MID-SEA­SON HERO­ICS

Autosport (UK) - - DONNELLY RETROSPECTIVE -

EMERSON FITTIPALDI

1969 Formula 3

The Brazil­ian claimed the MCD Lom­bard ti­tle with the sup­port of a young Ralph Fir­man as his me­chanic on the strength of a half-sea­son’s ef­fort, with fund­ing from Jim Rus­sell af­ter im­press­ing in a self-pre­pared Mer­lyn in Formula Ford.

PAUL RADISICH

1993 Bri­tish Tour­ing

Car Cham­pi­onship

The Andy Rouse-built Mon­deo only ar­rived for Pem­brey in June, but Radisich made up for lost time by claim­ing third in points and win­ning three times, be­fore adding the Tour­ing Car World Cup at Monza.

LEWIS HAMIL­TON

2002 Formula Re­nault

2.0 Eurocup

Dove­tailed an im­pres­sive maiden cam­paign in the UK to fin­ish fifth in the ul­tra­com­pet­i­tive Eurocup, beat­ing the likes of Robert Ku­bica with three podi­ums in five rounds, in­clud­ing a win at Don­ing­ton.

AN­TO­NIO FELIX DA COSTA

2012 Formula Re­nault 3.5 Parachuted into Ar­den­cater­ham by Red Bull along­side his GP3 com­mit­ments, da Costa closed the year with four wins in five races, be­com­ing a thorn in the side of ti­tle-chasers Robin Fri­jns and Jules Bianchi.

Crosby’s drivers in­clude Nigel Mansell, Jean Alesi, Al­lan Mc­nish, David Coulthard and Gil de Ferran, but he rates Donnelly “in the top three or four of all the drivers I’ve ever worked with”. He was in­stantly taken by Donnelly’s abil­ity to get quickly on the pace in a pre-event test at Oul­ton Park, which he fol­lowed up by qual­i­fy­ing two tenths off pole­man and new EJR team-mate Herbert on the out­side of the front row.

“It was a two-way thing. He said that the 88D was the best-bal­anced car he’d ever driven, and he was one of the eas­i­est drivers I ever worked with, so you put those two to­gether and you get some fan­tas­tic re­sults,” remembers Crosby. “I knew a bit about Martin when he joined and he’d got some good re­sults in F3. The first test we did, it didn’t take him any time to get up to speed – he was on it straight away.

“The Rey­nard was cer­tainly bet­ter than the March, which had just had its day; it was aero­dy­nam­i­cally su­pe­rior to the oth­ers at that stage and was eas­ier to drive. But you’ve still got to drive it and get the best from it – that’s not easy.”

The events of Brands 1988 are well-known, as Herbert suf­fered ter­ri­ble in­juries to his an­kles and feet in a multi-car pile-up that ruled him out for the rest of the sea­son. But what is of­ten for­got­ten is that Donnelly es­caped the may­hem by ac­ing the se­cond start – Moreno’s ac­ci­dent at Pad­dock Hill Bend hav­ing brought out the first red flags – and con­trolled the field on the third start to claim a win on his de­but. Out of re­spect for Herbert, he didn’t open the cham­pagne.

With­out a team-mate for his Birm­ing­ham Su­per­prix de­but one week later, Donnelly qual­i­fied sev­enth and came through to se­cond be­hind Moreno in an­other event­ful race that re­quired three at­tempts at start­ing. Crosby reck­oned un­der the cir­cum­stances that it was even bet­ter than his per­for­mance to qual­ify on the front row at Brands.

“Martin took it all in his stride, that’s the amaz­ing thing,” says Crosby. “He was very laid back – he didn’t seem to suf­fer from any pres­sures that were around.”

Donnelly’s cool de­meanour was re­mark­able given that the pres­sure on him was not just that of a rookie find­ing his feet. Jor­dan was anx­ious to be paid the agreed sum and Donnelly had no way of meeting it, as men­tor and bene­fac­tor Frank Nolan had died in 1986 with­out leav­ing a will.

Donnelly had bet the farm on mak­ing a suc­cess of F3000 – if he failed and Jor­dan pulled the seat, the strained re­la­tion­ship with Cell­net meant there would be no fall­back in F3.

“There was pres­sure to per­form be­cause I was putting it on the line, EJ was down my neck big-time look­ing for money,” says Donnelly. “If EJ

“I was putting it on the line, EJ was down my neck big-time”

said, ‘You’re three grand be­hind pay­ments, I’ve got a driver go­ing to pay 40 grand for the next three races’, what are you go­ing to do? There’s no 3000 drive, no Cell­net drive, be­cause Peter

Kox was fill­ing my boots. It was a mas­sive risk, like play­ing the bluff at poker – how soon should you fold your hand?

“Af­ter Brands Hatch and Birm­ing­ham, EJ re­alised the money wasn’t com­ing through, so he did a deal whereby I drove Richard Lloyd’s Porsche 962 at Spa and did a few trips over to Ja­pan [in F3000]; that way EJ got his money back.”

Donnelly’s red-hot form con­tin­ued on his first visit to Le Mans, fol­low­ing home hero Olivier Grouil­lard to claim an­other se­cond place, be­fore stones on the road at Zolder caused him to skate off into the gravel. Al­though he got out again, the gear­box was be­yond help – but Donnelly made up for it by win­ning the sea­son fi­nale at Di­jon af­ter Moreno’s en­gine gave up. The best that Herbert’s re­place­ment Paolo Bar­illa – a third-year cat­e­gory vet­eran – could muster was sev­enth at Di­jon.

“Thank­fully, those two drives in 1988 at

Brands Hatch and Birm­ing­ham car­ried me through for the last five races,” says Donnelly. “Af­ter that, Lo­tus came knock­ing for the fol­low­ing year and EJ got big money from Nis­san for Le Mans. He was go­ing, ‘kerch­ing, kerch­ing!’

“Four months later from when we were ne­go­ti­at­ing at Snet­ter­ton, EJ’S of­fer­ing me 50 grand to drive for him [in 1989]. It’s funny how things just turn so quickly.”

Af­ter switch­ing from Crosby to Trevor Foster, with whom he had worked at Swal­low in F3, Donnelly had a dis­ap­point­ing 1989. An­other vic­tory at Brands aside, he only scored once more with third in Birm­ing­ham, as Crosby en­gi­neered new EJR team-mate Alesi to three wins and the ti­tle.

The die was cast when Donnelly was dis­qual­i­fied from vic­tory in round two at Val­lelunga af­ter it was dis­cov­ered his new nosecone had not been crash-tested. Hav­ing al­ready suf­fered a Mu­gen en­gine fail­ure at Sil­ver­stone, he then crashed while chas­ing Alesi at Pau, had two punc­tures at Jerez and tan­gled with Alesi at the first cor­ner at Enna-per­gusa, ar­riv­ing at Brands with no points once again.

Still, his name was hot prop­erty. Donnelly had made his F1 de­but at Paul Ri­card for Ar­rows sub­bing for the in­jured Derek War­wick (“If EJ was do­ing his job right, he should be on the phone to Jackie Oliver for Jean Alesi – French Grand Prix, French driver – but he didn’t”) hav­ing two weeks ear­lier been dubbed the

‘next Mansell’ on the cover of Au­tosport fol­low­ing a strong test show­ing for Lo­tus.

Had Jor­dan in­stead pushed Alesi on Ar­rows and Donnelly landed the Tyrrell seat that be­came va­cant shortly af­ter­wards – and which formed the launch­pad for Alesi’s F1 ca­reer – the story might have been very dif­fer­ent. But Donnelly can al­ways look back on that re­mark­able 1988 half-sea­son as the time he showed his abil­ity on the international scene. Yer man’s ul­ti­mate gam­ble had paid off.

Se­cond on the grid for F3000 de­but came af­ter mi­nor changes to the steer­ing Donnelly didn’t cel­e­brate af­ter de­but win Se­cond in Birm­ing­ham came af­ter pass­ing Mark Blun­dell (left)

…and ar­ranged his GP de­but in an Ar­rows in 1989

Jor­dan played a vi­tal role in Donnelly’s rise…

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