising for 1977, but at that moment nobody dared to believe, that they would develop totally in the contrast direction the world had expected. First National City wanted to support their international success in Grand Prix Racing by another one on a national base in the United States. For that purpose they wanted to see Penske Racing´s NASCAR outfit in their red, blue and white livery, not knowing, that Roger Penske already had signed a contract with oil company Cam2 for them. But in spite finding a compromise, Roger Penske let out his personal frustration. Standing in the pits at 72 automobile races a year personally, he considred much too much for him under the aspect of being married for the second time with his young wife expecting a baby. So the 40 years old top racing manager decided to close his Formula One shop in Britain, his title sponsor went to the Tyrrell team. He sold one of the PC4s to US-American Interscope team for sporadic use of Danny Ongais and two other ones to German wheel millionaire Guenter Schmid, who formed his ATS (Auto-Technik-Spezialzubehoer) Grand Prix team with Frenchman Jean Pierre Jarier in the cockpit. While Jarier scored one worldchampionship point at ATS´s debut at the United States West Grand Prix at Long Beach, it was the last constructors´ point for Penske overall.

While ATS designed a car completely of their own for 1978, Penske Racing had concentrated their activities on the United States scene, especially on the CART and NASCAR field, where they are the most successful racing team all over the country for about 4 decades.

J H

 

Penske Racing F1
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1971

Drivers: Mark Donohue (USA), David Hobbs (GB) Car: McLaren Ford M19 Best Result: 3rd, Donohue in Canada Points: 4

 

1974

Driver: Mark Donohue (USA) Car: Penske Ford PC1 Best Result: 12th, Donohue in Canada

 

1975

Drivers: Mark Donohue (USA), John Watson (GB) Cars: Penske Ford PC1, March Ford 751, Penske Ford PC3, Best Results: 5th, Donohue in Sweden and Britain Points: 4

 

1976

Driver: John Watson (GB) Cars: Penske Ford PC3, Penske Ford PC4 Best Result: 1st, Watson in Austria Points: 20

 

1977

Drivers: Jean Pierre Jarier (F), Hans Binder (A), Hans Heyer (D) [ATS Team], Danny Ongais (USA) [Interscope Team] Car: Penske Ford PC4 Best Result: 6th, Jarier in USA-West Points: 1

 

 

Mark Donohue / Penske McLaren Offenhauser M16 (Indianapolis 500)

 

Mark Donohue / Penske Porsche 917/30 (CanAm)

 

Mark Donohue / Penske Ford PC1 (Formula One)

 

 

 

 

Galleria Penske F1

 

 

© 2001 by researchracing

 

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