Throwback Thursday - 1969 24 Hours of Daytona

February 11, 2016

1969 24 Hours of Daytona

As the sports car world descended upon the Daytona International Speedway in February of 1969, many pundits expected the Porsche 908 entries to dominate that year’s 24 Hours of Daytona. After all, the German manufacturer swept the top three positions the previous year in the 907s, and they added two more cars for 1969. The Lola T70 was also considered to be a car that could win the endurance challenge, but list of favorites in that grouping did not include the T70 to be driven by Mark Donohue and Ronnie Bucknum for Team Penske.

Team Penske won the GT class in the 1966 24 Hours of Daytona in its first race ever, but the outlook for 1969 did not improve with the loss of Bucknum to a fractured finger – suffered in a motorcycle accident – just prior to the race. Though he tried to tough it out, Bucknum was forced to withdraw from the team during practice. The team flew in veteran driver, Chuck Parsons, the day before the race. He was only able to get in nine laps of practice.

The Team Penske Lola was second-fastest in practice, but Roger Penske did not want his crew to set a quick pace. He believed it would be a race of attrition and wanted the Lola to be around at the end.

When the green flag flew at 3 pm on February 1, 1969, Donohue seemed to have forgotten about the plan. He quickly settled into the fourth position, but it wasn’t long before the team began to suffer from a fuel pickup problem in which they were only using about half of the fuel tank’s capacity. This meant the team would have to make many more pit stops than planned, considerably reducing their chances for victory.

Just after dark the Penske Lola team experienced more problems when Donohue pitted with smoke pouring from the exhaust. The team had to remove the system and make repairs as it did not have a spare. The stop cost the team one hour and 19 minutes on the track, losing more than 40 laps to the leaders.

At 3 am – the midway point of the race – the Donohue/Parsons team was scored in the seventh position, 44 laps down. The team lost an additional 17 minutes after the starter motor failed around the 7 am mark. However, just as Roger Penske had predicted, many of the race leaders began to experience their own difficulties and slowly the Penske Lola began to climb the leaderboard.

As the clock ticked to 8:15 am on February 2 the team had moved up to the third position, an improvement of four spots in just over an hour. By now, Donohue and Parsons were following the conservative approach laid out with their team leader and they managed to run the remaining laps without any incident other than the fuel pickup nuisance.

Despite spending a combined two hours, 10 minutes and 12 seconds in the pits for a total of 31 pit stops, the Team Penske Lola won the race by 30 laps. They covered 626 laps, 2,382.63 miles and averaged 99.268 mph to score the first overall victory for the team in the prestigious 24 Hours of Daytona race.