What a Bank Holiday weekend at the Donington Historic Festival, the fifth running of this splendid event. A damp and determinedly chilly start on Saturday did little to diminish the crowd’s enthusiasm and, as the weekend progressed, the temperatures rose with the on track excitement.
With track action over all three days, and alternating demonstration runs around the Melbourne loop for Rally Cars and machinery from the British Historical Kart Club, there was plenty of action to watch. On the whole the racing was competitive but friendly although, inevitably, there will be some teams that have ‘scuffs’ to sort out over the next week or so, and I’m sure a few drivers will be summoned to the headmasters office to explain what happened.
There were some nail biting finishes, with several races only determined on the last lap and with gaps of less than ten seconds. The Formula Junior racers reduced this to half a second, and in both the Super Touring Car events the top four were covered by less than twenty. Close racing indeed. With Sundays qualifying session held under damp conditions and the afternoon races held in the dry, positions on the grid were no real indicator of likely final placings. After a shower on Sunday afternoon, a smooth driving style and the ability to keep a calm head were the winning features to have.
The wonderfully named ‘Mad Jack’ race for pre-War Sports cars, named after Richard ‘Mad Jack’ Shuttleworth who won the first ever Donington Grand Prix eighty years ago in 1935, featured a superb array of cars from the era. With 4-Litre Bentleys and Lagonda‘s behemoths battling with svelte 1500cc Frazer Nashes. All on tall wheels, narrow tyres and brakes that are less than optimum. Victory went to the formidable combination Wakeman/Blakeney-Edwards in a Frazer Nash Super Sports, pole sitter Wolfgang Fredrichs having retired early in the race. Incredible to think that these cars are using the same track that is used to test and develop the latest Formula-E racers.
At the other end of the scale the Super Touring Cars brought a much more aggressive style, although nowhere near the perceived ‘bumper car’ mentality of modern touring car racing. As with many other races there was keen competition to see who could brake last on the entry to the Esses. But with closely matched machinery, restricted track width and a practical reminder of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle that two cars can occupy the same space, but not at the same time, some disappointment was inevitable.
Overall it was a very good event. The sight of a variety of saloons dicing. V8 powered muscle cars being chased through the curves by more nimble Minis. Or British heritage cars such as A35s, A40s and Morris Minors taking on Alfa-Romeos and a lone Mercedes-Benz. In the formula categories there was the whizz of the cigar tube Juniors and wide tyred, winged F2’s.
In the races for the more modern, in relative terms, there was great racing if not always for the lead then further down the order places were being sought with competitive zeal. Sometimes over exuberance and a belief in tyre grip that proved not to be there led to the downfall of a spirited racer. The subsequent excursion into the gravel trap denting the pride if not the car.
As the curtain came down on the final race of Monday evening, the gentle glow of a setting sun seemed to match the spectators view that they’d seen good racing and a huge variety of cars. Many I suspect will be back again in 2016.
Photography by Chris McEvoy