Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Number 2 - Donington

The first question is what to call these blogs I am writing and after much thought I have decided just to number them as I go through, ticking off the 15 circuits.

The May Day Bank Holiday is always the opportunity for a triple-header for me as my wife goes off on a weekend to Wales with her friends and for the last four years I have tried to cram in as much motor racing as I can. This year, as last, it was Donington on the Saturday, Thruxton on the Sunday and Castle Combe on the Monday - more about the last two in future postings.

Donington of course has a very chequered history and it is really great to see it gradually getting back to some form of normality after the bid to host the Grand Prix a few years ago ended up in it being left as an unfinished building site. My first visit to Donington as a venue was in 1987 to a F3 meeting as a result of winning tickets in a magazine competition. In the days of only having one car, my wife had seconded it that weekend to take our new born son to visit her parents and I managed to persuade a friend that she would really like a day out at a motor racing event just so that I could get there. It was to be another 13 years before I returned, however, but I have managed to get there at least once most years since then, mainly for the major sports car races or the historic festivals.

That F3 meeting was not my first visit to Donington, however. In October 1976 as a student in Birmingham I caught a bus one Sunday to visit the Donington Collection. This was at the time when Tom Wheatcroft was just preparing the circuit for its re-opening and I was able to walk out into the circuit and take some photographs which I hope you might enjoy seeing - apologies for the poor quality but in those days a Kodak Instamatic was the weapon of choice. All the photos appear to be looking back along the track - and the first one is from the Old Hairpin looking up the Craner Curves.

 Next we have looking back to Schwantz Curve and the old bridge

And the final one, which I think is the most amazing is actually taken looking back from Mcleans! - what a lovely tree-lined circuit it looked in those days!

But enough of history, how was this year's Historic Festival? I arrived early on the Saturday having spent the night before in Ashby-de-la-Zouch and, unlike previous years there was qualifying first which is always good for enabling you to get a good idea of what you will see later. With the whole meeting lasting three days I was only to get a view of a proportion of the entrants but, fortunately, the racing on the Saturday included some of my favourites - 2 litre Sports Cars of the 1970s, Historic F3 of the 1960s and big saloons of the 1980s.

One problem I have with Historic Racing is that over the years it can get quite repetitive seeing the same old cars coming out to race and so it is always exciting when new ones appear on the scene. This year there were a number of 2-litre sports I had not seen before, notably Kevin Cooke's Royale RP17, Julian Hire's Chevron B26 (though I have no doubt I have seen it before in different hands) and Mark Richardson's Lola T290 - pictures of them all below:

Similarly in Historic F3 I had not seen Mark Witherspoon's Tecno before - an earlier example than those usually seen of Dean Forward and Peter Hamilton, while the sight and sound of the Group 44 Jaguar XJS was awesome.

For spectating at Donington there are a number of great viewpoints around the circuit - the outside of  Hollywood or the Old Hairpin -  but once again there is a problem with fences getting in the way of photography. One place to get a good view of the cars is from the Grandstand at the Pit Entrance where you can get photos of cars on the main circuit leaving the chicane or as they enter the pit lane (or even sitting on the grid), while the new fence position on the inside of the Craners gets you closer to the action without the dreaded wire mesh spoiling the view.

Here are a couple of examples from the grandstand -

while this Aston Martin got it wrong coming down the Craners and it took a few laps to get it out.

As you can see from the photos it was a bright sunny day but there was still a bit of a chill wind and of course there is always the smell of aviation fuel hanging around if the wind is in the wrong direction as planes take off from East Midlands Airport. It has been a while since I saw planes landing at the airport over the circuit but I will never forget the sight of a Boeing 747 more or less skimming the treetops it seemed as it slowly descended to the runway.

One impressive addition to Donington this year is the HQ of the new Formula E which looks amazingly large for a fairly small number of cars, and obviously they will be hoping for constant expansion, but if people are fussed about the perceived lack of noise from the current Formula 1 how will they treat the much quieter Formula E?

And finally how was the racing that I saw? The best dice of the day was between Martin Stretton in Lotus Cortina and Sean McInerney in BMW 1800 in the Under 2-litre Touring Car race. Before the pit stops McInerney, driving solo, had a lead of around 8 or 9 seconds I think, but he stopped a couple of laps after Stretton's co-driver and those laps were enough for Martin to make up the gap and be right on the BMW's tale after its pit stop. A further 15-20 minutes of great racing ensued with the cars running nose to tail or alongside each other until finally Sean managed to hold on and take the win. It was the last race of the day and sent everybody away happy.

I must admit that much of the rest of the racing was fairly tame, but the sounds of the Broadspeed Capri, the Jaguar XJSs and the XJC were enough to keep us smiling. Most unusual car of the day must have been Graham Robson's Standard Pennant

though David Wylie's Armstrong Siddeley was probably a close second:

So at the end of a varied day it was off to the Premier Inn at Leicester ready for the early morning start to the trip to Thruxton on the Sunday morning - but that is the next episode of my story.

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