Christian England gave a masterclass in sports-prototypes racing and showed his talent had not diminished in the 14 years since he last raced at Donington Park.
The 2016 European Le Mans Series LMP3 champion, was racing with United Autosports in the brand-new UK-based Henderson Insurance Brokers LMP3 Cup Championship opening rounds at the Derbyshire circuit.
In the pair of one hour-long races England was partnered by American Andrew Evans. A weird anomaly of the FIA – world motorsport’s governing body – driver grading system makes England a ‘bronze’ driver due to being over 30 years of age, and with only one year’s recent motor racing history, even though he is vastly-more experienced and a crowned champion, the reigning Euro LMP 3 title-holder. Whereas, Evans - the younger driver at 19 year-old - being under 30 years of age, is graded a silver driver regardless of having much less experience…
The bronze driver is required to start the race and do the first 30 minutes in this case.
England set the early pace in qualifying but was pipped for pole-position in both races, however he felt, “P2 isn’t a bad place to start - hopefully we can get out front in the race and get our heads down!”.
Good to his word, as starting driver, England hounded the race-leader for 9 laps before he steered his Ligier JS P3 into the lead.
Steadily pulling out an advantage, all the opposition could see of his car was it disappearing into the distance.
On lap 27 the Barnsley 35 year-old handed over the driving to Evans, the American never having raced at the Donington Park circuit, and making his LMP3 debut.
And the anomaly showed when Evans re-joined the track as England’s hard won lead advantage was steadily eroded and Evans dropped slowly down the timing screen.
By the time the chequered flag fell on lap 54, the England/Evans car crossed the line in 6th place.
Hoping for better luck in round 2, England again started on the front row, and was on the outside of a trio running three abreast down to the first corner, Redgate, England holding his nerve, braking the latest, to emerge in the lead.
Using his talent again, England steadily built up a 2.9 seconds comfort zone advantage, only for a spinning car to bring out the safety car on lap 4.
Six laps later, the race re-started with 52 minutes to run and England again asserted his advantage soon pulling out a 1.9 seconds gap from the chasing pack, to create a very useful lead margin.
After ten laps, England’s lead had grown to 5.1 seconds, he led the pack until the pit window opened for the driver change-overs firing off a sequence of fastest laps, as his opponents pitted his lead effectively grew to a comanding 26 seconds.
Then England lost his 3.5 seconds margin when another stricken car called for the safety car to take to the track again, when the race resumed, impressively England again pulled away at the restart, and built up another healthy gap to the rest of the field.
Waiting until the final minutes of the driver change-over window, England pitted for Evans to take over the lead United Autosports machine.
But again he was quickly reeled-in by the car running second, which easily took over the lead, as Evans steadily went backwards down the order – within 13 laps he had dropped to 4th.
Then, in the closing stages of the race, to confound his sins, Evans ran wide at the Old Hairpin, his car’s regulation flat-bottom running along the kerbs raised the car’s wheels off the track and it spun the car across the grass, slamming it into the wall.
With insufficient time remaining to recover the stricken England/Evans car under a safety car intervention, the red flags were shown, bringing the race to an end four minutes early.
Post-race England was happy about his performance, “I’ve really enjoyed the first races in the Henderson Insurance LMP3 Cup Championship. I was pleased with my own performance this weekend, and being out in front having a couple of good stints. I think I’m getting better in my own pace. It can only be a good thing to get more practice for the European series”.
If he had a criticism, “I kept building a gap only for the safety car to keep ruining it”, he joked, but then with a grimace England remarked, “In both races took I the lead, pulled out a margin and then you notice who lost it…”.
The week before, England had been defending his ELMS LMP 3 series title crown in the opening round of the 2017 European Le Mans Series.
On home turf, in the 4 Hour of Silverstone race, where the United Autosports car number 3 of Wayne Boyd/Christian England/Mark Patterson lined-up on the grid 3rd in class.
Boyd started, running at the head of the field until their pit-stop, with a little over one hour gone, England took over from Boyd, and was back at the head of the field almost immediately.
England switched after his one hour stint to Patterson and he resumed in 3rd.
With an hour to go Patterson had slipped to 5th when he handing over to Boyd who sliced his way back up to in 4th at the chequered flag – less than three-seconds from scoring a podium.
However, late on Saturday evening England found his number 3 Ligier had been promoted to 3rd in the final results after a breach of regulations by another car.