Donington Historic Festival

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To understand the full context, you probably needed to be present at Donington Park on September 4 2010, when it reopened in the wake of its previous leaseholder’s ill-fated attempt to upgrade the venue to Formula 1 standards. At the time it was scarred by bombsite chic, the infield uninhabitable, fences torn down and the whole place apparently on the cusp of condemnation.

But that was then.

Progress has since been steady, much of the venue’s bygone lustre has been restored and the fifth Donington Historic Festival symbolised a circuit in rude health, with paddock space at a premium and strong grids for most of the 20 races. It has been said that the event’s three days could perhaps be condensed into two, but in essence it feels like two meetings in one: a cosmopolitan cocktail over the weekend with a high-class historic clubbie as a Monday bonus.

Formula 2 cars suited Donington in the late 1970s, when the circuit was surrounded by a few more trees than it is now, and they continue to look the part. Darwin Smith (March 722) scored a brace of wins in the HSCC Historic F2 series – and during qualifying there wasn’t much point checking the timing screens: his car’s attitude told you all you needed to know. James Hanson (Chevron B42) gave game chase in the opening race, but Smith was ever in control. If the FIA wants to know what to do to create a new F2 series, there were ample clues here…

Longest event of the weekend was the ‘1000Kms’ for World Sports Car Championship racers of 1964-71, actually a two-and-a-half hour enduro on Saturday evening (when it ran into significant darkness, due mainly to poor weather). The Lola T70s’ distinctive V8 burble drowned out the whine of incoming flights to East Midlands, but it’s a shame there weren’t a few more of them. Even so, the contest was finely poised between the Broadley (ie continuation) T70 of Chris Ward/Paul Gibson and the original car of Simon Hadfield/Leo Voyazides. With three laps to go, Voyazides and Gibson clashed at the Craner Curves and the former’s car sustained significant damage after hitting the wall. It was still classified second, ahead of the class-winning Andrew Kirkaldy/Martin O’Connell Chevron B8. Kirkaldy managed to stick improbably close to the Lolas during the early stages, but eventually finished three laps adrift.

O’Connell and Kirkaldy (E-type) also won Monday’s inaugural Jaguar Heritage Challenge race, which attracted a 29-car field (mostly Es, with a sprinkling of Ds, XKs and tin-tops).

The HGPCA provided a large, combined field of Pre-61 and Pre-66 Grand Prix cars – including ERA R4A, which in Nick Topliss’s hands embarrassed some far newer cars – and victories were shared between Peter Horsman (Lotus 18) and Jon Fairley (Brabham BT11)Meanwhile Patrick Watts (Peugeot 406) and Stewart Whyte took an HSCC Super Touring victory apiece, something the 406 never managed in the UK in period.

Simon Arron