For the first time in three years, spectators were able to attend Donington Historic Festival and the grassy banks and grandstands of Donington Park were not only bathed in sunshine they were flanked by thousands of spectators who came to enjoy a fabulous weekend of historic racing.
Saturday saw Danny Winstanley keep the potent pairing of Gary Pearson and Alex Brundle at bay in the Jaguar Classic Challenge – a race dominated by E-types. Phil Keen had set a blistering lap to claim pole in Jon Minshaw’s 1964 car, three tenths of a second quicker than Pearson and Brundle. Winstanley moved ahead of Pearson/Brundle at the start but unfortunately Minshaw and Keen did not reappear after the pit stops due to an issue with their steering. Jonathan Mitchell was on the climb but his progress was thwarted by a safety car when two kissed at the bottom of the Craner Curves and a bonnet laid stricken on the track. Simon Hadfield closed in Joaquin Folch’s raider and claimed third at the chequer flag.
There was a resplendent return for U2TC for Pre-‘66 Under 2 Litre Touring Cars, the grid’s first ‘stand-alone’ race since 2019, the Sixties Touring Car Challenge for late ’60s cars being represented by Richard Dutton’s 1969 Mk 1 Escort. The grid was dominated by elegant Lotus Cortina’s, piloted by old stagers of the series and a host of GT drivers plus current BTCC driver, Josh Cook. Nurburgring Endurance Series Driver with Aston Martin, David Pittard was having his first run in a Lotus Cortina, this one owned by Graham Wilson who was unable to attend so Rob Hall took the seat which re-established the old rivalry of Hall vs former U2TC champion, Andy Wolfe. Pittard and Hall took pole a mere 0.18 tenths of a second (1:22:40) ahead of Wolfe who was sharing with Julian Thomas. In third place was Le Mans-winner, Guy Smith, enjoying the ultimate ‘dad and lad’ experience sharing a Lotus Cortina with his father Peter. The top four had all qualified on a tight 1 minute 22 seconds margin, the fourth being the Banks brothers on an ultra-competitive 1:22:94 in their Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint GTA.
The ensuing 60 minute race was a breath-taking display of U2TC in its brilliance with constant changes in lead, cars side by side into corners and dare devil overtaking manoeuvres. After the pit stops Rob Hall had to fight his way back towards the podium places and the last nine laps were dominated by a full bore battle between Julian Thomas in the Wolfe car and Hall. Hall threatened all the while before Thomas took a scary excursion across the grass – Pittard and Hall ultimately coming out on top ahead of Wolfe/Thomas and the Banks brothers in their Alfaholics GTA.
The crowds were awe-struck by the presence of Group C cars at Donington Park for the first time since the late 2000s with the C1 by Duncan Hamilton ROFGO for original factory Group C1 cars. Rob Huff turned pole into a victory in the Spice SE89P ahead of Andrew Bentley in an iconic Jaguar XJR-8.
To wrap up the day a capacity grid for the Royal Automobile Club Woodcote Trophy and Stirling Moss Trophy embarked upon a memorable 60 minute race. Gary Pearson and Alex Brundle had pole 6 tenths of a second (1:19:08) ahead of fellow Lister Jaguar Knobbly pairing John Spiers and Chris Ward (1:19:60). Fred Wakeman and Patrick Blakeney-Edwards had the Royal Automobile Club Woodcote Trophy sewn up with pole in the ever-competitive Cooper T38. Will Nuthall had an impressive start in Bernardo Hartogs Lotus 15 and was on the leaders’ heels. Brundle and Pearson incurred a drive-through penalty for a pit-stop infringement which demoted them from the lead. Nuthall had to pit to hand over to Hartogs and from that point Ward and Spiers had the race sewn up until it was cut short with ten minutes to go when Schneeberger’s Jaguar C-type made heavy contact with the tyre barrier at the chicane. Tony Wood had been on the march in his Lister Knobbly to claim second with Hartogs the first Lotus home in third place. In the overall top ten, Wakeman and Patrick Blakeney-Edwards also won the Royal Automobile Club Woodcote Trophy for Pre ’56 sports cars, Ben Eastick and Karl Jones second in the Jaguar D-type. Nigel Webb and John Young were right behind the Jaguar duo crossing the line, seven seconds behind in their Jaguar C-type to take third place.
Sunday morning dawned overcast as a huge grid of Pre-War Sports Cars roared out to qualify for the ‘Mad Jack’ Trophy. Fred Wakeman and Patrick Blakeney-Edwards set pole in the Frazer Nash TT Replica Supersport, three tenths of a second ahead of Gareth Burnett in the Alta Sports. Mechanical attrition saw Michael Birch fail to make the start in his Talbot AV105 and the Frazer Nash parked with five laps of the race to go leaving Burnett, who had the legs from the flag drop, to power into a dominating lead of almost a minute. Lukas Halusa treated us to a stunning display in the multiple Mille Miglia participating Alfa Romeo 8C Zagato, battling furiously with Fred Wakeman in the early stages. The Alfa is same marque that Richard ‘Mad Jack’ Shuttleworth drove to victory at Donington Park in 1935, Lukas came home in second place ahead of his father, Martin, in the 1927 San Sebastian Grand Prix winning Bugatti Type 35B. Sue Darbyshire was plucky as ever to bring her diminutive Morgan Super Aero three-wheeler home in fourth ahead of a trio of hard-fighting Bentleys.
The Historic Touring Car Challenge and Tony Dron Trophy for ’70s and ’80s touring cars was a spirited grid of noise and colour with evocative liveries from a golden era gleaming against the backdrop of the immaculate Donington Park estate. David Tomlin (Ford Sierra RS500) and Ric Wood (Nissan Skyline GT-R) were split by a mere two tenths of a second for pole, the latter with the advantage. Julian Bailey and Andy Middlehurst had also dialled into a 1 minute 12 second lap, six tenths of a second adrift of Tomlin for third. A trio of Ford Sierra RS500’s filled the slots to P6. James Slaughter managed to tag his Ford Capri to the back of the grid having failed in qualifying with an electrical problem. Ric Wood dominated the race, after David Tomlin pulled off on the first lap with a hub failure, ‘Godzilla’ was always in control with Middlehurst/Bailey and Garrard in close pursuit until forced to retire with a gear selector problem, a huge disappointment after his team made a frantic tyre change in the assembly area with minutes to go to the ‘off’ when he arrived to grid up with a puncture. Ric was 53.7 seconds ahead of last year’s victors Middlehurst and Bailey at the flag. Julian Thomas was best of the Ford Sierra RS500s home for third ahead of Sean and Daniel Brown. In the Tony Dron Trophy, Guy and Peter Smith were out again in their Ford Capri and were overjoyed to take the victory. James Thorpe and Sean McInerney were demoted to third place on the Chevrolet Camaro’s debut after a track limits infringement, promoting James Slaughter to second place after battling hard from the back of the grid.
Andrew Bentley won the second edition of the C1 by Duncan Hamilton ROFGO for original factory Group C1 cars in the Jaguar XKR-8 ahead of David Hart’s Lola R92/10 and local father and son, Mike and Mathew Wrigley in their thunderous Spice SE89P.
The best was arguably saved for last as the Donington Historic Festival 2022 reached a crescendo on Sunday afternoon with the three-hour Royal Automobile Club Pall Mall Cup for Pre ’66 GT and Touring Cars, Pre ’63 GT and Pre ’61 Sports Racing Cars. Qualifying was a thrilling 50 minutes with Jon Minshaw and Phil Keen (1961 Jaguar E-type) outrunning Max Girardo and James Cottingham (1959 Jaguar Lister Costin) for pole by only seven tenths of a second and a mere seven hundredths of a second behind them was the Shelby Daytona Cobra Coupe of Roy Alderslade and Andrew Jordan.
The endurance thriller was remarkably incident free with only two short safety car periods to recover stricken cars, the first of which, saw an early and, ultimately, decisive stop from Minshaw and Keen – always poised to regain the lead, which they achieved just over an hour later when Girardo and Cottingham’s Lister pitted. All the while the AC Cobras were on the march, six in the race in total. The dominating Hart Cobra was pushed into the garage to retire around the two-hour mark but the big snakes remained defiant and the Chiles – Senior and Junior – had a podium place in their sights. With ten minutes left on the clock, the race was halted after the Thorne/Bennett-Baggs Healey 100 dramatically beached itself into the gravel at Redgate with brake failure – deemed in too dangerous a location to be left. So the Chiles family Cobra secured the second step, with Roy Alderslade and Andrew Jordan’s Shelby Daytona Cobra Coupe home third ahead of Richard Cook/ Jason Baker / James Cottingham Shelby Cobra. Simon Evans and James Littlejohn were the first Lotus Elan home, their 26R edition fifth, the first of a further seven Lotus machines to complete the race.
However, the Royal Automobile Club Pall Mall Cup is a Team Race and the winning team at the conclusion was the Aston Martin influenced ‘Chequered Past’ of Wolfgang Friedrichs and Simon Hadfield in the Aston Martin Project DP214 with Nikolaus Ditting in his DB4 GT and bolstered by the Stephan Jöbstl/Philipp Buhoffer/George McDonald Lotus Elan 26R which finished 12th overall. They were presented with champagne and trophies from the Chairman of the Royal Automobile Club, Ben Cussons. Ben and co-driver David Clark won the admiration of the whole paddock for driving up from London in David’s Porsche 911, racing for three hours and then driving the car home again – Vintage Stuff!
The buzz has returned to Donington Historic Festival after the hiatus enforced by the pandemic, signalling a fantastic start to the Motor Racing Legends season. Thank you to everyone who helped make this such a successful meeting.
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