History was both made and remembered over the Labor Day holiday when a Porsche Carrera GT production car driven by race driver David Donohue and NBC Television "The Tonight Show" host Jay Leno set a series of Grand American speed records at Talladega Superspeedway, where David’s father, Mark Donohue, set a similar series of records in a Porsche race car 30 years ago.
As the records were being set, Porsche decided to donate the car to an auction designed to raise funds to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Leno agreed to oversee the auction of the $440,000 record-setting Carrera GT. Details about the auction will be announced later.
The younger Donohue set three flying speed records in the production category with the Carrera GT, including a closed-course speed record for the 2.66-mile track of 196.301 mph. He also set records for the measured mile, 198.971 mph and the measured kilometer, 195.755 mph. Leno set three standing-start speed records in the same car, the fastest being 156.603 miles per hour over the closed-course. Flying records are recorded from a rolling start, while standing speed records are recorded from a complete stop.
"It amazes me that we were able to go nearly as fast in a 2005 street car as David’s father did in a 1,000-horsepower race car," said Leno, who is an avid automotive historian and collector. "This Carrera GT has air conditioning, a stereo, a navigation system and a cockpit full of leather and still goes almost 200 mph around this course. It’s outrageous."
"This was an emotional day for me," said Donohue, who races a Brumos Porsche-Fabcar prototype in the Grand American series. "I’ve driven on many of the tracks where my dad drove, but being able to set a record here at Talladega is special."
The elder Donohue set a closed-course record for racing cars, driving a Porsche 917/30 to a speed of 221.120 mph at the track on August 9, 1975, just 10 days before he died while practicing for the Austrian Formula One Grand Prix. The 917, prized by collectors today, was one of the most successful racing machines of its time, having captured the SCCA CanAm championship two years in a row.
The 2005 Porsche Carrera GT used for the record is Porsche’s ultimate road-legal sports car. Built from ultra-light, but ultra-strong carbon fiber, aluminum, magnesium and high-strength steel, the limited-production Porsche Carrera GT draws its energy from a mid-mounted, 5.7L V10 engine that generates 605 (SAE) horsepower. Like the engine, its suspension, ceramic brakes and ceramic composite clutch are all derived from Porsche’s racing experience. Some 450 Carrera GTs have been delivered to Porsche enthusiasts in North America.
The stock Carrera GT used for the record at Talladega was produced at the Porsche factory in Leipzig, Germany and was upgraded with safety equipment only, including a five-point racing harness and Michelin Pilot tires designed to handle the forces generated by the car when at speed on the severe banking at Talladega. The track was chosen because it is ideal for sustaining high-speed laps. Four lanes wide and 2.66 miles long, it is banked 33 degrees on each end, with 18-degree banking in the tri-oval. The backstretch is nearly 4,000 feet long.
The records were recorded and verified by the Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series, the sanctioning body that organizes races such as the Rolex 24 at Daytona. Grand American Series Director of Competition Mark Raffauf, who officiated for the sanctioning organization, was also on hand for the original 1975 record event. In addition, retired Porsche Motorsports Chief Engineer Norbert Singer, who oversaw technical matters at the event, worked with the elder Donohue 30 years ago to refine the aerodynamics on the Porsche 917/30 racing car.