Fred Wakeman and Patrick Blakeney-Edwards converted pole position to a third Donington Historic Festival victory in the ex-Tommy Sopwith Equipe Endeavour Cooper-Jaguar T38 when the Royal Automobile Club Woodcote Trophy competition for Pre-1956 Sports Cars opened on April 30. The early retirement of three-time race winner Gary Pearson in Carlos Monteverde’s ex-Jim Clark Jaguar D-type opened the door for the ever-enthusiastic pair, winners in 2014 and ’15, to finish a lap clear of the field. A stunning chase for second saw Simon Hadfield breeze German pal Wolfgang Friedrichs’ Aston Martin DB3S past the pugnacious cycle-winged Cooper-Bristol T24/25 of Nick Wigley, started boldly by John Ure, to secure silver on the penultimate lap, having climbed from 15th before the majority had stopped.
Anglo-American partnership Blakeney-Edwards/Wakeman were in command during qualifying too, needing but eight laps to cement pole position on a by then dry Friday afternoon. Their 1m22.122s (86.76mph) best was fully 1.35s inside Pearson’s equivalent last year and more than a second quicker than he managed to land the other front row starting slot this time. Class leaders Malcolm Paul/Rick Bourne (ex-Mike Anthony Lotus-Bristol 10) and Will Nuthall/Barry Wood in the finned RGS Atalanta Jaguar – period confection of Richard Gaylard Shattock – came closest, lapping close together in the 1m24s.
Talk of practice was a lucky escape for Chris Ward who walked away unhurt from a big accident in JD
Classics’ ex-Cyril Wick Cooper-Jaguar T33. Ward was on his third lap when he hit oil dumped by the Austin-Healey 100 Le Mans of Jason Minshaw when its filter seal burst approaching the chicane. “I had just got onto the brakes when I saw cars spinning,” said Ward. “I aimed right and managed to miss them, but hit the wall. The car stood up well in what was a big hit. It’s going to need a full rebuild in the workshop before it races again.”
For the record, Ward’s time on his only flyer (1m25.374s) remained good enough for fifth in the impressive 30-car field. Friedrichs/Hadfield and Ure/Wigley – a welcome return for Peter Mann’s ex-Tony Crook Cooper-Bristol, straightened by Peter Russell following Ure’s massive shunt exiting the tunnel at Monaco last May – were close behind, with Ben Eastick (whose programmed Jaguar D-type co-driver Karl Jones was toiling for a living in the Middle East) and Transatlantic commuter Till Bechtolsheimer (Allard-Cadillac J2) hot on their heels.
Best of the Healeys was the 100M of Paul and Jonathan Mortimer in 10th place [third in class behind the Lotus and Aston] in the thick of the action. The sole Maserati, Martin and Lukas Halusa’s glorious 300S, was also in a tight clutch of cars with the full-bodied Cooper-Bristol T24/25 of Malcolm Harrison/Patrick Watts, Karsten Le Blanc’s Austin-Healey 100S Martin Hunt/Andrew Hall (Kangaroo Stable HWM-Jaguar), Nick Matthews’ Healey 100/4 and the 1952 Goodwood Nine Hours-winning Aston Martin DB3 of Rob Hall and owner Martin Melling also inside 90 seconds.
The gunmetal-hued closed Austin-Healey 100/4 of Mike Thorne/Sarah Bennett-Baggs qualified next, with the Jaguar C-type of John and Charlie Brown, the Healey 100s of Crispin Harris/Richard ‘Winfield’ Knight and Minshaw/Andy Willis – its engine unhurt due to Jason’s diligence – in its mirrors. This ultra-competitive bunch also contained Stephen Bond’s Lister-Bristol Flat-Iron, Ben Cussons (Jaguar C-type), Steve Stanton/Mark Piercy (Tojeiro-Jaguar), Martyn Corfield (Frazer Nash LM Replica), the Aston Martin DB2/4s of David Reed/Heinz Stamm – wearing an Arnott-esque Bertone Competizione barchetta body – and Nick Ruddell, with the ex-Ecurie Devone/Tom Kyffin Cooper-Bristol of Chris and Ollie Phillips tagging along.
The field was completed by the magnificently gruff winged Talbot-Lago T26 of Richard Wilson and seasoned preparer David Brazell, Nigel Batchelor’s little MG XPAG-engined Cooper T21 and the Jaguar XK140 coupe of Portuguese stalwart João Mira-Gomes.
Last year’s winner [in a different D-type] Pearson set off at furious pace from the Sunday afternoon start in a bid to break Wakeman, or at least make the Californian sweat for race honours. For six laps the white Jaguar stayed ahead of the dark blue Cooper-Jaguar but from the moment Fred powered up alongside Gary past the pits, crossing the timing line three thousandths of a second ahead, his job became less difficult.
Pearson made his stop after 16 laps but didn’t re-emerge. “The car started to understeer increasingly at Redgate, then I felt a vibration in the rear axle area and realised there was something going on in the diff so I parked it,” he said. That left Will Nuthall, starting the RGS, second ahead of Bechtolsheimer’s Allard, with Eastick and Ure continuing their splendid catchweight scrap in fourth and fifth.
The lanky Ure had established himself ahead of a great train of cars in the early laps, with Eastick, Paul, Bechtolsheimer, Friedrichs and Harrison glued to his tail. Paul’s red Lotus gyrated at Redgate following a nudge from namesake Harrison, who arrived too quickly and skated through the gravel – “he came up after the race and could not have apologised more profusely,” said Paul – before the order started to shake itself out.
Following his usual game plan Friedrichs relayed Hadfield as soon as the pit window opened, whereupon the ex-Whitehead Aston Martin began to ascend the lap charts. At half distance the combination was back inside the top 10 and progress strengthened as some of the later stoppers fell back into their regular positions. Wakeman handed the baton to Blakeney-Edwards after 23 laps, by which time team-mate Hunt was second, handing the HWM to Andrew Hall.
Ure had been supplanted by Wigley and soloist Bechtolsheimer has stopped a couple of laps earlier, but when the stagger unwound PBE was a lap ahead of Till, his closest rival, with Eastick, Wigley in the Allard’s considerable slipstream, and Hadfield and Bourne chasing frantically to get onto terms. Wigley went second at three-quarters’ distance, but when Hadfield and Bourne demoted Bechtolsheimer the battle for the minor placings entered a new phase.
Hadfield grabbed the runner-up spot with four laps to spare, and Bourne dived past Wigley at Redgate, only to bring the Lotus in to the pits a lap early with a gear linkage issue. Wigley, Eastick and Betolsheimer, whose tyres showed evidence of an excursion, were classified next, ahead of Paul/Bourne who salvaged sixth after a busy afternoon.
Hunt/Hall, the Halusa Maserati and the Mortimer family Healey also covered 40 laps. Bond completed the top 10, pursued by Cussons, the black Aston Martin of Melling/Hall, the FN of Blakeney-Edwards/Corfield, the Browns’ C-type and Thorne/Bennett-Baggs. It was good to see the charismatic Talbot-Lago running at the finish, classified ahead of the RGS which slowed in the second half of the race.