Donington delights as national motorsport returns to the new normal

The new UK motorsport season finally got underway last weekend, albeit with the now familiar COVID-19 restrictions and protocols. While that didn’t prevent some great spectacles, further bumps in the road remain in sight which could lead to 2021 remaining thoroughly domestic

Donington delights as national motorsport returns to the new normal

Here we go again. For the second successive season, the UK racing season has kicked off late, delayed by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Last year, with scientists toiling to devise vaccines and the first national lockdown biting, Motorsport UK cancelled all event permits for the months of April, May and June. This time around, with more than 30 million people (towards half the population) having received at least one jab, we’re in a better place, but by no means complacent. To be able to start motorsport in April, albeit behind closed doors, is therefore a privilege appreciated by many who were raring to go.

I worked at last July’s Historic Sports Car Club Legends of Brands Hatch Super Prix event – one of the first meetings to be run to a stringent new set of protocols – and the sense of relief that it ran smoothly was palpable. Remote signing-on and scrutineering (with competitors signing self-declarations), masking of officials, social distancing, doctors on standby in medical cars (rather than marshals being first responders) and virtual programmes have now become the norm. We are also used to relying on live timing and detailed results published online, rather than basic rankings on paper.

Scroll forward nine months and what has changed? Not much to the onlooker, beyond marshals on posts being permitted to be more hands-on and general logistical requirements being routine to officials observing from on high. “We’re understanding things better now, but getting through the programme smoothly and safely remains our priority,” said MotorSport Vision Racing’s Dave Scott at Donington Park on Friday, when the excellent Masters Historic Formula 1 weekend opened its 2021 programme under sunny skies, with a brisk tailwind supercharging cars down the Wheatcroft Straight past the pits.

Of course, the composition of the entry was different. With France going into total lockdown (and in the early stages of its vaccine rollout), cross-border travel bans for all but essential purposes and the necessity for non-elite international visitors to quarantine for 10 days on arrival in the UK, Donington’s roster was almost entirely British-based, with the exception of a couple of overseas nationals who are domiciled here. Fortunately, the Masters grids – and a wonderful Formula 2 field – were still well populated.

 

While F1 cars of the later Cosworth DFV-engined era have long offered a wonderful flashback to world championship grands prix of the 1970s and early 1980s, they had rivals for aural pleasure in the form of the Masters Endurance Legends machinery. Six-year-old Nissan-engined BR Engineering BR01 LMP2 cars will not be historic for another decade or so, but the sound and fury of a trio of the re-engined 4.5-litre high-downforce closed-cockpit machines haring around the 1.979-mile circuit in a shade over 60 seconds, battling with Steve Tandy’s svelte Lola-Judd – and young Max Lynn breaking a minute in Saturday qualifying – was hugely impressive. The contrast between the shrill engine note of the Judd V10-motivated Dallara and the thuggish deep-throated V8 in the US-built Riley & Scott was splendid. As were Mike Newton’s MG-Lola, Oliver Bryant (wringing everything from his mighty tube-frame Roush Mustang), and a couple of rapid Porsches.

How the season ahead will pan out remains anybody’s guess but, with rumours gathering strength in the Donington paddock that the ACM had finally pulled the plug on the rescheduled-from-2020 Monaco GP Historique

Nobody in the Masters Historic Sports Cars field could beat former Formula Ford 1600, Palmer Audi and Carrera Cup racer Tom Bradshaw, who piloted his Chevron B19 brilliantly, but versatile British Touring Car driver Jake Hill didn’t hang around after a late call-up to compete in Simon Watts’s Team Gunston B26. More V8s than I’ve seen in a Gentlemen Drivers GT race for a long while – TVR Griffiths, AC Cobras in original and Daytona Coupe guises, and Shelby Mustangs – squared up to a posse of Jaguar E-types in the model’s 60th anniversary year, with nippy Lotus Elans and Ron ‘Mr Masters’ Maydon’s twin-cam Ginetta G4R in the mix.

The HSCC, whose season starts at Snetterton in a fortnight’s time – where Historic and Classic Formula Ford competitors will carry stickers in memory of local hero Jim Russell, the three-time Autosport national F3 champion-turned-race school king – subscribed to grids for its F2 ‘International’ and Classic F3 series. Without the European stalwarts, the former lost its cosmopolitan flavour, but the pre-1979 cars are fantastic to behold, as they were in period. Donington hosted European championship rounds, won by Bruno Giacomelli (March-BMW 782P) and Keke Rosberg (Chevron-Hart B42) in 1977-78, and subsequently Derek Daly (March-BMW 792), Geoff Lees (Ralt-Honda RH6), Corrado Fabi (March-BMW 822), current circuit leaseholder Jonathan Palmer– the 1983 champion – and Roberto Moreno (Ralt-Honda RH6s).

How the season ahead will pan out remains anybody’s guess but, with rumours gathering strength in the Donington paddock that the ACM had finally pulled the plug on the rescheduled-from-2020 Monaco GP Historique, and news awaited on the Goodwood Festival of Speed’s viability, given that much of its content is imported or corporate-dependent, the historic scenes in all countries are looking increasingly likely to remain domestic throughout 2021.

 

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