Grand prix cars of 10 decades converged on Donington Park
for the VSCC's most ambitious and wide-ranging race meeting yet
Words: Paul Lawrence. Photography: Phil Jones
Nowhere in living memory has the development of grand prix motor racing been more thoroughly demonstrated than during the Vintage Sports Car Club's See Red Festival at Donington Park.
Taking the established See Red event, the VSCC boldly added a new dimension for 2006, marking 100 years of grand prix racing. But while the circuit is rightly renowned for its world famous Grand Prix Collection, this was not a static event. This was a living, breathing evocation of a century in man's quest to race ever faster.
Packed into the Donington paddock were cars that told stories of sporting endeavour, engineering genius and downright heroics. It was an event that may never be rivalled for sheer diversity. Little wonder, therefore, that 15,000 enthusiastic visitors took the chance to revel in the story of grand prix racing.
In the pit garages, the Thoroughbred Grand Prix cars of the 1970s and 1980s told a more recent tale, while bringing the story up to date were contemporary F1 cars from Ferrari and Benetton. Sadly, the Benetton burst a radiator on Thursday and was consigned to static display, but the wailing majesty of the Ferrari as it shot around Donington emphatically demonstrated just how far the art form has progressed.
But walk 20 yards and you were back in an entirely different era. The simple cigar-shaped designs of the early 1960s and the early rear-engined cars from Cooper and Lotus were commonplace, thanks to the passion of the Historic Grand Prix Car Association.
Then there were the pre-war cars, with the ERAs attracting admirers as they always do, 70 years on from their creation. Bugattis, too, were seemingly everywhere and on the track they fittingly dominated the VSCC's Williams Trophy race. However, it took all the bravado of Charles Dean and his hardcharging Type 51 to fend off an equally determined Dick Smith, hunched over the wheel of his ever-faster Frazer Nash.
Awe-inspiring even stationary were the Edwardian racers. Oldest of all was Peter Groh's 10-litre 1904 Star from the Gordon Bennett era before GP racing, enthusiastically driven by Roger Buxton. The earliest true grand prix car was the 1908 Panhard-Levassor of Mark Walker, a regular star of VSCC competitions and raced with customary verve, even though an early spin put it out of contention.
Back to the modern era, the VSCC brought Honda F1 test driver Anthony Davidson along to meet the fans, and he patiently signed countless autographs. Elsewhere, a VSCC concours among the trees, air displays, trade stands and much more made for a truly worthy celebration of 100 years of grand prix racing.
It is remarkable that races for the very oldest cars have become a growth area for the VSCC recently. Nearly 20 cars of the Edwardian era took to the track in a cacophony of noise, smoke and whirring chains. These most intrepid of racers urged their steeds on, but it was the beautifully presented aero-engined Piccard-Pictet of David Baker (left) that set the pace.
However, Baker a committed fan of Edwardian machinery had to work very hard as the abnormally brave Richard Scaldwell pushed his GN grand prix car ever closer to the 9-litre Sturtivant V8-engined 'Pic-Pic' and the lead actually changed hands on the last lap before Baker regained control. Out of the chicane for the final time, both drivers gunned their cars to the line, but the 5000cc of Scaldwell's 1908 monster were just insufficient to depose Baker. Still, the winning margin was a slender 0.16sec, with Scaldwell almost level.
"They are absolutely fantastic cars, mainly because the technology in aeroplane engines in those days was far in advance of the car and much lighter for the horsepower," says Baker. "It's a lovely vintage driving technique. Ease on a bit of power and out comes the back end, and it's beautifully controllable. People just like big cylinders, flames and bangs, don't they?"
More than a minute adrift of the runaway leaders, the 1913 Theophile-Schneider Aero Special of Nicholas Hildyard took a secure third, while the 1914 TT Sunbeam of Nicholas PeIlett was fourth. Sadly absent was Julian Majzub's stunning Sunbeam Indianapolis.
The inter-war era
The VSCC's Historic Seaman Trophy race remains one of the most prestigious of the club's annual races and has often been an ERA benefit. This year was no exception, although sadly absent from the field was R11B, winner of the race on no fewer than 16 previous occasions. Instead it was Mark Gillies, back at the wheel of Rodney Smith's R3A, who made up for a spin in the 2005 race by winning relatively comfortably from Mac Hulbert, as ever calm and collected at the controls of the ex-Raymond Mays R4D. Ace ERA preparer and rebuilder Duncan Ricketts ran second until the last lap in Ian Landy's R6B, until Hulbert dived ahead under braking for Coppice.
However, a great deal of attention focused on the Alfa Romeo 308C of American Peter Greenfield (right). The 1936 Donington Grand Prix winner in the hands of Richard Seaman and Hans Ruesch, was back at the scene of its most famous triumph 70 years on.
However, Greenfield ultimately opted for caution on the car's first race outing for more than a year. "It was pumping out water," he explained. "I had three spins and got away with it each time, but I didn't want to push my luck or get in anyone's way."
Nevertheless, the presence of such a famous car was a major triumph for Julian Ghosh and the VSCC team. "It's wonderful to bring the car back to Donington," said Greenfield. "It's been great to talk to people who appreciate the car's history."
The post-war era
"Simon and I started racing on the same day in 1981," explained Michael Schryver, of his long-standing partnership with Simon Hadfield. A quarter of a century ago both were racing Lotus Elans, and Hadfield has prepared Schryver's historic racing cars just about ever since. "We've been through some machinery since then," added Schryver with a wry smile. Given the depth of their relationship, therefore, it was little wonder that they really turned it on and played to the gallery as the Pre-66 HGPCA race provided the 1960s action at Donington Park.
Not for the first time, the two racers had tremendous fun as they traded the lead several times, running wheel to wheel secure in the knowledge that this was entertainment between close friends as well as being a fine display for the crowd.
Hadfield was at the wheel of Irvine Laidlaw's Brabham BT7, while Schryver was at the helm of his beloved Lotus 18, a very genuine ex-John Surtees car (left). Inevitably, the newer Brabham had the legs on the Lotus and when Gary Pearson started moving his Cooper T51 up towards the lead contest, Hadfield recognised it was time to be on his way. In fact, Coopers packed out the rest of the top six places, even though John Clark retired his T51 from fourth with a loose engine cover. Instead, John Harper and Nick Wigley were fourth and fifth in their T51s, while Sid Hoole's rather more rare T66 wrapped up the top half-dozen.
The modern era
The second UK round of the 2006 FIA Thoroughbred Grand Prix Championship kept the title race bubbling nicely heading into the final two rounds of the most prestigious international historic racing championship. Gaining star billing as the most modern generation of cars to race within the GP100 event, the TGP pack was headed in qualifying by title contender Joaquin Folch in his Bernie Ecclestone-owned Brabham BT49C.
Sure enough, the Spanish nobleman led from the start and won by 15 seconds at the end of 23 laps. However, it did not all go smoothly for Folch, who was one of several drivers to execute a quick spin on oil at the chicane. Fortunately he kept the engine running, avoided anything solid and was soon on his way, all without losing the lead.
Folch had been aided in his escape from the pack when Steve Hartley spun his Arrow A6 from second place in the early stages. That ensured second place for the Williams FW07 of former Ferrari sports-car racer Peter Sowerby, although TGP debutant Dean Lanzante also had a spell in second in the ex-Lauda McLaren MP4/1 (right) before finding the chicane oil.
Meanwhile, by working back to third, Hartley retained his overall title lead. "I won my first TGP race at Silverstone in August, and that was special. There are some quick people in TGP so I'm pretty honoured to be up there," admitted the quietly spoken Lancastrian.
A grand prix record?
The final count was more than 60 cars as the enterprising VSCC aimed to create a record for the greatest number of grand prix cars on one grid (left). Although the people at the Guinness Book of Records didn't pick up the idea, the very special line-up at Donington Park may well represent a record.
It happened on Thursday during pre-event testing, and the result was the most eclectic mix of grand prix cars ever seen. This truly was a display spanning 100 years, and the sole thing that the cars had in common was a grand prix heritage.
Pride of place at the front of the amazing gathering went to a pair of star cars from the Donington Grand Prix Collection. Tom Wheatcroft's choice was his cherished BRM V16, while his son Kevin sat proudly at the wheel of their Lancia D50. After that, the line-up became something of a free for all as cars from wildly varying eras sat wheel to wheel on the grand prix grid of all time.
The irrepressible Barrie 'Whizzo' Williams was at the centre of it all, so laughter was never far away as photographers tried to control proceedings. 'Whizzo' sat in the bright yellow Connaught of David Wenman, sharing a row of the grid with a Williams FW07, a Cooper T51 and a Maserati 250F. Right behind came a GP Itala, a Maserati 8CM and the ex-Nuvolari Alfa Romeo 8C.
After the photos, the cars were sent away on a parade lap or two, and some truly incongruous sights developed as cars from all the decades of grand prix heritage briefly shared the track.