Just as anybody who watched the recent Azerbaijan Grand Prix saw Formula 1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton profit from the misfortune of others in the closing stages to record an unlikely victory, Chris Ward looked for once well beaten in the Donington Historic Festival’s Stirling Moss Trophy Pre-1961 Sports Car race, until a dramatic suspension failure torpedoed runaway leader Oliver Bryant’s hopes three laps from home.
Having led the vast majority of the race in his Lotus 15, Bryant appeared to be stroking the British Racing Green car home when, with less than three minutes of the hour remaining, there was a ‘clonk’ as he braked for Redgate and the left corner went down. He knew it was curtains as the car tripped over itself and slewed to a halt. Ward, debuting a Knobbly-bodied Lister for the JD Classics team, couldn’t believe what he saw and duly landed his fifth Donington SMT win in six years – and third successive solo success – in the cars from Cambridge.
A respectable 22-car grid was nonetheless the smallest of the Motor Racing Legends’ four at the eighth DHF event. Bryant was the dominant force all weekend, his pole position time of 1m18.594s (90.65mph) in his two-litre Coventry-Climax FPF engined Lotus was almost three quarters of a second quicker that closest rivals Jon Minshaw/Phil Keen – winners in 2015 – in the Demon Tweeks Direct Lister-Jaguar Knobbly. Ward and Tony Wood/Will Nuthall in similar cars were hot on their heels.
Always batting above their 1216cc single cam Climax-motivated Lola Mk1 Prototype’s weight Keith Ahlers and Billy Bellinger posted a class-blitzing 1:21.975 (86.91mph) for fifth overall in illustrious company for a third row grid slot,
Eric Broadley’s marque-founding Lola was dwarfed by Andrew Robertson Smith/James Cottingham in Mark Gibbon’s hulking Lister-Chevrolet Knobbly. “It’s the first opportunity I’ve had to drive one,” smiled Cottingham. “It’s a fabulous thing, but very different to anything else I’ve driven before.”
The finned Lotus 11 of Philip Champion/Sam Stretton pipped the flat-backed version of Jason Yates/Ben Mitchell by 0.423 to top class 4. They shared the next rank, ahead of the first rear-engined car, Tony Ditheridge’s Cooper Monaco T49 co-driven by Barry Cannell and powered by a similar engine to Bryant’s Lotus. They shaded the Rejo Mk3 of Malcolm Harrison/Patrick Watts.
Two more closely-matched Lotus 11s occupied the line behind them, Guy Peeters’ unpainted car shading the superbly presented ex-Team Lotus/Alan Stacey Le Mans example of American father and son Harin and Tim de Silva. Another of the Rod Easterling/John Oliver originated Rejos gridded 11th with Gregory de Prins up.
The Belgian was joined of row six by Lebanese racer Tarek Mahmoud’s Cooper Monaco, split from the ex-John Coombs/Roy Salvadori/Jack Brabham example of Paul Griffin by the Elva Mk5s of Ralf Emmerling/Phil Hooper and Louis Zurstrassen. Andrea Stortoni and Richard Postins were the final crew inside 1m30s aboard the Italian’s Lotus 11.
The pack was completed by smiling London-based Cypriot Costas Michael (whose Lotus 11 is painted in the period Corgi Toys model’s vivid blue and red livery), the omnipresent Marc Gordon’s pretty Jaguar XK150, Chris and Nick Ball’s D-type and the little Lola Mk1 of Jurg Tobler which qualified out of session.
Eager to rub in his practice superiority Bryant sped off into the lead at Sunday’s start ekeing out an advantage of almost six seconds over the first nine laps. Having quickly passed Minshaw, Ward gave chase in a car which was unfamiliar to him, while Nuthall established Wood’s Lister in third.
Out early on was Tobler, who abandoned his Lola after the Old Harpin, near Starkey’s Bridge, on lap three. The Ball D-type lasted barely two laps longer having thrown its fan belt and spun on its own water when the temperature came up. Griffin was also in the wars, abandoning his Cooper when second and third gears went missing.
With Bryant and Ward still more than five seconds apart Minshaw was the first of the leaders to stop, from fourth place at 16 laps, with a sticky throttle, but Keen jumped in. Third man Nuthall came in a lap later, his right front tyre having punctured at the chicane. His IN Racing crew had to lift the big car manually to get a jack under it. Cottingham was the only other unlapped runner after 17 laps. Ahlers, de Silva, Postins and Cannell were next up, pursued by Michael who had caught and passed Harrison.
A safety car was despatched to cover marshals moving Emmerling’s Elva jus before half-way, the ideal time for most runners to make their mandatory stops. When the track went green again, Bryant had to redouble his efforts to extend his advantage over Ward from 2.3s to more than six before disaster struck. “I’d just seen T3 [three minutes to go] on my pitboard when it happened. When the top eye on the damper/strut pulls out on a 15 everything flails around and it ripped the bottom arm out of the chassis. I was very lucky it happened where it did, not in the Craner Curves.”
Ward thus found himself ahead and ran out a surprised victor. “It’s new to me and there’s a lot of work we can do to make it faster.” Runners-up Minshaw/Keen were 11.095s down the chequered flag, Phil having served a drive through for Jon who was too quick in the pit lane. Wood had to do a similar imposition for another pit lane infringement, thus by keeping his nose clean Ward won the day. Cottingham/Smith were fourth, despite a late trip down the chicane’s run-off road with fading anchors.
Ahlers/Bellinger’s driving was as polished as the Lola’s en route to a class-winning fifth, just a lap down and almost a minute clear of the Harrison/Watts Rejo which topped SMT3. Michael drove really well either side of a spin, his reward seventh with SMT4 honours after enjoyable dices with Stretton (a late retirement) and ‘Dithers,’ who finished eighth, seven seconds ahead of Mahmoud’s sister car with Zurstrassen’s Elva in tow. Yates and the speedy Mitchell also completed 39 laps.
The De Silvas and de Prins covered 38 tours apiece, with Stortoni/Postins and Gordon the last classified finishers. Peeters was the other competitor who fell by the wayside, at two-thirds’ distance.
Words: Marcus Pye, Photography: Jeff Bloxham and Dave Brassington