In what has become tradition, May Day bank holiday weekend saw the historic racing community welcomed by Donington Park for the 6th running of the utterly brilliant Donington Historic Festival; this year able to benefit from substantial investment which has brought the famous Leicestershire circuit back to it’s very best.
As is also tradition, the early May bank holiday weekend weather was, shall we say, mixed! Whilst Saturday was blessed with a sunny start and end to the day, hail and rain showers were a feature of the early afternoon; conditions made more tricky by just how cold it was. It is not normal to see one’s breath in late April, even in England!
The first race of the weekend, the opening round of the HSCC Historic F2 championship, slotted nicely between showers however. Where, on a drying track, Andrew Smith in his Formula Atlantic specification March 79B was one of a minority to gamble on slicks; a decision which paid dividends as he recorded a dominant 53 second victory over series newcomer Dean Forward.
And it was the Warwickshire man who was again first to the chequered flag in Sunday’s second encounter. After quickly passing the fast starting Forward, Smith was able to build a winning margin of 35 seconds over the ‘3rd gear-less’ March 782, making it a weekend to remember for the Team Gunston March pilot.
The Pre 91 Touring car field were not quite so lucky with the weather. Whilst a dry start allowed the BMW of Mark Smith to take the lead from pole, rain began to fall during the mandatory pit stop window. And it was during the driver changes that Chris Ward, taking over the Broadspeed Capri from BTCC hero Steve Soper, was able to get the jump on the Mark Smith/David Cuff E30. And the heavier the rain fell the more comfortable the lead became; Ward putting in a sublime drive in testing conditions to claim the Tony Dron Trophy by over 1 minute.
In fact Ward would carry his strong form into the 2.75 hour, somewhat disappointingly supported, ‘1000km’ Sportscar race. Again paired with Paul Gibson, the 2015 winners faced a very different challenge if they were to repeat their success. The cold and damp conditions would not favour their powerful Lola T70 where instead it was the nimble Chevron B8 of Martin O’Connell who was able to take an early lead.
Ward, installed on lap 32, would find himself 3 laps down to the little 2 litre prototype but a succession of fastest lap times on an ever drying track brought the #9 Lola back into contention. Meanwhile James Littlejohn had been in the sister Gibson car since lap 20 and on lap 77 it was he who finally hunted down and passed the O’Connell piloted B8.
Oliver Bryant had looked best placed to tackle the rogue Chevron having kept his T70 in touching distance throughout the first half of the race. A very slow pitstop on lap 60 however dropped the #14 machine 5 laps and it would be an uphill struggle from then on in.
And so with the Chevron now struggling to keep pace in the early evening sunshine, the fight for top spot would turn out to be an all family affair with Paul Gibson emerging from the car’s final pit-stop just in front of son Daniel in the #10. However it was Gibson Senior who managed to maintain the lead over the last 20 or so laps, claiming race victory for a second successive year. But for a mis-read pit board Gibson Jnr may well have put up a stronger fight.
Bryant meanwhile would fight back to claim a strong third position, ending the race just over 1 minute behind the winners; a story of what might have been given the #14 T70 spent 1.5 minutes longer in pit lane! P3 honours and fourth overall was just reward for a great drive by Martin O’Connell and Andrew Kirkaldy in the Chevron B8. Had the rain continued who knows what the outcome would have been!
Sunday’s schedule would feature a further 7 races, in many respects headlined by the 90 minute GT & Sports Car Cup for Pre-66 GT and Pre-63 Sportscars. Traditionally a battle between Cobra and E-Type it was the Oliver Bryant piloted Cobra who was able to take an early lead from the Julian Thomas and Gary Pearson Jags and the pole sitting similar machine of Leo Voyazides.
Both E-types had soon fallen by the wayside however leaving an all Shelby battle up front; Hadfield, installed in the #75 Cobra during an oil enforced safety car period, now finding himself at the head of the field following a quicker turn around during the stops. However, opting for a short Grahame Bryant stint proved to be key strategically as Bryant junior had almost 30 laps to hunt down the leader.
And sure enough with Voyazides back in the driving seat on lap 45 the deficit was reduced to just 5 seconds with Bryant, clearly on a mission, able to haul his mis-firing Cobra into the lead with a little over 10 minutes remaining. The retirement of Voyazides shortly after allowing for a comfortable drive to the flag with the now second and third placed Clark/Smith E-Type and Friedrichs/Mallock Aston Martin DP214 over 1 lap in arrears.
New to the schedule for 2016, the pre-50 Grand Prix cars battling for the Nuvolari Trophy put on a great Display. Sunday’s dry second race saw Callum Lockie in his Maserati 6CM able to get the better of race 1 winner, Michael Gans, after an almighty scrap between the two. Gans, in ERA R1B, had fallen to third at the start but was able to take the lead on lap 11 before the vastly experienced Lockie made the decisive overtake just 1 lap later.
The very sideways Pre-66 under 2 litre touring cars never fail to entertain with onlookers eagerly awaiting a good battle between the leading Ford, BMW and Alfa crews. But whilst BMW were able to take the fight to the Lotus Cortinas in qualifying, all 3 leading 1800s were in trouble with electrical problems before the race had really begun. This left the the Andrew/Max Banks Alfa to successfully chase down the Fords of Andy Wolfe and Dion Kremer and build a healthy lead over the opening stint of the race.
Whilst Wolfe would soon retire, another MK1 Cortina in the hands of Neil Brown had starting making progress. And once taking over the reigns, Fortec boss, Richard Dutton, carried on Brown’s hard work to close in on Max Banks during the second half of the race; a gutsy charge that left the Ford man just 10 seconds shy of the untouchable Giulia Sprint GTA at the flag. Meanwhile David Tomlin made it two Fords on the podium, passing Kremer in the pit-stops and managing to hold off the Swiss pilot during the closing stages of the race.
The RAC Woodcote Trophy for pre-56 Sportscars was yet another highlight of the weekend, proof if ever it were needed that historic racing is much more than just a demonstration. Throughout the entire 1 hour duration of the race, Fred Wakeman and later Patrick Blakeney-Edwards tried all they could to get past the D-Type Jaguar of Gary Pearson. The Cooper Jaguar Type 38 was more than a match for the D-Type but Pearson was immaculate through the traffic and, as Blakeney-Edwards put it, there is no getting past the Northamptonshire man when in that kind of form!
Colin Turkington made a one off appearance in the HSCC Super Touring Car Trophy race, and the Northern Irishman showed his class by taking third place in the Mark Smith BMW E30. The older BMW was no match for the Gordon Noble Jnr Vauxhall Vectra or the Stewart Whyte Honda Accord however; with the former able to get the better of regular front runner Whyte on this occasion.
Following an article in Motor Sport magazine I was very much looking forward to the final event of the day, the Pre 80 endurance race for Sports racing GT and Touring Cars. You just cannot beat the sound of a 3 litre DFV formula 1 engine and on this occasion we were blessed with not only the magazine featured Lola T282 of Leo Voyazides and Simon Hadfield but also the T292 of Michele Liguori.
Hadfield had earlier put the Gitanes sponsored T282 on pole with a fantastic 1.05.872 but it was Liguori who beat Voyazides into Redgate, immediately gapping the Greek pilot and leaving him to fight with the Chevron B19 of Martin O’Connell. Unfortunately, the expected DFV battle never materialised as a coming together between O’Connell and Voyazides at Goddards put the Chevron out of the race and left Voyazides with a broken wheel; the former calling it a racing incident whilst the latter was less diplomatic!
Whilst Liguori was now able to cruise to victory, Voyazides with broken wheel replaced, and later Simon Hadfield were able to drag themselves back up through the field to a phenomenal second place; missing out on victory by just 26 seconds after at one stage being 2 laps down! The sight and sound of Hadfield taking on the Craner Curves in this glorious machine is one of those memories that will stick around for years to come! Ever wondered what is missing from modern day racing? This car sums it up completely!
My time at the festival may have been over but the racing continued throughout Monday, where …
David Tomlin piloted his Lotus Cortina to victory in the HRDC ‘Coys Trophy’ whilst Stewart Whyte charged to glory in the second Super Touring Car race. Callum Lockie, sharing an E-Type with Julian Thomas, continued his excellent weekend by taking the Jaguar Classic Challenge honours. Chris Ward made it a hat-trick of weekend race victories by taking the Stirling Moss Trophy for Pre-61 Sport Cars. Fred Wakeman and Patrick Blakeney-Edwards claimed the Mad Jack for Pre-War Sports Cars victory and last but not least, Andrew and Mike Jordan raced their Austin A40 to top spot in the HRDC Pre-60 Touring Car race.
This had been another fabulous Donington Historic Festival. The festival and circuit organising team just seem to get it, be it the friendly and welcoming circuit staff, the excellent commentary team, the ability to get touch close to millions of pounds worth of famous racing cars, a fantastic selection of races across the weekend and now the freedom to roam over the entire infield. And having fond memories of the venue as a child in the late eighties and early nineties it is great to see the circuit in such good shape! If only the Dunlop Bridge and Spitfire were to make a return …
All images © Paul Commons (Paul Commons Motorsport Photography)