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2023 Donington Park Masters Race Weekend report
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2023 Masters Race Weekend (April 7, 2022)

Michel Kuiper, Brabham-Climax BT3, 2023 Donington Park Masters Race Weekend

For its opening act of the 2023 season Masters Historic Racing reconvened at Donington Park for the Easter weekend, with five of its six grids showing up at the Leicestershire track, joined by the front-engined and rear-engined pre-66 Grand Prix machines of the Historic Grand Prix Car Association.

With the 3-litre Formula One cars gone missing, several of those appearing at Paul Ricard for the clashing French Historic Grand Prix, the HGPCA delivered the only F1 cars that would jump into action over the Masters Race Weekend – of course along with the 1952-’53 F2 cars and the pre-61 Indycars and Champ Cars that were also part of the World Drivers Championship in those periods and explain why the association doesn’t go by the name of Historic Formula One Cars Association. While remaining historically accurate, the HGPCA does show an interesting leniency to including cars that are only remotely connected to the Grand Prix world, such as Rod Jolley’s Lister-Jaguar ‘Monzanapolis’ that along with Maserati’s Eldorado Special only appeared in the one-off Race of Two Worlds event between Formula One cars – none of which actually appeared – and Indycars. But since we are very much in favour of demonstrating as much variety as possible we can only laud the association’s endeavour to remind the historic spectator of the highly interesting but mostly forgotten obscurities in motor racing history.

Teifion Salisbury, Lotus-Climax 18-912, 2023 Donington Park Masters Race Weekend

Teifion Salisbury powering past the podium in Lotus 18-912 shortly after Saturday's rear-engined race. (photo 8W)

In fact, it was Jolley’s car that proved to be one of the main contenders in the weekend’s pair races for front-engined Grand Prix cars, even though Miles Griffiths seemed to walk away with victory in the first race. However, when his Lotus 16 succumbed to rear brake failure, John Spiers took over in the Maserati 250F, only to be usurped by the unstoppable Mark Shaw, whose Scarab-Offenhauser had qualified on the front row but was forced to start from the pitlane. Shaw soon dealt with the Maserati too to storm off to an amazing win, while behind Spiers, Jolley’s Lister battled Geraint Owen’s Kurtis 500C for the final spot on the podium. The shiny American-inspired machine would again prevail over the actual Indy roadster on the next day, but this time it was for second place. With Spiers failing to start and Griffiths dropping out after one lap, the race was all Shaw’s again, but he was made to work for it after having fallen to third on the opening lap. He soon hit the front, though, and disappeared on the horizon shortly after. It was only back at parc fermé where the ‘all-American’ top-three were reunited for garlands and trophies.

Justin Maeers and his Brabham BT11A reigned in the two rear-engined races, twice highlighting an all-Brabham podium that also consisted of Tim Child’s Brabham BT3/4 and Michel Kuiper’s BT3. While Child did his best to keep Maeers in his sights, Kuiper provided the bulk of the entertainment by twice having to work hard for his podiums. In the first race, the Dutchman surged from fifth on the grid to third after the opening lap but temporarily lost out to Mark Shaw in the middle stages of the race, only to get back up past the Lotus 21 after a couple of laps of trying. In the second race, Kuiper admittedly to falling asleep while in a steady third place, resulting in three cars passing him in short order. Now forced to grit his teeth, Kuiper picked off two of his rivals – Tony Lees in the Cooper T53 and Shaw again – after which pushed James Hagan into a mistake, allowing the Brabham back up into third past the Irishman’s Lotus 18 with two laps remaining.

Keith Ahlers/Billy Bellinger, Morgan SLR, 2023 Donington Park Masters Race Weekend

It was good to see Keith Ahlers return to action after a couple of years of forced absence. Fettled and co-driven by Billy Bellinger as usual, the Morgan SLR as well as their Cooper Monaco King Cobra finally ran in anger again. (photo 8W)

Masters, meanwhile, had set the racing ball rolling with an all- Good Friday outing for the Masters Gentlemen Drivers, as 35 cars started the day with qualifying and would end it with a race of the customary 90-minute length. Nigel Greensall had stuck John Spiers’ TVR Griffith on pole, and the pair went on to eventually win the race, but it wasn’t as straightforward as it may sound. Even though Spiers outshone himself by keeping John Pearson’s E-type at bay for the entire length of his opening stint, Greensall had one arm temporarily put behind his back as he served an elite-driver time penalty that was converted during the mandatory mid-race pitstops. Rejoining in sixth place, the pro driver did indeed surge to the front but new leader John Davison in another TVR Griffith painted in menacing black worked hard to not let Greensall get away with it all too easily. Across the line, the gap was just 1.8 seconds. The Pearsons took third but brother Gary almost lost out when the team were slammed with a ten-second penalty for leaving the engine running during their pitstop. Giles Dawson in the lead Lotus Elan came up one second short but Pearson was inadvertently ‘helped’ by Sam Tordoff in a similar Elan (but a lap down) chasing after the Jaguar. Since Gary was guessing that Tordoff was his main rival, it urged him to hurry up in the final laps. And even though he lost to Tordoff on the road (who won his lap back) he had done just enough to salvage the podium.

On Holy Saturday, the Masters Endurance Legends would have the first race after breakfast as well as lunch, and on both occasions Stuart Wiltshire made them his own, the rest of the field proving no match for his Peugeot 90X. Consigned to racing the clock instead, Wiltshire delivered by entertaining the crowd with sub-one-minute laps around Donington Park sans Melbourne loop. In qualifying, Mike Newton had starred by lifting his ageing MG-Lola EX257 up onto the front row, a feat all the more remarkable since the Le Mans veteran had to revert to ‘the old dog’ after his freshly rebuilt EX264 was marred by engine issues at Mugello the week before. In the first race, however, Newton proved powerless against the rapid Dean Forward in Jamie Thwaites’ latest acquisition, an Onroak-built Morgan LMP2 of much younger ilk, after which the EX257 hit trouble as well – a fuel leak would prevent the car from further running. This elevated Michael Birch up to third in a newly acquired car that he like Thwaites was becoming familiar with as the race progressed. In the second race, however, Birch’ Ligier JSP2-17 was unable to halt the progress of the Marcus Jewell/Ben Clucas Ligier JSP3 that had been hit by a penalty in the first race. This time around, the pair managed third overall behind Wiltshire and the Thwaites/Forward combo.

Carl Nairn, Morris Mini Cooper S, 2023 Donington Park Masters Race Weekend

Carl Nairn is in the zone in his Mini Cooper S, just moments before the start of Masters Pre-66 Touring Car qualifying. (photo 8W)

Donington also saw the world premier of the new Masters GT Trophy for out-of-homologation GT4, Cup and Trofeo/Challenge cars. In a hesitant start because of the modest turn-out, the Lamborghini Huracán Super Trofeo Evo of the Corse class proved infinitely superior to the Porsches in the Cup class and the GT4 from Ginetta, Aston Martin and BMW. With the Lambo of Neil Glover/Aaron Scott soon out, the race was left in the dominating hands of Craig Wilkins who Huracán lapped the entire field on his way to a win in race 1. In race 2, however, Wilkins gave up a huge lead to retire with a suspected engine issue, allowing Sam Tordoff to come through in his Porsche 997.2 Cup. Tordoff headed the Marcus Jewell/Dallas Carroll 991.2 Cup and Matthew Holme’s 997 Cup, Holme doubling up on his third places having already grabbed the position in the morning race.

Similar to the Gent Drivers recipe on Friday, the Masters Pre-66 Touring Cars came out on Saturday to qualify in the early morning and race down to the event’s curtains late in the afternoon. With Tordoff and Jewell just having completed their Masters GT Trophy race, both were obliged to jump straight into their Ford Falcon and Lotus Cortina respectively to do their one-hour Pre-66 TC bash. Even though both confided to having been compelled to hugely adjust themselves to their new mounts, it didn’t show in their form as they both ran home the winners, Tordoff the overall winner and Jewell along with Clucas as the dominant force in the Cortina class. Behind Tordoff, Michael Whitaker Jr was the stand-out driver among the pursuing Mustangs, driving a lonely race to a strong second place well ahead of the remaining competition led by Craig Davies. Davies’ race had been mighty as well, powering up from tenth on the grid to in the end hold off Steve Soper for third. Behind Jewell and Clucas, the Jon Wood/James Pickford and Peter & Guy Smith pairings were the runners-up in a Cortina class hit hard by attrition. In fact, none of the class B and D cars survived, and with several of the Mustangs also failing, just 12 cars were running when the chequered flag dropped.

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