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.
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.
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.
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.