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.

A Day At Goodwood Revival 2011

I was lucky enough to be able to attend the Goodwood Revival on Sunday, courtesy of Johnnie Walker. Despite having attended five fantastic Festivals of Speed I have never been to the Revival before, so I immediately accepted!

A Unique Atmosphere

The Revival is more than just a normal race meeting for historic/classic racing cars, it has those added Goodwood touches and details we all know and love from the FoS. With spectators in period clothing and the stands selling vintage items, I thought I’d ask Mum to come along to her first ‘big’ race meeting as she’s really into that side of things, regularly attending the local vintage market and so forth.

The first surprise was arriving at the gate and seeing so many of the crowd in period dress. I had expected maybe half of the attendees would do it, and then only in a half-arsed way, but it was a good 80-90% of the crowd! Later as we walked away out to the sticks towards the far end of the circuit it was more like 60-70%, still an impressive figure. It put our minds at rest that if we came back we’d certainly give it a go and not feel silly about it… well maybe only if we stopped for coffee on the motorway.

There were also a lot more ‘acts’ either in their own performance areas or just floating around the crowds at the back of the main grandstands. Dancers, bands, singers, and the Laurel & Hardy boys I’d seen before at the FoS seemed to be following us everywhere as we bumped into them several times, I seem to remember they did that at the Festival too! That’s actually a poor angle of them, in reality they do look a lot like the originals.

This all contributed to a strange crossover in atmosphere between the ‘garden party’ of the Festival, the relaxed feel of historic/classic car racing event with old road vehicles dotted around the track, yet with the attendance levels of a major race meeting. There were easily 50,000 people there by my estimation and likely a lot more.

The Races

Sunday’s card featured seven races, and we arrived in the traffic queue as the second of those got under way. Once we made it in there was an unexplained delay in on-track action, we never found out why but everything was running late by as much as an hour. This meant was had the opportunity to explore all of the above before heading trackside, stopping for a nice organic burger – though I had a hangover and had forgotten that at the Belgian GP it was sausage which was the magic hangover cure, should’ve had that! A cup of tea worked wonders.

The Barry Sheene Memorial Trophy was under way as we walked along the track away from the final corner looking for a space. Neither of us are into motorbikes though I do watch modern MotoGP, it was interesting to compare their 1960s counterparts braking very early in wet conditions.

We got near to Lavant corner and found a good viewing spot, the cars entering our sight directly opposite and heading left-to-right, before driving in an arc to pass in front from right-to-left. The St Mary’s Trophy got under way and there was a great selection of cars of all sizes, from big Ford Galaxies to little Mini Coopers via BMWs, Alfa Romeos, Jaguars and even a Mercedes-Benz 300SE.

Because of the nature of this event I make no apologies for loading this post with big photos and videos where usually I’d have several smaller. I know many don’t like that sort of thing but these are classic cars and deserve to be shown to the world, so an exception can be made here.

St Mary's Trophy (saloons/touring cars 1960-66)

The BMW (2nd in this shot) went on to a dominant win but the Galaxie (leading) and the Mini (3rd) had a race-long battle which was fantastic to watch! The Galaxie usually entered our sight ahead after using its big engine and top speed, but struggled to slow down and turn the corner in this picture, whilst the little Mini barely slowed down at all and nipped through on the inside with far better grip despite having tiny wheels – only for the Galaxie to stretch its legs again straight afterwards.

This was a great race, different types of cars with different capabilities. Touring car racing needs to get back to this and to hell with any thoughts of ‘equalisation’.

Video – St Mary’s Trophy – BMW 1800 leads Galaxie and Mini

The threatening rainclouds dispersed in time for an air display. This was no ordinary air display. This was TEN airworthy Spitfires! Okay I admit they may not all be genuinely from the war, some are rebuilds, but that’s fine if that’s what it takes to keep Spitfires flying. As luck would have it they took off right in front of us!

Spitfire Taking Off

(more Spitfires on my Picasa page)

Then it was the GT race and these were impressive beasts, noisy, tails sliding out on the damp track, fantastic. Yet they are worth tens of millions in some instances!

Video – RAC TT Celebration

Kenny Brack (Indy 500 winner) in the Shelby American Daytona Coupe  leading Martin Brundle (Le Mans winner, ex F1 driver) in the Ferrari 250 GTO owned by Nick Mason. This isn’t a great quality video but I hope it shows the cars well enough. Brack got the tail of his car wiggling under power much more than the others did theirs.

Martin Brundle, Ferrari 250 GTO

This was a good one as well, maybe not so much in the wheel-to-wheel but just the spectacle of it. Despite being slower than last week’s sportscar race at Silverstone these seemed much more impressive. We headed back towards the final corner to watch the end there and as we did so the black clouds drifted over and sure enough, the rain came down very hard.

Wet track for the GTs

The track quickly became treacherous with standing water everywhere and spray being kicked up. In the modern era they’d probably have sent out the Safety Car in such heavy rain. In this case with the race already scheduled to be shortened from 1hr down to 45min, they waved the chequered flag a further 5 minutes early. At a race for historics, particularly one which is delayed, there is no sense in continuing to risk these collectable and highly valued cars.

Another cup of tea sought, we moved location to watch the Tribute to Juan Manuel Fangio and then the short race for 1960s 1.5-litre Grand Prix cars.

The Fangio tribute featured a wide selection of his race cars from his career, in a parade behind a pace car, spanning his early days right through to his succesful Maseratis, Mercedes and so forth. Even his Indy 500 car was there, even though he’d failed to qualify for that race! It was good to see a famous name or two out there in the cars.

John Surtees, Fangio Tribute

We were stood between the last corner ‘proper’ and the makeshift chicane on the main straight. The 60s GP cars took it very gingerly on the wet track, I don’t blame them because if I were in a priceless 50-year old Lotus, Cooper or BRM I’d probably do the same. Still pretty fantastic to see the cars in action even if they were slow.

Grand Prix cars of 1961-1965

Andy Middlehurst took a dominant win by half a minute but the group behind were very close throughout. Paul, Lord Drayson – yes he whose 2010 LMP1 Le Mans car adorns the top of this very blog – finished a creditable 2nd. Ben Collins was also guesting and he was passing cars.. until he slid into the gravel.

We were running out of hours so decided to skip the final race of the day (1950s sportscar world championship) to explore the rest of the Revival.

Paddock

We spent a little while looking around the stalls. Many were the usual sort of thing you find at race meetings or at the Festival of Speed: model cars, books, £30 t-shirts, £300 Steve McQueen ‘Le Mans‘ leather jackets, etc., etc. The rest of the stands were an odd mix of vintage fashions and automotive art.

Surprise of the day? Seeing Sir Stirling Moss signing at one of the book stands surrounded by a crowd! A part of me regrets not getting the book. I like Moss a lot but I didn’t really want that particular book, but I could’ve had a book signed by Stirling Moss.. Irritatingly this was the moment my camera died and I realised the charged batteries I’d brought hadn’t actually been charged.

We ventured through the tunnel to the paddock. Unlike the Festival this paddock was roped off except to badge holders, but they did provide viewing areas around the whole perimeter of it so that was something. It was great to be there though and it looked like the podium finishers for many of the day’s races went out for another celebratory lap, as they came into parc ferme as were stood nearby. I borrowed Mum’s camera to get some up-close shots of those although I’ve not seen how they turned out.

And we (eventually) found the drivers’ club too, but no drivers, it was 5 or 6pm though and most of the racing action had stopped, little potential for seeing famous names. The good thing is that now I know the lay of the land, a future visit can be planned to ‘bump into’ certain drivers as they happen to be walking from place to place.

Oh and we checked out the Earls Court Motor Show as well, some fantastic supercars from the 1960s to today, from E-Type, GTO, Daytona to XJ220, McLarenF1 and Alfa 8C Competizione.

Sadly there wasn’t time to sample some Johnnie Walker (we got lost looking for the right bar.. and I had something of a hangover already!). They didn’t have the big tower from the Festival with the different drinks so I didn’t feel I was missing out so much. I don’t drink a lot of spririts but I’ve started exploring them in recent months so I think I may well buy a bottle as a ‘thank you’.

EDIT – I’ve been contacted by the man from JW who corrected me and said they did indeed serve a variety of drinks, and the bar featured an original Rob Walker car as well. I must say, after VivaF1 sampled some at the FoS and gave a thumbs up I would’ve quite liked to have tried it myself, it was just a shame we ran out of time. Apologies to them for jumping the gun!

In all a great day and I think I’ll be back.

Further Links

You can view my photos at Picasa and I also uploaded videos to YouTube.

Do have a look at these great photos from Lara and from Lynch. Lara also wrote a few words, as did the F1 journalist and writer Maurice Hamilton.

Motor Sport magazine has released a podcast with Sir Stirling Moss, Sir Jackie Stewart, Martin Brundle, Gerhard Berger, Eddie Cheever, Arturo Merzario, Nick Mason, Tom Kristensen, Emmanuele Pirro, Andy Priaulx, and Rauno Aaltonen. I’ve not listened yet but with a line-up like that it can’t be anything other than brilliant.

Thanks once again to Johnnie Walker for the tickets and to Jackie at VivaF1 for making it happen.