1973 Porsche 917/30 Pilot: M. Donohue Team: Penske Racing Race: 1st at Mid-Ohio, Road America, Edmonton, Laguna Seca and Riverside - Can-Am 1973 Minichamps - 436736006 (diecast)
Porsche created the 917 in 1969 basically for one thing: winning at Le Mans. And they did, in 1970. From the drawing board, chassis and engine were meant for endurance racing. However, the new platform showed potential as a Can-Am Challenge car. Though discreetly, Porsche was in Can-Am racing as early as 1969, with the 908/2. So when the new 917 became a reality, it wouldn’t take much to develop a Can-Am car. Besides, a stronger racing presence in North America would certainly boost sales of the 911. Porsche’s engineering department got to work and after a few attempts, they arrived at the 917/10. It was basically a spyder version of the 917K, with a shorter wheelbase, and most importantly, a turbo-charged engine. Debuting in 1971, it was the first Porsche to have a turbo engine.
The 917/10 started out strong and finished in fourth place that year. In 1972 the car dominated the championship, and ended the reign of McLaren. However, the 917/10 was a finicky car to drive due to the short wheelbase and not-perfect aerodynamics. So in late 1972, allied with Penske Racing, Porsche began working on a new Can-Am car, the 917/30. Though heavily based on the 917/10, for all intents and purposes, it was an all-new car. To better handling, the wheelbase became longer and the aluminum tubular space frame chassis was made stronger. For the body Porsche went to SERA, in Paris, that after wind tunnel testing designed a dramatic, low-drag bodywork. The new body, made of GFRP, also supported special extractor turbines to aid in brake cooling. Without the engine, chassis with body only weighed 564 kg.
But the big deal about the 917/30 was the engine. It was the same Typ 912 flat-12, but expanded to 5374 cm³, and turbo-charged. Porsche used twin Eberspacher turbos, with controllable boost pressure. Thus, the pilot controlled the engine power through a knob on the dash, from 1000 to staggering 1500 hp. However, in general, boost pressure was usually set for about 1100 hp. All that cavalry touched the ground via the rear wheels through a 4-speed manual gearbox. And to feed that engine, the car had five fuel tanks, with a total capacity of 400 l. A lightweight car like that (just 849 kg) with a mammoth of an engine, meant a spectacular power-to-weight ratio. Consequently, the thing was insanely fast. It went from 0 to 100 km/h in 2.1 seconds and to 320 km/h in 13.4 seconds. With enough road, top speed would be over 385 km/h.
The great Mark Donohue drove chassis #917/30-003 to victory in five races in 1973. He came in first place in Mid-Ohio, Road America, Edmonton, Laguna Seca and Riverside. And just for good measure, he also came in first at Watkins Glen driving #917/30-002. The 917/30 won six of the nine races of the 1973 championship, granting Porsche and Penske their second Can-Am title. Consequently, the car was so dominant that organizers stipulated a fuel cap for 1974. And just like that, the famous “Turbopanzer” became obsolete.
Mark Donohue, 1973:
“At this time there is nothing in the world any quicker, any better handling, any more advanced technically, or any more fun to drive. It is, to me, the perfect race car.”
I needed the 917/30 basically for two reasons. First, it was the final development of my beloved 917. It was so brutally efficient that it was one of the main reasons for the demise of the Can-Am Challenge. And second, because this car was piloted by Mark “Captain Nice” Donohue. A brilliant pilot with a degree in engineering, he was famous for his ability to set up his cars. He’s a racing hero of mine, so my race car collection would never be complete without his Turbopanzer.
Minichamps recreated #917/30-003 brilliantly in Sunoco colors. It comes in a special display case and overall detail level is top notch. With all that, it’s a fantastic model to have in any race car collection. For me, however, it’s truly a grail model.