1997 The essential guide to the season

A superb historic season is in prospect and we'll be following it every step of the way. here, Marcus Pye selects the best events of 1997. miss them at your peril

This is an exceptional year for historic motor sport. From humble domestic gatherings to Goodwood's magnificent international Festival of Speed, there's something for historic car owners to compete in and enthusiasts to enjoy virtually every weekend. Anniversaries being celebrated this year include 30 years of the Cosworth DFV Formula One engine, 50 years of Ferrari, 70 years of the awesome Nurburgring circuit and 90 years of Brooklands. Over the next eight pages we will outline just a few of the best highlights on the calendar, first on the domestic scene, then internationally. Detailed information and contact numbers are printed on page 25 (domestic) and page 29 (international).

DOMESTIC EVENTS

European Historic Festival, May 30/June 1

Donington Park's FIA European Championship round is headed by rounds of the booming Thoroughbred Grand Prix Car Championship and the superb trophy series for the screaming 1600cc Formula 2 cars built up to 1971. The promised Targa Sprint event for thumping '60s sports prototypes is off, though, big money having lured the competitors to the Nurburgring instead.

The meeting also showcases the FIA's Historic Touring Car and GT series and the Johnny Lurani Trophy Formula Junior promotion, in which local hero Tony Thompson defends his title in his superb cigar-like monocoque Lotus 27 of 1963.

Shelsley Walsh 'Golden 50', June 7/8

A very special event commemorating the 50th anniversary of the inaugural RAC British Hillclimb Championship in 1947, to which all surviving champions and cars are invited. Many including maestro David Boshier Jones and the incredible David Good will be reunited with never to be forgotten machinery for runs which will delight all aficionados of this quintessentially British sport at its spiritual home.

Actually, the very first round was at Bo'ness, near Linlithgow, Scotland, but the venue no longer exists. Shelsley Walsh, which has hosted events on the same 1000-yard course since 1905, staged the second round on June 21. Raymond Mays won in a time of 41.50sec in ERA R4D. Hopefully the grand old car will be back, perhaps driven by John Harper.

Among those expected to take part in the competition proper a round of the 1997 Liqui-Moly Championship are the evergreen Tony Marsh, who scored hat-tricks of titles, a decade apart, in 1955-1957 and 1965-1967. The former Grand Prix and Le Mans driver now has a 600bhp Roman V8, but will doubtless give his ingenious four-wheel drive March-Buick a blast for old times' sake. Don't miss this one...

Goodwood Festival of Speed, June 20-22

So many superlatives have been used to describe the Earl of March's four previous extravaganzas that it is a little difficult to imagine how his organisers will find yet more amazing vehicles to top their extraordinary content this June. They, and we, are confident, however, that the challenge has been met.

Without doubt the greatest assembly of racing cars anywhere in the world this year should be topped by the appearance of one or more Auto-Union Grand Prix cars from the '30s on the hillclimb course. Mercedes-Benz's 'Silver Arrows' are already great favourites at Goodwood, but rarely if ever since their heyday have the rear-engined Auto-Unions run with them. Goodwood has both.

Ninety years of Brooklands, the world's first purpose-built racetrack, is celebrated in another central theme at Goodwood. It has already attracted more than a dozen of the cars leviathans and minnows that hurtled round the banking of Locke-King's giant concrete speedbowl before and after the Great War.

Fifty Ferraris will trace the history of the Prancing Horse in its Golden Jubilee year, with 1961 World Champion and twice Le Mans winner Phil Hill back in Sussex to delight the crowds. Former Ferrari Grand Prix driver Chris Amon is also coming from New Zealand to make his long overdue festival debut.

Thirty years of the remarkable 3-litre Ford Cosworth DFV (Double Four Valve) Formula One engine, which won no fewer than 155 Grands Prix between its debut in Jimmy Clark's Lotus 49 at the 1967 Dutch GP and the early '80s, is reflected in a superb range of cars. Three-time World Champion Jackie Stewart is expected to demonstrate one of his successful Tyrrells in the class.

Modem Grand Prix cars have not been overlooked. Hill record holder Jonathan Palmer graduates to one of last year's Williams FW18s, and the team also plans to run the 1990 Ferrari 641/2 it acquired amid driver negotiations the following year. Entries are also in from McLaren, and the new Stewart Ford Grand Prix contender is also expected.

As if this was not enough, The American Dream brings together some of the world's fastest and most innovative cars. Double World Champion Emerson Fittipaldi is entered in one of last year's Penske Indycars and Jim Hall is bringing three Chaparral sportscars including the wonderful winged 2F which won at Brands Hatch in 1967, and the 2J Can-Am 'sucker car' never before seen outside the USA. The mighty NASCAR stock cars are also on the agenda.

Motorcycle enthusiasts can see long-time festival supporter John Surtees ride MV Agustas as well as drive cars, and another World Champion, Barry Sheene, back aboard a Grand Prix Suzuki.

Glorious Goodwood is motorsport's event of the year, a garden party in the true sense of the phrase, for it runs in Lord March's garden. A social gathering at which you can talk to the greatest exponents of the racing art, and are encouraged to take a close look at the machinery.

If you don't like vast crowds, it may be worth going on Friday. Whichever day you choose many will go for all three since there is so much to take in remember your autograph books. Miss the Festival of Speed and you'll regret it.

COYS International Festival, July 25-27

Now in its sixth year, and back in the original July slot, the British Racing Drivers Club's Coys International Festival is regarded as Europe's finest historic race meeting.

Ferrari is the central theme, and a mouth-watering collection of cars is being assembled to trace its illustrious 50-year history. As marque founder Enzo Ferrari would have wished, many will take part in the extensive racing programme. Among the Ferraris expected to appear are the Super Squalo that carried Paul Frere to fourth place in the 1955 Belgian Grand Prix, a 250 Testa Rossa that Phil Hill and Cliff Allison drove in the 1959 and 1960 World Sportscar Championships, a 1967 P3/4, the ex-Derek Bell/Chris Amon Tasman single-seater and a Williams GP Engineering F1 car.

Grand Prix cars and sports racers from the '30s to the '60s are in their clement on a revised version of the full Silverstone circuit (which replaces the dreadful 'stop-stare Club corner with a rising, flowing curve through which the art of four-wheel-drifting can be fully appreciated).

But the festival is not about racing alone. Far from it. Great drivers demonstrate the cars of yore, and there are parades, marque displays, art shows, jazz bands, a major Coys auction, flypasts by historic aircraft, hot air balloon fly-outs and owners club events aplenty to make it a splendid weekend out for every member of the family. A must.

Phoenix Park road races, August 16-17

Europe's largest public park, in Dublin, boasts a motorsport history that dates back to the Irish Grands Prix of the '20s. In recent years its annual road races have reflected this rich heritage to the pleasure of an enormous audience.

This year, the Group 6 sportscars from the Historic Sports Car Club's superb RJB Mining Championship top the bill at the Rothmans-sponsored free-for-all. The sight and sound of the 150mph 2-litre Chevrons, Lolas and Osellas — and the odd Can-Am monster — charging through the park will live on, Car sports racers have not been there for 15 years.

RAC Veteran car run, November 2

The big event on the world veteran calendar celebrates the Emancipation Run in which pioneer motorists drove from London to Brighton, 50 miles away on the south coast, on November 14, 1896, following the Act of Parliament that raised Britain's speed limits to 12mph.

Last year's centenary running attracted 625 cars that were built before January 1, 1905, including three which ran in the very first event. All were among the 541 finishers, which speaks volumes for the quality of early engineering and doubtless some skilled preparation too.

Nowhere else will you be able to witness such a moving pageant of the motor industry's earliest days, and all for free.

Historic RAC Rally, November 22-23

Run concurrently with the RAC Rally, Britain's round of the World Rally Championship, this event transports competitors and spectators alike back to the '50s and '60s, when rally cars resembled their roadgoing sisters much more closely.

Porsche 911s are the class of the entry, with drivers of the calibre of five-time British Rally Champion Jimmy McRae and Norwegian Monty Kadan setting the standards to which the amateurs aspire.

Volvo PV544s evoke memories of Tom Trana's RAC Rally double in the early '60s, and Lancia Fulvias equal memories of fellow Swede Harry Kallstrom's wins in later years. Mini Cooper Ss and Ford Lotus Cortinas comprise much of the field. This year's event starts from Cheltenham.

Other Events

Apart from the showpiece events above, there is more than ever for the historic motorsport fan to enjoy on the thriving British domestic scene, from the Motor Cycle Club's 76th Lands End Trial over the Easter weekend, to BRDC chaplain Canon Lionel Webber's Motoring and Family Day in Basildon which celebrates the 75th Anniversary of the original Hillclimb at Laindon on July 5.

The Vintage Sports Car Club's tremendous season of race meetings kicks off at Silverstone on April 12, where the annual Patrick Lindsay Trophy race traditionally draws the season's largest gathering of ERAs. The spectacle of flame-belching aero engined leviathans doing battle with three-wheeled Morgans is just one of many unforgettable sights at VSCC meetings, and the old-stagers are back at Silverstone in June for the Mike Hawthorn Trophy meeting. MOTOR SPORT is supporting both of these wonderful events so we will look forward to seeing you there.

Four speed hillclimbs are also on the VSCC's agenda, with Prescott the highlight in August. Loton Park's fixture has a new slot, and is now the season-closer in September.

This season MOTOR SPORT is also sponsoring the Historic Rally Car Register's Safety Devices Historic Challenge, special stage and navigational rallies, mainly for cars built before 1968 but with a section for cars built up to and including 1979.

Finally, the first round of the FIA Thoroughbred Grand Prix Car Championship opens the Historic Sports Car Club season on home soil at Silverstone on Monday, May 5 which is going to involve a mass dash back from Monaco's Grand Prix Historique for the likes of competitor Martin Stretton and a host of organisers.

Add to this owner's club events too numerous to mention and it's clear we're set for a vintage season.

INTERNATIONAL EVENTS

Tour De France Auto, April 23-26

The 56th running of the classic automobile tour a unique combination of rally and circuit racing disciplines, sensational cars and joie de vivre takes competitors on a high-speed fourday adventure from Paris to Biarritz.

Phil Hill (Ferrari GTO), Stirling Moss (Alfa Romeo TZ1) and Henri Pescarolo (AC Cobra) are among the star names on the 225-strong provisional entry, which features two Porsche 910 prototypes, a number of Porsche 904s and 906s, four Ford GT4Os and Brandon Wang's wailing Ferrari 250LM.

The competition embraces 'races' on the banked circuit at Montlhery (just outside Paris), Val de Vienne (near Poitiers), Albi and Nogaro. There are also some new special stages gentler than last year's, say the organisers at Chenevelles, Le Pont du Dognon (near Limoges), Cotes de Garonne (Bordeaux) and Villardonnel (Carcassonne).

Some of France's most historic places, including Mereville, Chambord, Saint-Aignan, le Grand Pressigny, Chalus, Brie and Bourdeilies, are included on the route of this unforgettable show, which makes not only for a great motoring experience, but also some wonderful photographic opportunities.

Mille Miglia, May 1-4

A recreation of the classic 1000-mile road race, run in its pukka form from 1927 to 1957, it is as always centred on Brescia in northern Italy. This still popular retro still engenders quite frightening passion among natives of Europe's most car-mad country.

Many of the tortuous roads are little different from the days when the likes of Tazio Nuvolari and Moss triumphed and the huge variety of cars, the crews of which cheerily acknowledge the waves of fellow motorists with flashing spotlights and blaring horns, adds to the thrill of the occasion. Install yourself in a good position overlooking the route and enjoy one of motoring's greatest cavalcades.

Monaco GP Historique, May 3-4

Three-time Monaco Grand Prix winner Stirling Moss heads the entry list for this showpiece, which commemorates the 700th anniversary of Monte Carlo's ruling Grimaldi dynasty. The Grand Prix Historique takes place a week before the Formula One race, on the same circuit.

A fine selection of the cars that have raced in Monaco since 1929 will come together for seven races for pre-1934 two-seaters, pre-1952, pre-1960 and pre-1968 Grand Prix cars; pre-1960 sportscars, 1959-1963 Formula Junior and pre-1959 Ferrari sportscars.

From a 1924 Bugatti T35 to a pair of 1967 Lotus 49s, this event will be one of the most memorable of 1997, for the historic race that supported 1979 Grand Prix, won by Martin Morris in ERA R11B, remains fresh in the minds of those who were there almost 20 years ago.

Moss in BRM P25 and Maserati Birdcage, Phil Hill (Ferrari Testa Rossa), Martin Stretton (Maserati 4CM and BRM P48), Rob Hall in Tom Wheatcroft's Lotus 18, and Frank Sytner in John Coombs's Jaguar D will be among the many making the news. If you pass on the 'beautiful people' at the F1 Grand Prix, but cannot live without beautiful motor cars, make a date for this instead.

Grand Prix d'Europe, May 18-19

The city of Luxembourg is expecting 250 cars from all over Europe to descend for a new retro to celebrate the Duchy's races, from 1939 to 1957, on a 3km street circuit in the European Centre at Kirchberg.

The varied programme, which embraces all manner of racers from the Edwardian period, through postwar single-seaters to the Interserie sportscars of the '70s, will include real races and demonstrations.

Nurburgring, May 28-June 1

Seventy years of the Nurburgring will mean a great party and many of motorsport's all-time greats are expected to participate in the five-day festival at the ADAC 1000km event.

The 14-mile Nordschleife circuit will be used for the endurance race, but historic Formula One, sports, GT and touring car events are scheduled to take place on the current Grand Prix track. A sensational grid of sports prototypes tops the bill.

Many will be back, with the FIA Thoroughbred Grand Prix Car Championship and International Supersports Cup, for the Oldtimer Grand Prix festival on August 9/10.

Le Mans 24 Hours, June 14-15

No apology for including the Automobile Club de l'Ouest's contemporary event. The electric atmosphere and the drama of the race — in which the fastest cars top 200mph on the public road which forms the Mulsanne Straight, despite the insertion of chicanes — attracts tens of thousands of British spectators.

Historic cavalcades are part of the pomp and ceremony. This year, SCH Davis and Dudley Benjafield's victory in the crash-ridden 1927 race, Ivor Bueb and Ron Flockhart's Ecurie Ecosse Jaguar triumph of 1957, the Porsche wins of 1977 (Jacky Ickx's third successive title) and 1987 Park Bell's fifth win) will be specially remembered.

Reims 12 Hours, July 5-6

This is a one-off spectacular aimed at recapturing the spirit of the fearsomely fast road circuit, which hosted such events as the French GP, the GPs of Mame, Reims and the ACF as well as the 12 Heures de Reims between 1925 and its closure in 1969.

Slipstreaming was de rigueur at flamboyant Raymond Toto' Roche's circuit — on which the late Piers Courage's Formula 2 lap record of 225.4km/h (140.1mph) will stand forever — and there were some breathtakingly close finishes throughout its history. Tazio Nuvolari won the venue's first French GP in 1932, and Jack Brabham its last in 1966.

The authorities are closing the Routes Nationale 31 and 27, which formed the final 5.1-mile triangular track, and many of its exceptional facilities will be reopened to recreate the sights, sounds and smells of yesteryear's wonderful race meetings in the capital of champagne country.

Demonstration races for F1 (pre and post-war), F2, F3 and sports prototypes will be the highlight of this very special event, for which priority is given to cars with Reims history. Situated one-and-a-half hours south of Paris, the circuit is well placed for many British enthusiasts.

Spa-Francorchamps Six Hours, September 6/7

Belgium's Motor Classic organiser, famed for its Liege-Rome-Liege and Liege-Sofia-Liege rallies, is also active in the racing world through its very popular Six Hour endurance race on the Grand Prix circuit. For the past two years it has been won by Britons Joe Ward and Chris Conoley in a rumbling TVR Griffith.

The 4.3-mile Spa track, which wends its way through the country's forested and relatively mountainous Ardennes region, is arguably Europe's finest in regular use. Although it is a shadow of the downright scary Francorchamps road circuit of old, with its Masta Kink, the truncated version is still revered by everybody privileged to have raced on it.

For sheer driving pleasure, and value, the Six Hours just cannot be matched. Battles normally rage throughout the race, which puts the spotlight on mechanical preparation, strategy and team management skills. The back-room boys certainly play as great a role as the competitors tackling the challenging circuit.

About 70 sports, GT, and saloon cars from the '60s start the big race, which is supported by less gruelling events for sports prototypes and saloon cars of later eras. There's also a thrilling race in prospect of Group C sportscars, which took part in the World Championship Spa 1000km. The race is part of a series backed by MOTOR SPORT (see page 4).

Brno, Bohemo Grand Prix, September 13-14

The former Czechoslovakia boasts a motorsports tradition which goes back to the '30s; indeed, Auto-Union ace Bernd Rosemeyer scored his first Grand Prix victory on the terrifying 18-mile road circuit at Brno in 1935, and the European touring car circus paid an annual visit to a shortened 6.8-mile version until 1986.

In a bid to gain a Formula One Grand Prix in what is now the Czech Republic, a purpose-built racetrack was constructed in the rolling hills above the bustling industrial town of Brno a decade ago, yet it was denied its goal by the politics which surround world motorsport's multibillion dollar flagship. F1's loss is indubitably historic racing's gain, for the majestic 5.4km Masaryk circuit has the dramatic swoops, turns and scenery of Spa-Francorchamps — indeed all of the classic Belgian venue's qualities bar the all-pervading aroma of frites and mayonnaise.

For the past two years, British promoters have been working in conjunction with local enthusiasts to present the Bohemo Grand Prix meeting on the new track, featuring rounds of the FIA Thoroughbred Grand Prix Car Championship and the International Supersports Cup. This season, the supporting cast is far stronger than before.

Friendly, enthusiastic people, relatively inexpensive hotels and superb cuisine (even at the circuit's restaurant, a novelty to travelling Britons) also make this an annual pilgrimage you won't want to miss. It's worth every kilometre of the long trip to discover Europe's best kept motorsport secret, and a fascinating country too.

Carrera Panamericana, October 24-30

The wild flat-out blast through the desert roads of Mexico, won by Piero Taruffi, Karl King and Juan Manuel Fangio in the '50s, continues in retro form. Perilous drops are among myriad natural hazards, and the buzz keeps competitors coming back year after year to retrace the wheeltracks of motorsport's greats.

Not for the faint hearted, it attracts all kinds of enthusiasts, aboard everything from spartan out-and-out sports racers to lumbering great American sedans fitted with outrageously powerful engines. Merely reaching the finish is a worthy achievement.