Donington Historic – A Future Classic?

Pre-1966 Under 2-Litre Touring Cars

You may remember I attended the Goodwood Revival in September, a truly fantastic event I recommend to you even if you aren’t a fan of historic racing. But we can’t all spend £50 for a single one-day ticket at a racetrack (before travel and other expenses) when you think most UK events cost half that, at most. It just so happens the extras at the Revival justify the cost (the chance to bump into Stirling Moss doesn’t happen at every track these days), but still, the price is the reason I never attended until last year. And of course, not everyone has that weekend free.

What if you want to see a good day of racing – any racing – in a relaxed atmosphere at less than a third of the price? Whether you want to see historics or if you simply want a good day out at a racetrack, you could do worse than go to the Donington Historic in May. I attended the inaugural event last year.

What’s There?

A variety of sportscars, GT and touring cars from the 1950s to the 1970s, Formula 2 cars from the 1970s, Formula Junior, and the main reason I attended this event: Group C sportscars as seen at Le Mans in the 1980s!

I’d been to one historic meeting before this, Castle Combe in 2007 (the thumbnails look far worse than the actual photos), and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the old touring cars at that meeting. I’d also noticed the atmosphere was very laid back and relaxed, far more so than any other racing I’d ever attended. So I had some idea what to expect at Donington.

I arrived as the Pre-1966 touring car race was running, I was a bit annoyed about that because alongside Group C this was the race I really wanted to see – I’d seen these cars at Combe and they were great fun (I’d later see them again at Goodwood where they were put on the best race of the day). Blame the 3.5 hour journey time. I was glad I didn’t miss it all.

The Pre-1963 GT race sounded great but didn’t provide a lot of actual racing, just the Ferrari 330 GTO lapping everything (mind you it looked amazing and was worth seeing), but otherwise I didn’t see much going on. This could be because of my location on the front straight, I think I needed to be at the Craners or the Old Hairpin.

Old Meets New, er, Less Old on the Formula Junior Grid

Sadly the Formula Junior race was red flagged due to an accident, but I think everyone was okay. Prior to the day these little cars weren’t on my radar at all and I nearly skipped them to walk around the track, but I stayed put for the restart. They actually sounded brilliant and provided some great racing – I’d happily see them race again any day! They spanned a bit of a time period as well, with the later rear-engined cars up front and a few older, slower front-engined cars at the back.

The F2 cars also sounded great and looked the part, and were fast too, at least compared to everything else out there until the Group C’s arrived. I sat myself at the outside of the exit of Redgate and enjoyed them flying past. They made me wonder what a modern F2 would be like – not the current one-make version or GP2, but a real open competition formula for chassis and engines. It would have to be tightly controlled I’m sure. A discussion for another time, perhaps.

Pre-1961 sportscars featured a great race up front between Bobby Verdon-Roe and Richard Attwood in a Ferrari and Aston Martin respectively, until the latter lost a lap for reasons I can’t remember. They swapped positions several times until then and left the rest far behind.

I mustn’t forget the Ford Escort rally cars running on the GP loop, great to see (and hear!). I was almost deafened by the Chevy. This area complete with Tony Mason on commentary. Proper job.

Group C Jaguars

Finally of course, the Group C cars. Jaguars, Nissans, even a silver Sauber-Mercedes. Fantastic. I’ve seen then at the Goodwood Festival of Speed sitting in the paddock and running up the hill at demonstration speed, at long last I get to see them at a track! The one thing missing was a Porsche but I didn’t mind, this was great.

The Circuit & Event

It was great to see Donington Park back at strength again after the F1 debacle of the latter part of the last decade. Okay so the infield was still earthworks and wasn’t pretty, but these guys are doing well with what little resources they were left with. I have to say though, the gravel traps and grass areas were pristine and as good as I have ever seen either at this track or any other in the UK. The racetrack itself looked perfect. The chicane realignment looks good as well, a nice job was done there. The tattier-looking part in the middle and around the Coppice/McLeans area will follow, I don’t doubt it.

I intend to revisit Donington Park this year either for the Historic or for the ELMS, and I’m already looking forward to going back to one of my favourite circuits. If you’ve not been before, know this: if you’re the type of person who can’t stay in one place at a racetrack and likes to watch from different vantage points, you will LOVE Donington. Be in no doubt that it’s reopening is something we shouldn’t take for granted – make a point of going to an event this year.

The Historic didn’t have a huge attendance, it was respectable though. There was a good scattering of people on the main straight and around the first two corners but overall it wasn’t what I’d call busy, but those who were there were knowledgeable. I watched the FJunior race in the grandstand on the front straight near to an American and an Englishman who really knew their stuff about the category, I almost wished the engines would quieten so I could continue to eavesdrop.

If there aren’t more people at the 2012 event I would be very surprised. I think this event is set to become a classic in its own right.

The other thing to mention: the access! You could walk into the paddock and right to the back of the pit garages and nobody asked for ID or a pass. Wonderful stuff.

See my Picasa album for photos from the paddock and all around the track.

You can see more information at the official website.

Other Historic Events

This is by no means the only historic race meeting of the year, there is a burgeoning historics scene in the UK with some high profile events at Silverstone, Brands Hatch and Oulton Park as well as meetings at other venues such as Castle Combe.

At these other events you may not see the 50s and 60s Grand Prix cars as you would at Goodwood, and you might not always get Group C as you would at Donington, however you may get a dose of single seater racing as well as a good helping of GTs and sportscars from all sorts of eras, and my personal favourites, the 60s and 70s touring cars.

If you’re looking for a relaxed day out at a racetrack don’t rule out a day at a historics meeting, without the tensions of a modern event you might even enjoy it more than contemporary racing.

Personally, I’m thinking of attending the Silverstone Classic for the first time, and paying a visit to Donington for the European Le Mans Series. LM prototypes must look sensational on the Craners, and fast! (Even if only LMP2s). But.. that plan could change, I may well return to the Donington Historic.

Marco Simoncelli 1987-2011

Marco Simoncelli has passed away today as a result of injuries sustained in a crash on lap 2 of the Malaysian MotoGP at Sepang.

Marco was a champion at 250cc level and a podium finisher this season in MotoGP. He was making a name for himself as a star not just of the future but of today. Sure he had some run-ins and disagreements with some of the others but that was fine, part of the appeal of MotoGP is that it has big characters willing to say and do what they think. There weren’t many with a bigger character than Marco Simoncelli.

You always knew when you were watching Simoncelli, he had a way of riding which was different to everyone else on the grid. Trying different lines through corners, inside the guy in front, outside, this way and that. Sometimes it went too far and he went off. He’d gained a reputation as a bit of a crasher, until recently that is.

After a trying early part of the year with just a few too many fairly minor crashes, he had recovered his form posting a string of 4th-places, and just one week ago he’d recorded his best ever MotoGP finish, 2nd place at Phillip Island in Australia. Everyone thought he’d ironed out the crashing, and perhaps he had. Some tipped him as a World Champion of the future, perhaps even as soon as 2012.

It wasn’t the fall from the bike which cost him his life today, it was the following racers being unable to avoid him. Something will need to be done to prevent accidents such as this and the similar Moto2 accident last year which claimed Shoya Tomizawa.

But that is not how we want to remember either rider. We want to remember how they raced, and their personalities, and their positive effect on the paddock and on MotoGP and racing as a whole.

Here’s Simoncelli’s press conference interview from last week in which he was his normal smiling, bubbly effusive self. Much like Dan Wheldon, you rarely saw Marco Simoncelli without a smile.

Two big losses in the space of a week, the motorsport world is in shock. This off-season cannot come soon enough.

Dan Wheldon 1978-2011

Dan Wheldon's Indy 500 helmet at the 2011 Goodwood Festival of Speed - P.Wotton

Dan Wheldon last night passed away as a result of injuries sustained in a multi-car accident at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Career

Dan finished 2nd in the 1998 Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch and raced for the 1998 series championship (beaten by Jenson Button), before heading to the US where he finished 2nd in the 2000 Atlantics series and 2nd in the 2001 Indy Lights series, where he learned how to race on ovals.

Shortly thereafter he graduated to the IRL, what is now the IndyCar Series, where by 2004 he was winning races and in 2005 he became champion with Andretti-Green, winning the Indy 500 along the way. Despite his road course background in Europe he became renowned as a specialist on oval courses.

He switched to Target Chip Ganassi for a 3-year stint, scoring more race wins, before a moving to Panther Racing in 2009 where he was able to score 4 podiums over two years in the by-now midpack team. Out of a drive after 2010 he embarked on a part-season with Bryan Herta Autosport (partnered with Sam Schmidt Motorsport) in 2011, winning his second Indy 500 at the very last corner despite it being his first race start of the year. He was also entrusted with the initial development work on the 2012 Dallara IndyCar, before any other driver got his hands on it.

Ironically and tragically he was killed in the final race for the old, outdated, less safe IndyCar, in which he was competing at the behest of the IndyCar Series as part of a bid to win $2.5 million dollars each for himself and a fan.

However I am not going to use this opportunity to bash Dallara for the safety of the old car. There is a time and a place for that and it is not now. It may not have been a great car and there are difficult questions to be answered about its suitablity at this age on this track but the reality is 15 of them were damaged (most of them heavily), 3 of them got airborne and yet only one driver suffered serious injury. That is one too many but it could still have been 3 or 4 times worse.

That is no consolation to the family and friends of Dan Wheldon, and the tight-knit IndyCar community. Part of the reason IndyCar is tight-knit is because of the enduring spirit of Greg Moore in the late 90s who made it his business to be rivals on the track and friends off it, and who was tragically killed in strikingly similar circumstances in 1999. Dan Wheldon took the same attitude to his racing and was friends with many of his competitors, particularly the senior drivers such as Kanaan and Franchitti. Indeed, I don’t know anyone who could remain an enemy of Dan Wheldon for very long.

I am sad that it took this event for him to become famous in his home country and I hope he takes his rightful place among the legends of the sport.

The drivers of the undamaged cars chose to run 5 laps at Las Vegas in tribute to Dan, 3-abreast just as at the start of the Indy 500, the race that made his name.

I leave you with the closing words of what was a very professional and respectful ABC broadcast.

“Many people ask me why I always sign off ‘Till we meet again’. Because ‘Goodbye’ is always so final. Goodbye, Dan Wheldon.” – Marty Reid, ABC/ESPN.

IndyCar hits Las Vegas

In the best bit of pre-race build-up I’ve seen in a long time, the IndyCar Series took their impressively large field of 34 cars entered in this week’s Las Vegas round and drove them up and down ‘the strip’ in Las Vegas, complete with the legend that is Mario Andretti leading the way in his two-seater IndyCar (with some pop star I don’t know in the passenger seat).

What a fantastic idea!

IndyCar released this great video, complete with interviews, on their official YouTube channel:

And unbelievably the Daily Mail website based here in the UK as a nice spread of big pictures on the event, as well as a video of the action which you can see here.

Kudos to the IZOD IndyCar Series for becoming the first racing series to not only do a street demo in Las Vegas but also run their entire grid at once in it, AND rope in Mario Andretti and famous non-racing names!

I have never seen IndyCar-related promo activation of this level, this beats the stuff Red Bull, Renault and McLaren get up to with their F1 demos and those are very good indeed. I am impressed. They are making the Las Vegas season finale an Event with a capital E. So many of their races have lacked Event status, the series just pitching up in a town and expecting people to show up. I am so glad to see this turning around.

Combine this with the recent Baltimore event as well as existing successes like Toronto and of course the Indy 500 itself, the series looks set for a positive future. I’m also pleased they are able to do this for an oval race outside of Indy. I hope it shows with crowds appearing in the stands on Sunday. More big events please, Mr Bernard.