The ribbon of asphalt that snakes its way up the avenue, round in front of Goodwood House, through the tricky, blind-approach left-hander at Molecombe, past the imposing flint wall S-bend and up into the fast sweepers in the woods at the top of the hillclimb course offers an incongruous playground for the magnificent motorsport metal of all ages, shapes and sizes that wows spectators at the Festival of Speed each summer.
And for one car in particular, the narrow, tree-lined stage takes the ‘out of its comfort zone’ cliché to a whole new level.
Porsche’s 917/30 Can-Am record-smasher, which once again joins the party, is monstrous. And that adjective encapsulates its physical presence, power output and success rate all in one go.
The last and most potent of the German firm’s sports-racers that made the most of the derestricted regulations in the Canadian-American Challenge for Group 7 big-bangers during the early 1970s is a crowd favourite at Goodwood and will forever be found on every sportscar racing fan’s list of favourites.
Knowing that its 917 would be outlawed from the World Sportscar Championship, thanks to a three-litre cap on engine capacity, at the end of 1971, Porsche needed a new outlet to express its engineering wizardry. Three straight manufacturers’ titles between 1969 and 1971, vanquishing Ferrari and Alfa Romeo along the way, as well as two Le Mans wins, wasn’t enough for Porsche to go quietly. It wanted more and it wanted it faster, louder, more advanced and more dominant.
Cue Can-Am, the ultimate expression of technical overindulgence, in which the only two stipulations were that cars had two seats and covered wheels. The Zuffenhausen bods must have been salivating at the prospect.
And what they came up with for that first foray across the Atlantic, the 917/10, essentially a 917 that had had the roof removed and been subjected to several other dietary modifications, wasn’t quite good enough. It allowed the papaya orange McLaren powersledges to rack up a sixth straight title in 1971 while forcing the Germans back to drawing board.
For 1972, the 917/10’s five-litre, flat-12 powerplant was fitted with two turbochargers, taking power to over 800bhp and doubtless sending a ripple or two of intent in the direction of McLaren.
This time, Porsche’s forced-induction upgrades worked. The car, run by Roger Penske, won six of the nine races, courtesy of George Follmer and Mark Donohue, with Follmer breaking McLaren’s drivers’ title monopoly to take the crown thanks to five of those six wins.
Despite having McLaren on the ropes, Porsche didn’t relent for 1973. It simply picked up those faster, louder, more advanced and more dominant boundaries and moved them – by increasing the twin-turbo motor to 5.4 litres and adding a longer, more slippery body.
And this surfeit of science on wheels was the 917/30.
Donohue immediately created a storm by taking an easy pole position on the car’s debut in the opening round at Canadian venue Mosport. Teething problems with the 1100bhp beast in the opening two races meant the older 917/10 had a stay of execution, but come round three at Watkins Glen, Donohue kept up his 100 per cent pole tally and this time converted it into victory. And the 917/30 wouldn’t lose ever again, securing five more victories on the bounce and a run-away title for the American.
So dominant was the 917/30, it unwittingly became the architect of the series’ downfall. With little else left to prove, Porsche had pulled out at the end of ’73, but interest in Can-Am – among teams and spectators – was waning. Mid-way through the following season the death knell was sounded.
The 917/30 had one final hurrah, however. Just a matter of days before Donohue succumbed to injuries sustained in a crash during qualifying for the Austrian Grand Prix, he lapped the Talladega Superspeedway at an average of 221mph to annihilate the closed-circuit speed world record.
Just to prove, one last time, that this was one of the greatest driver/car combinations of all time.
Remember that when ogling this unique and magnificent machine as it thunders around out of its comfort zone.