There were two things I was most looking forward to seeing at this year’s Donington Historic Festival: the Sun – no, not the tabloid newspaper – and the European debut of the unique Veskanda Group C racer.
Predictably, the big yellow thing in the sky only made the briefest of appearances, but thankfully, the sight of Australia’s fastest ever sportscar more than lived up to my expectations and offset any disappointment I had with the less than idyllic weather conditions.
The brainchild of Bernie van Elsen, the Chervolet-powered Veskanda was built by K&A Engineering in Adelaide and, at the hands of future Aussie V8 driver John Bowe, dominated the Australian Sportscar Championship in 1985-1987.
Sometime Britcar racer Paul Stubber climbed aboard this piece of Antipodean history in the first round of the Group C/GTP series at Donington Park, in an 18-car grid that featured an assortment of chest-reverberating monsters that had cameras a-clicking.
Gareth Evans took pole position in the rain-affected qualifying session, having recently acquired the Sauber-Mercedes C9 that won the 1989 World Sports-Prototype Championship – at Donington no less – with former Aston Martin factory driver Andy Meyrick in the ARM1 starting in second.
Stubber, meanwhile, lined up in ninth position, having set a time of 1m11.025s, some 8.835s adrift of pacesetter Evans in the C9. The Aussie managing just 11 laps of Donington before rain and hail descended, and there was insufficient time to make any improvements once the wet stuff had abated.
Fortunately for spectators and drivers alike, the weather took a turn for the better on Sunday, with conditions going from Siberia to Liberia (well, almost!) in the space of a day. Continuing on a weather-related theme, you could also say that the hour-long race was something of a scorcher too, as Meyrick and Mike Donovan in the Spice SE89 enjoyed a race-long battle which culminated in the Aston Martin driver taking the flag by just 1.709s.
And Stubber? Well he made an excellent start and eight laps in found himself running in fifth position thanks to attrition and some quality overtaking manoeuvres; the Veskanda showing great race pace and lapping on average just a second slower than the frontrunners.
Next in his sights was the Lancia LC2 which was being shared between Rupert Clevely and Group C stalwart Bob Berridge. Between the two cars there was never more than a handful of seconds and it was impossible to distinguish between the pair performance wise. Even when the pitstops had played out, they were still engaged in their own battle, albeit in third and fourth as Peter Meyrick’s (father to Andy) Spice SE89C was temporarily crippled by an undisclosed mechanical issue.
So, here was Stubber running in a largely unprecedented fourth position with just three laps of the race remaining. What could possibly go wrong?
A pesky fuel pickup problem, that’s what.
An impromptu visit to the pits saw him lose a couple of laps, but remarkably only one position – to Meyrick senior – such was his performance during the majority of the race, and in the end, the Veskanda took the flag three laps down and in fifth place, 4.550s ahead of Henrik Lindberg’s iconic Tic Tac Porsche 962C.
Besides the fuel starvation issue, it was an impressive debut for the Stubber-pedalled Veskanda and, while it is unlikely that it will dominate the Group C Racing series in a similar fashion like it did Down Under 25 years ago, the early signs are that it will at least play a significant part in the outcome of this year’s contest.
The greatest Australian export since Kylie Minogue and Foster’s lager? Fair dinkum, mate!
All photos © LS Photos.co.uk