Tigers to the fore at Donington

Sunbeam Tigers set a scorching pace as the Heritage GT Car Challenge season opened in fine style at Donington Park over the weekend (12/13 April). The Tiger Racing closed cockpit model of Chris Beighton and Jon Finnemore duelled throughout with the open-cockpit car of Jackie Cochrane and Andy Rouse, and honours were shared with a win apiece.QualifyingCochrane/Rouse comfortably secured pole for the first race, with Beighton/Finnemore alongside. But it was only tenths of a second covering the next five cars, with the Aston Martin DBS V8s of Chris Scragg sharing the second row with the DB4 of class C pacesetters Peter Wheeler and Ben Samuelson. In the other classes, Harvey and Clive Death’s Mini Cooper S was ahead of the pretty Sebring Sprite of Robert Morris/Paul Ringer. Likewise in class B, Laki Christoforou’s Escort was clear of the Escort Mexico of Tim Glover and Darren Dowling.

The only casualty in qualifying was Chris Williams’ Rover SD1 with a broken hub. Although he had to miss the first race on Saturday afternoon, he returned home to collect his Morgan Plus 8 for Sunday's race.Race oneThe 33-car grid made a glorious spectacle as the field charged into Redgate on the opening lap. Beighton led from Cochrane and Scragg, but Rick Lloyd’s Chevrolet Camaro scythed into third at Melbourne, only to spin at Goddards and clip the passing Scragg.

Wheeler moved into third and both Mike Luck’s Jaguar E-Type and Alec Hammond’s Camaro also went by as Scragg recovered momentum. Luck picked off Wheeler on the second lap and started to edge towards Cochrane, as Beighton’s lead increased. Scragg was also on the recovery path and was back into fifth by the end of lap three.

It was very close for fourth even though Scragg managed to nose ahead of both Wheeler and Hammond. But suddenly it was all change went Cochrane not only pitted too early but had a couple of rare spins. "I spun on someone’s oil and when I pitted they sent me out again as I was too early," said Cochrane.

Wheeler was the first of the scheduled stoppers, by which time there was more oil after Myles Castaldini crashed the Ram Cobra at Melbourne. Beighton managed to hand over to Finnemore with the lead intact, while Scragg and Samuelson made up the top three. Finnemore proved uncatchable and romped to a 10-second victory. "The plan was always to get away at the start but we didn’t expect so much lead," said Beighton. But Rouse absolutely tore through the leader board and by lap 14 had second from Scragg into the Esses. "That was great fun," said Rouse after taking the flag. Scragg held onto third from Wheeler/Samuelson, but there was some confusion over fifth. Lloyd and Peter Horsman had been shown in the place on the timing screens, and on the results. But after due deliberation Mike Luck (Jaguar E Type) was restored to fifth and with it took the class C spoils. "I know our pit-stop wasn’t very good but hadn’t thought it was that bad," he said.

Hammond/ Graham Hathaway had the legs of Horsman until the last lap. "I got oil all over the screen and accidentally touched the wipers when I changed gear, I could hardly see a thing after that," Hathaway explained.

Bob Searles/Tony Jardine (Aston Martin DBS V8), Robin/Zoe North (Ford Mustang) and Roger Bennington/Les Goble (Aston Martin V8) completed the top ten.

In class A the Deaths were all conquering again, with Morris/Ringer a distant second. Dowling/Glover won the class B battle from Daimler of Piers Townsend/Chris Conoley after Christoforou’s early retirement. Luck was a lap up on Tony Lees Morgan in class C and fourth overall for Wheeler/Samuelson secured class E spoils.Results – 35 minutes1 Chris Beighton/Jon Finnemore (Sunbeam Tiger) 19 laps in 35m44.120s (79.75mph); 2 Jackie Cochrane/Andy Rouse (Sunbeam Tiger) +10.477s; 3 Chris Scragg (Aston Martin V8); 4 Peter Wheeler/Ben Samuelson (Aston Martin DB4); 5 Mike Luck (Jaguar E-Type); 6 Rick Lloyd/Peter Horsman (Chevrolet Camaro); 7 Alec Hammond/Graham Hathaway (Chevrolet Camaro); 8 Bob Searles/Tony Jardine (Aston Martin DBS V8); 9 Robin North/Zoe North (Ford Mustang); 10 Roger Bennington/Les Goble (Aston Martin V8). Class winners: Harvey Death/Clive Death (Mini Cooper S); Darren Dowling/Tim Glover (Ford Escort); Luck; Beighton/Finnemore; Wheeler/Samuelson. Fastest lap: Rouse 1m45.471s (85.33mph).Race twoFinnemore used the same script as his partner Beighton by the look of his opening lap in the second race. A huge lead left Cochrane, Scragg, Wheeler and Luck chasing. Wheeler got squeezed out as Lloyd joined the three-car battle for third. But into Goddards Lloyd locked up and tagged Scragg for the second time in the weekend. Luck emerged in third, from Wheeler, North and the Camaro of Simon Lane, but Hammond was out and Scragg was soon heading for the pits.

The top three took full advantage to escape from the rest of the pack, while Hammond set his sights on Wheeler, after North had snatched fourth.  Finnemore may have been long gone, but Luck mounted a challenge on Cochrane for second. For a couple of laps they ran side by through Melbourne and Luck managed to nose ahead for a while. "I just wanted a bit of fun, I knew I couldn’t hold Jackie on the straights," he said.Cochrane was one of the early stoppers again as Finnemore carried on for another three laps. But as Beighton emerged from the pits Rouse was exiting Goddards. The chase was on until Beighton ran wide exiting the Esses and Rouse powered ahead.

After Lane made the final stop from third, Luck regained his position and had a fairly solitary run to the flag. Back at the front however, Rouse was unable to shake off the attentions of the rival Tiger. The duel was finally settled in Rouse’s favour when Beighton had a huge spin at Schwantz Curve. "I think there was some oil down and I touched it. I was just trying so hard and knew that Melbourne was the only place I could have possibly got him back," said Beighton after having to be content with second.

"I had a pretty good idea what they could do and was surprised to be so close when they came out of the pits," Rouse added.Luck retained his distant third and took class C again, from class E winners Wheeler/Samuelson. Chris Williams (Morgan +8) charged from the back of the grid to oust Hammond/Hathaway for fifth on the last lap, while Bennington/Goble, Searles, Lees and Scragg completed the top ten.

The Deaths collected another class A win, but with Morris/Ringer Sprite black-flagged in an increasing cloud of smoke, Conor O’Brien’s Mini took second. Both Dowling/Glover and Townsend/Conoley retired, and so there were no finishers in class B. As in race one it was Luck to the fore in class C and Wheeler/Samuelson in class E.Results – 30 minutes1 Cochrane/Rouse 17 laps in 31m07.738s (81.91mph); 2 Beighton/Finnemore +11.544s; 3 Luck; 4 Wheeler/Samuelson; 5 Chris Williams (Morgan Plus 8); 6 Hammond/Hathaway; 7 Bennington/Goble; 8 Searles; 9 Lees; 10 Scragg. Class winners: Death/Death; Luck; Cochrane/Rouse; Wheeler/Samuelson.Next rounds: Brands Hatch, 3/4 May; supporting the A1GP event on the Grand Prix circuit.