Adrian Flux’s tame lady racing driver Sarah Bennett-Baggs can normally be found tearing around the country’s circuits in her distinctive pink Porsche 911. But, as she prepares for the Le Mans Classic, the Pink Panther has temporarily been confined to the garage. Here, she explains why and takes us through her first experience of racing a classic Healey 100.
Sarah in her usual conveyance, the Pink Panther
Just so you know, I haven’t gone all shy of my rosy pink Porsche 911, but this year I have joined forces with JME Healeys to co-drive their Healey 100M at the Le Mans Classic, where getting an entry is one thing, driving it will be quite another! The Donington Historic Festival at the beginning of May was my warm-up race for the Le Mans Classic, and we entered the RAC Woodcote Trophy of which my co-driver Mike Thorne is a regular front runner (no pressure there then!).
Since it was the Donington Historic Festival, there was a full grid of 30 cars and an incredible eight Healey 100s all with various different specifications. I was told there was no pressure we had no chance of winning, so take it steady and enjoy it. Similar advice that I get from my mother before a race: “Drive carefully!”
Sarah preparing for action in the Healey
I decided to go out in qualifying first and just lining up in qualifying with all these 50s exotica – Jaguar D-Types, Coopers, Aston Martins – was quite something. One of the front-running cars had burst into flames even before I had left the collecting area! Out on the track bizarrely suddenly everything feels normal. Yes, it’s a different car than I’m used to, the Dunlop historic tyres are very squirmy and there’s lots of movement in the car, but not in a scary way – it actually makes the car very light on its toes, and it feels quick. The gearbox is 60 years old yet it feels solid and dependable. I set about putting in my fastest laps then coming in for the driver change. We qualified 17th overall out of the 30 runners, which was 6th in class, and the 3rd Healey 100.
The Healey in action
When it came to the hour-long race, Mike took the start and I watched them all roar away on their rolling start – quite a sight and an incredible sound. I couldn’t help thinking what it was going to be like doing Le Mans Classic in July, gunning it down the Mulsanne straight and into the chicanes. Mike came in bang on 30 minutes in, and we had a quick no fuss change and out I went. As you exit the pits in these races, all sorts of things are going through your mind, ‘belts tight’, check, ‘pit lane speed’, check, ‘anything coming’, check – then you join the race and buckle down to putting in some decent laps.
I was desperate not to let the team down, and concentrating hard to make sure I didn’t make any mistakes. With so many different sports car types out on the track you have to keep a good eye on the mirrors, but the sound of those Jaguar D-Types come past you at full speed is something else, just incredible!
The Healey enters a bend ahead of assorted historic racers.
About 10 minutes in I noticed various dials waving at me from the dash and glanced down to see the temperature higher than it should be. I backed off slightly and kept one eye on the gauge, and sure enough on the long straight I started to see steam coming from the bonnet, so came in to the pits to get it checked out. Five litres of water later I was driving back down the pit lane and rejoining the race, but it didn’t last long. Clearly with a hole in the radiator the water was coming straight back out and after only a few more laps I had to retire the car. We were so near the end of the race we still got a finishing position, but it was such a shame as we were looking at 3rd or 4th in class before the problems started.
But the radiator will be an easy fix for JME Healeys before the next outing. I went away from Donington feeling even more excited about Le Mans Classic than ever. I really enjoy driving the Healey and soaking up the 50s racing era ambience of the event.