Maiden win for Morgan’s Astra

Donington Park, 29-30 March 2024

The Classic Touring Car Racing Club made a quick return to the Donington Park Grand Prix circuit as it kicked off the Easter weekend with a busy 2024 season-opener.

Mixed weather made for tricky conditions which took their toll on the ever-popular Super Tourers field where Alex Morgan outlasted the opposition to take a maiden win in his Vauxhall Astra Sport Hatch.

Super Tourers

With Colin Sowter’s Peugeot 406 and series champion Jason Hughes’s Vauxhall Vectra not making it beyond testing, the Super Tourers field was a little depleted. It set the tone for an attritional weekend in which Alex Morgan claimed his first victory in the ex-Colin Turkington Vauxhall Astra Sport Hatch.

Making his debut appearance in Richard Wheeler’s ex-Dan Eaves Honda Integra DC5, Danny Harrison planted the striking machine on pole position. In tricky conditions on a busy circuit shared with Pre-’83 and Pre-’93 Touring Cars as well as the Blue Oval Saloon Series, Harrison went a full 2.6 seconds faster than Morgan, who made it an all BTC-Touring front row.

Third fastest, and leading Super Touring-spec car, was Paul Whight’s ex-David Leslie Honda Accord, making its first appearance in the series. Series stalwart Wheeler would start alongside in his Nissan Primera GT after an early off at the Melbourne Hairpin on cold tyres in the greasy conditions.

Now back in works Vauxhall livery, Morgan’s BTC-T Astra Sport Hatch was victorious

AJ Owen was making a welcome return to the series in his Duratec-powered Ford Mondeo and qualified fifth, having blown an oil hose. Sadly, the same issue struck on the green flag lap of the first race, sidelining the car for the rest of the weekend.

Once the race got under way, there was immediately more drama. Wheeler’s Primera had a squirrely moment as it ran side by side with Whight descending through the Craner Curves on the opening lap.

The pair made contact, tipping both cars into a spin. They careered into the Old Hairpin gravel trap, with Whyte’s Accord reaching the tyre wall and picking up heavy front-end damage.

After the resulting safety car, Harrison eased clear of Morgan, building a lead of nearly 3s. But increasingly frequent lock-ups under braking were a sign that not all was well in Team Dynamics-built Integra.

Danny Harrison flew in 2005 Honda Integra, but the car ended up in a sorry state

Entering the Melbourne Hairpin for the final time, Harrison’s foot went to the floor as his brakes cried enough. The car went straight on, over the gravel trap and sideways into the tyre wall at barely abated speed.

It was a very heavy impact, ripping Harrison’s seat from its mounts, but he quickly jumped out, unharmed, as Morgan swept past to take his first win in the series in dramatic fashion.

With most of the expensive machinery sidelined for Saturday’s sequel, Morgan looked set to repeat his triumph in something of a walkover. But a last-minute driveshaft problem prevented the former Clio Cup frontrunner taking up his grid slot.

Morgan joined the race from the pitlane after an attempted quick-fix. But it didn’t last and he was forced to retire, bringing a sad end to the crowd-pleasers’ involvement.

Burton Power Blue Oval Saloon Series

Being paired with Pre-’03 Touring Cars meant that the popular BOSS machinery had another chance to shine at the front of the field. And they did so in style, with a trio of multi-valve special Mk2 Escorts putting on a show.

While regular frontrunner Mike Manning opted to use his Sierra RS500 in Classic Thunder, three-time champion Piers Grange scorched to pole position in a busy qualifying session. Grange was almost 1.5s quicker than Malcolm Harding’s similar Smith & Jones-powered Escort, while Martin Reynolds was third in his own Mk2.

Ten years after he won the title, Olly Allen was back in the series, piloting his fabulous Mk6 Fiesta with a new 2.5-litre Duratec engine. He qualified as the leading front-wheel-drive car in fourth, ahead of Joey Binks (RS500) and Craig Owen (Sierra Cosworth).

2014 BOSS champion Olly Allen made a welcome return in Mk6 Fiesta

Colin Claxton (Escort) and Sam Daffin (Mk5 Fiesta) completed the top eight qualifiers. Daffin was debuting his nearly-built machine which, in a departure from his previous similar model, runs a rear-wheel-drive configuration.

Grange was caught out at the start of Saturday morning’s first race and Harding jumped ahead. A thrilling fight ensued. Grange got back in front at the end of the lap, at Goddards, and the pair then ran side by side through the Craner Curves before Grange reasserted his authority.

Piers Grange made it four BOSS wins on the bounce in his venerable Escort

The Cheshire racer eventually pulled clear to beat Harding by 6.3s. Reynolds tried to cling on to the pair before a quick spin on oil left him a distant third, just ahead of Allen, with Owen fifth.

With Daffin and Binks both early retirements, Michael Rudge’s Mk2 Fiesta came through to sixth in BOSS, the leading car not running slick tyres.

Harding’s Group 2-style Zakspeed Escort was struck down by electrical gremlins in race two, giving Grange a clearer run to victory and repeat his October Donington double.

Daffin debuted rear-wheel-drive Mk5 Fiesta

Reynolds kept Grange honest; the Norfolk driver set a fastest lap mid-race as he closed in, only for Grange to respond with his own new marker and take the flag just over a second clear.

Allen was happy to make the podium on his return, despite feeling like his new 2.5 lump had less grunt than his previous 2.3-litre version. Owen was fourth, while Robert Taylor (Fiesta Mk6) was best non-slicks runner in fifth, as Rudge retired.

Everard Pre-’66 Touring Cars

Perhaps enthused by the category’s place on the British Touring Car Championship support bill later this year, a terrific entry of 33 Pre-’66 Touring Cars were in action. They staged some superb racing with the second thrash being arguably the race of the weekend.

Conditions were tricky for Good Friday’s morning qualifying session. The Minis revelled in it, despite the difficulty in finding a clear gap. Dan Lewis took pole position, ahead of October race winner Barry Sime and Joe Ferguson. The latter was making his first appearance with the club for some time, in the car shared with Tom Bell that the pair had given a full winter overhaul.

Wins for Ferguson and Bell at the same venue in 2021, albeit on the National layout, pointed towards strong form at the circuit and Ferguson duly delivered.

The Essex racer didn’t have it his own way initially though as reigning champion Billy Kenneally shot off the line to jump his Ford Anglia into the lead from row five of the grid. Charging through the Craner Curves, Sime also got the better of the other Minis to run second.

Ferguson/Bell Mini came agonisingly close to an unlikely double

But Ferguson came out in front of the first-lap battle and then pulled away inexorably. No-one could match his pace as he took victory by 8.6s.

Behind him, the battle continued to rage. Kenneally outbraked himself at the Melbourne Hairpin at the end of the second lap, dropping down the order. At the same time, the alternator on his father Pat’s Lotus Cortina packed up and he had to pull off, the pair crossing each other’s paths.

Sime held second from Lewis and Ian Thompson (Cortina) but Alan Greenhalgh was on a charge having qualified a lowly 12th in his big Ford Falcon, unsuited to the greasy conditions.

Greenhalgh had reached fifth by one-quarter distance and then picked off those in front to come home a class-winning second overall. Sime held on to third, but only just, as Peter Smith (Cortina) mounted his own recovery from a tardy getaway to finish fourth and win Class F.

Sime (Morris Mini) and Thompson (Lotus Cortina) fought at the sharp end

Lewis and Thompson completed the top six, from Kenneally and James Everard, whose Alfa Romeo Sprint GT was leaking oil and would not start the sequel.

Bell took over from Ferguson for race two, meaning that he would have to start from the back of the grid. But it appeared to be little handicap for the on-form Mini as it scythed though the field.

Greenhalgh powered away from pole position, with Sime just keeping in front of the fast-starting Kenneally while Thompson, Smith and Lewis joined the battle.

A classic little versus large contest developed, with the lead changing hands according to the different cars’ strengths.

When a safety car was called after three laps to recover the broken down Jaguar Mk2 of Jaguar Challenge champion Guy Connew, Thompson led Sime, Greenhalgh and Smith. Amazingly, Bell was next in line.

Tom Bridger joined the fray in BMW 1800 Neue Klasse

When the contest restarted, there was time for two more laps. Thompson was swamped by his pursuers and it was Sime who initially emerged in front before Bell grabbed the lead into McLeans, halfway round the lap.

As Bell appeared to complete a dream double for his Mini, Garry Townsend’s Cortina was another to join the fight for second. And as they converged on the Melbourne hairpin for the final time, there was contact between Sime and Thompson, who, along with Smith, outdragged the Mini towards the final corner at Goddards.

It was Thompson who crossed the line second, from Smith, Sime, Townsend, Kenneally, Bell and Greenhalgh, whose Falcon was unable to quite keep up the pace in the closing stages.

But that wasn’t the end of the story. Bell and Townsend were both penalised for overtaking before the restart line, while Thompson also fell foul of the clerk for the contact with Sime.

Peter Smith’s Cortina won second encounter

That meant it was Smith who was declared winner, his first victory in the series for nearly two years. Bell still won Class C in second, ahead of Sime. Thompson, Kenneally and Lewis completed the top six, with Townsend demoted to seventh.

Among the other classes, a fine entry of five Hillman Imps in Class E put on a show. Michael Loveland topped the order in both races, ahead of multiple HSCC champion Adrian Oliver and David Ellis.

Having faced a race against time to make the event, one-time champion James Ibbotson showed strong pace but suffered wretched luck with his Imp: a broken gearstick ended his challenge in the opener while a loose bonnet was the culprit the next day.

A six-strong entry of Austin A40s and Morris Minors (one technically a guest) contested Class D. Paul Clayton (A40) took the honours in both races. Class B was won both times by Tom Bridge, making his first appearance with the club in a smart BMW 1800.

Pre-’83 Group 1 Touring Cars

Eleven-time champion Stephen Primett got his quest for a dozen off to an ideal start, with a pair of Pre-’83 victories in his typically immaculate Ford Escort Mk1 RS2000.

But this was no domination, as Primett was beaten to pole position – and fastest lap in both races – by Jonathan Corker’s smart Datsun 510.

The pair started with a couple of Pre-’93 cars between them but Primett was on Corker’s tail at the safety-car restart on lap three of an eventual eight. As Corker struggled for grip, he just managed to save a moment at Coppice on lap five, but it was the opportunity Primett needed to snatch the lead.

Corker’s Datsun set the pace but couldn’t prevent a Primett double

Now also behind the Pre-’93 Jaguar of Mike Seabourne, Corker set the fastest lap on the next tour but couldn’t find a way through and had to settle for second.

With a new engine in his Mk2 Escort, Mark Cholerton completed the podium ahead of Simon Jeffs’s VW Golf GTi. Will Davison, five times a race winner last year, was a slightly subdued fifth, suffering from fuel surge in his BMW E30, while Tom Harvey’s Mk1 Escort completed the top six.

A three-car Class B entry included two newcomers in the form of Peter Bulbick (Ford Capri) and Nick Williamson (Rover SD1), both in self-built cars. But they couldn’t compete with the nippy Class C runners, as Stuart Caie (Capri) eventually won the division.

Former M3 Cup and Toyota MR2 racer Williamson had only completed the build of his France-sourced Rover at 2:30am that morning and had to qualify out of session after the car refused to start. But he ran well in the race to finish second in class, despite an excursion.

Debuting his Rover SD1, Nick Williamson got among the regulars

Sadly Williamson’s weekend came to a smoky end the next day when he had been leading the class and worked his way up to fifth overall in Pre-’83. Caie completed a class double as Bulbick, making only his third-ever race start, earned two licence signatures towards losing his novice cross.

Ahead of them, Primett and Corker resumed their battle from a day earlier. After recovering from dropping some time earlier in the race, Corker homed in during the second half. As Primett got loose exiting the right-hand Melbourne hairpin, Corker got a run and dived inside at the following Goddards left-hand version.

A slide at Coppice on the next lap let Primett back in front, but Corker re-took the advantage at Melbourne on the following tour.

Project Heaven restoration guru Peter Bulbick was another newcomer

But at the start of the penultimate lap, their thrilling contest suddenly ended as Corker’s throttle pedal broke and he pulled off into retirement.

Primett therefore completed his double, while Cholerton was denied a shot at second by a “big bang” mid-race that he hoped was the Escort’s differential exploding rather than an engine failure.

So Jeffs and Harvey filled the remaining podium places. With Davison also on the casualty list, Bob Bullen took his Escort to fourth ahead of Caie and Colin Claxton’s smart Triumph Dolomite.

Laser Tools Pre-’93 Touring Cars

Sharing a grid with their Pre-’83 counterparts, and the Super Tourers, was a relatively slim field of Pre-’93 machinery. While the entry was dominated by the ubiquitous E36-shape BMW M3, variety came from two very different cars.

Mike Seabourne brought along his Jaguar XJS, which now sports a purple livery in tribute to the 1991 Jaguar XJR-14, in deference to the support he has received from Auto Reserve team. And there was a return for the smart Class D Volkswagen Corrado of Byron Aldous.

Just like in Pre-’83, it was defending champion Stuart Waite who went home happiest, securing a double win in his M3.

New livery on Seabourne’s XJS is a nod to 1991 Jaguar XJR-14 Le Mans car

Also running a new livery and a fresh engine after his own blew last year, Waite qualified fastest. An impressive second was his near-neighbour, Shaun Morris.

The Salisbury racer has joined the series full-time this year, after dipping his toe in the water in 2023. Morris’s M3 too carried new colours, paying tribute to the Super Touring-era Spa 24 Hours racers piloted by the likes of Steve Soper, Peter Kox and Marc Duez.

In the race, Waite edged clear as Morris scrapped with Kevin Willis and two-time champion Ian Bower. Waite was unchallenged en route to a 7s victory, while Willis pipped Morris by just 0.7s as Bower slipped back.

Morris ran well in smartly re-liveried M3 E36

Waite was in charge once more in Saturday’s follow-up. This time, as the Super Tourers entries wilted, he was able to win the race outright, 3.5s ahead of Willis. Morris had taken second at the start but Willis was soon back ahead and pulled a 10s advantage by the flag.

With Bower non-starting, Terry Davies completed the top four, ahead of sole Class A runner Seabourne who enjoyed his little-and-large tussles with some of the Pre-’83 runners.

Aldous was similarly the only Class D entrant, and brought the Corrado home safely in both races.

Burty Haulage Pre-’03 Touring Cars

Two-time champion Gary Prebble showed he remains the man to beat in Pre-’03 Touring Cars, taking a dominant double in his Honda Civic EG.

Somewhat down on numbers, the category paired up with BOSS for its races. On each occasion, Prebble – fastest qualifier by more than 10s – made light work of his opposition.

The Hampshire driver was more interested in working his way through the BOSS pack and mixing it with the slick-shod pacesetters. Only two BOSS cars beat Prebble in the first race as he took Pre-’03 honours by almost a lap.

Nash’s BMW 330ci improved to second position in second Pre-’03 race

It was a similar story later in the day. Prebble fell just short of the third-placed BOSS car but still finished more than a minute clear of his nearest Pre-’03 challenger.

That was the smartly-presented Class A BMW 330ci E46 of Mike Nash, who improved his pace throughout the day.

Nash had been beaten to class honours by Anton Martin’s similar car in the earlier race when the pair finished third and fourth, behind a very happy Vic Hope, whose EP3-shape Civic took second in Pre-’03.

Edmundson Electrical Classic Thunder

A bulging Classic Thunder field featured a wide variety of machinery alongside the numerically dominant E46 version of the BMW M3. It was the Bavarian beasts that took the honours, with Intersport pairing Bryan Bransom and Kevin Clarke taking a win apiece.

Clarke set the pace in qualifying, his CSL going almost a second quicker than Josh Lawton’s wild Honda Civic. Third fastest was YouTube star Jimmy Broadbent, giving a race debut to ‘Minty’, his 700bhp Mazda MX-5.

Originally his road car from a decade ago, Broadbent had developed it into a Time Attack car with a turbocharged Nissan SR20 engine last year before seeking wheel-to-wheel action in 2024.

Andy Wilson’s mighty Holden Monaro was fourth fastest, ahead of Bransom and the leading Historic Thunder entry of Simon Light.

Nigel Baker turned heads with spaceframe Mk1 Escort with supercharged ST170 power

Heavy rain before the first race left the field scrambling to ditch their slick tyres and would prove to be a hindrance for the big V8 machinery.

Lawton ran his front-wheel-drive Civic around the outside line at Redgate to take the lead, but Clarke got back inside at the Old Hairpin, while a fast-starting Bransom jumped into third.

Broadbent made his power count down the Exhibition straight to pass Bransom for third, but the Beamer grabbed the position back at Goddards to end the lap.

Callan Trump brought his Nissan 350Z out to play

As Clarke started to edge clear, it looked like Lawton would have his work cut out to hold onto second as Bransom, Broadbent and James Card (E46) swarmed behind. That quartet quickly became a trio when Broadbent’s engine blew, and it didn’t take long for Bransom and Card to pass Lawton and make it a BMW 1-2-3.

With a couple of Historic cars off at the Esses, the race was neutralised, but not before Bransom had swept around the outside of Clarke at the Old Hairpin to snatch the lead.

The move turned out to be decisive as the race effectively ended under safety-car conditions with Bransom winning from Clarke and Card. Lawson was fourth, while Wilson won Class A as the fifth Classic car home.

Having won both races at the circuit last season, Wilson would have fancied his chances of overall success in Sunday’s better conditions. But after a mega start lifted him to third, and he then demoted Bransom to run second behind Clarke, it went wrong for him on lap four of 10.

Wilson’s Monaro (pictured last year) didn’t enjoy the best of fortune

Wilson’s car was pitched into a spin at Hollywood before he pulled off to the inside. Meanwhile, Bransom took to the grass in avoidance; having already clogged up the cooling on his Britcar BMW earlier in the day, he toured into retire and avoid overheating another engine. Lawton also slowed, although he did manage to make the finish, eighth in Classic Thunder.

With his two chasers eliminated, Clarke took a comfortable victory over reigning champion Nick Vaughan (Audi A3). Card again completed the podium, with Mike Cutt’s E36 fourth.

As neither Wilson nor three-time champion Andy Robinson (Ford Falcon) made the finish, Clive Haynsford (Mazda RX-8) took Class A honours.

There were no finishers in Class C, which had been won by Shaun Morris’s E36 M3 in the first race. Michael Rudge’s diminutive Ford Fiesta Mk2 won Class D after Jason Rudge’s wide-arched version took the laurels a day earlier.

Poultec Classic Race Engines Historic Thunder

The older cars of Historic Thunder have been split into their own championship this year, although they shared a grid with their more modern counterparts at Donington.

Simon Light’s V8-powered Capri, complete with GT3 rear wing, was in imperious form on its way to a double win. Light dominated the opener but Colin Voyce (Mountune-motivated Ford Escort Mk1) was almost able to match his pace on Saturday, ending up 4.2s back.

Simon Light’s monstrous Capri (pictured in earlier year) took Historic Thunder double

Melvin Hooker made a very welcome return to the series after two decades on the sidelines, with his fearsome Jaguar XJS. The car’s previously troublesome V12 engine has been replaced with a supercharged V8, which allowed Hooker to rack up the miles on his return to action.

Hooker’s storied XJS now sports a Group 44 tribute livery

While Voyce won Class H2 in both races, Mike Manning’s Ford Sierra RS500 had set the pace in qualifying, benefiting from ex-Andy Rouse Engineering man Alan Strachan’s winter work on the car. But Manning went off at the Esses driving into the low sunlight on Friday and didn’t start Saturday’s rematch.

Class H3 racer Malcolm Harding, doubling up from BOSS, retired in the same area when a sheared bolt slid under the pedals of his Zakspeed-tribute Escort Mk2. Electrical gremlins then thwarted Harding in Saturday’s race. Martin Reynolds’s similar Group 2-style Escort topped the class in both contests.

Full results are available via the TSL website.

Images courtesy of CTCRC official photographer Steve Jackman/Eat My Pixels