With the retirement of the factory Porsches and JW Automotive Ford GT40’s, the Roger Penske Lola T70 Mk. IIIB of Mark Donohue and Chuck Parsons will eventually inherit the lead if they can just hold the car together. This was a stunning turn of events for everyone watching the race and there were plenty of folks shaking their heads in amazement.
And that’s the way it was for the very tense five remaining hours of the race. When you consider what transpired during the race to bring the Penske Lola down pit road and into the winner’s circle it was an incredible turn of events and a lucky and well-deserved win for the Penske team. This win graphically showed that Roger Penske and company were more than a match for John Wyer and the JW Automotive group. Drivers Mark Donohue and Chuck Parsons covered 2,383.75 miles with an average speed of 99.268 mph.
The AIR Lola T70 Mark III of Ed Leslie and Lothar Motschenbacher finished second, 30 laps behind the winner, much to the delight of actor and team owner James Garner. The Pontiac Firebird 305 of Jerry Titus and Jon Ward finished third, 35 laps behind the winner, but first in class The best Porsche could do was 4th with a private entry 911T driven by Tony Adamowicz, Bruce Jennings and Herb Wetanson.
In March of that year Penske entered the Daytona winning Lola in the 12 Hours of Sebring but they failed to finish due to a rear suspension failure. The notoriously rough Sebring airport course had claimed another victim. Despite this setback Penske and Donohue were already planning for an assault on the Holy Grail of endurance racing, the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Both men returned to Penske HQ in Philadelphia to start the planning for the trip to France.
Le Mans wouldn’t be in the cards for the Penske team in 1969 and the reason had nothing to do with racing. It had everything to do with good-old-fashioned car theft.
While most of the Penske crew returned home, two were assigned to trailer the Lola back to Philadelphia. They made an overnight stop in Daytona Beach for what they considered was much needed R&R. When they awoke the next morning the truck and race car were gone. Yes, stolen right out of the hotel parking lot while the crew members were “resting.”
An alert was immediately sounded. The newspapers headlines read “Top Lola Stolen in Daytona Beach, 2 Engines and Parts Worth $35,000 Are Missing.” Later the purloined truck was located just west of Daytona Beach. Unfortunately the race car and related equipment in the truck had been picked clean. In the process of removing the engine and other parts from the Lola the thieves had literally chopped the car and frame to pieces. In other words they butchered it. As a result Penske and Donohue were forced to abandon their trip to France.
A few weeks later a tip led the police to the place where they supposedly would find the missing items. Mark Donohue was even allowed to accompany the police on the raid. After the police arrested the miscreants they found that the thieves were in the process of installing the Lola engine into a Shelby Cobra.
The win by the Penske team at Daytona in 1969 would be the only major international victory for the T70. Within weeks of the Daytona race Porsche would unveil its legendary 917 race car at Geneva. The world of endurance racing would never be the same.
[Source: Photo credit: Louis Galanos and Fred Lewis]