Our tour of UK and European classic car events big and small continues and before we sail south to France and the La Sarthe region early in July we made a late decision to visit the 2014 Donington Historic Festival on Monday 5 May.
Launched in 2011 the 2014 Donington Historic Festival is now in its fourth year and has become a very important part of this famous circuit’s journey in re-establishing itself as a premier venue once more. The scars left in the landscape from major works further evidence of continued investment.
Every circuit has a unique attraction for competitors and spectators alike, whether a particularly long straight, renowned high speed lap, or combination of bends. In the case of Donington Park it has to be the Craner Curves as they weave their way down the hillside towards the impossibly tight looking Old Hairpin. The view whist sat on the bank in the infield was tremendous with an unusual and very welcome wide field of vision. You could literally watch breath taking overtake manoeuvres unfold lap after lap.
Arriving at 9.45am and entering the paddock area left a slight bit on confusion in my mind. The scene that greeted looked like a changeover day on a holiday camp with some people coming, others going and a third electing to stay another day. Thank goodness for the last group is all I can say because it would have been easy to get the distinct impression of a two day event finishing on Sunday before being packed away Monday.
Continuing to walk straight ahead and a modest selection of trade stands appeared in sight as rally cars of all ages passed left to right heading from their paddock area to a special stage marked out on the Melbourne Curve section of the circuit. This bit clearly not being used for racing during the 2014 Donington Historic Festival. Turn left and the open and friendly rally paddock was totally accessible with cars easy to get up close and personal. Follow the flow back the other way and it led to a long queue with doors held open to keep toasty cabins cool on this warm May Day bank holiday.
The action on the stage could be viewed at the bottom near to the start and along one side. The sight and sound of cars like the mad mid-engine Renault 5 Turbo and potent Sierra Cosworth not to mention tail happy Escort RS1800 were all totally absorbing to watch live and needless to say the Special Rally Stage kept a crowd all day.
Crossing back through the main paddock area gave access to the action already being played out on track in the form of in some cases light and in all cases loud pre-61 Sports Cars as they qualified for the race they would later compete in for the Sir Stirling Moss Trophy. Lotus, Lola and Rejo providing the lightness and treble sounds, with Maserati, Lister and Ferrari adding rich base notes to create a classic symphony.
John Surtees was being honoured at the 2014 Donington Historic Festival on the Sunday and Monday ahead of his forthcoming book launch. ‘An Incredible Life on Two and Four Wheels’ is due out on 19 June priced £50 for the 304 page standard edition and £175 signed leather bound limited edition. John celebrates his 80th birthday in 2014 and it is now half a century since he won the Formula 1 drivers title in a Ferrari. John, sorry but it does seem wrong saying that without Sir in front was reunited with a Lola T70 CanAm car he last drove in 1968. The smile on his face when climbing out of the open cockpit after a demo run said it all really, terrific to see him in such fine fettle.
Masters Pre-66 Touring Cars saw Ford Lotus Cortina and Mini Cooper S from this side of the pond mix it with Ford Mustangs and Falcons from the other along with BMW and Dodge in supporting roles. From the rolling start the action was packed all the way down the field with the No.1 Ford Falcon setting the pace hotly pursued by two Mustangs. Further back down the order Ford Lotus Cortina’s battled each other, a sole BMW 1800 and several Mini Cooper S’s, one of which bravely undid a Ford Galaxie through the Craner Curves to cut inside at Old Hairpin, great stuff.
The Pre-66 GTs for Gentlemen Drivers had some truly amazing machines to get up close to in the paddock with E-Types, TVRs, Austin Healey 3000s, Cobras, and a Porsche 911. Given our recent interest in Blackpool’s finest a close inspection of a 4.7 litre V8 Griffith revealed an immaculate powder coated chassis, brand new fibre glass body and some terrific touches like cooling intakes mounted discreetly under the car to feed fresh air directly onto the machine finished rear drum brakes. In fact everywhere you looked was modern race engineering know how applied to a 60s car, truly impressive.
Walking into the infield and present and correct on the Monday were car clubs representing the Triumph Stag, Austin Healey 3000, Daimler SP250 ‘Dart’, Sunbeam Alpine Tiger, Aston Martin, Ford Capri, Porsche, Triumph TR, Z-Cars, Jaguar, Saab, MX-5, Vauxhall and Audi Quattro. I will have to ask one day, but wonder what the true benefits are for a club in attending an event like this and whether they can be measured. Maybe it just helps keep the brand alive; still it was great to see them all especially the Daimler SP250s, Sunbeam Alpine Tigers and a Vauxhall Firenza, all relatively rare beasties these days. Also interesting to note the presence of MX5s, a future classic turning actual classic maybe, it must be 25 years now.
The 2014 Donington Historic Festival can definitely be compared to the Silverstone Classic with all the same ingredients albeit on a slightly reduced scale. Where the 2014 Donington Historic Festival really scores is in the way the circuit action can be viewed, not like Silverstone one corner at a time through safety fencing more at home around the perimeter of a prison, but instead sat on a bank looking down the whole length of the intimidating Craner Curves with completely clear and unobscured vision, superb.
How does this event make you feel?
In one word: Intrigued (could the Donington Historic get on a par with the Silverstone Classic).
As a favourite meal: Ham, egg and cheese salad from the Pit Stop Café was actually very nice and reasonably priced.
Anything Else: Entering the event as we did on Monday did feel like we’d missed something, with gaps in the paddock and the infield where Classic Car Clubs had previously displayed. If we’d gone Saturday or Sunday then it might well have been a quite different experience. Racing was still good though and all cars present superb. Great to see John Surtees at 80 on such good form.
Key Ingredients: John Surtees. Spectating at the Craner Curves way above the fencing able to see clearly all the way down the hill to Old Hairpin. Stunning cars on display and particularly in the paddock where the preparation was second to none. Rally cars also good fun to watch on the Special Stage.
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