Fred Wakeman and Patrick Blakeney-Edwards’ wonderful run of Royal Automobile Club Woodcote Trophy pre-1956 sportscar success in the American’s ex-Tommy Sopwith Equipe Endeavour 1955 Cooper-Jaguar T38 continued with a resounding victory at the Donington Historic Festival on Sunday, May 3.
The dynamic duo qualified fifth in a magnificent 32-car entry for the hour-long race. Although gruesomely wet conditions led to a mixed-up grid, Chris Ward still planted JD Classics’ older Cooper-Jaguar T33 (shared with John Young) on pole, his 1m42.693s (69.37mph) best just 0.658s quicker than regenmeister Simon Hadfield posted in Wolfgang Friedrichs’ Aston Martin DB3S, which would have been a few rows back had the going been dry.
The second row represented the best lap of Gary Pearson in Carlos Monteverde’s white ex-Jim Clark Jaguar D-type and a fantastic effort by Mike Thorne in the Austin-Healey 100M shared with the very capable Porsche racer Sarah Bennett-Baggs. Rob Hall netted sixth for owner Martin Melling in the ex-Peter Collins/Pat Griffith Aston Martin DB3, the ’52 Goodwood 9 Hours winner another batting above its weight.
Boldest of all perhaps, given the conditions which prevailed for the preliminaries, was Till Bechtolsheimer who gridded his Allard-Cadillac J2 seventh. The Anglo-American hybrid dwarfed the ex-Tony Crook cycle-winged Cooper-Bristol T24/25 of John Ure/Nick Wigley alongside, but Malcolm Harrison/Paul Taft’s full-bodied Cooper-Bristol was but 0.158s slower to give the regular Class 2 hares something to think about.
Steve Boultbee Brooks’ ex-Tony Gaze Kangaroo Stable Aston Martin DB3 headed Class 3 in 10th, while further down in the thick of the pack Rick Bourne/Malcolm Paul (Lotus-Bristol 10), Ben Eastick (Jaguar D-type), Barry Wood/Ian Nuthall (Lister-Bristol) and Rudi Friedrichs (Jaguar C-type) were among those preferring to do their racing when it mattered.
Among the co-drivers, Irishman Eddie McGuire seconded son-in-law Tony Wood to share his pretty Gordini T23S, Germany’s Stephan Rettenmaier had spannerman Ingo Grimm in one of two Maserati 300Ss in the race and Hong Kong-based Briton Paul Griffin offered newly-appointed BRDC secretary Gillian Carr a pedal in his Connaught ALSR streamliner.
Of the Austin-Healey-rich GT contingent Graeme Dodd wound up David Stanley’s 100M well for 12th on the grid, with Tarek Mahmoud, Nils-Fredrik Nyblaeus and Martyn Corfield in the chase. Nigel Batchelor’s Aston Martin DB2/4 headed his set, while Louis Frankel joined uncle Andrew in a delightful little Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint.
Fortunately the weather front had blown through and the afternoon was bright and dry by the time the field set off. Monteverde led at the end of the opening lap, with Ward, Wakeman, Bourne (flying in the sleek red ex-Mike Anthony/Adrian Hall Lotus), Bechtlsheimer, Ure, Wolfgang Friedrichs and Eastick completing the top 10 and Thorne’s GT-leading Healey clinging on to 12th place.
Ward and Wakeman soon took up the cudgels, flashing either side of Halusa’s Maserati 300S out of the chicane as they disputed the lead on lap 6. Monteverde was the first of the leaders to stop, installing Pearson a lap after the window opened which promoted Bourne to third, ahead of Ure and Bechtolsheimer, their David versus Goliath battle having raged from the off. Hadfield was into Friedrichs’ Aston quickly too, and brought it to fifth before its engine failed.
The complexion of the race altered after 18 laps when leader Ward came in, but instead of partner Young continuing the car was pushed away, overheating. “It was losing water and there was no point risking the engine,” said Chris. When Blakeney-Edwards took over from Wakeman on lap 21 the hard work was effectively done because, unbeknown to onlookers, pursuer Pearson was wresting with a fading diff on the D-type. “I had massive oversteer every time I turned right, which was brilliant fun, but couldn’t catch Patrick,” grinned Gary.
“We got lucky,” beamed Wakeman afterwards. “Chris [Ward] is always difficult to catch, and our tyres were going off a bit, but when the other Cooper retired a lot of the pressure was taken off.” At the chequer Blakeney-Edwards and Pearson were the only drivers on the same lap.
Bourne and Lotus-Bristol owner Malcolm Paul were ecstatic with third, particularly since fellow class winner Bechtolsheimer’s thundering Allard was 1.49s behind at the close. “That’s the first time we’ve finished at Donington,” chorused the former Morgan aces. Eastick finished fifth, another few seconds back in his green D-type.
Rudi Friedrichs, Boultbee Brooks and Class 2 victors Harrison/Taft were next home ahead of the finned Lister-Bristol (in which Will Nuthall subbed for Barry Wood) and the Gordini. Best of the Healeys was Corfield’s in 11th, a lap clear of Nyblaeus and Mahmoud. Batchelor’s Aston finished 17th, with Nick Ruddell’s sister DB2/4 chasing.
Silverstone Classic promoter Wigley was not out in the maroon Cooper-Bristol for long when a rear axle problem put it out. Another notable casualty was the black Melling/Hall Aston which fell just before half-distance, early in the latter’s stint.