BRSCC ENJOYS THRILLING SEASON OPENING WEEKEND AT DONINGTON PARK


The curtain finally lifted on the British Racing & Sports Car Club’s 2021 season as no less than 13 championships and series congregated at Donington Park in Leicestershire for their first weekend of racing this year. Saturday’s racing was amongst heavy rain and high winds that meant staying on the track was a challenge in itself, while thankfully Sunday’s weather brightened up substantially and stayed dry all day to ensure the action was exciting.

Caterham Motorsport brought four of their factory-supported championships to Donington for their opening rounds of the year, with the Roadsport Championship being the first to compete on Saturday. Polesitter Tom Cockerill got the initial jump in the wet and wild first race, but he was reeled back in by fellow graduating Academy champion Taylor O’Flanagan who took the lead shortly before half distance and ran away to victory. Cockerill, meanwhile, ended up yo-yo-ing up and down the top 5 various times until eventually settling for 2nd place with Domenique Mannsperger surviving a gravelly moment at Redgate to claim 3rd place. In the much drier second race on Sunday, the racing was typical of Caterhams with close battles, slipstreaming aplenty and many side-by-side moments and after an early safety car, the fate of the race was decided by a thrilling five-car scrap for the lead. O’Flanagan ran too hot into McLeans on the final lap and threw away his lead, leaving Cockerill to hold back the charging pack on his tail to claim victory, just ahead of Mannsperger by over a tenth of a second with Gwyn Jones delighted to pick up 3rd place as a result.

Will Rossetti made a rapid getaway at the beginning of the first Caterham Seven 270R Championship race and despite a safety car interruption and threats from Tom Wyllys and Carl Jones, he held firm and managed to take a relatively comfortable first win of the year. Jones and Wyllys fell by the wayside after an incident at Coppice, allowing Tom’s perennial rival Blair McConachie to inherit 2nd place briefly, but he had to eventually settle for 3rd when Harry Eyre slipped past to pick up the runner-up spot on the podium. Rossetti managed to again hold the lead at the start of the second race, albeit this time with closer attention from his rivals in the dry in the opening laps. McConachie picked up the lead early on and proceeded to sprint away up the road while Rossetti tumbled backwards, and Blair would remain in front until the chequered flag which was thrown three minutes short of the 30-minute distance due to an incident at McLeans. Eyre was once again 2nd while Caterham debutant Rob Keogh made a comeback to racing for the first time in a year with a superb 3rd place, his first podium finish on his first weekend in a new series.

The Caterham Seven 310R and Seven UK Championships combined on to one grid for this past weekend’s season opener, with the latter showing off the new-2021 spec upgraded 420R race cars featuring dedicated slick and wet Avon Tyres, uprated suspension and an increased rev limit for even faster and more intense racing. Saturday’s rain made sure everyone had to be careful in the conditions in the first of three 20-minute racing, but in the 310R ranks one driver that wasn’t afraid of the weather was Pete Walters who braved the conditions to pick up the first win of his full-season campaign, ahead of Andy Lees and James Wingfield. Lees managed to get the best start to lead Race 2 through the opening few corners and while he was able to hold on for just over half the race, a challenge from Wingfield at Redgate for the lead saw both cars end up in the gravel with Andy beached while James carried on but several places down the order. All this played into Lars Hoffmann’s hands as he took up the lead himself and held off Walters in the end to claim victory, with Ben Lopez-Appleton picking up the final podium place. The third race was incredibly frantic as Hoffmann and Walters continued their battles from earlier in the afternoon, but the race was decided when the Seven UK leaders came up to lap them. Hoffmann ended up sliding into the gravel after getting caught on the outside line and he was lucky to track through it back onto the circuit, albeit way down the order. With two separate incidents happening just moments later, the safety car ensured the race order was neutralized before being called early, giving Walters the win from Wingfield and Harry Cook.

Over in the Seven UK races being contested at the same time, Stephen Nuttall enjoyed some exciting battles with Gordon Sawyer, Henry Heaton and Greg Monks before eventually hitting the front and driving away to victory ahead of Heaton in 2nd place and Sawyer in 3rd. In the dry, the second race was even more intense and the pace even faster, as James Murphy made the most of his recovery drive the day before after a poor start to remain in the leading group. He and Nuttall eventually broke away as the head pair of drivers and after swapping the lead several times it would be James that came out on top to take an emphatic first Seven UK win with Nuttall in tow for 2nd place. Sawyer had to see off the attentions of Caterham CEO Graham Macdonald to hold on to the final podium place.  An incredible battle for the lead developed throughout the final race of the weekend, with Nuttall, Heaton and Sawyer eventually breaking away, but the race then had to be brought to a premature end when an incident lapping the 310R leaders took place behind the top three. Smith and Macdonald made contact and skated off the road at McLeans while moments later Tom Eden was also involved in a separate accident, prompting the safety car to appear and eventually the race being flagged off early. This gave Nuttall his second win with Monks taking his first top-level Caterham podium with 2nd place and Murphy in 3rd.

Saturday’s main event was the incredible 4-hour opening race of the season for the Fun Cup Endurance, with 25 cars taking the start and featuring some top driving talent behind the wheel. The Track Focused team managed to work their way into a substantial lead by the end of the first hour thanks to the efforts of Teddy Wilson at the start with Team Viking in 2nd place and former champions UVio/Hofman’s Lotus in 3rd climbing up the order rapidly to sit 3rd. The UVio duo of “Farquini” and Fabio Randaccio managed to hit the front by half distance and from here were virtually unchallenged until the flag. Their nearest challengers ended up being the Despatch Bay Express car with Andy Bicknell and Harry Mailer at the wheel as they drove well to end up in P2 albeit more than a lap behind winners UVio, while 3rd place changed hands late in the race when defending champions Team Olympian (Riley Phillips, Kristian Rose & Chris Dovell) were forced to pit with minutes to go after issues with their fuel churn made them take a late stop. This cost them a podium finish and handed the honours instead to new team MJ Tec Giti with Martin Gibson and Scott Jeffs at the wheel.

The Avon Tyres National Formula Ford Championship put on three excellent races to kick off their season with the drivers forced to brave some of the worst of Saturday’s weather for their first race that afternoon. Chris Middlehurst and Max Esterson battled for the lead throughout most of the race but it came to an end when the pair touched at Redgate, forcing Middlehurst into a spin and down the order to finish 10th, although also taking the fastest lap for his troubles. All of this played into the hands of 2020 Formula Ford Festival winner Rory Smith, who overhauled Esterson in the end to win the first race of the year, while Max still picked up P2 and Kevin Mills Racing’s Alex Walker rounded off the podium with 3rd. Comparatively, Sunday turned out to be a day to savour for Walker, as he streaked away in the second race of the weekend on Sunday morning to take a dominant first National Championship win to his delight, while the 2nd place battle saw Jamie Sharp take his best ever result in the series by finishing runner-up, despite an awkward moment when he and teammate Smith made contact at Redgate. Esterson ensured he remained a podium finisher by taking 3rd. Walker wasn’t given so many chances to dominate the third race as he had earlier as a fantastic 8-car battle for the lead took place throughout the 15 minutes. With several drivers taking turns in the lead, eventually it became a battle between Walker and Luke Cooper, the former managing to make his way through and drive on to pick up his second win from three races. Smith charged hard in the closing stages to snatch 2nd place, but Cooper was still satisfied with P3.

History was made on Sunday afternoon as the first two championship races for the Nankang Tyre CityCar Cup took place with a stunning 38 car entry lining up to compete. The first race took place effectively trouble-free as everyone managed to negotiate the 15-minute encounter without any major dramas, and that could especially be said for the experienced Nic Grindrod as he utterly dominated the opposition to pick up the first top score with victory in Race 1. Joining on the podium would be Stuart Bliss in 2nd place and Patrick Booth in 3rd, while Liam Browning would be first Novice Driver home ahead of Richard Bliss and Dylan Brooks. While Grindrod would once again dominate the second race a few hours later, the scrap for 2nd downwards was incredible with as many as seven cars dicing with each other in the closing stages. After some brief door banging between some, Duncan Stone headed the chasing pack to take 2nd place, while Browning managed to not only win the Novice Racer class but also clinch a superb overall 3rd place. A massive well done and thank you to every single one of the drivers and teams that made the opening CityCar Cup Championship races a huge success!

The Modified Ford Series made its BRSCC debut on Sunday with a seriously impressive and eclectic grid of Ford models taking part in the two 15 minute races. Dave Cockell’s Ford Escort Cosworth was the class of the field for the majority of the first race, but a mechanical issue forced him out in the closing stages. This handed victory to the insane Subaru-engined Ford RS200 of Wayne Crabtree as he drove on to clinch the win overall and was also top Invitation class car. Ashley Shelswell drove his Ford Sierra XR4i brilliantly to pick up 2nd overall and the Class A win ahead of fellow classmate Simon Light’s Ford Capri, while other class winners were Malcolm Harding’s Ford Escort Mk2 in Class B1, Neil Jessop’s Zakspeed Escort Mk2 in Class B and Alex Boam’s Fiesta ST150 in Class C. Crabtree and Cockell almost have a complete reversal of fortunes albeit with both cars mechanically sound until the end as Crabtree lead for the first few laps before Cockell completed a sensational drive through from the back the grid to the lead to win outright and also take the Class A win. Crabtree was 2nd ahead of Light’s Capri in 3rd overall, while the other classes were won by Piers Grange (Class B1), Neil Jessop (Class B) and Alex Boam (Class C).

We were also joined for the first time on Sunday by the superb Aston Martin Owners Club, with two 40-minute pit stop races to add to the variety of the meeting. The Jack Fairman Cup and Innes Ireland Cup race for sports cars, GTs and touring cars from the 1950s and 1960s had drama straight away as the pole-sitting Jaguar of Webb & Nuttall suffered a dramatic moment when its bonnet flew up just seconds into the start of the race, forcing it to require service and end up finishing four laps off the lead. As for the winners, Rob Fenn’s potent little Lotus Elan would win the race outright as well as finish as first Jack Fairman Cup home, ahead of Ian Dalglish’s Lotus 17 that took 2nd overall and also picked up the Innes Ireland Cup honours. In the combined grid race for the GT Challenge, GT4 Challenge and Intermarque series, it was an effortless win for Nigel Jenkins in his Ferrari 458 Challenge as he streaked home to victory, with Jamie Sturges taking 2nd in his VW Golf TCR and the Aston Martin Vantage GT4 of Mark and Dale Albutt rounding off the overall podium.

A massive thank you and shoutout must go to our new partners and friends at runyourfleet for coming on board this season and providing us with our exquisite new Jaguar XF Sportbrake safety and course car. Make sure you look out for it at BRSCC race events up and down the country this year and beyond and check out runyourfleet.com to see how they can help you with all your vehicle fleet management needs!

Scott Woodwiss