On this Day in Trans Am History:
July 17, 2020
July 17, 1971
Mark Donohue enjoyed the best of both racing worlds in 1971.
In addition to a dominant performance driving Roger Penske’s AMC Javelin in what is now the Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli, Donohue was quickly becoming a dominant player in Indy cars, back when it was the USAC Championship Car trail.
Donohue gave Penske Racing its first open-wheel triumph in the Schaefer 500 at new Pocono International Raceway on Saturday July 3, driving the Sunoco McLaren. The following day, he was at Brainerd, Minnesota, where he won the Trans Am at Donnybrooke, beating fellow Javelin driver Peter Revson by 1.35-seconds.
Two weeks later, Penske Racing brought the red, white and blue No. 6 Javelin to Elkhart Lake, for the second Trans Am race at Road America. The competition was tougher, with Bud Moore returning a pair of Ford Mustangs for George Follmer and Peter Gregg after sitting out the Brainerd event.
Donohue captured the pole, and was joined on the front row by Vic Elford, who was driving a Roy Woods Javelin. Follmer qualified third, with Mustangs taking the next three positions while the Chevrolet Camaros of Warren Agor and Marshall Robbins capturing row four.
Donohue and Follmer put on a spirited fight early in the event, with the Javelin driver setting the fastest race lap on the third tour. But on lap four, Follmer cut a tire shortly after passing the pit entrance, and had to limp around the four-mile circuit. He fell to 10th by the time he was able to get a fresh tire. By then, Donohue was long gone.
Follmer raced his way back, finishing second – two minutes, 10-seconds behind Donohue, who won at Road America for the second-straight year. Jerry Thompson rounded out the podium in a Troy Mustang, followed by Gregg, who blew two engines in practice and had to start 34th in the 35-car field.
Elford had a mechanical problem after 30 of the 50 laps and was classified 25th.
The following day, Donohue visited the Irish Hills, taking his second-consecutive Indy car victory in the Michigan 200. He would win his third (and final) Indy car race at Indianapolis the following year – Penske’s first of 18 Indy 500 triumphs.
Donohue’s Road America victory also was the third of six straight triumphs among seven victories and his first third Trans Am title – although the series showcased a manufacturer’s championship during the Golden Years.