Newer sports-prototypes set to breathe fresh life into twilight fixture
Sports-prototypes and GT racing cars from as recently as the 2011 season will give the Silverstone Classic a very different look next summer (July 20-22).
The landmark event in the British historic racing calendar has replaced the traditional Saturday evening Group C event with a race for the new Masters Endurance Legends series, which is for prototype and GT cars from 1995 to 2011. Never before have cars as up to date as these taken a lead slot in the programme.
The key feature of the three-day event will be a celebration of Le Mans with three grids racing through Saturday afternoon and evening to showcase more than 60 years in the story of the Le Mans 24 Hours.
The trio of headline races will start with the International Trophy for pre-1966 GTs and continue with the FIA Masters Historic Sports Car Championship for Le Mans-style sports cars from up to 1974. Then, as the evening heads into dusk, the Endurance Legends series will make its Silverstone debut in the twilight slot previously reserved for the Group C cars of the 1980s.
Changing Saturday evening’s feature race is a gamble for the event promoters, but the shine has gone from the Group C feature in recent seasons and just 13 cars arrived for the 2017 race. Nine were running at the end of the weekend’s second race – and they were covered by two laps. When promoter Patrick Peter announced a Group C race for the 2018 Le Mans Classic (July 6-8), it seemed highly probable that the category would not feature at Silverstone.
Instead, event promoter Nick Wigley has moved to agree a deal with Masters Historic Racing to host the fledging Endurance Legends series, which had a successful pilot race at Spa in September with an encouraging 21-car field of LMP prototypes and GTs. The new category will have a programme of races next season and Silverstone’s is the first one to be confirmed.
The development fits well with Wigley’s ambition to expand the Classic’s audience by attracting younger spectators. “It’s a really exciting new addition, providing a new dimension and new era, thus further broadening what we celebrate at the Classic,” he said. “The LMP cars look absolutely phenomenal and are very different to everything else we have on track.”
Although the later prototypes and GT cars are fairly complex to operate, Masters boss Ron Maydon says that there is a huge pool of potential cars that have few, if any, other places to race. The concept is already well established in the USA.
The other major celebration at the Silverstone Classic will be 70 years since the circuit’s first British Grand Prix, held on October 2 1948. That landmark race, on a rudimentary track set out on the runways of the World War II airfield, was won by the Maserati 4CLT of Luigi Villoresi.
In 2018, grids from the Historic Grand Prix Cars Association and FIA Masters Historic Formula 1 will trace the F1 story from the 1930s to the 1980s.
COMBE F5000 DEMO
Some of the most powerful cars ever to run at Castle Combe created the main spectacle at the most successful edition to date of the Wiltshire circuit’s Autumn Classic.
Centre stage went to three Formula 5000s, including one of the most important single-seaters in the circuit’s 67-year history.
In May 1970 the European Formula 5000 Championship paid the first of two visits to the circuit and the race was won by Peter Gethin in his Sid Taylor Racing McLaren M10B. That car, now owned by Martin Longmore, was back on track at the Autumn Classic in the hands of Matthew Wurr and was joined by two later F5000s for some demonstration laps.
Neil Glover (ex-Gethin Chevron B37) and Nigel Greensall (Lola T332) ran some brisk laps in close company. Greensall is a local hero as the fastest man ever to lap Castle Combe, at more than 130mph when racing a Tyrrell 022 back in 1997.
“I’ve always loved Formula 5000 but never had the chance to drive one until now,” said Greensall. “As a kid I can remember going to Mallory Park and standing on the bank watching the start of an F5000 race. For me the Lola T332 is the ultimate F5000 and it’s an incredible car.”
Other notable cars demonstrated included the Lotus type 101 chassis number 3 with a 600bhp normally-aspirated Judd V8 engine. Now owned and driven by Steve Griffiths, the Lotus was raced by Nelson Piquet at the start of 1989 and then by Satoru Nakajima for the balance of the season.
The earliest years of the South African Grand Prix will be celebrated in November 2018 during the country’s Historic Grand Prix Festival.
A maximum of 25 Grand Prix cars from the 1930s will travel from Europe to take part in a week-long event honouring the South African Grands Prix held at the Prince George track in East London between 1934 and 1939.
It will be the first time for 80 years that Grand Prix cars of the period will have run in South Africa, and the schedule will open with a commemorative race in East London on November 25.
UK-based event organiser Speedstream has been identifying and tracing as many original cars as possible from the South African Grands Prix of the 1930s.
Already confirmed are the Maserati 8CM that Whitney Straight drove to victory in the inaugural 1934 Grand Prix, ERA R4A (which won the 1937 South African Grand Prix with Pat Fairfield) and the Riley Ulster Imp that finished second in that race.
As well as the race there will be a parade around the original 11-mile Prince George circuit, plus a five-day tour taking in some of South Africa’s most exhilarating roads between East London and the Western Cape.
The unique Nomad BRM Mk3 sports-racer has been restored and is due to make its racing return at the Le Mans Classic next July.
Designed by Bob Curl in 1970, the third and final Nomad ran with a 2-litre BRM engine and was raced by husband and wife Mark and Gabriel Konig, who funded the project, and Tony Lanfranchi.
More recently Terry Davison used it in historic racing with a 3.2-litre Porsche engine, but it has now been totally restored for the current owner by Neil Fowler Motorsport in Bourne, Lincolnshire. Fittingly, the car has been rebuilt with a period-correct 2-litre BRM engine (originally from the same town).
The Nomad Mk2 went to Le Mans in 1969, but the Mk3 was conceived for the European 2-Litre Sports Car Championship. At the end of 1970, however, Konig reined in his spending and the project folded. Curl went on to build the Chevron-based Gropas with Andrew Mylius.
The Nomad has been in restoration for about a year and needed a considerable amount of chassis work, as well as a bodywork revamp and the fitting of the BRM engine. The ground-up rebuild has been substantially the work of race engineer and restorer Simon Ayliff and the car should soon be ready for shakedown testing.