Mini Seven Racing Club round 2 - 15-16 April 2023



The Mini Seven and Mini Miglia Challenges came to Donington for the second round of the season, and the first to feature a full format with separate Seven and Miglia races. Bright and dry conditions on Saturday gave way to a rather chilly Sunday morning, but as is usually the case, all the Mini action was over by Sunday lunchtime (at least as far as the track was concerned – the Clerk of the Course’s office was busy for a little longer!)


A couple of early dramas unfortunately reduced the Mini entry by Saturday morning. Gordon Pocock had a fire extinguisher problem with his rebuilt Miglia on Friday, and couldn’t source a replacement, although that was nothing compared to the spectacular blaze that engulfed Giles Page’s S Class while being warmed up in the paddock early on Saturday morning.


MINI SEVEN qualifying was headed by Spencer Wanstall, who beat Ross Billison to pole by 0.1s, with Mike Jordan a similar margin behind in third, having been shuffled off the top spot in the last few minutes of the session. Mike would only be racing on Saturday, before turning his attention to the Jim Clark Trophy race for Lotus Cortinas on Sunday. Plans for a crazy dash back from Goodwood to Donington were scuppered when the Donington timetable had to be re-jigged due to the planned MSVR Allcomers race not getting any entries.


Darren Thomas was back at the sharp end of the Sevens grid, lining up fourth ahead of Glen Woodbridge, Joe Thompson, Damien Harrington, Graeme Davis, Tom Mills, Jordan Sims, Jo Polley, Steven Hopper, Graham Penn, Andy King, having his first outing since his blow-up at Brands last year, Jamie Payne and Connor O’Brien, who had a troubled session without clocking a flying lap.


The S Class times were headed by Matt Ayres, by a fine margin ahead of Michael Winkworth, who’d given Silverstone a miss. These two were eighth and ninth overall although of course the split grid between the two classes was back in play here. Then came Frazer Hack, Andy Hack, Lee Poolman, Matthew Page, Chris Prior, first time racer Declan Edgecombe (car sharing with twin brother Kieran), Dave Rees, Arnold Duncan, Kate Fraser Ker and Mal Dickinson, who also had a troubled session. Kate was impressing as she steadily picked up pace and kept out of trouble in her first outing, after their ex-Geoff Williams car was driven by dad Nigel at Silverstone. Frazer Hack and Chris Prior both had five-place grid penalties as a legacy of the mixed start at Silverstone, while Jonathan Page would line up at the back, having missed qualifying after an incident in the morning’s free practice.


26 of the 28 cars made it out for the first race, with Graham Penn having engine problems and Steven Hopper also a non-starter. It wasn’t long before the race was being led by the safety car, as Lee Poolman needed recovery, and there was just one lap of green flag racing before the safety car was out again, with Darren Thomas in trouble, so it was lap six before the serious action started. Spencer Wanstall had led all the way to that point, but a couple of laps later he was out with a dropped valve, putting Ross Billison in front before a four-abreast run at Redgate sorted the leaders out, Joe Thompson emerging in front of Ross, Mike Jordan and Glen Woodbridge, who finished in that order after 12 laps, covered by just over a second. One effect of the two safety cars was to close the starting gap between the Sevens and the S Class, letting class leader Michael Winkworth get up to fifth overall, just holding off Tom Mills’ Seven. Frazer Hack, Matt Ayres and Andy Hack had a good battle for second in the S Class, finishing just ahead of S Class Champ Damian Harrington in his pukka Mini 7. The remaining Mini 7 finishers were Andy King, Graeme Davis, slowing with fuel problems, and Jamie Payne, having another very promising run in his second meeting. Jo Polley’s troubled season continued, and she was joined on the sidelines by Jordan Sims and Connor O’Brien, who only got in one racing lap. Matthew Page had his best result so far with fifth in the S Class, followed by Chris Prior, Jonathan Page, Declan Edgecombe, Dave Rees, Arnold Duncan and Mal Dickinson, while Kate Fraser Ker continued to improve her times and did a good job of keeping out of the way of the quicker cars.


Sunday’s race provided another excellent lead battle. Ross Billison came from seventh on the reversed grid to lead by the end of lap one, with Connor O’Brien coming from even further back to hit the front by the second lap, although Connor’s race was unfortunately soon over again. Joe Thompson passed Ross to lead much of the way but the three-way battle that developed between Joe, Ross and Glen Woodbridge was resolved with Ross taking an excellent win from Joe and Glen, the top three covered this time by half a second.


Further back though, things got a bit messier, starting with a first corner coming-together between S Class leaders Jonathan Page and Declan Edgecombe. Andy and Frazer Hack completed the first lap ahead of Declan and Michael Winkworth but approaching the chicane for the second time Michael got clipped and the result took out Michael and both Hacks. Although the race continued for another four laps under “live snatch” conditions, reports that drivers weren’t slowing enough for the yellows brought out the safety car. After the restart the three leaders were closely chased the rest of the way by Damian Harrington, Graeme Davis and Jo Polley, all having their best races of the season so far. Matt Ayres missed all the problems in the S Class to lead the class the rest of the way, taking seventh overall, ahead of Matthew Page, while Lee Poolman made up several places in the closing laps to take his first podium place. Behind Lee came Chris Prior, Arnold Duncan, Dave Rees, Declan Edgecombe and Jonathan Page, with Kate Fraser Ker completing the S Class runners, while Steven Hopper, Andy King and Jamie Payne were the other Mini 7 finishers. Other retirements were Tom Mills, after landing in the gravel at Redgate, Mal Dickinson, Darren Thomas and Jordan Sims.  


The MINI MIGLIA entry was a little bit down, with the clash with Goodwood having removed several drivers including Rupert Deeth, Andrew Jordan, Ben Colburn and Larry Warr, all of whom put up a good show in Sussex with Rupert starring in the Group 1 1275GT and Andrew taking victory in the Jim Clark Trophy. What was encouraging was the best entry yet in the Libre class, fielding 10 cars against the 14 Miglias. The first major upset came when Jeff Smith went missing on his first lap in qualifying, cue for the first of two engine changes over the weekend. Colin Peacock was the first to head the timing sheet, quickly shuffled down the order by Kane Astin and Aaron Smith. Late entry Ashley Davies very briefly held pole, but Kane Astin soon set a time that was not bettered for the rest of the session, with Aaron and Ashley improving again in their last couple of laps but ending up half a second adrift of Kane. Colin was still well in contention in fourth, ahead of Phil Bullen-Brown, who had a shortened session, Nick Paddy, the historic specialist continuing his good form in his first Miglia season, James Cuthbertson, Rob Howard and Shaun King, with Mark Sims completing the top ten. The remaining Miglia qualifiers were Lee Roberts, Steve Youle, having a better run after his unlucky day at Silverstone, and Ben Butler.


Heading the very strong Libre contingent was Les Stanton, but very close behind were Andy Dickinson, Peter Hills and none other than Jon Lee, who reminded us that it was over 30 years since he was a Miglia front runner, although of course he’s done plenty of other things since! Steve Baker had his first outing of the year, and was ahead of Julian Proctor, newcomer Ben Norfolk, Andy Shore, in his first National round and Josh Evans, who’d be starting from the back after problems on his first lap.


Saturday’s race started with Kane Astin and Aaron Smith leading the way and Phil Bullen-Brown quickly moving up to second, but a lot of focus was on how long it would take Jeff Smith to work through from the back, and the answer was not long at all. Third completing lap three, second a lap later and Jeff hit the front for the first time on lap four, then forming a three way battle to swap the lead with Kane and Aaron. At half distance things became slightly lively as Libre class leader Peter Hills lost most of his oil heading into the Old Hairpin. When the leaders hit this a lap later Kane was the one who got crowded out on the exit of the corner, dropping to fifth as Aaron took the lead. A couple of laps later as the battle between Aaron, Jeff and Phil intensified, Kane was back in front, losing the lead again to Jeff, just before Jeff slowed and pulled off with gearbox problems. Kane therefore made an overdue return to the top step of the podium, with Phil taking his best result yet, in second ahead of Aaron. Colin Peacock was again a late race casualty, and it was Nick Paddy who eventually came home fourth, chased by Shaun King, James Cuthbertson, Mark Sims and Lee Roberts, who completed the Miglia finishers after Ben Butler and Steve Youle retired, while Ashley Davies and Rob Howard had gone out in the early stages.


Jon Lee took an early lead in the Libre class before slowing, and eventually pulling out, with overheating, leaving Peter Hills in front until he disappeared in a cloud of smoke that fortunately proved to be a less drastic problem than it looked. Steve Baker took over the lead until he too retired with a couple of laps to go, leaving Julian Proctor in front, only for Josh Evans to snatch the win on the last lap. Andy Dickinson came in third, ahead of Phil Harvey, Ben Norfolk, Les Stanton, who lost a lot of ground after being one of the first to find Peter Hills’ oil, and Any Shore.


Reversing the top eight for Sunday’s grid put Lee Roberts on pole, with Mark Sims joining him on the front row, while Andy Shore would be leading the Libre contingent. 22 cars made the start, with Ashley Davies and Ben Butler’s race one problems proving terminal. Unfortunately the reverse grid again contributed to first corner chaos. James Cuthbertson was down the inside of Lee Roberts into Redgate when they touched, sending both sideways, but while James was left facing the approaching pack, Lee recovered, only to tag Aaron Smith, dislodging Lee’s grille and front bumper. Somehow everyone more or less missed James, although the debris on the track may have told a different story, and Mark Sims was also left facing the wrong way. James and Mark headed for the pits, while Jeff Smith’s terrible weekend continued as he didn’t complete the first lap. Rob Howard was another early retirement and was joined by Lee Roberts after four laps with the remains of his grille waving in the air.


The leaders settled down with Aaron Smith holding off Phil Bullen-Brown, and a gap already opening up as Shaun King headed the rest of the Miglia survivors, while Julian Proctor headed the Libres and Kane Astin was starting to pick off the Libre cars after getting trapped behind Mark Sims in the first corner melee. Phil Bullen-Brown put Aaron under more and more pressure and on lap eight Phil made a perfectly judged move round the outside of Redgate to move in front heading down the Craners. Aaron was soon back ahead but Phil wasn’t giving up until, with three laps to go, he coasted to a halt on the finish straight with overheating. That robbed everyone of what would have been an epic battle for the win, as Aaron came home comfortably clear of Kane Astin, who’d clawed his way back through the rest of the field. Colin Peacock picked up his first National trophy for a while in third ahead of Nick Paddy and Shaun King, while Steve Youle had a promising run before dropping into the clutches of the Libre leaders, still sixth in the Miglias.


The Libre class again proved very competitive, with Josh Evans finally getting the better of Steve Baker for the win, and Jon Lee taking third from Peter Hills, Les Stanton, Ben Norfolk, completing a good debut weekend, and Andy Shore. Early leader Julian Proctor hit problems, as did Andy Dickinson and, right at the end, Phil Harvey.  


The supporting programme was, as so often for this level of meeting, numerically dominated by Caterhams. While Caterham’s own range of five factory-backed championships have moved from BRSCC to BARC meetings this year, BARC have also continued with their own three class Graduates Championship, while this meeting featured MSVR’s alternative “7 RACE SERIES” in 310R and 420R groups, with grids of 27 and 31 cars respectively and three races for each group.


Saturday had the NORTHERN SALOON AND SPORTS CAR CHAMPIONSHIP on the bill, with 36 entries ranging from a Spire sports racer to a standard-ish 206. The most eye-catching was a VW Beetle silhouette-bodied Radical, piloted by former Solway Autograsser Matty Cobb, who took third in the first race and followed it up with an overall win in race 2.


The stars of the programme for many spectators though were the mainly novice racers in Sunday’s BENJAFIELDS BENTLEY CHALLENGE, with an impressive field of 1920s Bentleys ranging from several 3/4½ litre models to a Speed Six and even a saloon-bodied three litre, planning a short season of warm-up races before undertaking a trip to the Le Mans Classic. Fastest of them all was Louisa Getley, but one or two problems with both her car and sister Anna’s similar model meant both races were won by David Little.


Saturday’s programme was filled by the LOTUS SPEED CHAMPIONSHIP with four timed one-lap runs for a 13-car field of mainly recent Lotus Elises. Sunday’s events were completed by a single 45-minute race for the visiting SNETTERTON SALOONS series with a 20-car entry headed by a race-long battle between the BMW M3s of Kevin Clarke and Bryan Branson.