Postcard from Donington Park

The Inaugural Donington Historic Festival took place at the revitalised Donington Park, over the weekend of April 30th/May 1st  and with 12 races for Pre-War Legends, Historic Formula 2, Formula Junior, U2TC, pre ‘63GT, pre ’56,’61 and ‘72 Sports racers and Historic Group C, combined with an extensive infield car club display and a Group B rally stage on the Melbourne Loop, there was something for everyone, at this Kevin Wheatcroft/  Historic Promotions organised event.


Ferrari racers Carlo Vogele (330GTO) and Bobby Verdon Roe (246S) both tasted champagne over the weekend, each driving solo, to win the pre ’63 GT and pre’61 sports racing categories respectively and with a 240 strong entry, 70 degrees of sunshine and busy trade stands, it was great to be back at the UK’s sole pre-war built and still operational, race circuit – here’s what got my attention...


- One of my favourite sports racers has always been the Chevy powered Lola T70 ….designed by Eric Broadley in 1965 and built in Huntingdon UK, it saw early success Stateside, with Walt Hangsen, in spyder bodywork configuration. In Europe, victories were infrequent, due to gearbox maladies and multiple engine failures (mostly caused by inferior grade racing fuel) - production ceased in 1968, by which time more than 100 units had been completed. The T70 in MK3BGT (with coupe bodywork) has seen a complete reversal of its fortune… in historic racing, it’s now one of the preferred choices for racers “at the sharp end” and a regular winner. For the 1 hr, pre ’72 enduro, seven Lola’s took the start, including 1988 BTCC Champion and historic regular Frank Sytner…driving solo, “Fearless” was chasing leader Olly Bryant, when he sadly suffered a heart attack, heading towards the Schwantz curve. Thanks to equally speedy medical attention, he was transferred to Derby Royal Infirmary, where his condition continues to improve... and the podium for the red flagged race, with Bryant declared the winner, was rightfully subdued.


- Recently acquired by serial collector and racer Irvine Laidlaw, is the ex works, Ecurie Ecosse long-nose Jaguar D type (#XKD504), which has returned to the UK after a decade Stateside, with previous custodians John McCaw and Louis Sellyei. Built in 1955, it served as the works spare car for Le Mans, before subsequently being sold to the Scottish Ecosse team, where the high point of its career, was its start in the 1957 Monzanapolis “Race of 2 Worlds” Trophy. Subsequently owned and raced by noted UK racers and Ferraristi, Mike Salmon and Neil Corner, it was rebuilt in the mid ‘90’s, to its original configuration, by Paul Vestey. Resplendent in Ecosse blue, the 3.4 litre powered D type, was shared by Laidlaw and ace preparer Simon Hadfield, securing a 37 sec victory, after 39 laps, in the pre ’56 sports car enduro 


- Attracting much attention over the weekend, was Bob Berridge’s rumbling Sauber Mercedes C11 Designed and built in 1990 by Peter Sauber’s Hinwil based team, it’s turbocharged 5 litre V8, allegedly gave close to 900 bhp on “full boost”.Berridge acquired this previously unraced example (the first built) direct from Sauber and has been a very popular entry in the Historic Group C category over the last 18 months…..despite some initial tyre durability concerns. At Donington, he was in a class of his own, lapping the entire field, much as the Swiss based team did, when it won the nine round, 1990 World Sportscar Championship, with Jean Louis Schlesser and Mauro Baldi.       


The inaugural Donington Historic Festival was a huge success and with more off track activity, an enlargened racecard and enhanced promotion, roll on 2012….in the meantime, get well soon Frank!


I’ve bought my euro’s and dusted off my panama in preparation for my next trip….a first for me, the renowned Villa D’Este Concours and RM Auctions inaugural sale at the adjacent Spazia Villa Erba, on the shores of Lake Como….see you there!!