History in motion: Donington Historic Festival

History in motion: Donington Historic Festival

From outstanding race action to Bentley Le Mans memories, the 2024 Donington Historic Festival delivered tremendous entertainment

 

The retro racing extravaganza that is the Donington Historic Festival thrilled spectators with a truly superb array of world-class historic races featuring an incredible line-up of race cars from the 1920s to the 1990s last weekend (May 4 and 5). The 13th edition of this enormously popular, family-friendly event combined high-octane race action with a host of other attractions, including the simply unforgettable sight of a 2000 Bentley EXP Speed 8 Le Mans prototype and a 2003 Bentley Speed 8 – which played a vital role in the marque’s successful assault on the 2003 Le Mans 24 Hours – absolutely belting round Donington Park.

 

The EXP Speed 8 and Speed 8 spectacle played out on both days of the event, as DHF 2024 celebrated the 100th anniversary of Bentley’s first-ever win at Le Mans. The Speed 8 was in the hands of 2012 World Touring Car Champion and 2020 Scandinavian Touring Car Champion Rob Huff on Saturday, with 2003 Le Mans-winning driver Guy Smith behind the wheel on Sunday. The stars aligned that day when, as the stunning Bentleys swept round Donington Park in the sunshine, a Spitfire from the Royal Air Force Battle of Britain Memorial Flight treated spectators to the second flypast of the weekend – quite exceptional!

 

Bentley at Le Mans was also put in the spotlight with Sunday’s Q&A session, when Guy Smith and 2001-2003 Bentley Data Engineer Howden Haynes gave visitors the lowdown on that successful 2003 Le Mans campaign and Shaun Lynn - owner of the EXP Speed 8 and Speed 8 Bentleys that were demonstrated so memorably on track - told the audience how he came to acquire these two incredible machines. And Touring Car fans were able to get an insight into the world of tin-top racing at Saturday’s Q&A session, when Rob Huff was joined on the panel by his BTCC rival Jake Hill.

 

The calibre of drivers at the Donington Historic Festival equals the pedigree of many of the cars seen racing. This year, the event saw no less than two Le Mans winners (Guy Smith and 2009 race winner David Brabham) amongst the competitors, along with an absolute crowd of Touring Car drivers past and present, including – in addition to Rob Huff and Jake Hill – Josh Cook, Steve Soper, Graham ‘Skid’ Scarborough, Sam Tordoff and Andrew Jordan.

 

The races
DHF 2024 kicked off with the combined Royal Automobile Club Woodcote Trophy and Stirling Moss Trophy race. A commanding drive from Gary Pearson in his Jaguar D-type enabled him to claim the Stirling Moss Trophy win ahead of the Lotus Eleven of Dafyd Richards, while an incredible drive from Rudiger Freidrichs saw him take the Woodcote Trophy win, and earn third place overall, in his Jaguar C-type. This was not bad going for a drum-braked car in such a competitive field!

 

The Nissan Skyline of Jonathan Bailey and Andy Middlehurst took the chequered flag in the Historic Touring Car Challenge and Tony Dron Trophy with U2TC and Sixties Touring Car Challenge. Darren Fielding was hot on their heels in the BMW E30 M3, ahead of the Ford Escort of Ian and Frank Guest.

 

Donington Park saw a Ferrari frenzy over the weekend, with three races from the Superformance Ferrari Club Classic. Four drivers dominated the proceedings, with Wayne Marrs, Tristan Simpson, Nicky Paul Barron and Tim Mogridge all battling it out in their F355s. After some very entertaining dicing, Wayne Marrs emerged victorious, taking the chequered flag in two out of the three races, giving him victory overall. In two races, the first two cars finished less than three seconds apart!

 

Saturday’s track activity finished in enormous style, with the epic, three-hour Royal Automobile Club Pall Mall Cup race. The TVR Griffith of Kyle Tilley and BTCC driver Jake Hill clinched victory in a stunning race that saw the top five cars all finish on the same lap. A mere 6.435 seconds behind the race winners after 180 minutes was the Julian Thomas/Jeremy Cottingham Cobra Daytona, ahead of John Davison and Mike Whitaker Snr. in another TVR Griffith.

 

The HRDC Gerry Marshall Trophy saw a huge crowd of Touring Cars piling into Redgate Corner, with victory eventually going to the mighty Chevrolet Camaro of John Young and Jack Young, with the wonderfully noisy Sanyo Rover SD1 of Michael Whitaker Jnr. snapping at their heels less than 2.5 seconds behind. John Spiers and Nigel Greensall’s Ford Capri Hermetite took third place.

 

The Pre ’63 GT returned to Donington Park in style, with the superb Jaguar E-type ‘Huffaker’ of Jeremy Cottingham and Harvey Stanley taking the chequered flag, successfully fighting off John Spiers and Nigel Greensall in a Shelby Cobra in second and the hard-charging Jaguar E-type of Matt Walton in third. 

 

First past the post in the 'Mad Jack' for Pre-War Sports Cars was Rudiger Friedrichs in his 1933 Alvis Firefly Special, repeating his win from DHF 2023. He was followed by the 1939 Alta Sports of Gareth Burnett and Rubert Beebee's 1932 Frazer Nash TT Replica. It's always a real thrill to see cars of the era that originally raced at Donington Park taking to the track, and the period racing history of some of this grid was just remarkable.

 

Mike Whitaker Snr. came out on top in the HRDC Dunlop Allstars and Classic Alfa Challenge after a fabulous battle with fellow TVR Griffith driver John Davison, with Ben Colburn bringing his Alfa Romeo GTAm home in third place overall and first place in the Classic Alfa Challenge.

 

The final race of the weekend – the HRDC Jack Sears Trophy - saw what commentator Alistair Douglas described as “Absolutely fantastic racing which encapsulated the whole weekend - incredible cars, outstanding drivers and real respect between the competitors.” Everyone was left with a huge smile on their faces following the one-two-three finish for Ford Lotus Cortinas, with 2003 Le Mans winner Guy Smith taking victory, followed by David Dickensen and then BTCC star Josh Cook, with Mike Whitaker Jnr. in a Ford Mustang finishing in fourth, after an epic three-way battle with Dickensen and Cook.

 

Off-track attractions
When not watching the racing or exploring the open-access race paddock, or taking a pitlane walk, visitors to DHF 2024 had much to occupy them, including the festival art exhibition, which featured works by many of Britain’s most renowned automotive artists. They could also explore the numerous trade stands offering everything from motoring books, models and artwork to clothing, take a Dream Rides for charity in a range of classic and supercars from the Sporting Bears Motor Club and enjoy the memorable sight of ‘Old Tom’, a steam roller which was used in the construction of the original Donington Park track back in the 1930s. Another popular attraction was the British Historic Kart Club Stand, with its display of nimble little machines of the sort which started the careers of many Formula One drivers.

Some 55 car clubs attended the event, staging splendid displays in the Infield and on the Melbourne Hairpin. The latter was absolutely packed with more than 200 Porsches from Porsche Club GB, and with dozens of Ford Mustangs as Simply Mustangs UK celebrated the 60th anniversary of the world’s first ‘pony car’. And, just as the calibre of the competitors matched that of the race cars, so did many of the display cars brought along by their proud owners. Dozens of club cars took to the track for the lunchtime parades and a true ‘DHF’ moment occurred when the commentators on one of the races were momentarily distracted by the sight of a Lola T70 making its way across the Infield as part of a club display.


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