Donington Historic Festival

Friday 3rd May – Sunday 5th May 2013 Donington Park, UK


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Event Video – Onboard Lancia LC2

Race Report –  Mark Howson

Three Out Of Three For The C11

Group C Racing again put on a fine show at the Donington Historic Festival, with Gareth Evans claiming his second win of the year in Sunday morning’s race and a fine field of drivers and machinery providing much entertainment to the large crowd.

A single 40-minute qualifying session was all that the packed schedule allowed the Group C runners on the Saturday and conditions were overcast and blustery as the cars made their way out onto the 1.979 mile National Circuit at 09.50. Mike Donovan led the way out of pitlane in the #111 Spice SE88 and laid down an early marker of 1:08.366.

This was quickly improved upon by David Mercer in the #41 C1 Spice SE90 (1:07.440) and Gareth Evans in the #31 Mercedes C11 (1:07.069), but the next laps saw Evans trim almost three seconds off his time (1:04.139) as the pace began to get more realistic. Paul Stubber briefly went second in the #21 Veskanda before Donovan improved his pace to 1:05.205 and Mercer to 1:06.024, but Evans again improved to 1:03.644. By this time, several other cars were coming into contention, chiefly Richard Eyre’s Jaguar XJR16 and Roger Wills’ Lancia LC2. Eyre went second fastest on 1:04.647, while the Veskanda improved to 1:04.524 just after the 15-minute mark.

At this point, the majority of the field had headed to the pits for fresh rubber and spots of rain soon prompted the remainder of the runners to do likewise. The weather forecast had changed overnight from ‘clear and blustery’ to ‘passing showers’, but the sight of a rapidly emptying grandstand opposite the pits indicated that this shower was of the heavier variety, and it just got worse and worse; in fact, so heavily was it raining that the opposite side of the circuit was beginning to fade from view. Clearly there was nothing to be gained from venturing out in such conditions and the Group C runners waited for it to stop; but time had run out by the time it did and so Gareth Evans was on pole.

“It was a very strange session,” said Evans. “We had drizzle at the bottom of the hill for most of the session, while it was dry elsewhere; and this is a car that lets you know immediately if there’s a lack of grip – you feel it all the way round!

“I didn’t manage to get enough heat into the tyres and came in for fresh rubber with the intention of giving it a go, but then it started raining.”

Bob Berridge was due to share the C11 with Evans, but a case of food poisoning meant that he would not be donning gloves and helmet this weekend.

The sudden change in conditions left Roger Wills with a sixth-place starting position; “I got caught out by the weather,” he said. “I’d come in for new tyres but it started raining before I could get back out – I reckon I could have gone two seconds quicker without any problem.” While frustrating for the New Zealander, he at least had the consolation of having three other cars to race at the festival.

Scott Couper was  making his Group C debut in the #106 Tiga GC288 and it transpired that this was also his Donington Park debut; “No, I’ve never raced here before – I only started racing three years ago and have done most of that in Castle Combe Special GTs, where I raced a Juno. That was good fun, with lots of downforce, but this a big jump up; in fact, this will be only my ninth race ever!”

How long had he had the car? “I bought it in October and it’s been prepped over the winter. I fancied something with a lot of oomph and high downforce; as well as a vehicle that wasn’t going to lose value, of course. We had the first test on Tuesday and tomorrow will be the first race. I’m still learning the track and could have done with the full 40 minutes.”

The car is prepared and run by Simpson Motorsport, the same team who ran it in period. The company founder, Robin Simpson-Smith, raced the car at Le Mans in 1989 and his son Julian prepares the car now. It was last raced at Donington in 1989, when Ranieri Randaccio and Pasquale Barberio shared the car in the 480km WSPC event. But while Couper had yet to make his Group C racing debut, David Mercer’s had come some three decades earlier; “I was in at the very start of Group C, initially in a Group B BMW M1 and then in a URD C83 with Jens Winther. These really are the best cars out there – loud, fast and spectacular; I mean, the other races here are all very nice, but how many E-types do you really want to watch?

“Unfortunately, it looks like this will be my last year racing. I’ve been suffering from a prolapsed disc, which has been very painful, and recently had another operation on my back. These are cars for younger men, so mine is up for sale now.”

For Eric Rickenbacher, just getting to Donington had taken a monumental effort; “We only had two engines. The first wasn’t running because of electrical issues and the second broke a valve-seat; both are back in the workshop. We looked all over Europe for a replacement, but in the end we managed to get one from Heini Mader.”

And why a Cheetah? “Because it is a Swiss car,” said the Swiss driver. “A friend of mine found it in parts in France and said ‘I think I’ve found a Swiss group C car!’, so I bought it. It was incomplete and a lot of parts were broken, so it took a lot of rebuilding.

“This car needs so much time. I’m a carpenter by trade so this is very much my hobby. There are four of us who look after it, and Uli Schüpbach, my engineer, is also an engineer for Sauber F1, so they help us to sort springs etc.

“We haven’t had time to test the car since installing the new engine, and this morning I only really had two laps with the tyres up to temperature; but she’s running well.”

Tommy Dreelan was enjoying getting to grips with his C1 Porsche 962; “I like it – it’s a very nice car,” he said. “It’s different to the Spice in that you have to get used to the turbo lag and the Spice has more torque, but it’s easier to drive; not as noisy and not as hot.

“I’ll be sticking with the Porsche this year. Barcelona was a tough circuit physically, but great fun, and I’m hoping this weekend will be too.”

Paul Stubber was glad to be back in the series after missing the opening round; “Unfortunately, I had a prior racing commitment in New Zealand which clashed with Barcelona, but the intention is to do the rest of the season. The Veskanda has been pulled apart and put back together over the winter and we’re ready to go.

“We’ve also separated some of the electrical circuits – we had a recurring issue last year where we’d start to lose power after about 20 minutes; we’d lose volts and the fuel would get hot. We think we’ve now sorted that – we tested recently and the car came back cool after 40 laps, so fingers crossed.”

In the adjacent garage to the Veskanda was the Rexona Spice; “We knew the rain was coming so I got out quick and got some laps in – I nearly put it on pole!” said Mike Donovan.

“The C1s are very wide here and a lot quicker in a straight line, so passing opportunities are very limited. Our advantage lies in the slower corners, but we have to get there first to have any chance; it’s going to be a real game of chess.”

Adrian Watt was intending to race his C1 Spice SE89P at Donington, but engine problems had scuppered that plan.

“We’ve been waiting on engine parts coming from the States and they were due to get here this week, but they’re late. Fortunately, I didn’t put the Argo up for sale and so I can race that. We had some issues in qualifying – the transponder wasn’t working and we put some bigger tyres on the back to give it a boost, but they ended up rubbing on the bodywork. We’ll just have to see how it goes.”

For Jon Fay, racing in Group C is all about the enjoyment; “I used to race powerboats and competed in transatlantic yacht racing, but when I got married the missus wouldn’t let me do that anymore. I tried Formula Ford for a while, but the average age of the drivers was about 12 and they were completely mad, so I gave that up. Group C allows me to race something powerful and noisy and have a good time among other gentleman racers.”

The Tiga began life as a GT286 and was purchased from new by Tom Hessert in California in 1986. It was later converted to GT287-spec by Carlos Bobeda, who replaced the 1.3 litre Mazda engine, with a 3.0 litre Chevy V6; “The 3.0 litre engines kept blowing up, so it was bored out to four litres,” said Fay. “It had been raced to death when I bought it, so we stripped it right down and completely rebuilt it. I do this purely for the fun of it – we’re just a bunch of weekend warriors, really – and so we’re more interested in finishing a race than winning one.”

It was still overcast and blowy in North Leicestershire on the Sunday morning, but it was noticeably warmer and the threat of further rain looked to have receded significantly. Happily, all the Group C runners made it out of the pitlane and round to the grid in time for the start, with the pole-sitting Mercedes C11 being the last to take up its place; Gareth Evans nonchalantly making his way to the front of the pack just moments before the grid was cleared.

With so little running the previous day, the decision had been taken to give the field two pace laps, with the clock beginning to count down at the start of the second. Evans led the cars round and there was a good formation as the pace car peeled off; the red lights went out and the engines roared.

The Silver Arrows reached Redgate in the lead, as expected, but Paul Stubber had made a great start and was on the outside of the C11 as the cars rounded Hollywood. For a moment it looked as though the lead would change, but Evans put his foot down and began to pull away from the Veskanda; crossing the line at the end of the lap with a 1.4s lead, which doubled on the next lap. Further back, Eric Rickenbacher had taken sixth from Roger Wills on the first green lap, and this became fifth when Richard Eyre was forced in to the pitlane for the first of two occasions by a recurring electrical fault. Adrian Watt, meanwhile, had moved the Argo past one Tiga (Jon Fay’s) and was closing on the second (Scott Couper’s).

A series of quick laps from Evans quickly gave him a lead above ten seconds, while Stubber was more concerned with the #111 Spice of Mike Donovan that was looming ever larger in his mirrors. As Donovan had predicted, getting past was not proving to be easy and the Australian stayed in second. But the fight for second also allowed David Mercer to begin to close in the #41 Spice SE90, and over the course of five laps a 3.8s deficit became just a couple of tenths; and by Lap 9 the three cars were covered by just two-thirds of a second.

On Lap 10 Stubber’s defences cracked and first Donovan, then Mercer were through. Mercer carried his momentum on and on the next lap took second from the C2 leader. Elsewhere, Roger Wills was recovering from his lacklustre start and closing the gap back to Rickenbacher for fifth. The Lancia had earlier been at the head of a three car battle for position, but its increased pace left the #33 Tic Tac Porsche 962C of Henrik Lindberg locked in a duel with the Leyton House 962 of Tommy Dreelan for the third race in succession.

On this occasion, it would be the turquoise car that would prevail (on Lap 11), but the signs are that this could be a season-long rivalry.

While Donovan did his best to hang on to Mercer’s coat-tails, the other C2 cars were having mixed fortunes. Having taken second in class, Adrian Watt was forced into the pitlane after just 11 minutes of the race with suspected engine failure. It later transpired that a stone had found its way into the floor plate, causing quite extensive damage. The fuel pump was also affected and the oil pressure began to rise, giving the impression that the engine was about to give out, whereas in fact it was fine. Scott Couper, meanwhile, saw his first Group C race interrupted by a puncture at the front of the car, but the tyre was replaced without drama and he quickly rejoined. This all left Jon Fay clear in second in class, but – having just posted his fastest lap of the race – arrived at the Roberts Chicane out of shape and spun. The Tiga ended up bogged down in the gravel and, after attempts to push him out proved futile, Fay exited the car and walked back to the pits.

On Lap 12 Roger Wills finally reclaimed fifth from Eric Rickenbacher, but by this point Paul Stubber was 20 seconds up the road and, with both cars lapping at a very similar pace, a challenge for fourth seemed highly unlikely. And Rickenbacher hadn’t given up, either; the Cheetah closing back up to the back of the Lancia within three laps and staying there for several more. Alas, this battle came to an end with just a few minutes to go when the Swiss driver had a spin at Redgate.

While all this was going on, Gareth Evans had been entertaining the large and enthusiastic crowd with a series of fast laps – including the fastest of the race; 1:01.745 – which served to maintain his lead. And he needed to, as David Mercer was not letting up his own pace in the #41 Spice and any mistake from the Mercedes would have seen the lead shrink rapidly; but none was forthcoming and the C11 came home to its third win out of three races in 2013 by a margin of 17.243s. David Mercer enjoyed his second place in the C1 Spice – “Not bad for an old man with a broken back!”… …while Mike Donovan had also enjoyed the scrap and another C2 win. Paul Stubber took third in C1 on his 2013 debut (and was the last driver still on the lead lap) while Scott Couper was delighted to take second in C2 in his first ever Group C race.

Roger Wills finished fifth, with Tommy Dreelan sixth and Henrik Lindberg seventh. Eric Rickenbacher was a distant eighth after his late-race dramas.