It seemed a long time coming…whilst only a fortnight since the Masters Historic Racing series brought a weekend of historic action to the Leicestershire circuit, the perennially popular Donington Historic Festival had not been able to welcome fans to the stands for three long years.
Now in it’s eleventh year of running, the Donington Historic Festival has firmly established itself on the UK historic racing calendar, the undulating, quick ribbon of tarmac that winds its way through the Leicestershire countryside, lends itself to classic motorsport wonderfully, with a delightful mix of cascading bends, fast straights and a tight final chicane, not offering advantage to any particular type of car within the grids, which makes for the excellent spectacle of close racing through mixed fields.
Morning sunlight reflects off the wheel arch of a Silk Cut Jaguar.
Return of the icons
The undoubted highlight of the card was the return of Group C sportscars to the UK. Having not raced competitively since the Silverstone Classic a number of years ago, the iconic endurance cars of the 1980s and early 1990s had left a huge void in the higher echelons of classic motorsport events in the UK.
As somewhat of a taster, the recent Goodwood Member’s Meeting had seen a wonderful turnout of Porsche 956 and 962s as one of the demonstration runs, but the tooth and nail competitive racing, for which these cars were bred, was reserved for Donington. Under the expert orchestration of Duncan Hamilton ROFGO, a dazzling array of sports cars were presented, with a huge crowd presence around their preparation area in the paddocks all weekend.
Two Silk Cut Jaguars descend towards the Craner Curves
One might presume that there would be an air of caution, from the drivers tasked with manhandling these machines around Donington, but this assumption could not be further from the truth. Anyone fortunate enough to be in the stands on Saturday, was treated to a remarkable spectacle of a race, as the ex Paul Newman Spice SE89P in the hands of Rob Huff, was relentlessly hunted down by a pair of V12 powered Silk Cut Jaguars.
It would be hard to imagine a race more befitting of the 40th anniversary of the inception of Group C, with a cacophony of battling engines, punctuated with frenzied belching of flames delighting all those with their faces pressed up against the fences, intently watching the pursuit. Race one was to see Huff hold strong to take the win, the Jaguar XKR-9 of British GT ace Phil Keen succumbing to a mechanical failure on the penultimate lap, whilst the hard charging Andrew Bentley in the XKR-8 trailed Huff over the line by 0.8s as the chequered flag fell.
The Lola T92/10 fights with the Spice SE89P ahead of a Silk Cut Jaguar, as the cars climb up to Mcleans
Race two on the Sunday saw a slight reduction in numbers taking the grid, with the added complication of light rain falling on the track. Unperturbed by the track conditions, Bentley in the XKR-8 excelled in the conditions, despite the best attempts of David Hart in the Lola T92/10, with the 3.5 litre, V10 Judd engine providing a soundtrack which served as one of the most evocative reminders of this golden era of sports car racing.
Close racing throughout the Group C1 field provided an awesome spectacle.
The ‘Mad-Jack’ saw 1920’s and 30s machines battle in a 45 minute race for these cars which raced in period at Donington Park. There’s always a beauty in the authenticity of these races, where in certain cases, cars return to their former glory around the very same corners they would have navigated almost 100 years ago.
The Frazer Nash of Wakeman & Blakeney Edwards took a closely contested pole, but retired after only 5 laps of the race, leaving the adept Gareth Burnett in the Alta Sports 2 litre to romp home, with a 50 second lead over the Alfa Romeo 8C of Lukas Halusa, Martin Halusa bringing the Bugatti 35B home in third.
Fighting for position at the start of the ‘Mad Jack’ race for pre-war Sports Cars
Ups and downs in the GT stakes
The proposed Amon Cup for Ford GT40s was unfortunately dropped from the timetable a few days before the event, due to a lack of entries. This however was balanced by the bumper entry for the three hour Pall Mall Cup, for Pre 1966 GT & Touring cars, Pre 1963 GT Cars and Pre 1961 Sports Cars. 37 cars completed qualifying, with the Jaguar E Type of Minshaw/Keen taking pole, narrowly edging out the formidable duo of Girardo/Cottingham in the Lister Jaguar Costin.
Whilst in the race, Girardo/Cottingham raced to an early lead, before a lengthy pit stop due to an ignition issue saw Keen/Minshaw race home to the flag, completing 113 laps over the three hours in their E-Type, with Chiles Sr/Chiles Jr taking second in their Shelby Cobra, ahead of the Cobra Daytona of Alderslade/Jordan.
Close fighting throughout the three hours of the Pall Mall Cup
Touring Car heroics.
Tintop racing is always highly regarded on these shores, represented well by the U2TC Sixties Touring Car Challenge, and Tony Dron Trophy for 70s & 80s Touring Cars. Ric Wood the toast of the field in the latter race, sending his fire breathing Nissan Skyline GT-R to the race win by a comfortable margin.
Ever exciting to watch, a raft of immaculate BMW E30 M3s, Ford Sierra RS500s and Capri 3100s jostled for position in a compelling and visually arresting one hour race.
Battle for the first corner in the Tony Dron Trophy
The Lotus Cortina was far and away the most popular choice for entry in the U2TC, with no less than thirteen taking to the grid. Breaking up this dominance at the sharp end, was a well pedalled Alfa Romeo GTA and the Mark One Escort of Richard Dutton.
Nail biting throughout, with just over three seconds separating the podium positions at the flag, the Hall/Pittard Cortina taking the race win, narrowly edging out the Cortina of Wolfe/Thomas and Dutton’s Escort.
A Lotus Cortina leads an Alfa Romeo GTA through Mcleans
A dominant Jaguar presence.
The remaining two races saw a showcase for the Jaguar marque, with the Jaguar Classic Challenge hosting 24 E-Types in their various configurations, battling over the course of an hour around the Leicestershire circuit. Danny Winstanley taking the victory, by a margin of 25 seconds over the Pearson/Brundle car.
A pack of Jaguar E Types fight for position as they enter McLeans
The Royal Automobile Club Woodcote Trophy, & Stirling Moss Trophy for pre-56 and pre-61 Sports Cars delivered one of the most aesthetically pleasing grids of the weekend, with a riot of sublime Lister Knobblys dominating the field ahead of head turning Lotus MkXs, Aston Martin DB2s, Coopers and Lotuses.
A splendid hour-long race concluded the proceedings on Saturday, the Lister of Spiers/Ward taking victory ahead of another Lister of Tony Wood, with the Lotus 15 of Nuttall/Hartogs claiming a hard fought third step on the podium.
Tony Wood in the sublime Lister Knobbly
A rapturous return for spectators to the Donington Historic Festival
After three long years, Donington finally welcomed back spectators to the Historic Festival, a sensory overload provided by grids filled with sensational historic cars, with the sublime addition of the Group C racing, and a cameo from a Battle of Britain flyover each day.
Hosting two historic events over the course of three weekends, whilst maintaining variety, and depth of entries is no mean feat, and kudos must be passed to the organisers, who once again delivered a wonderful festival of classic motorsport, putting beaming smiles onto the faces of the many spectators who gladly returned.