Powered by Jaguar’s immortal XK engine in its 70th anniversary year, the Cooper T38 of dynamic duo Fred Wakeman/Patrick Blakeney-Edwards made it four Royal Automobile Club Woodcote Trophy victories from the last five Donington Historic Festivals in the Pre-1956 Sports Car showpiece on May 5. The Blakeney Motorsport team’s preparation, tactics and speed saw the pair triumph over tough opposition once more in the car raced in period by Tommy Sopwith’s Equipe Endeavour.
Watching Friday’s qualifying session from the new grandstand overlooking Holly Wood – offering a wonderful vista from the pit exit through Redgate, the writhing plunge through the Craner Curves to the Old Hairpin, then the arcing climb through Schwantz Curve to the deceptive right-hander at McLeans – it was immediately apparent who the really quick boys were.
Martin Stretton conducted Richard Wilson’s ex-Carroll Shelby/Jim Hall Maserati 250S ‘2432’ deftly, carrying supreme corner speeds to counter the more powerful ex-Jim Clark Jaguar D-type in super smooth Gary Pearson’s hands and Blakeney-Edwards, barping the Cooper-Jaguar’s throttle on the descent. While appreciative spectators could have named them as the top three, with 0.488s blanketing them would have been harder pressed to pick out Stretton’s 1m22.115s (86.76mph) pole lap.
Gary P was also sharing the family long-nosed D-type with brother John and would start it from P4 with hopes of emulating 2012 and 2013’s personal one-two results. Despite widely-differing body configurations the leading two-litre Bristol straight-six motivated cars were next up, Peter Mann’s ex-Tony Crook cycle-winged Cooper T24/25 handled by John Ure/Nick Wigley and Malcolm Paul’s ex-Mike Anthony Lotus X aerodyne shared by the very able Rick Bourne were separated by 0.313s.
Dads and lads occupied row four, Barry and Tony Wood’s bulbous RGS Atalanta-Jaguar in marked contrast to the ’57 Le Mans class-winning Ferrari 500TRC of David and James Cottingham. Rudi Friedrichs’ Jaguar C-type – originated in New Zealand from plans supplied by Lofty England – and the ex-Noddy Coombs Goodwood Nine Hours Cooper-Bristol of Malcolm Harrison/Patrick Watts completed the top 10.
The Jay Shepherd/Rod Barrett D-type managed 11th on just five laps, gridding ahead of Chris Phillips’ sleek ex-Tom Kyffin Cooper-Bristol T25 in which Will Nuthall replaced father Ian. The top half of the 32-car field was made up by the Mortimer family’s Austin-Healey 100M, the uniquely-styled Frazer Nash Le Mans Replica of Martyn Corfield/Eddie Williams, Dutchman Karsten Le Blanc’s Healey 100S and Stephen Bond’s Lister-Bristol ‘flat iron’.
Further down, the Healey 100/4s of Nick Matthews and Mike Thorne/Sarah Bennett-Baggs had David Reed’s drum-braked Aston Martin (co-driven by Peter Snowdon), and the Brown and Gammons Jaguar C-type of John and Malcolm between them. Steve and Josh Ward’s Jaguar XK120 Ecurie Ecosse was the swiftest of three XKs, with the Phillip Champion/Sam Stretton FN Mille Miglia the last of seven cars in the 1m29s bracket.
Paul Pochciol’s newly-acquired C-type, Chris Jolly’s Wren Sport-run Aston Martin DB2 ‘PUM 6’ and the sister car of Nick Ruddell and Kevin Kivlochan’s AC Ace Bristol were next. Completing the line-up were Robert Rawe/Kerry Wilson, Nick Brayshaw and American Marc Mezey (Healey 100Ms), who outqualified the Jaguar XK140s of Marc Gordon/Read Gomm and Portugese stalwart João Mira Gomes and Fernando Campos Ferreira. Plus the flat-four Jowett Jupiter of Richard Gane/Kevin Zwolinski which expired in a thick white smokescreen but happily was repaired for raceday.
As the reds went out on Saturday afternoon, Gary Pearson – race winner in 2012 and ’13 with Monteverde and driving solo in ’16, all in D-types – won the ‘traffic light grand prix’ in the dark green example, outmuscling Wilson initially, then extending a six second lead to Wakeman over the first four laps, setting fastest lap at 1m23.861s (84.95mph) on the last of them. Employing a conservative strategy which had been successful on numerous previous occasions, American Wakeman passed Wilson’s Maserati into Redgate on lap four, then kept Pearson in sight before putting Blakeney-Edwards in to bat.
Knowing that Pearson would have to stop relatively early to relay brother John, and be ready to take over Monteverde’s white D-type, Fred assumed the initiative when he did and stayed out for 19 laps (six more than Gary, five more than Carlos) before peeling into the pit lane with mid-distance looming in the one hour contest. Wilson had slipped back to fifth, behind Bourne’s Lotus, before installing Stretton.
Emerging sixth, with Wakeman, Bourne, Ure and Friedrichs ahead of him yet to stop, John Pearson was soon circulating quickly. The red Lotus-Bristol was last of the frontrunners to come in, Rick having enjoyed four laps atop the charts before handing it over to owner Malcolm Paul after 23 circuits. Blakeney-Edwards thus moved ahead and continued to draw away from John Pearson who was being hounded down by Stretton, going great guns in the Maserati.
Martin annexed second place on lap 26, but PBE was too far ahead. When oil started to issue from the Maser’s gearbox, coating his visor and overalls, Stretton had to settle for second ahead of the Pearsons, Gary having overtaken John on lap 33. A lap behind, Paul converted Bourne’s start to a two-litre class win over Ure/Wigley. The rivals were separated by Friedrichs’ Jaguar (another Pearsons Engineering-run car) at the chequered flag.
Three more Bristol-powered cars made it five in the top 10, the slipper-bodied Cooper T25 of Malcolm Harrison/Patrick Watts outdistancing the Corfield/Williams Frazer Nash and Bond’s Lister. The Healeys of Le Blanc and the Mortimers were 11th and 13th, having been zapped on the last lap by Bond and James Cottingham respectively. Phillips/Nuthall were not far adrift.
Amid the surviving Healeys were Reed’s Aston Martin DB2, in which the exuberant Snowdon accrued two penalties for exceeding track limits, the Brown and Gammons Jaguar C-type, the shapely FN Mille Miglia of Champion/Sam Stretton and ‘KeKi’ Kivlochan’s AC Ace Bristol. Last car home was the pretty Jowett Jupiter of Gane/Zwolinski. Of the retirements Jay Shepherd’s D-type and the Pochciol C-type were the most disappointing, after two and three laps respectively.
Photos: Jeff Bloxham, Words: Marcus Pye