When the Ford Ecoboost DP set a speed record on its namesake track last week, it received criticism for being a pure record attempt rather than qualifying like Bill Elliot. But before their run, Porsche did it nearly four decades ago, smashing the existing oval speed record with their most insane car ever.
The Porsche 917/30 is one of the most insane sports prototypes ever. Making 1,100 horsepower during races, it made an absolutely insane power figure north of 1,500 for its qualifying laps. Don't think this satisfied driver Mark Donohue, though. Even with a kilo and a half of horsies under the hood, he was still known to tell his Porsche engineers “it will never have enough power until I can spin the wheels at the end of the straightaway in high gear.”
After an absolutely dominant Can-Am season in the car with Roger Penske in 1973 where Donohue won 6 of 8 races, the car was essentially made obsolete by new fuel limits in the series. The thirsty beast and its twin turbos were no longer competitive, and the cars were reverted back to their naturally aspirated form. However, in 1975 Penske and Donohue would bring the /30 out of retirement for a speed run. During the 1975 Talladega 500 weekend, the 917/30 was allowed on track to make a run at the record during a break in NASCAR activities. Penske had recruited Porsche's help to improve the intercoolers on the car to keep the engine from exploding from the constant throttle. That didn't stop a minor fire when Donohue, short on time, brought the car in for adjustments without a cool down lap. Yet, he went back out and set a lap of 221.160mph, a record that would stand until Rick Mears bested it at the track with an Indy car.
But what's most interesting is comparing these two cars. Despite the 917 being considered one of the fastest prototypes of all time, in comparison to what's generally considered a 'slow' car, we see how much racing technology has advanced in the intervening decades. The Ford Daytona Prototype went nearly 2MPH faster, on a track with less banking. Despite weighing 400 pounds more, and having 1874 fewer cc's and half the cylinders on a track with less banking. Low rolling resistance tires, more efficient engines and transmissions, and computational fluid dynamics add up to what used to be considered the pinnacle of racing cars being outrun by a car we consider the slowest of all prototypes.
Don't think we should pass the crown from the Porsche just yet, but we should consider ourselves a bit spoiled that even our slow race cars drive 'only' 220MPH.