Donington Park's history roars into life @ Donington Historic Festival

Donington Park's history roars into life @ Donington Historic Festival

Last weekend’s Donington Historic Festival was a spectacular reminder of the sights, sounds and smells of key chapters in Donington Park’s history, from the sports car races of the 1930s to the Touring Car battles of the 70s and 80s – an echo of the legendary 1993 European Grand Prix thrown in for (very) good measure.

The circuit was buzzing throughout the weekend as thousands flocked to enjoy packed grids of world-class historic racing cars thundering down towards Redgate and historic F1 car track demos that had that inimitable engine noise reverberating around Donington’s famous sweeping curves.

Crowd-pleasing attractions
New for 2023 – and very popular with visitors - was an exhibition of artwork, memorabilia, images and memories celebrating that day in April 1993 when triple World Champion Ayrton Senna gave a masterclass in driving in the wet at the European GP. Also new, and also popular, were the two Q&A sessions which saw motorsport figures including former McLaren Chief Designer Neil Oatley, Ayrton Senna’s F3 championship-winning team manager Dick Bennetts and photographer Keith Sutton reminisce about their own experiences with the iconic Brazilian driver, while David Scott, Donington’s Clerk of the Course in 1993 and multiple BTCC Champions Matt Neal and Colin Turkington added their own perspectives.

The ever-popular displays from dozens of car clubs in the Infield were supplemented by a mammoth presence on the Melbourne Hairpin from Porsche Club GB – with glamorous cars from Simply Mustangs UK and the Ferrari Owners Club also sharing the location. This eye-catching attraction was one of the first sights for spectators when they walked in through the gates, and it definitely caused a stir. The owners of Porsches parked on the exact spot of the Hairpin where Senna overtook to take the lead on his opening ‘Lap of the Gods’ in 1993 were not unaware of just how special their particular position was. And the car club parades were, as always, popular with club members and spectators alike.

Outstanding race action
Racing kicked off on the Saturday with the hour-long Jaguar Classic Challenge. Dominated by E-types, this was won by father-and-son duo Graeme and James Dodd in a 1962 ‘E’.  The weekend featured no fewer than three races for the Superformance Ferrari Club Classic Series – a new addition to the DHF line-up.  This saw 26 classic Ferraris taking to the track, with victory going to Gary Culver (328 GTB) in race one, Tristan Simpson (F355 Challenge) in Sunday’s race two and James Cartright (328 GTB) in race three – with Gary Culver just 0.521s behind at the chequered flag.
A mammoth Touring Car grid powered round Donington for Saturday’s Historic Touring Car Challenge with Tony Dron Trophy / Sixties Touring Car Challenge with U2TC contest. Quadruple BTCC Champion Colin Turkington returned to Donington just a week after the BTCC season-opener there. This time he was behind the wheel of an ex-Steve Soper BMW M3 E30 that he shared with Mark Smith. A fine battle ensued between the BMW and David Tomlin’s Ford Cosworth RS500, with the Smith/Turkington duo finally taking the chequered flag. Mike Whitaker’s beefy Rover SD1 took the honours in the Tony Dron Trophy, while the Lotus Cortina battle that dominated the Sixties Touring Car Challenge with U2TC was finally won by another present-day BTCC star – Josh Cook – with his teammate Mike Gardiner.
Saturday’s track action ended in epic style with the marathon three-hour Royal Automobile Club Pall Mall Cup endurance race for pre-66 GT and Touring Cars, pre-63 GTs and pre-60 sports cars. This was certainly eventful – witness the three safety car sessions – but even after 180 minutes it all came down to a sprint to the finish and a result decided by just four seconds. It was a Lotus 26R one-two at the chequered flag, with victory going to James Littlejohn and Simon Evans, with the runner-up spot on the podium taken by BTCC racer Andrew Jordan and John Tordoff (father of another present-day BTCC driver, Sam Tordoff).
Amongst the many highlights of Sunday’s racing, the ‘Mad Jack’ for Pre-War Sports Cars – a tribute to ‘Mad Jack’ Shuttleworth, winner of the first-ever Donington Grand Prix in 1935 – definitely stands out. It was entirely appropriate that the only active UK circuit with a pre-War racing history should play host to the astonishing grid of venerable Aston Martin, Alvis, Bentley, Morgan, Bugatti etc. – some more than 100 years old. This was no track demonstration – it was a full-on race, in which Rudiger Friedrichs proved victorious in his 1933 Alvis Firefly Special (that car a mere youngster at just 90 years old), against competitors that included multiple Le Mans winner Darren Turner in a former ‘works’ Aston Martin LM4. One head-turning entry amongst a whole grid of head-turners was a (literally) brand-new entry; Car Zero, the first of Bentley Motors’ Blower continuation cars, making its racing debut. Hand-built by Bentley using a combination of original drawings and laser-scanned data, this absolutely stunning machine was driven by Stuart Morley in its only UK race appearance this year.
Ollie Crosthwaite and Nick Finburgh’s Cooper Monaco came first overall and took Stirling Moss Trophy honours in the combined Royal Automobile Club Woodcote Trophy and Stirling Moss Trophy race, with Woodcote Trophy victory, and third place overall, going to brothers John and Gary Pearson in their Jaguar D-type. This is always one of the most beautiful grids, as the pre-56 sportscars of the Woodcote Trophy battle it out with the pre-61 sports-racers of the Stirling Moss Trophy.

Sunday also saw three jam-packed grids from the always-entertaining HRDC stable. The HRDC Gerry Marshall Trophy (see picture at the top of the page) saw Michael Whitaker Snr score victory in his Rover SD1– beating his SD1-driving son Mike who took the chequered flag the day before in the Tony Dron Trophy.  The HRDC Dunlop Allstars with Alfa Challenge boasted another massive grid. It proved to be an excellent weekend for the Whitaker family, with Michael Whitaker Snr taking another victory – this time in his TVR Griffith, with his son finishing fourth in a Ford Mustang. The first Alfa past the post was Jonny Horsfield in his Alfetta GTV.

The final race of the meeting, the HRDC Jack Sears Trophy for 1958-1966 Touring Cars, ended the weekend in fine style. It was a Lotus Ford Cortina 1-2, with Josh Cook and Mike Gardiner finishing 46 seconds ahead of David Dickenson, with the nimble Auston Mini Cooper S of Jeff Smith less than a second behind in third place.
Plans are already well underway for the 2024 edition of the Donington Historic Festival. We look forward to seeing you in 2024!

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