Postcard from the Donington Historic Festival 2018

I was delighted to be selected / win a pair of weekend passes to the 2018 Donington Historic Festival, thanks to the competition run by My Car Heaven. I attended the first Historic Festival and I also attended the event last year, but due to a few other events I had planned that required funding, I hadn’t made any plans to attend this year’s event, so winning the tickets was a very pleasant surprise that allowed me to attend the event that is so much fun.

Historic racing currently provides some of the best circuit racing, and often rivals or betters current / modern racing. Despite the cars being collector’s pieces and some of them are pretty much priceless, they are all driven hard and raced hard by their owners, some of whom are multi-millionaires who maybe dreamed of being racing drivers but chose a life and made their money in business. Historic racing gives them the opportunity to own and race some pretty exotic racing cars that have some serious race history and they get to live out their dream of being racing drivers. Of course they get to share the track with some ex professional racing drivers that have pretty much retired from front line motorsport careers but enjoy the opportunity to keep the fires burning and the skills honed by competing on the historic racing scene.

Now in its eighth year, the Historic festival boasts 19 races with some classes having 2 races during the weekend, but there are 14 different race grids over a day of qualifying on Friday and two race days on Saturday and Sunday.

Unfortunately I was not able to attend the Friday which is qualifying day due to having a season ticket for Wigan Rugby League and they were playing a home game on Friday evening, so I opted to set off nice and early on Saturday morning. I hit the road at 7 am and made the 110 mile journey and arrived at the track at 8.50 am in good time for the first race at 9.10 am.

For some of the journey I shared the road with a Triumph TR7 in full works rally colours, and this car was on display in the car club area at the event. Upon arrival at the track, the right hand lane into Donington was full of cars queuing for the infield entrance for the car club displays and the line included a lot of nice cars including vast array of Ford Mustangs. The left hand lane was for general parking outside so I got to slowly cruise by the right hand lane and admire the nice machinery in the right hand lane.

The sun was out and there was not a cloud in the beautiful blue sky, we were in for a hot day of top class historic racing.

First race of the day was the Silverline Front-engine Formula Juniors. On a personal level, I don’t really find the smaller class single seater cars very appealing to watch. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy looking at the these cars in the pits and paddock as the engineering on them is exquisite as each builder has found different ways to innovatively solve engineering problems within the limited space that they have to work with in the design on these neatly packaged chassis. However watching them on track just doesn’t really push my buttons, but I bet they are really good fun to drive though. Even so I paid attention to the race as the next door neighbour of a relative was competing in his Gemini chassis. The race saw a great battle for the lead between two cars at the front and Ray Mallock (The man behind RML who used to run the Vauxhall Touring Cars in the BTCC) who was just beaten to the flag by Christopher Drake in a polished aluminium bodied chassis that looked very much like a proper racing car.  Ray Mallock’s green car was probably the least aerodynamic looking car in the field, but was certainly fast and almost took the win. He made amends though in the second race on Sunday with a clear victory.

And speaking of the BTCC, the next race on the card was race 1 for the Super Touring Car Challenge for 1970 – 2005 Touring Cars which of course featured many cars or types that had raced in the BTCC during the era that I used to enjoy the BTCC, such as Audi A4 quattros, Honda Accords, BMW M3’s etc. The race also featured ex touring car star and 1989 and 1995 BTCC Champion John Cleland who was racing the very Vauxhall Vectra that he raced in the BTCC back in the day, John now owns the car which was prepared by Triple 8 in the BTCC in the late 90’s, he never won anything in the car back then and was hoping to get a win with it at Donington.  The Honda Accord of James Dodd led the race from the off and Cleland gave chase for the whole race and started to close the gap to the leader over the final 4 laps but came up just short at the end of the 20 minute race. I later asked John if he thought if he could have got him if he had had another lap. But John replied that James is a very good driver and that catching him was one thing, but passing him was another thing entirely. But John seemed happy enough with his second place finish. It was nice to see a big V8 Australian Holden Commodore in the race, a replica of Peter Brock and Larry Perkins Bathurst 100 winning car from 1983.

Next up was a 60 minute race for Pre 63 GT cars which would feature a mandatory pit stop and driver changes mid race. This was a wonderful grid of car’s of all shapes and sizes and different engine configurations.

The grid included many Jaguar E Types, Austin Healey 3000’s, an Aston Martin DB4, MG’s, Lotus’s, a Corvette, an AC Cobra which was in rough bare metal finish having had all its paint removed after it crashed into the tyre barriers heavily damaging all four corners of the car during a wet race at the Goodwood Revival meeting last September when driver Martin Hunt understeered off the track onto the wet grass and was simply a passenger as it slid towards the barriers. I spoke to the crew about the bare metal finish and was told that the owner can’t decide whether to leave it in the rough metal finish or have the car put back to its original red with white stripes paint work like it was before it was crashed at Goodwood. The car still had a small section of the red and white paint work on the boot lid around the Cobra badge to remind everyone of the original colour scheme.

Starting on pole for the race was the unusual and rare Ferrari 250 GT “Breadvan”, a one off car built and raced at Le Mans. This priceless car led for half of the race pretty much unchallenged until its suffered an electrical problem which started to smoke in the cockpit, so the driver elected to retire from the race rather than risk the priceless and historic Ferrari which is very much irreplaceable. This handed the lead over to the dark blue Aston Martin DB4 which held on the claim the win.

Next race on the card was the Derek Bell Trophy for Formula 2 and Formula 5000 cars and these were the noisiest cars on during the weekend and they sounded wonderful racing around the Donington circuit. Sadly not as big a grid as last year but there was a close race between Michael Lyons in the ex Vel Parnelli Jones Team Formula 5000 Lola T400 raced in period by Al Unser and the bright orange Formula 2 March 73A of Jamie Brashow. Michael won the race in the Lola but it was a close battle between the two.

The last race of the morning session before the lunch break was another 60 minute two driver race, the Historic Touring Car Challenge for the Tony Dron Trophy. This was one of the largest grids of the weekend with a full grid of cars, featuring some fantastic big touring cars, there were plenty of SD1 Rover Vitesse’s, Ford Capri’s including a Cologne version, several BMW’s including three 635i’s and a 3.0 CSL Batmobile.

Ex BTCC and touring car star Steve Soper was in action in this race sharing a Bastos sponsored SD1 Rover with Chris Ward and they brought the car home in third place in the race, they had to give chase to the two BMW M3 E30’s ahead of them with the win going to Nick and Harry Whale’s example.

There was now a 1 hour lunch break which included demonstration laps from three Formula 1 cars to celebrate 25 years since Aryton Senna won the European GP at the Donington circuit. There was a Nakajima Camel Lotus, a 1993 Benetton and a 1976 James Hunt McLaren Ford.

I took this opportunity of a break from the racing action to have a look around the paddock and pit garages to get a closer look at the wonderful machinery closer up. It is very much an open paddock atmosphere and you are pretty much welcome to walk into the garages and view the cars close up if you so wish. I took the opportunity to chat to the team running the Audi A4 quattro’s in the Super Touring class as he gave me a brief history of the chassis that Audi built. There were 41 cars built in total, the first 31 chassis being quattro’s and chassis 32 – 41 were built as 2WD cars after 4WD was banned. These were later converted to quattro’s and are the cars to have by all accounts. The three cars racing here at Donington are apparently the only 3 of the 41 chassis that are still raced regularly today.

The first race after the lunch break was a 40 minute race for the U2TC Trophy for pre 66 under 2 litre Touring cars, unfortunately I totally missed this race as I was still looking around the garages when it was on, but the race was won by Steve Soper driving a Ford Lotus Cortina.

Next up was a 60 minute race, The Royal Automobile Club Woodcote Trophy for pre 56 sportscars. Again I saw this race from one of the garages and got to see some of the pit stops and driver changes so only got a few photos from this race of the cars coming down the pitlane. The race was won by the driver pairing of Wakeman / Blakeney-Edwards driving at Cooper T38, the Maserati 250S of Wilson / Stretton came home in second place ahead of Carlos Monteverde and Gary Pearson in a D Type Jaguar in third

After brief look at some of the car club displays near the tunnel area, my friend and I walked over to the Craner Curves and found a picnic table to sit at whilst we ate our lunch and casually watched the Silverline Rear- Engine Formula Junior race taking place in front of us.

There were now two races left in the afternoon. First up the 45 minute race for HRDC “Touring Greats” for pre 60 Touring cars, and this featured Austin A35’s, Austin A45’s, Volvo’s, Morris Minors, Alfa Romeo’s even an Australian BMC Austin which was nice to see.

As expected though, the race was dominated by BTCC superstar Andrew Jordan and his dad Mike Jordan driving their very well prepared and very fast Austin A45.

The final race of the day was a 1 hour race for the Jaguar Classic Challenge for pre 66 Jaguar cars. This also had a big grid of cars featuring everything from MK1’s, XK150S’s, MK2’s, a D –Type and a vast array of E Type’s in both coupe and hard top form including some rather priceless lightweights and low drag coupes.

These were a joy to watch as they slid their way through the Esses on full power with the tail hanging out.

The race was won by the driver combination of Thomas / Callum Lockie in the No.92, silver Low Drag Coupe E Type, with Benjamin Short in second place in the No.145 E Type and Gary Pearson and J Pearson coming home third also in an E Type.

It was at this point as I was heading for the exit to leave that I discovered just how warm and sunny it had been during the day and I had caught the sun as I had not got any sun block with me. Not burnt yet but getting close and the forecast was for an even hotter day on Sunday which only added to my dilemma.

I had an invite to a racing mechanic friend’s 50th Birthday party on Saturday evening 90 miles up the M1 in Bradford. Did I stay at Donington, get some food, buy some sun block and then spend the night on an airbed in the back of my car and be onsite ready for racing on Sunday morning. Or do I travel up to the party, then drive back to Donington again after the party to watch Sunday’s racing. Oh one other thing, I would have to leave by 4 pm at the latest to make the 110 mile drive back home and hope I didn’t encounter any traffic problems as I was rostered on at work on Sunday evening at 7.20pm for a 12 hour night shift.

I had planned to go to the party and come back again for Sunday and then go into work afterwards, however by the time I reached Bradford which was a 1 hour 45 minute drive thanks to the new average cameras on the M1 restricting my speed to 70 mph, I was already feeling very sleepy from my day in the hot sun.

As you get older, you also get wiser and sadly my head ruled my heart and I decided it was for the best to travel the 60 miles back to home after the party rather than drive the 90 miles back to Donington whilst tired. Get a proper night’s sleep in my own bed and have a day’s rest before starting my nightshift, rather than another day getting burnt in the hot sun and then chancing bank holiday traffic to get back in time for work, and then trying to do a 12 hour shift.

So unfortunately I didn’t get to see any of the 9 races held on Sunday or to get a proper look around the car club displays. This did sadden me as I was really looking forward to the 2 hour race for pre 66 GT and pre 63 sportscars. It is a joy to watch Oliver Bryant throwing the AC Cobra around during that race, but unfortunately my new life on rota shift means that I now have to make a few sacrifices.

My friend and I did however thoroughly enjoy the day that we spent at Donington Historic Festival on the Saturday and we would like to say a big thank you to My Car Heaven for running the competition for the tickets. I just hope that the other winners enjoyed their weekend as much as we enjoyed our day.

Enjoy the many photos that took on the Saturday, this is just a selection of the 900 plus photos that I took.  Check out all our photos from the 2018 Donington Historic Festival here.

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