The 2017 running of the Donington Historic Festival also coincided with the 40th anniversary of Donington Park’s re-opening, and fittingly over 450 classic motor racing machines, many with a rich sporting history, had been attracted to the 7th running of the event. The Leicestershire circuit was in great shape too; now properly re-grassed and landscaped following the F1 debacle, the infield is at last fully open to the public. And with the infield bankings providing some of the best spectator viewing in the UK there really was no better place to take in the weekend’s 19 races.
Saturday’s schedule included 10 of the aforementioned races and Historic racing ace, Chris Ward would amazingly find himself standing on the podium’s top step on 3 occasions! The first of which would come alongside Touring Car Legend, Steve Soper, in the Bastos livieried Rover Vitesse. But having qualified the British built machine on pole for the 1 hour long Historic Touring Car Challenge, Ward instead jumped into the TWR Jaguar XJ8. And whilst Soper developed an early lead, Ward set about bringing the big cat towards the front, leading to suggestions that the versatile JD Classics man could in fact appear on the podium twice! ECU issues would unfortunately negate that prospect but once Ward was aboard the Rover there was only ever going to be one winner; the pairing going on to record a dominant 36 second victory.
A second success would soon follow, this time aboard the stunning Lister Costin in the Stirling Moss Trophy race for Pre-61 Sportscars; a race win which in many respects was his toughest of the day. In what effectively became a two horse race, Will Nuthall, in a Lister Knobbly, would sit in the wheel tracks of Ward’s Costin bodied machine for almost the entirety of the one hour race. However the healthy crowd were robbed of a close finish when Nuthall was dealt a late double blow; first, a one minute time penalty for a late decision to drive solo, and second, by hitting car trouble on the very last lap. Such was the dominance of the leading two Listers however that Nuthall was still classified in second!
Ward was then at it again in Saturday’s final race of the day; the ex-Silverstone Chief Instructor once again joining Paul Gibson in his continuation Lola T70 MK3 for the 90 minute ‘1000km’ race for pre-73 prototypes. Whilst the entry was a little on the disappointing side it was more than made up for in terms of quality and the early running was made by the 3 T70 MK3s in the field; Paul Gibson ahead of Leo Voyazides and Chris Beighton.
By lap 29, both Gibson and Voyazides had handed over their respective machines to Chris Ward and Simon Hadfield, with a quicker pit stop for the latter allowing Hadfield to emerge in front. Ward however was driving like a man possessed and with lap times consistently below the 1.11 marker, was quickly on the tail of Hadfield and into the lead once Beighton had pitted for Greensall on lap 38. Hadfield is reknowned for his pace in historic machinery but even he could not match the low 1.08s Ward was achieving in clean air, leaving Gibson and Ward to claim victory for the third time in as many years. What a day this had been for the one time Nissan man!
Once again Touring Cars from latter half of the twentieth century would feature heavily at this years festival and as a result stars such as the aforementioned Steve Soper, Colin Turkington, Adam Morgan, Patrick Watts and Andrew Jordan were all set to compete.
In fact, prior to his success in the Historic Touring Car Challenge, Soper had taken the brand new Team Dynamics built Lotus Cortina to second in the first of two races for pre-66 under 2 litre Touring Cars. Traditionally the Cortina’s have been no match for the Andrew and Max Banks piloted Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint and even the touring car expertise of Soper could not reverse the fortunes of the popular Ford machine. As it was the pole sitting Alfa duo were never troubled as they went on to record a 23 second victory. Soper meanwhile had to fight his way passed the similar Lotus Cortina’s of Andy Wolfe and Oscar Rovelli after a slow pit stop to claim second, while Rovelli went on to snatch third from Wolfe on the finish line!
Sunday’s second race may well have had a similar outcome, in that Andrew and Max Banks recorded yet another victory, however the Cortinas appeared much more competitive on this occasion. In fact Soper almost made it into the lead at Goddards on lap 2 but would fall back into the clutches of fellow Cortina man, Andy Wolfe after running wide.
A mid race safety car would however allow both Cortina drivers another shot at the leading Alfa and Andy Wolfe would emerge as Banks’ closest challenger at the restart. But, an unsuccessful attempt for the lead around the outside of the chicane would ultimately allow Banks to escape to victory and Soper to close in and re-take second at Hollywood. Wolfe was far from finished though and the two Cortinas would swap positions on more than one occasion before Soper eventually claimed his second runner up spot in as many days.
Many of the under 2 litre machines would again take to the track for the final Touring Car race of the weekend, the HRDC ‘Coys’ Trophy; an event again catering for pre-66 machines but this time with no engine capacity restrictions. And whilst there was no sign of the Banks’ Alfa, the Lotus Cortina pilots would this time have to contend with brutish American muscle in the form Ford’s Falcon and Mustang models. And it was the pole sitting Ford Falcon in the hands of Jack Drury, fresh from his Donington HSCC HTC success earlier in the month, who would slip in front of Soper as the cars headed for the mandatory mid race pit stops.
Once complete there was nothing to choose between Drury and Soper and expectations were high for a great battle to the finish. Unfortunately the duel would be short lived however as both cars found themselves on the retirement list courtesy of a collision with a back marker at McLeans. This left another Cortina in the hands of David Tomlin to take victory from the similar machine of Graham Pattle and the Mustang of Mark Burton.
The Donington Historic Festival also played host to the opening two rounds of the 2017, HSCC organised, Super Touring Car Challenge and it was James Dodd who claimed a brace of commanding victories in his Honda Accord; beating the Alfa Romeo 150 STW of Neil Smith to top spot by 15 seconds in race 1 and the similar Accord of father Graeme by 41 seconds in race 2.
Meanwhile, Mike Jordan, paired with his 2013 BTCC champion son, Andrew, aboard the family run Austin ‘GT’40 recorded a dominant victory in the HRDC Pre-60 Touring Car race. Despite an early safety car period, the very rapid duo claimed victory by a mammoth 52 seconds over the Butterfield/Dorlin Jaguar MK1.
Whilst it was great to see so many touring cars at the festival it is ultimately the Sports and GT Cars that draw me back year after year. And pleasingly a jam packed field took to the track for Sunday morning’s 2 hour GT and Sports Car Cup for Pre-66 GT and Pre-63 Sportscars.
Last year Grahame and Oliver Bryant had claimed victory and it wasn’t long before Oliver Bryant had established a healthy lead over the chasing Cobra’s of Robert Bremner and Leo Voyazides and the E-type Jaguar of Carlos Monteverde. The rules for this race dictate a maximum of 50 minute stints and whilst Oliver Bryant escaped from the pack prior to the enforced stop, Grahame was unlikely to lap at the same speed. Hadfield and Pearson, subbing for Voyazides and Monteverde respectively meanwhile were the quicker drivers in their pairings and began to quickly close in on the leading Cobra.
A long safety car period, for oil at the chicane, would however dampen the race as a spectacle somewhat; enough time passing for the elder Bryant to be relieved of his duties under the caution period, allowing Bryant the younger to go on and take a comfortable 39 second victory. The battle behind was far less clear cut however. Whilst Hadfield had managed to keep Pearson behind, the positions were reversed soon after the second pitstops; the Voyazides Cobra dropping time and two positions with an excursion at McLeans. Thus ensuring the Monteverde/Pearson and Clark/McCaig E-types would round out the podium positions.
The Pre-War Sports Cars would make a welcome return in 2017 and Fred Wakeman and Patrick Blakeney-Edwards would quickly establish themselves as the class of the field; the duo going on to record victory by more than 1 lap in their Frazer Nash. However, the victory may well have been less dominant had fellow front row starter, Sam Stretton, not been forced into retirement in his Alta Sports after just 11 laps.
A day later, Wakeman and Blakeney-Edwards would claim a second victory in the RAC Woodcote Trophy race for Pre-56 Sportscars. Although Gary Pearson, in a Jaguar D-Typre, lead the opening stages of the race, Fred Wakeman in the Cooper T38 was able to get by at Hollywood on lap 7. And, with Pearson never re-emerging from his mandatory pitstop, Patrick Blakeney-Edwards was able to go on and record a comfortable victory of more than 1 lap. The battle for second was fascinating however. Lying 8th after the mid race pit stops, Simon Hadfield stormed through the field in the Wolfgang Friedrichs Aston Martin DB3S to grab second with just 4 laps remaining!
E-types of various body styles filled the majority of the grid positions in the Jaguar Classic Challenge race and it was Gary Pearson and Ben Short who would battle it out for the lead over the opening stages of the race. It would have taken some drive to beat Pearson in equal machinery however and as it was the Jaguar expert was able to break away in traffic; eventually taking race victory by 14 seconds.
There was also a nice blend of single seater action across the weekend and a whopping 25 cars made the start of the opening FIA sanctioned Historic Formula 2 race. Richard Evans had previously claimed pole position by a huge 1.5 seconds in his March 742 and expectation was that he would dominate proceedings in the race. And whilst a poor start left him fourth behind Mark Dwyer, Daniel Gibson and Frazer Gibney, Evans would find himself at the head of the field by lap 10. But this appeared to be a race that no-one wanted to win as first Evans and then Dwyer were forced into retirement; the latter pulling off at Redgate with just three laps remaining to leave the way clear for Frazer Gibney to take the most unlikely of victories.
The opening laps of race 2 proved highly entertaining as the rapidly driven cars of Richard Evans, Mark Dwyer and Daniel Gibson all cruised through the field; the grid having been set from the results of race 1. In fact, such was their pace that by lap 4, Evans, Dwyer and Gibson held the top 3 positions. But whilst Gibson would again find his Chevron B42 condemned to the retirements list, Evans and Dwyer would, on this occasion, go on to claim the top two steps of the podium, despite the latter suffering from a broken exhaust. Behind, after a brilliant second in race 1, Robert Simac in his Class A March 712M would put in another superb drive to round out the podium positions.
Elsewhere, John Sykes claimed a double victory in the races for pre-61 Front Engined Formula Junior cars. The Merlyn MK2 pilot twice getting the better of the Justin Fleming and Robin Longdon piloted Lola MK2’s to record the narrowest of victory margins.
Meanwhile James Murray in his Lola MK5A claimed the first Pre-64 Rear Engined Formula Junior race and John Fyda in his Brabham BT6 claimed the second in what was the final event of an excellent weekend of racing.
What is there not to love about the Donington Historic Festival? The Coppice tunnel closure and the lack of transmission on 87.7FM for much of Saturday morning were small negatives but these were far outweighted by great racing, fantastic displays (including the ’88 Le mans winning XJR9), and a knowledgeable and enthusiastic commentary pairing. I am already looking forward to 2018!
All images © Paul Commons (Paul Commons Motorsport Photography)