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JD Classics’ Cooper T33, Woodcote Trophy (photo: John Retter)
JD Classics’ Cooper T33, Woodcote Trophy (photo: John Retter)

Donington Historic Festival 2015 – Report and Photos

The Donington Historic Festival 2015 was held 2-4 May at the 11-turn, 1.979-mile Donington Park in Leicestershire, England. The 5th annual event staged near Castle Donington was home to a motorsport nostalgia-fest, as this year’s Festival unleashed the sights, sounds and smells of over 400 historic racing cars dating from the 1990s back to the 1920s.

The nostalgic element was further strengthened by the presence of hundreds of classic cars in the infield and by the historic rally cars and karts which put on a storming display on the Melbourne Loop. Anyone standing in the middle of the race paddock could enjoy with one ear the sound of racing cars on track and, with the other ear, the noise of rally car tyres squealing on the Loop. At lunchtime, the air around the track crackled with unmistakable engine notes as Formula 1 cars from the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s – including an ex-Ayrton Senna Toleman and an ex-Schumacher Benetton – circled the track.

The variety and quality of the cars, drivers and grids were strong at Donington Historic Festival 2015. Single-seater fans certainly had nothing to complain about, with some 70 Formula Juniors providing enormous entertainment split across front-engined and rear-engined grids in the FJHRA Silverline series. Will Mitcham won both of the front-engined races in a U2Mk2, and it was also double victory for Sam Wilson in the rear-engined races in a Lotus 20/22.

The HSCC Historic Formula 2s had two superb races, with Darwin Smith scoring a double victory in a March 722, while the HGPCA’s combined grid of pre-War to 1966 Grand Prix, Voiturette and Formula 1 cars bought pace and beauty to the weekend. Cars from the 1920s to the 1960s were all out together, including Stephen Bond’s Lotus 18, the car that Stirling Moss drove to victory in the 1961 Monaco Grand Prix. Another Lotus 18 – driven by Peter Horsman – took victory on the Saturday, while Jon Fairley moved up a place from his second position on Saturday to take victory in his Brabham BT11 on Sunday.

There were Touring Cars everywhere, with the tiny ‘tin-tops’ that formed part of the HRDC Touring Greats grid stealing the hearts of many Donington Historic Festival 2015 visitors. ‘Bluebell’ the Morris Minor was joined by a host of other nippy little machines, including a VW Beetle, Hillman Imp and Austin A35, all jostling for position against considerably bigger cars. And it was another little’un – the Austin A40 of present-day BTCC driver Andrew Jordan and his father Mike – that took the chequered flag. In the HRDC History of the BTCC 1958 -1966 race, size and power came to the fore, with the Ford Mustang of Michael Whitaker and Eugene O’Brien beating Mike Gardiner and Niki Faulkner’s Ford Falcon by over 20 seconds.

The HSCC’s Super Touring Car Trophy made its Donington Historic Festival debut, with a colourful array of cars whose livery was a reminder of the explosion of sponsors’ logos and paint schemes of the period. This was a two-race battle between Patrick Watts and Stewart Whyte, with Watts’ Peugeot 406 taking one first place and Whyte’s Honda Accord the other.

The Historic Touring Car Challenge saw the Ford Capri owners out in the infield club stands cheering as the Capris of Steve Dance and Tom Pochciol took the top two spots, with Patrick Watts (again) and Nick Swift bringing the MG Metro Turbo that Watts raced in period into third. Touring Car ace Steve Soper was another big name from the past, sharing the Rover TWR Vitesse with John Young.

Ex-Formula 1 driver Jackie Oliver shared a BMW 1800 Ti/SA with Richard Shaw in the U2TC race, taking second place behind the Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint GTA of Andrew and Max Banks, with a quintet of Ford Cortinas (four Lotus Cortinas and a Consul Cortina) in hot pursuit.

The weather did its best to make things even more interesting on the Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning, with rain and cold wind causing many a spectator to remind themselves that they were there for the love of the sport. Saturday evening’s 1000 km ‘mini-enduro’ saw a grid of World Sportscar Championship cars such as Lola T70s, Ford GT40s and no less than 11 Chevrons race into the dusk on a decidedly slippery track. The Broadley Lola T70 3B of Chris Ward and Paul Gibson took the chequered flag after 150 exhilarating minutes.

Blue skies set in from Sunday afternoon onwards, and the remarkable array of racing machinery in the Donington Park Paddock basked in the sunshine, allowing the crowds to get those all-important photographs. And there was plenty to photograph, including some stunning sports and GT cars. The GT and Sports Car Cup was another series making its DHF debut, and it presented a line-up that included Austin-Healeys, Morgans, Aston Martins, Jaguars, TVRs and AC Cobras. Leo Voyazides and Simon Hadfield drove their AC Cobra Daytona Coupe to victory.

The Festival saw the first-ever round of the new HSCC Jaguar Heritage Challenge, with a Jaguar Heritage display in the paddock enhanced by a line-up of ‘caged cats’ including C, D and E-types, XK120s and 150s and a trio of Mk1s in the adjacent parc fermé. E-types took the top 10 spots, with Martin O’Connell and 2005 British GT Champion Andrew Kirkaldy bring their E home in first place against a field that included 1988 Le Mans winner Andy Wallace in a 1957 Mk 1.

Jaguars featured again in the Royal Automobile Club Woodcote Trophy race for pre-1956 sports cars, with the D-type of Carlos Monteverde and Gary Pearson finishing second behind the dominant Cooper T38 of Fred Wakeman and Patrick Blakeney-Edwards. JD Classics’ entered its Cooper T33, which put in a brilliant qualifying time to take pole position more than six-tenths of a second ahead of the Aston Martin DB3S sitting in second. While sitting comfortably in the lead – and having posted a fastest lap of the race – the occasional puff of smoke in the corners hinted at a mechanical problem. With the car in the pits, the team were forced to retire the Cooper T33 with a head gasket failure.

The Wakeman/Blakeney-Edwards combo also reigned supreme in the ‘Mad Jack’ race for Pre-War Sports Cars, their Frazer Nash Super Sports beating Richard Pilkington’s Talbot T26 SS for the chequered flag.

It was a Lister one-two in the Stirling Moss Trophy for pre-1961 sports cars, with the Knobbly of British GT Championship driver Jon Minshaw and Phil Keen beating Chris Ward’s Costin Lister to the top spot. A slight misfire prevented a higher qualifying position for Ward but with the car running smoothly for the race, the Costin Lister was in the lead by lap six, having posted the fastest lap of the race. With a time penalty for using just a single driver and a driver mistake while chasing the leader, the Costin eventually finished second.

Donington Historic Festival Founder Duncan Wiltshire said, “It’s been another fantastic event. I think this might have been our strongest-yet mix of grids, and introducing the new element with the displays in the Exhibition Centre has given us something to build on for future years. Perhaps the best thing is to see the smiles on the faces of spectators and competitors as they leave – Donington Park is an outstanding race circuit, and we are privileged to be able to stage this event here each year.”

Donington Historic Festival 2015 – Photo Gallery (click image for larger picture)

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[Source: Donington Historic Festival, JD Classics; photos: Jeff Bloxham, John Retter]