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Donington Historic Festival 2023 Motor Racing Legends Race Report by Damien Smith

Donington Historic Festival 2023
Motor Racing Legends Race Report by Damien Smith

The 2023 Donington Historic Festival launched the Motor Racing Legends season in style as bumper grids created a spectacle of cut-and-thrust historic racing over two glorious days.
Classic cars collections on Donington’s famous Melbourne Loop and on the infield offered added attractions, while celebrations to mark the 30th anniversary of the circuit’s 1993 European Grand Prix – including Ayrton Senna’s unforgettable first lap – were capped by dramatic demonstrations of screaming 1990s Formula 1 machinery.

Day 1: Saturday 29th April 

An early pitstop and a degree of fortune during a lengthy safety car interruption allowed father-and-son duo Graeme and James Dodd to score a comfortable victory in what was still a hard-fought opening race at the Donington Historic Festival. The pair finished well clear of Jonathan Mitchell and Matthew Wrigley in the hour-long encounter.
Saturday morning action burst into life as Danny Winstanley wound up his 3.8 E-type to knock brothers Gary and John Pearson off pole position by a scant 0.024sec. The former Caterham racer set his best lap, a 1min 19.274, in the final 10 minutes of the session despite an oil slick dropped from Mitchell’s car. Graeme and James Dodd were third fastest, with Wrigley next. Mitchell had set the fifth best time before he lost his oil.


Former Caterham racer Danny Winstanley took pole position by a scant 0.024sec in his 3.8 Jaguar E-type to brothers Gary and John Pearson with a best lap of 1min 19.274 seconds.  Photo: Andrew Coles

A broken diff thwarted the Pearsons from taking the start and joining what was initially a thrilling three-car battle for the lead. Winstanley led from pole position as he was chased hard by Mitchell and Wrigley. But Winstanley lost what would have been a second consecutive Jaguar Classic Challenge win at the Donington Historic Festival when he peeled off after 11 laps when the water pump pulley departed from his engine, leaving Mitchell with the lead.
But the race turned on a long safety car interlude caused by Marc Gordon losing his oil at Coppice. Before that, Graeme Dodd stopped to hand over to son James as soon as the pit window opened after 20 minutes – and it was a decision that effectively won them the race. Most of the field, including Mitchell and Wrigley, pitted when the safety car emerged after 32 minutes, only to be held by a red light at the end of the pitlane. Dodd Jr had now jumped from third to the lead, and his advantage was then increased when he was released by the safety car along with some backmarkers before racing resumed with just 12 minutes to run.
Dodd Jr managed his gift of a gap to beat Mitchell by 22.311sec, with Wrigley third. “Lady luck shined on us,” admitted Dodd Sr.
A three-car fight for fourth fell to Jamie Boot, from Tony Best and Charlie Jones-Best. A late off for Tom Barclay took him out of the battle, but he and Julian Barratt were still credited with the Class F win in seventh overall, behind Guy Grant and Mark Hales. John and Jack Young took the Class D spoils.

Father and son Graeme and James Dodd win the Jaguar Classic Challenge. “Lady luck shined on us,” admitted Dodd Sr after a safety car period fell into their hands, gifting a gap of 22.311sec to Jonathan Mitchell and Matt Wrigley third. 

Pole man David Tomin leads the 50-minute touring car extravaganza away from the grid in his Spa 24 hours Batibouw liveried car.  Eventual winners, Mark Smith and Colin Turkington in the BMW M3 E36 ex Steve Soper Bigazzi car started P2. Photo: Jef Bloxham


Colin Turkington and Mark Smith secured the overall win in a typically dramatic 50-minute touring car extravaganza as a chasing David Tomlin threw away his chance when he spun his monster of a Ford Cosworth RS500 in the closing stages. Rover SD1s made the running in the Tony Dron Trophy, while a fleet of Lotus Cortinas put on a show in the U2TC division.
Tomlin put plenty of clear air between his RS500 and the rest of the colourful and diverse three-decade touring car field. The Ford driver ended up 2.401sec faster than the ex-Steve Soper Bigazzi BMW M3 E30 of Smith and four-time British Touring Car Champion Turkington – back at Donington a week after racing in the first 2023 round of the modern-day series. Ric Wood’s Nissan Skyline GT-R was three-tenths off the Smith/Turkington BMW in third, although would fail to take the start because of a head-gasket failure.
Mike Whitaker’s Rover SD1 was fastest in the Tony Dron Trophy division, and the 1960s U2TC field was headed by the Lotus Cortina of Ambrogio Perfetti. Irishman David Dickinson was next up despite his best lap time being deleted for a track limits violation.

Mike Whitaker’s 1980 Rover SD1 was fastest in qualifying in the Tony Dron Trophy division and went onto take the Series win against his son, Mike Whitaker Jnr in his Sanyo livieried car that’s just a year older. Photo: Jeff Bloxham

Turkington predictably put in a brilliant opening stint to keep Tomlin in sight before the pitstops. The pair came in together close to the half-way mark of the 50-minute duel, with Smith taking over from Turkington in the BMW and emerging in the lead. Solo runner Tomlin took his longer mandatory stop as a handicap for the extra power of his RS500 and rejoined 22sec down on the E30 with just 17 minutes to go. It set up a thrilling chase.
Smith responded valiantly to the challenge, but Tomlin still took chunks out of his lead until they were separated by just 2.835sec with five minutes left on the clock. It seemed inevitable that the Cossie would sweep past to win – only for Tomlin to spin at the chicane. “I was running out of tyres and brakes and braked too late,” he shrugged. “Then the starter motor failed three times and I’d also flat-spotted the tyres.” Smith was left to secure the victory. “I have to give full credit to Colin,” he said.
“That’s my first win of the year, but hopefully not my last,” said Turkington. “We gave the Cosworth a good race and Mark drove a great stint. It’s a long race for the RS500 , which is probably not easy to manage.” Tomlin recovered to finish second, although Darren Fielding’s BMW E30 was close to stealing the runner-up spot at the flag.
In the Tony Dron Trophy, Michael Whitaker Jr showed his father the way in their Rover SD1s, but it was Senior that took the win following his earlier pole position. “He broke his toy,” said Dad Mike, referring to a differential problem. “A case of tortoise versus the hare.”


BTCC guest star, Josh Cook, grabbed U2TC victory sharing with Mike Gardiner in the Lotus Cortina dominated grid. Photo: Andrew Coles

The U2TC race, which started 30 seconds later on the same grid, offered up a Lotus Cortina thriller. Another modern BTCC guest star, Josh Cook, grabbed the victory sharing with Mike Gardiner. Dickenson survived a last-lap coming together at the chicane to claim second in class, ahead of Perfetti.

The Royal Automobile Club Pall Mall Cup grid thunders into Redgate for the first lap of their Saturday afternoon three-hour race, eventual Lotus Elan 26R winners, Simon Evans and James Littlejohn started on pole. Photo: Nick Edwards

A trio of safety car interruptions shaped the battle for overall honours in the three-hour Royal Automobile Club Pall Mall Cup as Richard Littlejohn and Andrew Jordan put in star performances in their Lotus Elans. The race came down to a dash to the chequer, with Littlejohn battling gearbox problems to hold off Jordan by a little over four seconds.
No surprise it was a pair of Lotus Elans trading times in a tight battle for pole position. Littlejohn and Simon Evans got the nod, by a fag paper 0.082sec, over Jordan and John Tordoff, the former standing in for old BTCC rival Sam Tordoff. “The cars are pretty much identical,” said Littlejohn. “It’s good fun to be competing against Andrew.” The Harry Barton/Oliver Reuben TVR 200 Griffith broke the Elan theme in third, topping the pre-66 over 2000cc class, ahead of another 26R driven by Robin Ellis and Julian Thomas. Fastest pre-63 car was the 3.8 Jaguar E-type of Matt Walton and Callum Lockie.

Fastest pre-63 car was the 3.8 Jaguar E-type of Matt Walton and Callum Lockie.

Jordan put in a fine opening stint to lead most of the first hour, edging away from Reuben’s TVR Griffiths. But as one of the first to stop to hand over to Tordoff, Jordan was out of luck on his timing. In fact, both the leading Elan and the TVR lost out as a safety car interruption was triggered by Florian Nicolai Brandt going off at the Craner Curves in his TVR Grantura. When racing resumed with an hour and 15 minutes gone, the Thomas/Ellis Elan was now in the lead with Tordoff finding himself in fourth, a lap down.
Littlejohn was the driver to watch in the second stint as he chased down a sizeable gap to Ellis. With 90 minutes to go, Ellis led Littlejohn by 32.6sec – but that gap had been halved four laps later. To make matters worse for Ellis, he was then handed a drive-through penalty for a pitstop violation, Littlejohn relieving him of the lead as came in to serve it. But minutes later the troubled Shelby Cobra of Andy Newall and ‘Erich Stahler’ – a pseudonym used in honour of the character in Steve McQueen’s ‘Le Mans’ movie – spun on the pit straight when its crankshaft broke, triggering a second safety car. That allowed the crews to make the second of their mandatory five-minute pitstops under caution.

The Shelby Cobra of Andy Newall and Erich Stahler triggering a second safety car when it spun on the pit straight when its crankshaft broke. Photo: Matt Welch

Racing resumed with an hour and five minutes to run, with Littlejohn remaining in the lead car ahead of Thomas (back in for Ellis), with Reuben and Jordan a lap down ­– and now all eyes were on Jordan. The 2013 BTCC champion was swiftly up to third, but with the best part of a lap to make up, looked set to run out of time to climb further.

2013 BTCC champion Andrew Jordan led a march progressing to second from third place after a third safety car period  in John Tordoff’s Lotus Elan 26R.

But then a third safety car was called when the Ginetta G4R of Steve and Josh Ward visited a gravel trap. This time the caution worked in Jordan’s favour. Racing resumed with 12 minutes left on the clock, the blue Elan slicing past Thomas to claim second, Jordan then setting off after the yellow Lotus of Littlejohn. He closed in, but time was once again his enemy. The winner completed an impressive 120 laps in 180 minutes (with two five-minute stops) – as Jordan fell short by just 4.108sec.
“Fantastic,” said a delighted Littlejohn. “At the second pitstop I made a silly decision not to take on fresh rear tyres, so I was struggling – and then in the closing stages I only had third gear!” “I thought he was struggling with something,” said Jordan, who had enjoyed the chase and said “he was happy all round.”
Thomas and Ellis took third place a lap up on the Reuben/Barton TVR, with the Stephan Jöbstl/Andy Willis/George McDonald Elan snatching fourth in the closing minutes from Steve Jones and Chris Atkinson, to complete a thrilling Saturday at the Donington Historic Festival.

Steve Jones (left) and Robin Ellis (right) chew the fat in the Royal Automobile Club pit lane about Lotus Elan life! Photo: Andrew Coles

The Stephan Jöbstl/Andy Willis/George McDonald Lotus Elan snatched fourth in the closing minutes from fellow ‘Elanners Steve Jones and Chris Atkinson. The trio were also awarded with Traditional Oak Spirit of the Meeting Trophy recognising the heroic efforts of the Hall and Hall team to change the engine between qualifying and the race after it dropped oil pressure in the morning!

Day 2: Sunday 30th April 

The Lister Jaguar Knobbly of John Spiers and Ollie Hancock took pole and lead proceedings in the race until a battery failure put an end to their assault.

Battery trouble cost John Spiers and Ollie Hancock a dominant victory in the hour-long race for 1950s sports racers, while an extra pitstop caused by a brief problem quickly solved thwarted Michael Birch and Gareth Burnett in their bid. That left Ollie Crosthwaite and Nick Finburgh to claim overall and Stirling Moss Trophy honours, with John and Gary Pearson finishing third overall and first in the RAC Woodcote Trophy.
Spiers and Hancock secured pole position in their Lister Jaguar Knobbly, knocking the Lotus 15 of Birch and Burnett from the top spot by 0.236sec. The Cooper Monacos of Shane Brereton, and Crosthwaite and Finburgh were next, ahead of the Richard Hudson/Stuart Morley Lister Knobbly. The Pearson brothers were the fastest Woodcote Trophy runners in sixth overall in their Jaguar D-type XKD 543, just ahead of Richard Wilson’s pretty ex-Carroll Shelby and Jim Hall Maserati 250S.

Richard Wilson qualified his pretty ex-Carroll Shelby and Jim Hall Maserati 250S second on the grid for the Royal Automobile Club Woodcote Trophy. Photo: Jeff Bloxham

A flat battery robbed Spiers and Hancock of victory in the hour-long race. Spiers handed over to Hancock with 28 minutes to run, but the Lister Knobbly – which had dominated the opening half of the contest – never properly got going again in Hancock’s hands and was retired from the contest. That left the Crosthwaite/Finburgh Cooper Monaco to take the Stirling Moss Trophy victory and the overall win.
Birch in the Lotus 15 had kept Spiers honest in the opening laps. But a potentially gripping battle was broken up when Birch pitted briefly with a fuel feed problem that was quickly solved on the twin-tank Lotus. Burnett took over just after the half-way mark, the car rising back up the order to finish second overall, 21.209sec down on the victorious Cooper. They were left to wonder what might have been without the extra stop.

Gareth Burnett had to work hard to climb back through the field to second place in the Stirling Moss Trophy in the twin fuel tanked Lotus 15 which came in with a delivery issue when in the hands of owner Michael Birch.  Photo: Nick Edwards

Royal Automobile Club Woodcote Trophy honours fell to the Pearsons, their D-type running second overall until Burnett came past with six minutes to go. A solo Richard Wilson finished fourth and second in the Woodcote Trophy, his Maserati 250S 10.5sec behind the D-type. Robi Bernberg and Paul Ugo completed the Stirling Moss Trophy podium, their Cooper Monaco right on the tail of the 250S at the flag, with Sam Wilson’s Lola Mk1 completing the overall top six.

Ollie Crosthwaite and Nick Finburgh celebrate a first victory for their Cooper Monaco lead car below)that they started racing together last season.  John Pearson (Jaguar D-type no.17 below) converted a Royal Automobile Club Woodcote Trophy pole to a win with brother Gary. Photo above: Andrew Coles Photo below: Jeff Bloxham

The threatened rain arrived for the ‘Mad Jack’ pre-war racers as Rudiger Friedrichs left the field far in his wake in his Alvis Firefly, as a ‘new old’ contender made a special guest appearance in one of the annual highlights of the Donington Historic Festival.

A brace of red Aston Martin’s head into Redgate corner. Lead: Steve Skipowrth and James Dean with Rob Blakemore and Nigel Armstrong both in Aston Matin Speed Models.  Photo: Andrew Coles

A pair of brief red flag interruptions were not enough to quell enthusiasm for the pre-war ‘Mad Jack’ grid on Sunday morning, as Freidrichs set the pace in his 1933 Alvis Firefly Special. The German was 3.341sec up on Gareth Burnett’s 1939 Alta Sports. Michael Birch was next in his Talbot AV105 Brooklands, ahead of James Morley in his 1927 Bentley.
The major talking point of the session was so-called ‘Car Zero’, the Bentley Blower continuation car making its race debut. Entered by Bentley Motors and driven by Stuart Morley, the pristine Blower is hand-built from a combination of laser-scanned data and original drawings. “I’m the fifth-generation Morley to drive Bentleys!” said Morley. “Everything is a bit better and a bit tighter. We’re not competing with the 3-litre cars because they are a bit lighter, but it’s great fun.” Further up the order, three-time Le Mans GT class winner and long-time factory Aston Martin driver Darren Turner enjoyed a run in the 1930 Team Car he was sharing with Jonathon Lupton. They were ninth fastest overall.

Stuart Morley gave Bentley Motors, ‘Car Zero’  its track debut and brought the car home safely in 16th. 
Photo: Andrew Coles

A sprinkling of rain became more persistent across the 40-minute contest, to increase the level of jeopardy for those intrepid pre-war racers. Friedrichs and his Alvis were in a league of their own as he negotiated the mandatory pitstop to win by 55 seconds. “It was an easy race, a smooth race,” said Friedrichs. “I wonder what happened to my competitors? It’s a great honour to race at Donington, although these cars are not very good in the rain.”
Birch was best of the rest in his Talbot, with Clive Morley only six seconds behind in his Bentley to complete the podium finishers. Heinz Stamm was next in his Aston Martin, ahead of the plucky three-wheeler Morgan driven with gusto by Duncan Wood and Sue Darbyshire, who was making a heroic return to Donington Park after recovering from injuries sustained  falling out of a tree in the winter.

Above: Rudiger Friedrichs (1st place 1933 Alvis Firefly, centre), Michael Birch (2nd place, 1933 Talbot AV Brooklands, left) and Clive Morley (3rd, right, 1926 Bentley 3/ 4 1/2) celebrate on the podium. Photo: Matt Welch

Below: Conditions deteriorated as the only rain storm kicked in late afternoon on Sunday, but Michael Birch’s Talbot AV Brooklands defied the conditions.  Photo: Nick Edwards

Stuart Morley brought the Bentley Blower home safely in 16th, a couple of places ahead of Le Mans hero Turner and Lupton who finished second in the class won by Wood and Darbyshire, as the curtain came down on another memorable weekend of fabulous historic motor racing.

The ‘Mad Jack’ Pre-War Sports-Car grid welcomed Jonathan Bailey’s stunning 1927 Bugatti 35C the period steed of Czech female racer, Elisabeth Junek.  Photo: Jeff Bloxham

Full results from the weekend and available now on our Entries and Results page

See Donington Historic Festival Results

The Motor Racing Legends season continues on July 29th – 30th at the Oulton Park Gold Cup with two fifty minute, two driver races for Pre ’61 Sports Cars in the Royal Automobile Club Woodcote Trophy & Stirling Moss Trophy race and for Touring Cars with the Historic Touring Car Challenge and Tony Dron Trophy with Sixties Touring Car Challenge and U2TC. 

Oulton Park Gold Cup 29-30 July – for more information click here!




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