Donington Park – 10th April 2021 Race Report, Images and ResultsPosted on: April 15th 2021 • Posted in: Race Results
2021 Season Opener Donington Park
Round 1 & 2 – Donington Park National
After a shortened 2020 campaign the championship was back and what a highly-anticipated season it would be. Everybody was waiting to see what reigning champion Michael Gibbins’ pace was like in his new car, while hoping to get the most out of theirs to stop him doing what he did last season – win every single race!
Donington Park – a circuit that we didn’t visit in 2020 – would play host to the first two races in rather gloomy, but tyre-friendly conditions, and after a lot of bad luck last season it was Tom Stoten that took the year’s first pole position (by nearly half a second!) in his beautifully re-liveried Gunn TS11. Neil Burroughs who was very quick last year would line up alongside him with defending champion Gibbins in third.
James Barwell was the highest placed of those that didn’t race with us in 2020, lining up 5th in the ex-Gibbins MCR, while Ross Hyett would put his #69 Lola on pole position in the Pinto class ahead of Nik Johnson, while last season’s Pinto Championship-winning car of Joshua Needham would line up 23rd overall with work to do. There were also a number of Duratec cars at the back, including Grant Gibson, Andrew Butler, David Gorst and John Iley. The latter would unfortunately suffer a stub axle of failure that would see his season start off on the back foot.
The first corner of the championship would be a lively one with Burroughs taking the lead from Stoten after going three-wide with Lesniewski, who eventually ended up wide out of Redgate. Billingsley had made a blinder of a start despite almost coming together with Paul Trayhurn into Turn 1. In the Pintos, Hyett had dropped back behind Nik Johnson and Mike Fry with Steeper on the attack.
Burroughs and Stoten scurried away at the front and only Lap 3, Stoten got it done with a beautiful move around the outside, going down the Craner Curves. Behind them, a battle broke out involving Gibbins, Lesniewski, Law and Trayhurn, with Gibbins eventually clearing off up the road in 3rd. Peter Williams’ car was crying “no more” at this point and unfortunately didn’t complete more than a handful of laps.
David Houghton’s car also became stranded, but this time right on the entrance to the pit lane, which brought out the Safety Car and bunched things up again – the championship had certainly picked up where it left off, with loads going on in a matter of minutes, because before we knew it, we were back under way and three-wide into Turn 1 again! This time Lesniewski down the inside of Burroughs and Gibbins to take 2nd, despite the former’s best efforts to deter him, and a little bit of contact.
Ross Hyett had managed to close back up to Nik Johnson for the Pinto lead, but nothing doing yet. They were both leading their respective Pinto classes at this point so risk versus reward was very much the key.
The battles had re-ignited ahead in the Duratecs with Burroughs going down the inside of Josh Law, as both lost out to the opportunist Paul Trayhurn. Law then lost another spot as James Barwell jumped down the inside into the final chicane. Behind them there was another four-car train made up of Nick Bates, Roger Donnan, Sebastian Bamsey and John Owen. All of this and we’d barely had 10 minutes of racing yet!
It was only a few more minutes before another Safety Car came out – the crime scene pointed to a coming together between Michael Gibbins and Chris Snowden who had been going slowly around the first half of the lap. Both drivers were okay but the cars would need some attention. Mike Fry would also end his race at this point as well with just over 10 minutes to go.
Once the Safety Car was back in, everyone got straight back into it, Trayhurn getting ahead of Burroughs while Barwell and Law waited in the wings for any opportunity. Paul then cleared off after Lesniewski in 2nd place. John Owen had cleared Bamsey in the aforementioned four-car battle on the outer fringes of the Top 10, while Roger Donnan had re-taken the Duratec Derek Bell Class lead after a spin exiting Mcleans for Giles Billingsley.
Out in front though, taking a very convincing victory and getting back to winning ways was Tom Stoten. The previous champion was on to the top step for the first time in over a year, and what a way to do it.
The final lap came alive behind though, with Burroughs suddenly finding a way past Trayhurn, who ran wide at Mcleans, and let through Barwell as well. Moments later, Barwell spun at Coppice and dropped a number of positions, handing 5th to Josh Law. Bates finished 7th just ahead of Donnan, Owen, Bamsey and Turner.
Nik Johnson would only just win the Pinto Historic class from Trevor Welsh, with only four tenths of a second separating them at the line. Another very close duo behind was Clive Steeper and Ross Hyett, with Clive finishing 3rd and less than two tenths of a second ahead! Andrew Butler’s Duratec and Joshua Needham’s Van Diemen would round out the field, with a very attritional race claiming eight cars from the original starters.
The field would start the second race as they finished, so nothing complicated to go over in that regard – Stoten however would be looking for a similar performance in Race 2, minus any sort of challenge like the one Neil Burroughs gave him early on. It’d be an important one for the championship as well – even this early on – as Gibbins wouldn’t take the start after his incident in race one.
Lesniewski had been known for lightning fast starts in 2020, but plenty of wheelspin meant that this one wasn’t his finest. Burroughs dived through into Redgate and regained second with Trayhurn now hot on Dominic’s heels. Further back though, Race 1 Pinto winner Nik Johnson was involved in a multi-car incident that also claimed Mike Fry’s #33 machine – a torrid weekend of two DNFs was now over for him.
Lesniewski quickly set about getting past Neil Burroughs, the pair of them making slight contact at Macleans as they had done at Redgate in Race 1. The Safety car had been brought out however, and there was a slight bit of visible confusion as Burroughs and Trayhurn took the number 3 car into the final chicane. Dominic resumed his position in second though, with Stoten keeping eyes forward, ahead.
Behind the top four it was Josh Law, Giles Billingsley, James Barwell, Roger Donnan, Nick Bates and John Owen rounding out the top ten. Williams and Iley were both in the pits after what had already been a rough weekend – the former heading back out eventually, the latter heading into another early retirement.
After the scrap at the start, Trevor Welsh in the red Lola T492 now led all of the Pintos with Needham right behind. Following them a second or so back was Ross Hyett and Clive Steeper who had finished incredibly close together at the end of the first encounter. Welsh didn’t have it easy though as there were Duratec class cars making their way through from the back.
A lap or so later, Burroughs hurled his Gunn down the inside of Dominic Lesniewski’s MCR to re-take second place – the Gunns looking very well suited to the high-speed Donington Park circuit this afternoon, especially as they were now first, second and fourth.
Further down, David Houghton in the number 8 MCR was on a charge after failing to finish in the first race. He had a textbook look inside Cooke and overtook (you could say)! His next target would be the under-the-radar number 73 of Ash Law, still pushing to get the best out of his car, off the back of a successful rookie season filled with development, last year.
The top four Pintos were now glued together on track – Needham and Hyett both getting past Welsh had brought Steeper into the mix as well – a great variation of chassis and brands all fighting for the same piece of real estate. Trevor would lose another position after looking to pass Hyett, as Steeper and his Tiga lived up to the nature of the brand name and pounced into the last chicane. Two laps later however, Hyett’s Lola was sideways in the gravel on the exit of Coppice. He managed to get going again but lost a lot of ground to his Pinto rivals.
With just over ten minutes of the race left to go, Neil Burroughs had closed right up behind race leader Tom Stoten, setting fastest lap again and again – this was exactly the opposite to what Tom had been hoping for – Neil had shown his pace not only last season but in the first race of the day as well, so it wasn’t going to be easy, especially with traffic thrown into the mix, but the traffic would eventually help Stoten, opening up the gap to around two seconds with a few minutes to go.
Clive Steeper had taken the lead in the Pintos now, and cleared off over the horizon from Trevor Welsh and Peter Needham – the mix up of the order potentially having something to do with Hyett’s half-spin. Needham looked eager to get back in front though, but traffic works both ways in multi-class racing, and finding space away from the Duratecs to do it, seemed impossible – with Bates, Owen and Turner coming through, Peter lost a lot of ground.
Tom Stoten was untouchable up front – he took his second win of the day in a car that looked incredibly on-pace compared to last season. Burroughs would finish second with Trayhurn taking the final podium spot, meaning it was an all-Gunn rostrum. Josh Law would make a great challenge on Dominic Lesniewski for fourth right at the end of the race but unfortunately it didn’t pay off, eventually coming home fifth. He’ll have wanted more after being a championship contender last year.
James Barwell was sixth, followed by Billingsley, Donnan, Bates and Turner, who rounded out the top ten. Clive Steeper won the Pinto race outright, fittingly in 17th place in car 17. He was just under five seconds clear of Trevor Welsh and reigning Pinto champion Peter Needham, after a thoroughly entertaining day’s racing from them.
So Stoten will head to Brands Hatch in May for Rounds 3 & 4 full of confidence, knowing that he’s got out of the blocks in the best way possible, especially with Gibbins having a tough time at the start of his title defence. There’s still a plethora of drivers in touching distance with excellent pace though, so it’s going to be far from easy.
Even in the Pintos, it’s anybody’s guess who can win from one round to the next, giving us an entertaining and unpredictable championship campaign and highlighting what a brilliantly exciting season it’s going to be – very much living up to the hype!
Many thanks to Chaz Draycott for this report.
Below are some images credit to KJG Photograpy. To view the full set or purchase copies visit https://www.kjgphotography.co.uk
Round 1 Images
Round 2 images