Rob Widdows

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Good times roll on

You know you’re getting on a bit when Johnny Herbert is a guest of honour at Race Retro, the winter gathering formerly known as the Historic Motor Sport Show. Unlike many of the sport’s more senior citizens, Johnny is as chirpy as ever bouncing around on those famously injured feet. You wouldn’t believe how many people can produce a photo of the perennially popular British Grand Prix winner for his signature.

Age is a factor at Race Retro, and I don’t just mean the cars and motorcycles. Strenuous efforts have been made to affract a younger crowd but the show remains largely populated by men in branded anoraks, all with carrier bags (haven’t they heard of saving the world?), while the women are there to persuade us to buy, or subscribe to, one of the huge array of products on offer. Having travelled there in Madame Megane’s hot liffle sister a GT Sport version of the coupe of which I am now the custodian, I had never seen so many sprockets, widgets, brackets, clips, zips and gizmos in my life. There is something for everyone, especially those who treasure the history of our sport.

One of the best places to be was out among the Italian motorcycles where Giacomo Agostini had the crowd in the palm of his hand. Here’s another racer who could have been a film star. “Is amazing coming to England,” he grinned, gazing at his legendary MV Agusta. “These people, they know so much about the bikes, about the races. Now they have Rossi, but they love to talk about the old days.” There was no shortage of women in the crowd around Signor Agostini.

Back in the packed exhibition halls, the Portuguese were in town, the Porto tourist board joining forces with the Masters series to promote the Gran Premio Historico do Porto in June. The Boavista circuit has recently been upgraded and the Interserie Revival race through the streets will be spectacular. The irrepressible Francisco Santos was also present, finalising entries for his popular Algarve Historic Festival to be staged at the wonderful Portimao circuit, which will include the final round of the Historic Formula One championship. Why on earth would you not want to go historic racing in the sunshine? Answers on a postcard.

A surprise visitor was Roberto Moreno, the former Grand Prix driver back in England to coach young Brazilians in the 2011 Formula 3 series. “I’d like to do some historic racing, maybe sports cars or Formula 1 this year” he said. “I think it’s time to be driving again, and I’m hoping to do some coaching for new historic racers.” There was, as you might expect, some enthusiasm for the services of a Formula 3000 champion and Champ Car winner.

Race Retro provided proof, if any were needed, of the extraordinary health and vigour of the historic motor racing scene in Europe. We say this every year, but historics just keeps gaffing bigger and beffer, proving yet again that there is life beyond Jenson Buffon and Lewis Hamilton. This is not to detract from the excitement of modern Grand Prix racing, but simply to underline the enormous appeal of seeing some of the greatest racing cars ever made back in action. “They just don’t make them like that any more.” I heard this time and again as I wandered through the bustling exhibition halls. But they do. The restoration business has never been stronger, satisfying the desires of those lucky enough to have acquired a famous racing car or motorcycle. If you need convincing, get along to the Goodwood Revival or pay a visit to next year’s Race Retro. Sadly, you’ve missed the glorious displays of Jaguars and Lancia rally cars, but there will be other joys.

This is no longer a sport for nostalgic enthusiasts old enough to remember what they constantly refer to as “the good old days”. No, these are the good days, and the sons of misty-eyed fathers are beginning to appreciate the glamour, noise and excitement of historic racing. Praise be to the owners, drivers, engineers and promoters who have put the show on the road.

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