The 2015 Donington Historic Festival saw me racing two incredible cars. Saturday & Sunday was Simon & Kate Orebi Gann’s Morgan SLR. Bank Holiday Monday was the Tester Engineering Jaguar XJ120.
I’d had a few laps in the Morgan at Silverstone on the Friday but apart from that this was the first time I’d been in it. It’s an extremely rare car, one of three ever made, so the invitation to race it is a massive privilege.
After many days of lovely spring weather there was a great change for the opening day of the Festival. Low temperatures and rain the air in saw us ready for the Pre 66 Sports and GT Cup qualifying.
I went first and pushed myself hard to acclimatise to the characteristics of the SLR in tricky damp and drying conditions. We posted a time good for P1 in class. Conscious that Simon had not driven at Donington for some time I pitted early as a double waved yellow at the chicane precluded another attempt to better my time. Simon took over and drove the remainder of the session. However, it had dried out by then so we were pipped for pole and ended up P3 in class and 16th overall. A good start.
Sunday morning saw torrential rain, so bad that I wondered if they would have to suspend the action. However, by the time we arrived at Donington it had stopped raining and proceeded to dry but it was still damp at the start of the race.
The regulations state that the car owner must drive at least 50 minutes of the 90 minute race with a minimum of two pit stops. Simon started the race and showed good pace, picking off a couple of cars in the early laps. The pit stop came quickly and I jumped in and set off onto a drying but still tricky track. Still there were some lurid slides which the lovely, nimble handling characteristics of the SLR took in its stride and gave me the confidence to really push hard through the heavy traffic. My allotted time came to an end all too quickly and I handed over to Simon for the dash to the flag. We had a great run, finishing P6 in class with the car running faultlessly.
The Morgan SLR was originally built for Le Mans but due to a regulation change it never raced there. As you would expect it has classic 60s handling and being quite light is very nimble through the corners and good on the brakes. Racing on Dunlop's excellent L section historic tyres the car slides beautifully through the corners and goes to amazing angles of oversteer before it scrubs off speed. This was particularly noticeable at the Craner Curves and once I was comfortable it was just fantastic going through both parts with the rear of the car hanging way out.
Out on track we were in a fantastic 40 odd car grid with AC Cobra, E Type, Healey 3000, Ferrari 250 GT, Mustang, Lotus Elite and MGB.
What a great race and what a great car. I can't wait for the next round at Silverstone for the International Trophy.
Monday saw me back up at Donington for my first run in the Tester Engineering Jaguar XK120 in the, new for this year, Jaguar Heritage Series.
I was racing with Andrew English, the Telegraph Motoring Correspondent. Andrew had not been to Donington for some time. Our pre-quali chat about the track and tactics left us with a good plan for both qualifying and the race.
We had only 20 minutes for qualifying and I had to bed in new brakes for three laps. With time so short it was agreed that I would only do one qualifying lap and then pit to give Andrew maximum time at the wheel. The first bit of the plan went well and after bedding the brakes I drove one lap in anger and put us on class pole, P 16 overall with a host of E Type Jaguars ahead. However we developed a misfire. This was soon sorted by the crew but left Andrew just a few minutes to drive his minimum 3 laps to qualify. By the skin of his teeth he passed the line and had his 3 laps in the bag. Another great effort from the team to get us out in time.
Race time approached quickly and as I had put the car on class pole I started the race. It was a standing start and it went well, passing 3 or 4 cars by the time the 40 car grid arrived at Redgate. I pushed hard and, during my stint, amid great tussles with a number of E types, I got all the way up to P6 overall. The car was fantastic.
As the laps counted down I was aware of the engine temperature rising. This caused me to pit early and hand over to Andrew while the crew checked the car. It turned out it was a faulty gauge as the engine was fine, but, better to be sure.
Andrew set off and drove an amazing stint, driving with accuracy and smoothness which belied the fact he had not driven here for years. He got faster and faster over his stint until a moment at the Old Hairpin caused a spin. However it made little difference and with a class change for the car we ended up with class pole, fastest lap and win.
Jim Tester of Tester Engineering is a wizard. The handling of his 1951 XK120 roadster is nothing less than remarkable. Normally you would expect loads of understeer followed by handfuls of opposite lock on corner exit. None of it! The turn in is nothing short of amazing and gave me huge confidence to carry big speed into the corners, even being able to take Craner's flat. No lift! On corner exit the car cocks its head and slides out in gentle, totally controllable oversteer just as you would expect and want it. All of this was demonstrated by the fact I was able to mix it with the front running E Types. Well done, guys, amazing!!
Fantastic and a great performance from the Tester Engineering crew and Andrew in his first race for 4 years.
Again the next outing in the Jaguar is at the Silverstone International Trophy week end.
Thanks to charlesward.com for the Jaguar photos.