There were cars from eight decades racing at Silverstone, but Andrew Frankel hit the track in the oldest one of all
I don’t usually hyperventilate before a race, but then I’m not usually seated atop a car built before the Queen was born, with no front brakes, beaded edge tyres, crash gearbox, centre throttle and a belt-less perch as precarious as the crow’s nest of galleon in a hurricane.
I’d enjoyed driving this 1922 Bentley – an ex-Brooklands racer and an identical replica to the cars that placed 2, 3 and 4 in the TT of which none survives – to the circuit from its home near Peterborough. But qualifying for the BRDC 500 race was an unedifying experience. In the oldest car not just in the race but at the entire Silverstone Classic, I’d fumbled my way around the track, forgot that the fuel pump was my left arm until I saw the fuel pressure gauge on zero and would have qualified dead last had I not been sharing it with its owner who put on a rather better show. Even so, we were only three cars from the back and it looked like rain.
Still, it was a grid to behold, from the Alfa-Romeo Tipo B at its front, past the Roesch Talbots, Astons, MGs and Bugattis to us at the back. And in a one-hour race, with me down to do the first 40min, I’d have time to get used to it.
My hope was for a fast start – the Bentley is quite light and its 3-litre four-cylinder engine strong on torque – but even that was dashed when I was reminded it had a cone clutch and would not tolerate a racing getaway. I still managed to slip past a few on the way down to Copse and focused on my target for the day: a supercharged 1750 Alfa 6C – tricky but, I felt, not impossible.
As so often when fired by a challenge, what had once seemed near impossible became surprisingly easy. I found myself no longer thinking about the fuel, the brakes and the throttle but managing them automatically. I’d even have forgotten about the beaded edge tyres if I couldn’t see huge chunks of rubber being thrown off them. When the Bentley slid, I merely did what you’d do in any other racing car and it responded. I didn’t even realise how aching and exhausted I was until our pitstop (a fraction ahead of the Alfa). And as the owner finished the job, coming home three laps down on the winning Alta, but crucially 2.5sec ahead of the Alfa, I stood on the pitwall and gawped at the astonishing turn out for the Blue Riband event of what was one of the best race meetings I’ve attended. And after it was all over, I jumped back behind the wheel of the Bentley, roared back to Peterborough and promptly got plastered. Where I come from, weekends don’t get much better.
My thanks to Duncan Wiltshire and the brilliant Motor Racing Legends team for their help and hospitality
Classic racing from packed fields
Silverstone’s rejuvenated historic weekend continued its strong progress back towards being a must-do event on the racing calendar with three full days, over 600 entries and a mammoth race programme.
Among many star performances, the Cooper Monaco contest between Simon Hadfield and Graeme Dodd in the BRDC Historic Sports Car race was a real highlight. The pair of aces took their Monacos to the absolute limit of adhesion as they battled for the entire race.
Though winning the title was his major aim, Dodd gave relentless chase and less than a fifth of a second separated them at the flag as Hadfield clinched the Duncan Hamilton Trophy at the wheel of Frank Sytner’s car.
Peter Wuensch (Wolf WR1) and Manfredo Rossi (Brabham BT42) shared the Formula 1 race wins in the Grand Prix Masters events, with the Italian winning under great pressure on Sunday.
The BRDC 500 for pre-war sports fell to the Alta of Gareth Burnett and James Diffey, but that might have been different had the Roger Saul/Calum Lockie Alfa Romeo Tipo B not suffered a stuck throttle. Lockie nursed the car home by driving it on the magneto switch!
Other notable wins fell to David Mercer (Group C/GTP), Richard Piper (Orwell Supersports) and John Clark/James Diffey who took Gentleman Drivers spoils in Clark’s E-type after a dogged chase of the Barrie Williams/Chris Phillips AC Cobra.