This is the first time in five years that the big Jaguar's have raced at Donington, which favours the more powerful cars. Wet qualifying though on Saturday morning meant that the formbook was well and truly upset. Two ‘road going' relatively unmodified cars found themselves on row two of the grid ahead of many more powerful machines and drivers. Happily for Gail they were still behind her as she was on the front row in 2nd place alongside Stuart Lyddall in his 5.3 V12 XJ-S. She put her high placing down to having a decent set of rubber on her car allowing her to be some way ahead of her class B (modified saloon) rivals.
She knew though that in a dry race, which is what was forecast, she would have her work cut out to keep some of the big 6 litre V12's behind her in the race as well as some of her quicker saloon rivals. Her car had shed a few kilograms but she was not sure that the new side exit exhaust system had not compromised engine performance!
The rolling start was not the best controlled that Gail has been involved with as Lyddall nearly overtook the safety car before it had time to peel off into the pits! His plugs were beginning to foul up so he flew off as soon as he possibly could. Gail managed to hang onto his tail pipe though as they flew down to Redgate for the first time. As they rounded the right-hander she noticed a spinning Chris Palmer in her rear view mirror as Jeffery, one of the road going cars, which had started, on row two, tagged him.
Gail was convinced that red flags would soon be flying but unbelievably the following pack managed to avoid the stricken Palmer XJ-S, who did rejoin, which was facing the wrong way!
Gail was all over the V12 down the Craner Curves and through Old Hairpin and up to MacLean's but once the V12 got onto the long back, and pit straight, fellow instructor, Lyddall was able to pull out enough of a gap to prevent any serious attempt at passing. This lasted for several laps but as the race progressed and several yellow flags caused both drivers to slow (a little) the gap was gradually extended. In fact with just one lap to go the 6-litre V12 of Lawrence Coppock reeled Gail in and swept past on the pit straight.
Gail was more than happy to have a relatively quiet race with no pressure from behind at all, brining her car home in 3rd place overall but first in the saloon field to register her second win of the season and a good haul of championship points. It was not a clean sweep however as Pete Dorlin, one her class rivals took the fastest lap.
Gail acted as safety car driver for the final three races of the day as regular driver Brian George took part in race himself, in the process possibly creating the first all female safety car team anywhere with co driver Joyce Swan passing on instructions from race control.
The race the next day would be nowhere near as comfortable as she would be starting with two V12's ahead, one next to her and two of her closest rivals, in quicker cars, on the row behind!
Gail thought her prayers for rain had come true, as the field were taken round on the warm up lap behind the safety car prior to the rolling start. A slight drizzle had begun to fall but it did not last so plan B came into operation; get ahead if at all possible by the first bend and hang on for dear life for as long as possible!
There was a slight bonus in that Coppock who finished 2nd the day before had blown his clutch in another race and did not take up his place on the grid. Nobody had mentioned to the drivers that the lights had failed so the start would be by the union flag but Gail just went as soon as Lyddall did. He may have been lulled into a false sense of security on his own on the front row as he went a little wide in Redgate for the first time. Gail was right on his tail pipes as shot up the inside out braking him into the first corner. With both drivers getting a bit sideways on the slightly slippery surface the first part of plan B had worked.
Gail then spent the next lap and a half desperately holding off the white and blue V12 through Craner Curves, MacLean's and Coppice, then going defensive down to the chicane and Redgate before pulling out a slight two-car length advantage. As they rounded Coppice for the second time Gail spotted waved yellow flags and then the safety car board all the way down the back straight. The luckless Palmer had been involved in an incident on the first lap at the chicane and his car along with Tim Morrant's were both stranded in the kitty litter.
Gail had a new experience as she spent three laps following the same safety car she had piloted the day before. When the lights went out she was ready to pounce but actually came out of the chicane a little wide, on cold tyres. This allowed Lyddall to swarm all over her down to Redgate but still she hung on. A lap later he was actually two thirds of a car length ahead approaching the chicane at well over a hundred miles per hour, crucially Gail had the inside line and held it, they touched ever so slightly, Lyddall out braked himself and the rear end of his car broke away as he tried to turn in, spinning right in front of Gail. She managed to avoid his car, just, and hang onto the lead.
By the time she got to Redgate next lap round both Dorlin and Dave Bye were all over her on every bend. Their Series one 4.2 coupes being around 50kg's lighter and having a bit more power were much quicker on the straights.
Gail kept her cool for the next two laps, though on the last lap all three were side by side down the chicane but guess who was on the inside line? Patrick Doyle meanwhile in his V12 had caught up with the duelling saloons but literally could fine no way through.
All four cars crossed the finish line with just 0.64 seconds separating them!
Gail registered a brilliant overall win, her third saloon win in three races and left Donington, now her favourite track, leading the combined Championship and with an extended advantage in the saloon field. ‘The car actually feels like its lost some top end power since the work was done on the exhaust system but after the race at Brands with Dave (Bye) I didn't think there would be another as close, just goes to show what I know!' said Gail later, ‘I still need to go quicker because I have yet to register a fastest lap so I am still loosing points so the car needs more work but what a fab race...I don't know if I can keep this up until the end of the season but it's the best start to a campaign I've had in five years so who knows'.
There is now a four-week break until round seven at Oulton Park next month.
photos Janos Schmidt