Britain’s best big grid racing more than lived up to its billing once again at Donington Park over the weekend, 21st/22nd July, where the thrill-a-second Legends Cars National Championship with MRF Tyres delivered six sensational races at the annual ‘Convoy in the Park’ festival.
Rounds 10 and 11 of the season for the Legends Cars were nothing short of spectacular, especially the last race of the weekend on Sunday afternoon where reigning Masters Cup champion Paul Simmons (Lingfield) secured a dramatic and richly deserved maiden race victory.
In a remarkable photo-finish, one of the closest in series history, the top three of Simmons, John Mickel (Horsham) and Jack Parker (Wolverhampton) were split by a mere 0.081 seconds as they crossed the line. Notably, Mickel recovered from the Redgate gravel on lap one to almost win!
Miles Rudman (Sutton Coldfield) took victory in the opening Heat on Saturday before series returnee Ben Power (Guilsfield, Powys) bagged the Heat Two win, and Sean Smith (High Wycombe) then took a terrific first victory of 2018 in the day one Final. On Sunday, Power, Mickel and Simmons shared the wins with the latter concluding the event as the highest scorer.
Rudman, Power and Smith share the spoils in Rd10
Sy Harraway (Weston-super-Mare) and Steve Whitelegg (Bury) started Heat One on Saturday from the front row of the grid, but the opening 10-lap contest became a straight fight for victory between Whitelegg and Rudman after they broke away from the pack. Rudman eventually shaded the win by just 0.074 seconds with Whitelegg second from Power, Simmons and Belgium’s Sebastien Kluyskens.
Power, who missed several races prior to Donington due to work commitments and his wedding, wasted no time in Heat Two and after hitting the front he dominated the encounter – as though he’d never been away from Legends. Behind the winner, a magnificent battle took place between second placed finisher Simmons and Will Gibson (Camberley) in third. Mickel took fourth with Rudman fifth.
Saturday evening’s Final again produced truly sensational racing, made all the more spectacular when oil was dropped on lap two after Jean-Michel Poncelet’s engine let-go. With grip at a premium at various points on the track, there was plenty of sideways action and the drama didn’t stop there.
Smith moved to the front on lap one after passing early leader Nic Grout (Devon) and although edged back to second at the Old Hairpin by Parker on lap two, Smith struck back. Parker then moved ahead again and continued to lead until lap four when Mickel hit the front.
On lap six, though, Parker’s race was run – he also retired from the previous contest – when his car dramatically slowed into Craner Curves. Two laps later, Gibson and Rudman tangled at McLeans to rule them out of contention as Smith and Mickel continued to trade the lead. Then, after a late Safety Car, the race was ultimately red flagged with Smith winning from Mickel and Simmons.
Simmons delivers on clear pace with popular maiden victory
On Sunday morning Smith set the pace in the qualifying session but through the ballot draw for the Heat One grid, Nick Bridgeman (Baldock) started from pole position. Kluyskens made the early running, though, to lead Power, Simmons, Smith and Grout, but Power moved into the lead on lap two at Redgate and he stayed at the front until lap seven when Simmons moved through.
With typically outstanding action and a shuffling pack, no fewer than eight drivers were in contention for the lead. Power managed to get back ahead of Simmons on lap eight and although having a scare at the chicane when he locked-up under braking, and went straight-on across the gravel, Power went on to win from Simmons, Whitelegg, Parker, Rudman and Gibson.
Whitelegg took charge of Heat Two early on but his involvement in the lead battle was fairly short-lived when, while battling with Harraway at the end of lap two, Whitelegg unfortunately tagged his rival’s car as their bumpers became interlocked pitching both into a spin.
That opened the door for Mickel to assume the lead ahead of Rudman, Parker and Gibson but more bad luck hit Parker when he slowed and retired. Rudman too encountered misfortune, a late pit visit with engine woes spoiling his hopes, so Gibson took the fight to Mickel as the pair traded first place. Mickel eventually did enough to win, with Gibson second ahead of Smith and that man Simmons.
Sunday’s Final got off to a dramatic start for championship contenders Mickel and Whitelegg when a first corner tangle, which involved Mike Bourner (Bishop Middleham) too, led to all three visiting the gravel at Redgate. After a one lap Safety Car period, racing resumed with Rudman leading Poncelet, Bridgeman, Mike Schlup (Cuckfield) and Nathan Anthony (Horley).
Rudman opened a lead of over a second into lap four, but the chasing pack started to close back in and at the midway point Anthony had sliced his way past Parker into second. Then, on lap six, there was drama for leader Rudman when he slowed and headed to the pits with more engine dramas.
Anthony, therefore, took the lead but after over-shooting the chicane on lap seven he relinquished the position as Parker moved through. Simmons, having started 20th on the grid, hit the front soon after but he came under big pressure from Gibson as the laps counted down. On lap 11, though, Gibson slowed before retiring and so Parker became the main challenger to Simmons.
Into lap 12 there was nothing to separate Simmons and new challenger Parker but, miraculously, Mickel was in third after carving through the order unbelievably following his earlier excursion and Whitelegg was just behind as well. With everything building to a massive crescendo, Simmons had just enough in hand to win on the drag to the line from Mickel and Parker by the smallest fraction.
“We started 20th on the grid, got a good start and then I saw John [Mickel] and a few others in the gravel but concentrated on my race. I reeled them in slowly, one at a time, then I did Jack [Parker] but he started to come back and I didn’t see John back up there until the last lap. I hope this is the breakthrough now, lots of podiums here and my first win – big thanks to the sponsors.”
“That [Sunday Final] was one of my best ever drives, there was one better at Silverstone back in the day – we had a puncture, I went in under Safety Car and came back out and we won from pitlane. This one, though, was very close to that and I think with another corner we’d have had it. I thought it was over at the first corner, but we were lucky. It’s great to see Paul [Simmons] win too.”
“The weekend was mixed for me, on Saturday we had two great races but then the axle snapped in the Final unfortunately. Sunday started well with a great scrap for the win with Steve [Whitelegg] and Paul [Simmons] and the second race went pretty well despite some brake issues.”
“It’s been a mixed weekend, I can’t put my finger on anything apart from bad luck. We started off really well with a win in the first race and I thought we’d have a good weekend then and pull some points back on John [Mickel]. Sunday went down hill from the start, though, as we went through two engines which is very unfortunate. The pace is there, though, just got to regroup now.”
“It’s absolutely brilliant to win. We had a bad couple of races in the Heats, so it helped in the [Saturday] Final as we started further up near the front and we did it in the end. It was very close with John [Mickel] we were both there or thereabouts, great race.”
There is now a long seven-week break for the Legends Cars National Championship with MRF Tyres competitors and teams ahead of the seventh race meeting of the season, rounds 12 and 13, over the weekend 8th/9th September, at Snetterton 300 Circuit in Norfolk.
Legends Cars National Championship with MRF Tyres Points (after Rd11):
1st John Mickel, 5465pts; 2nd Steve Whitelegg, 4860pts; 3rd Miles Rudman, 4580pts;
4th Jack Parker, 4220pts; 5th Sean Smith, 4220pts; 6th Paul Simmons, 3950pts