A final lap of the Donington Grand Prix collection

Last Friday afternoon I paid a farewell visit with some friends to the Donington Grand Prix collection. Although the museum doesn’t close until 5th November, the contents of the display cabinets were already being packed away. The café was shuttered and empty. The number of cars also seems to have declined since I last visited in mid-2017. There are now spaces between many of the exhibits. If you’re thinking of going, sooner rather than later is probably a good idea. The cost of entry is £12 per adult, £5 per child. We spent around 90 minutes in the museum, discussing (amongst other things) the evolution of F1 aerodynamics.

Skipping quickly through the first two halls that are dedicated to a collection of military vehicles, the real stars are the racing cars from McLaren, Williams, Force India and Vanwall.

Early McLaren racing cars
Some early McLaren cars
A 1997 McLaren F1 car
A McLaren F1 car from 1997. Somewhere I have a picture of me with either this or the 1998 car at an Ingres user group meeting. The company I used to work for, Computer Associates, was one of McLaren’s sponsors during the David Coulthard / Mika Häkkinen era. We were provided with a car (minus the engine) as part of the deal. The cars always generated far more interest than the software we were selling, so I’m not sure that it was necessarily a good investment.
Force India F1 cars
A gaggle of Force India F1 cars, from the days before the striking pink livery in use this season. These represent the last significant addition to the collection, dating from 2016, and are presumably on loan from the team.
1950s Vanwalls, as driven by Stirling Moss.
1950s Vanwalls, as driven by Stirling Moss. There is a memorial plaque in the museum to his team-mate, Stuart Lewis-Evans. He died after his Vanwall engine caught fire at the Moroccan Grand Prix 60 years ago this week.
Helmets - Jock Taylor, Benga Johannson and Niki Lauda
There are no racing motorcycles in the collection, but they do have Jock Taylor and Benga Johansson‘s rather battered sidecar helmets on display, next to one of Niki Lauda’s. The Jackie Stewart collection had already been packed away, unless it consisted solely of a tartan scarf.
The end
The end. Outside of individual manufacturer’s premises, I can’t think of another location that had such a diverse collection of racing cars on display.

World Sidecar Trophy, Donington Park, 18th May 1980

One problem with having chemo fatigue is that I watch far too much television. This weekend I’ve managed to see some of the British Superbikes from Brands Hatch. I was delighted to see Leon Haslam clinch the championship. Back in the late 70s I remember watching his father, Ron, duel with the likes of Randy Mamola at Donington Park.

These fond memories set me wading through some reels of old 8mm cine film this afternoon. While I didn’t manage to find any of Ron and Randy in their prime, I did find a couple of minutes from the World Sidecar Trophy, shot from our favourite vantage point at McLeans. This featured Jock Taylor and his ‘passenger’, Benga Johansson. Normal motorcycle racing is daring enough, sidecar racing is terrifying. Much as the exploits of Ron Haslam appealed to me as a teenager, the real hard men were the sidecar racers. What’s noticeable in this clip is the fairly low-level of protection offered to riders, marshalls and spectators. These days McLeans has a much larger run-off area and catch fencing.

World Sidecar Trophy programme, Donington Park, Sunday May 18th 1980.
World Sidecar Trophy programme, Donington Park, Sunday May 18th 1980.

I can’t find the result of this particular race, but it would seem that Jock and Benga were leading in the number 7 Fowler Yamaha outfit at some point in the race. (See around 1m 16s into the clip). They certainly won the world sidecar championship together in 1980. Sadly, Jock Taylor was killed in a racing accident in 1982 at the age of 28.

The Donington Grand Prix Museum is to close in November

Sad news being reported in the Derby Telegraph tonight. The last time I visited the Donington Collection was during the Lotus 7 60th anniversary celebrations in 2017. The grand prix cars and other racing memorabilia held at Donington is unmatched elsewhere. The crammed-in nature of the exhibits somehow added to the charm of the place, even if it meant that viewing conditions weren’t always ideal.

Historic McLarens
Historic McLaren F1 cars displayed at the Donington Grand Prix Collection, 2015.