Tag Archives: Donington Historic Festival

Glorious Sunshine welcomes MSV to Donington Historic Party

A stroll through the packed recently re-surfaced Donington paddock, in glorious early morning sunshine, before a stonking fry up in the fabulous brand new Garage 39 cafe dispelled any initial disappointment at some key omissions from the 2018 Donington Historic race schedule (FIA F2 & late 60’s Sports prototypes).  A lunch time pint in the same venue’s outdoor seating area confirming my belief that this was a much better use of the space!

This represented my first visit to the Leicestershire circuit since it has been fully MSV’d, and whilst I was slightly sad to find the blue & white circuit colours and traditional toilet huts replaced by respective MSV red & white and pop up blocks, you cannot deny that the future of my favourite UK circuit is in good hands; a visit to one of their other excellent venues proof if ever it were needed.

And, having only managed to slot a Saturday visit into my diary this year, it was pleasing to see that the essentially Motor Racing Legends organised event had managed to shoe horn 10 mostly packed grids into the first race day of the festival which was splendidly lead off by the Pre-61 Formula Juniors.

Unfortunately cut short by a late red flag, the race featured a fantastic duel between the self built U2 of Ray Mallock and the Terrier of Chris Drake;  a battle which would see both men share spells at the front of the field before Drake made the decisive move at Mcleans on lap 11, with Pole sitter Mallock denied one final shot at victory when the aforementioned red flag brought the race to a slightly premature end.

Whilst not containing the lead changes or the depth of field of race 1, the opening Super Touring Car Challenge event of the weekend did provide excitement in the form of former BTCC champion John Cleland taking the battle to regular front runner James Dodd.  But whilst able to close on the leading Honda Accord  through the early and later parts of the race, there was an underlying feeling that Dodd ultimately had things under control.  And so it was no real surprise to see the double 2017 winner again standing on the top step of the podium.  Behind, John Pearson progressed well through the field, passing the BMW M3 of Harry Whale late on to round out the podium positions in his ex Emanuele Pirro Audi A4.

Whale may well have missed out on a podium position in race 2 but would later make up for it in style in the hour long Historic Touring Car Challenge race.  Having taken over from Dad Nick at the first opportunity, Whale the younger would rapidly extend the pole sitting M3’s advantage at the head of the field to take a commanding victory of more than 36 seconds by the end of the event.  A somewhat nostalgic moment for father and son given this was the same car that Harry watched Nick race during the 1990 BTCC season.

The race for the remaining podium positions was far less clear cut however with all parties appearing to struggle in some capacity.  Indeed, the Dave Coyne / Mark Wright piloted RS500 showed strong pace early on, duly setting the fastest lap of the race before suffering with a misfire and braking issues.  The Zakspeed Escort of David Tomlin appeared to be in contention also until dropping back with a 10 second penalty for track limits followed by a potentially linked puncture.

As it was the podium positions were eventually filled with 2 crews who made the best of their issues.  Mark Smith in his M3 had initially proved tough opposition for the similar Whale machine, only for son Aaron Moulton-Smith to drop back to 7th shortly after taking over.  A series of very quick laps late on would however rescue the situation and ensure not only a BMW M3 but also a father and son 1-2.

Last year’s winners Steve Soper and Chris Ward would round out the podium positions.  Soper, in the Bastos Rover, had struggled during the opening part of the race with a bounce at the front end that even JD Classics could not dial out!  The versatile Chris Ward managed to find a way to to drive around the problem however; the podium salvaged probably feeling like a victory given the circumstances!

In what was billed as a Ferrari / Aston Martin battle, it was the Wolfgang Friedrichs / Simon Hadfield piloted DB4GT which claimed the Historic Motor Racing News organised Pre 63 GT victory after the Halusa’s smoking “Breadvan” was forced into retirement in the early part of the race.

Having been installed at the earliest possible opportunity, local man Simon Hadfield still had to battle hard for the win however, passing the far from slow E-Type of James Cottingham and Patrick Blakeney-Edwards Cobra amongst others before going on to record an impressive 26 second victory for the British Marque.

By far the fastest machinery competing at the festival were the F2 and F5000 machines taking part in the Derek Bell Trophy.  In a category where Michael Lyons is rarely challenged let alone beaten Jamie Brashaw put in a great drive aboard his March 73A.  And, whilst it was Lyons who would ultimately cross the line first in his Lola T400,  fastest lap went the way of the Yorkshireman, underlining his competitiveness in this event.  Watching both drivers power out of the Roberts chicane to record sub 1.05 minute lap times was a sight to behold!

Having struggled in the Rover earlier on, Soper was back to his brilliant best in the Under 2 litre Pre-66 Touring Car event; the touring car legend part of a 3 way battle for top spot in his Lotus Cortina.  Indeed both Soper and regular sparring partner Andy Wolfe, in his Cortina, shared the lead before Soper found himself several seconds adrift as the cars emerged from their mid-race pitstops.

By this time however Wolfe was struggling with his brakes and both Soper and, regular winner at Donington, Max Banks were closing in fast.  Unfortunately however a red flag cut short the race by 3 minutes, denying Soper the chance of victory and the crowd of a grandstand finish.

The Woodcote Trophy is always a highlight of the Donington Historic Festival and this year was no exception.  A great variety of cars found themselves at the sharp end of the action, but it was the Gary Pearson piloted D-type which quickly worked it’s way passed the pole sitting Maserati 250S of Richard Wilson to hold a 6 second lead over the Cooper T38 of Fred Wakeman with Carlos Monteverde’s D-Type in third as the pitstop window approached.

Pearson would be the first to stop, allowing brother John to take over the leading D-Type, whilst, without a moments rest, Gary would jump straight into the Monteverde machine just 1 lap later.  Meanwhile the very rapid Martin Stretton was strapped into the Maserati and it wasn’t long before the pole sitting machine was passing John Pearson for second, with Gary Pearson following suit some 10 laps later (bizarrely passing the car which he had started the race in).

At the front of the field however, Wakeman was enjoying a clear run, and courtesy of a string of consistently fast lap times was able to allow Patrick Blakeney-Edwards to emerge from their pitstop with a clear lead that even Stretton and Pearson could do little about.  In fact the T38 was near untouchable on the day, with Wakeman and Blakeney-Edwards going on to record a more than comfortable winning margin of 26 seconds.

After 2 aborted starts, pole sitter Cameron Jackson eventually took command of the Pre-64 Formula Junior race.  The Brabham BT2 pilot just having the edge on his rivals to claim a 2 second victory.  After losing out at the start Jack Woodhouse would snatch 2nd at Hollywood on lap 9 from the similar Lotus 20/22 of Sam Wilson.

The Pre-60 HRDC Touring Greats event was the penultimate of the day and it was no surprise to see regular winners, Andrew and Mike Jordan, emerge as victors in their Austin “GT40”.  There appeared to be a chance of an upset when James Colburn’s well timed pitstop left him leading the safety car train, but it took less than a lap of green flag running for Andrew Jordan to re-take the lead.  Meanwhile Neil Brown would also pass Colburn in the second half of the race to claim second in his Austin A35.

A huge field of largely E-types took to the track for the final race of the day, the Jaguar Classic Challenge for pre-66 machines.  In a grid full of quality (drivers and cars) it was Ben Short who lead much of the early running before slowing in the second half of the race with what turned out to be driver fatigue.

Meanwhile Julian Thomas quickly progressed to second after a string of fastest lap times, only to suffer the set back of a 10 second penalty, resulting from a jump start.  But such was his and co-driver, Callum Lockie’s pace that by the time Short emerged from pit-lane (after his later stop) they would find themselves with a net 6 second lead.

Lockie would then continue the cars strong pace over the remainder of the stint which enabled the Scot to maintain the lead despite a second penalty; this time a drive through for a short pitstop.  There was just no stopping the #92 E-type in the evening sunshine.  Behind, despite suffering in the heat, Ben Short just managed to hold off a fast closing John Pearson, in the Gary Pearson started machine, to claim a well deserved second.

Despite the event being slightly too Touring Car focused for my liking, I had a fantastic day in the, for once, glorious bank holiday sunshine, a welcome change from the single digit temperatures often experienced at this event.    Exciting times are ahead for the Leicestershire circuit, now that MSV are behind the wheel.  I just hope major changes are well off the radar as, from a viewing perspective, Donington remains near perfect.

All images © Paul Commons (Paul Commons Motorsport Photography)

 

 

Donington Delivers one Helluva Historic Festival

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

FULL RESULTS

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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)

Historic Racing Round-up – Spring 2015

Historic F1 ace, Michael Lyons, thrills fans at Thruxton while Paul Gibson and Chris Ward fend off late Voyazides challenge to claim coveted Donington Historic Festival ‘1000km’ glory.

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With today’s technology so impressive that many lines of motorsport have to be ‘pegged back’ I find myself drawn more and more to the historic side of our sport; I would love to have been around to see the thoroughbred racing cars of the 60’s and 70’s in period.  And so with there being no calendar clash between the opening rounds of the WEC and British GT in 2015 I found myself free to make a first visit to Thruxton on Easter Sunday for the HSCC revival meeting.

A packed schedule of races with a more than respectable start time lay in store for day 2 of the revival meeting with the Pre 66 touring car, Derek Bell Trophy and Guards Trophy events particular highlights.  The relaxed start to proceedings providing ample time to wander around the paddock for a closer look at some of the racing stars of yesteryear.

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The Derek Bell Trophy, aimed at the F2 and F5000 cars of the 70’s saw the Lyons family responsible for 3 of the brutish open wheel delights.  Unfortunately Michael’s Gurney Eagle was not fit to take part in the event, however the HSCC were as brilliantly accomodating as ever and allowed him a run the family owned 1977 Hesketh 308e F1 car instead; oh what a shame (Said no one!)

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It was an absolute pleasure to witness Lyons thrash the 3 litre V8 Cosworth powered machine around the Hampshire track; the huge rear wheels from the period providing massive amounts of grip, which combined with the raw grunt of the Cosworth engine allowed some of the fastest laps in years to be recorded.  As a comparison Lyons managed a 1:07.648 in Saturday’s race whereas the pole lap for the 2015 BTCC meeting was a 1:16.785!

Much debate surrounds the current F1 engines with many wanting a return to V8 power.  Whilst it would be nice to increase the decibel level the scream of the ‘glued to the track’ 2013 V8 formula 1 cars is dull in comparison to this late 70’s Cosworth.

On the day no other car was a match for the Penthouse liveried machine leaving Lyons, the master of historic F1 racing, to take a commanding 49 second victory over the Historic Formula 2 machine of Richard Evans and the Classic Clubmans specification Mallock of Mark Charteris.

The Historic Touring Cars always provide high quality entertainment; the traditional pose of a Lotus Cortina, Austin Mini or BMW 1800Ti being backed into a corner, almost Moto GP like, is something that is rarely seen in modern aero driven racing.  As it was Tim Davies, in his Lotus Cortina, was the class of the field; the Welshman managing to eek out an early lead before going on to take victory by a margin of 8.5 seconds at the chequered flag.  This may not have been the largest field of Touring Cars but the fast flowing nature of the circuit allowed them to be seen at their sideways best.

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The Guards Trophy runners were split between the GT and Prototypes for the Thruxton meeting.  With the GT cars taking to the track the day before, Easter Sunday visitors were treated to a diverse grid of cars including the fabulous McLaren M1B and several Chevron B8’s.  On the day the nimble 2 litre Chevrons were no match for the Mighty M1B nor the Lenham Spider of Stuart and George Tizzard and while the Tizzards headed for the second step of the podium it was the Bill Coombs / Chris Drake driven McLaren which went on to claim a commanding 28 second victory.

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Elsewhere,  Callum Grant made a late charge to claim Historic FF2000 victory, while Ben Mitchell was able to break away from the field to register a relatively comfortable Historic Formula Ford win. Ian Pearson stood on the top step of the Classic F3 podium while the busy Mark Charteris pedalled his Mallock to victory in the Classic Clubmans race after earlier registering third position in the Derek Bell Trophy.  Meanwhile the 70’s Roadsports race had it all with eventual winner James Dean, in his Lotus Europa, passing the majority of the field to claim victory after an early spin at the Club Chicane; an effort which was warmly appreciated by the knowledgable crowd.

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In just over 2 hours, with the glorious sound of the Hesketh F1 car still rattling around in my head, I was back home and contemplating my next slice of the historic racing action.  The Zandvoort Historic Grand Prix is now a firm entry in my diary and calendar clash permitting I hope to be back at Thruxton in 2016!

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Fast forward 1 month and it was the 2.5 hour ‘1000km’ race for the 1964-71 World Sportscar Championship machines at the Donington Historic Festival which caught my eye; the jewel in the crown of my third visit to the 3 day bank holiday weekend event.

Weatherwise, a bitterly cold wind and low temperatures more akin to March than May was not kind to the opening day spectators.  However the variety of machinery both on display and taking on the fast undulating Donington Park National Circuit was more than enough to keep the moderate crowd entertained.

Unfortunately what had been light rain fall prior to the race start intensified as the cars readied themselves for the green flag; leaving the two Lola T70’s of Chris Ward (#9) and Leo Voyazides (#1), who had qualified on the front row of the grid, facing the daunting task of manhandling their huge Chevy engined prototypes around the damp opening lap.

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And after successfully keeping them on the track, it was Chris Ward who managed to build a steady lead over the similar car of Voyazides, with Andrew Kirkaldy third, making a nuisance of himself in the #4 Chevron B8; the smaller engined car being much quicker through the corners but losing out on the long straights.

Further back Anthony Reid and Olly Bryant in their respective McLaren M1C and Lola T70 were making headway after conservative starts; both starting from the back of the grid having not appeared in the earlier qualifying session.  Bryant however was soon on terms with Kirkaldy and Voyazides, passing both at Hollywood before running into car problems coming out of the Old Hairpin; A sticky throttle not what you need in these conditions!  A safety car was required to remove the stricken Lola T70 from the outside of the Schwantz Curve which somewhat nullified the lead built by Ward.

Both leading Lola’s took advantage of the safety car however and made their first of 2 required pitstops; Simon Hadfield taking charge of the #1 Lola and Ward staying aboard the #9.  And so there was little between the cars as the track returned to green with Hadfield fancying his chances of taking the lead.  A spin exiting the Old Hairpin 2 laps later somewhat hampered his progress though leaving the white Lola some 30 seconds adrift.

Nevertheless Hadfield was soon into a rhythm and whilst finding it difficult to eat into Chris Ward’s lead initially, he had managed to cut the gap to 15 seconds by the time the leader made his second pit stop on lap 58.  In fact Hadfield was now flying on the drying track, so much so that Paul Gibson, now in the #9 Lola, dropped two laps back, albeit with the #1 T70 owing a final stop.

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Indeed Hadfield made his final stop on lap 79, with Leo Voyazides climbing back behind the wheel, but such had been Hadfield’s pace in comparison to Gibson that the #1 T70 emerged from pit lane with an almost 1 lap lead over the similar pole sitting car.  But the tables were to turn again with Gibson now having the edge in pace over Leo Voyazides; quickly turning a 1 minute 19 second deficit on lap 80 into a 30 second gap by lap 95 and a less than 3 second margin as they entered lap 102.  And amazingly it was Gibson who was in the lead of the race by the end of the lap.

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However Gibson was not able to break the tow and with just a few laps remaining the Greek driver was back on terms and making a move down the outside of the Craner Curves; a move which unfortunately would not pay off, sending the glorious T70 heading for a rather large off and allowing Gibson and Ward to claim the ‘1000km’ race victory.  A somewhat disappointing way to end proceedings but if you ever thought historic racing was merely a demonstration then think again!  Watching these incredible machines power sliding around McLeans in the drying conditions was further proof if needed!

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Yes the weather may have been poor but the event still delivered; the group B rally car and F1 demonstration runs adding further value to the many millions of pounds worth of automotive machinery on display.  I will definitely be back at the Leicestershire track for the Masters Meeting in early July on the fantastic Grand Prix circuit.

Before then though it is the back to the British Historic Rally Championship at the end of May with the Severn Valley Stages followed by the Legends support race at Le Mans in June and the Wolds Trophy HSCC meeting at the awesome Cadwell Park.  Stay tuned for coverage ….

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For JPEGS or any other enquiries please get in touch via paul.commons@yahoo.co.uk

All images © Paul Commons (Paul Commons Motorsport Photography)

 

 

The Old and The New

Having decided against the long trip up north for the Pirelli International rally, a visit to both the Donington Historic Festival and Rockingham’s round of the British GT championship was in order for the May Day bank holiday weekend.

The Donington Historic Festival runs over three days, however it was the Sunday schedule that caught my eye, in part due to the last race of the day being the FIA Masters Historic Sportscar race.  A grid full of classic 60’s and 70’s Le Mans racers made it worth the trip alone.

Arriving at the circuit early gave us plenty of time to look around the multi million pound paddock before heading out around the track.  With the sun starting to appear from behind the clouds It looked like being a great day to show off these stunning machines.

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There were some very well turned out cars on display in the HTCC Touring car race …..

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….. however the first event that particularly caught my attention was the RAC Woodcote Trophy for the pre-56 Sportscars.  The iconic fin of the D type Jaguar makes it one of my favourite Le Mans winners from the past and this 60 minute event contained a couple of well driven examples.

Regular historic pilot Gary Pearson was actually entered in 2 of them which paid dividends when the #7 went out early on.  Fortunately he was able to get back to the pits, take over from Carlos Monteverde in the white #5 and claim second spot on the podium!

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However this formidable pairing could not keep up with the very fast Cooper T38 of Fred Wakeman and Patrick Blakeney-Edwards who claimed the victory by more than 12 seconds.

Some of the best sounding cars of the day were the 2 litre Sportscars in the HSCC Martini Trophy where ex BTCC racer Ian Flux put in a stonking drive from the back of the grid to take a magnificent victory.  Driving the Osella PA3 he didn’t have it all his own way as once getting to the front he was re-passed by the similarly rapid Lola T210 of David Gathercole.  It was looking difficult to pick the eventual winner but unfortunately Gathercole pushed slightly too hard through McLean’s on lap 19, losing the back end and becoming beached in the unforgiving Donington gravel.

The Pre-66 Under 2 litre Touring Car race was yet another highlight with a field full of MK1 Cortina’s, BMW T1800’s, Minis and even the odd Alfa.

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It was in fact the Alfa Sprint GTA of Andrew and Max Banks who would eventually get the better of Jackie Oliver and Richard Shaw’s T1800.  The ex Le Mans winner did take an early lead but could not keep the rapid Alfa crew behind for long.  It was a pleasure to watch these machines being man handled around the track; the way they are thrown into the corners with masses of opposite lock is a sight not often seen in modern-day racing.

With the light starting to fade, it was time for the FIA Masters Historic Sportscar race.  I absolutely love the fact that the main event was held at this time of day as there is just something about watching racing in the late evening sunshine.

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The throaty roar as the green flag was dropped was phenomenal, bettered only by the sound of a full field of endurance legends, headed up by no less than 7 Lola T70’s, disappearing down the infamous Craner Curves;  Oh to have witnessed these at Le Mans in period.

In actual fact the race didn’t turn out to be that close as ex British GT racer Oliver Bryant showed his class by taking victory by more than a lap in the #14 T70.

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But who cares!  The sight of these 5 Litre Chevy engined powerhouses lapping traffic around the undulating tarmac of Leicestershire’s famous circuit was just fantastic.  My ears were still ringing by the time I was back at base with a beer in hand.  This had been one of the best days racing in a long time.

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A day of modern racing was in order on Bank Holiday Monday with my first ever trip to Rockingham Motor Speedway.  And with the circuit little over an hour away I can’t believe I had never visited before.

The sheer size of the 52,000 seater American Style oval becomes apparent as you arrive; more like a football stadium than a race track.  But what I like most about the place is that it was obviously put together with the fan in mind as the access is second to none.  Silverstone could definitely do with a Rockingham style underground tunnel and being able to watch a race from the top of the pit garages is just great; an experience I had only previously witnessed at Spa.

In fact the only negative of the day was the lack of interest in the support races with the once formidable British F3 championship attracting just 7 entries and disappointingly only 6 cars making the start of the 1 hour Aston Martin GT4 event!

However, the British GT race was the main reason for being there and with 29 cars on the grid it promised to be 2 hours to remember.  The spacious pit walk prior to the race allowed a closer look at both the cars and drivers as the pre-race excitement started to build.

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Marco Attard and Works BMW driver Alexander Sims had carried on their Oulton form by taking a comfortable pole position in the Ecurie Ecosse Z4.  They would start the race as clear favourites for victory and Marco Attard was able to get away in the lead from the off.  Derek Johnston in a similar Z4 would soon get by Mark Patterson’s United Autosports Audi R8 to take second with 2013 champion Andrew Howard following suit in the Aston.

Sir Chris Hoy had made a wild start to the race by ‘out-braking’ himself heading into Deene on the first lap and being lucky to get away with a brush with the wall.  His pace is there for all to see however, and I am pretty sure it won’t be long before he is running much closer to the front.

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Inevitably it wasn’t long before a safety car was required to recover Tania Mann’s Ginetta.  Much of Attard’s early effort to build a lead had therefore been negated as the race returned to green flag conditions.  Soon after the pit window opened and the majority of the contenders for victory pitted with the Ecurie Ecosse BMW’s lead not being of the necessary margin to cope with the Oulton Park success penalty.  Sims would therefore rejoin in fifth behind, the yet to pit, Gary Eastwood’s Ferrari, the similar machine of Richard Lyons and the two Triple 8 Z4’s of Luke Hines and Joe Osborne.

Eastwood staying out in the FF Corse Ferrari turned out to be either a master stroke or, more likely, a lucky break as a second safety car was required to remove John Gaw’s Aston and Morten Don’s Ginetta.  This allowed the Ferrari crew to get Rob Barff strapped in and leave pit road with a 40 second lead over the rest of the field.  Even a drive through for exiting the pit lane while the red light was showing could not stop them taking an 18 second victory.

Behind, Alexander Sims was showing everyone why he was not only the 2008 McLaren Autosport BRDC award winner but also why he is now a factory BMW driver.  He was soon up to second with the pass to take this position being absolutely breathtaking; taking advantage of a backmarker and coming from way back to slip down the inside of Lyons on the entry to Deene.  A pleasure to watch from my now grandstand vantage point.

Other than a close battle between the triple 888 Z4’s, which saw Joe Osborne take a trip across the gravel, not a lot else happened throughout the remaining 40 minutes of the race.  This left Richard Lyons to take third place on the road only to be later handed a ten second penalty for driving standards when Pasin Lathouras was at the wheel.  This would drop them to 7th but promote Luke Hines and Derek Johnston to the final step of the podium.  Behind them Tom Onslow-Cole put in a stellar performance to take 4th in the Strata 21 Aston ahead of the similar machine of Andrew Howard and Jonny Adam.  Adam doing a great job in a damaged car.

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Having started on the back row, and being given an early drive through for overtaking under yellow flags, John Dhillon and Aaron Scott put in a great a drive to claim 8th overall in the second AF Corse Ferrari 458.

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The all new Generation Racing Bentley of  Steve Tandy and James Appleby struggled at Rockingham and ended up a lap down in 14th place.  It is however great to see this huge car in British GT and hopefully it will be nearer the sharper end of the grid as the season progresses.

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All this leaves Alexander Sims and Marco Attard sitting pretty at the top of the championship points table.  And with Marco Attard being one of the quicker “Am” drivers this surely now makes them the clear favourites for the 2014 crown …

Full British GT results: Here

Next up it is back to Silverstone for the Blancpain Endurance Series.  I will be cheering on the very British Works Bentleys who will be looking to build on a strong performance at the Monza season opener.