Historic-racing lovers have never had it so good. Having logged on to this site, you’ll almost certainly know that, since 1998, the Goodwood Revival has provided high-speed combat between famous retro racers – and, increasingly, between famous pedallers from other avenues of the sport – in a theatrical, time-warp setting.
It’s a weekend during which real life is suspended and one of those all-too-rare occasions when egos are left at home. With a passionate, and rather unhealthy, interest in motorsport history and the personalities and machinery that shaped it, I shall only miss it for the first time when I no longer exist.
Happily, there are plenty of other opportunities for fans of racing’s past, when enjoying yourself in the cockpit and in the grandstand was compulsory, to get their fix.
The Donington Historic Festival is one such event. Last weekend’s fifth extravaganza at the Leicestershire venue comprised a packed programme of 20 races for single-seaters, sportscars, touring cars and pre-war machinery and I was entrusted with a microphone for pitlane fact-finding and post-race-interview duties.
With everyone preferring to laugh about fading brakes and rock-hard rubber rather than moan about aerodynamic upgrades and energy-recovery-system efficiency, it was a great weekend of frenetic, yet friendly, racing.
Stumbling across a combination of retired legends who can’t quite shake off the bug and young pros who are happy to keep their eye in on weekends off, as well as career historic racers of all ages, just added to the magic. And as the popularity of the discipline increases, thanks to the way the key events do things, more stars of both yesteryear and tomorrow will show a willingness to get involved.
Choosing favourite cars, personalities and moments from the hundreds on offer at Donington is hard, but a few highlights spring to mind.
Chatting to former Lotus grand prix driver, Le Mans winner, Can-Am champion and long-time Arrows F1 team boss Jackie Oliver is a humbling experience that always leaves me pondering how someone who’s achieved so much is in fact entirely normal and approachable. This time, between appraisals of his performance in a BMW 1800 TiSA in the race for under two-litre, pre-’66 saloons, he talked about taming a 240mph Porsche 917 around the old, eight-mile Spa. It’ll bug me forever that I never saw that.
Touring car veteran Steve Soper was reunited with a TWR Rover SD1, a car similar to the one I saw him use to win the RAC Tourist Trophy in 1983. And he stuck the 1985-spec, Bastos-liveried V8 on pole for the Historic Touring Car Challenge and led easily – until it broke. ‘Soperman’ revealed that, to his surprise, the car felt better now than it did in period and he proved, every time he was on track, why he’s regarded by many as the finest touring car driver ever.
Long-distance racing ace Andy Wallace, who for years has disproved the theory that nice guys don’t win, reminisced about his 1988 Le Mans win for Jaguar, while playing along with a joke about downforce comparisons between the XJR9-LM Group C car and the 1957 3.4 Mk1 he raced in the all-new Jaguar Heritage Challenge.
British Touring Car championship frontrunner Andrew Jordan, title winner in 2013, danced his father Mike’s Austin A40 to victory in the HRDC’s ‘Touring Greats’ curtain closer and emerged from the late-1950s machine with a huge grin, declaring his recently-acquired love of historic racing.
Two stars from the BTCC’s boom-and-bust era of the 1990s, John Cleland and Patrick Watts, were reunited with the trick Vauxhall Vectra and Peugeot 406 they respectively raced in period and both put on a show – inside and outside the car.
Young chargers making a name for themselves in modern GT racing, Oliver Bryant and Phil Keen, were again humbled by the occasion as they expertly steered V8, big-banger sportscars around the two-mile circuit, Keen winning the Stirling Moss Trophy for pre-1961 sportscars aboard a 3.8-litre Jaguar-motivated Lister.
With slick organisation, full grids and fast and friendly racing, the Donington Historic Festival was a great success and deserves its place on the calendar. If it helps raise awareness and forces other historic events to maintain similarly high standards, fans like me who’ve been beaten by the nostalgia stick will benefit.
Photography by Chris McEvoy