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A huge crowd enjoyed a massive entry, great racing, and fascinating displays at Silverstone 

By Paul Lawrence

With a crowd of 40,000 fans and a massive field of over 600 entries for 22 races, the Silverstone Classic is a giant of the summer season of historic racing festivals. 

The 2007 event, celebrating in particular Group C racing and Porsche, offered so much to see and do that many visitors had to skip some of the wall-to-wall racing that filled the three days to bursting point.

Although the summer’s deluges generally stayed away, rain did arrive for one of the showcase races, the World Sportscar Masters 90-minute enduro that ran into the dusk on Saturday. Significant in that race, which was ultimately shortened as the weather worsened, was a first major win for a ‘continuation’ car when Martin Birrane’s newly-built Lola T70 Mk3B claimed victory.

A host of displays and attractions on the circuit’s extensive infield catered for less hardened enthusiasts, notable non-racing attractions included young Freddie Hunt demonstrating the Hesketh 308B in which his late father scored the marque’s only grand prix victory, in the 1975 Dutch GP at Zandvoort.

To celebrate a quarter century of Group C racing, the national circuit straight was turned into the biggest Group C/GTP paddock in history, with more than 60 cars on show. About half of them were racing over the weekend.

Star drives were legion, and the charge of Simon Hadfield in the ex-Hunt Hesketh was a feature. Neil Cunningham, meanwhile, on a weekend away from contemporary sports car racing, was mighty at the wheel of Ben Eastick’s Jaguar D-type en route to victory by just over six seconds in the Woodcote Trophy. 

Of course, no Silverstone Classic would be complete without virtuoso performances from Barrie Williams. Brackley’s fastest pensioner even managed to drive four cars in the space of two races, doubling up in the Woodcote Trophy (HWM Jaguar and Allard J2X) and Gentleman Drivers race (AC Cobra and Jaguar E-type).

Two excellent Formula 1 races topped the bill, both won by the March 761 of Peter Dunn. For a relatively recent convert to F1 cars, Dunn drove two fine races. However, in Sunday’s race the rapidly closing Hesketh 308B of Hadfield came awfully close to giving the Towcester marque a Silverstone victory to go with its 1974 International Trophy win. One more lap was probably all that was needed, as Hadfield charged up from the tail of the grid.

Saturday evening’s action concluded with a brace of endurance races. The one-hour BRDC 500 for pre-war sportscars went to Jon Ruston’s Alta Sports, raced with energy by Gareth Burnett and young lion Luke Stevens. They finished just under 20 seconds clear of Bill Ainscough’s Alfa Romeo 8C, which had been driven with typical verve by VSCC ace James Baxter over the second half of the race.

The clouds that had been gathering during the BRDC 500 finally delivered rain during the 90-minute World Sportscar Masters race. Most cars headed to the pits for tyre changes at around the 20-minute mark. Young Ollie Hancock bravely stayed out in his father Anthony’s Lola T212 to take the lead. But as the rain increased, the Lola T70 of Lola boss Birrane and Scot Ron Cumming emerged to lead by almost a minute when time was called with 15 minutes still to run.

The sublime Ferrari Dino of Tony Smith won the HGPCA Pre-1961 race, well clear of the Maserati 250F of Burkhard von Schenk.  Michael Schryver made it a family podium in the Pre-1966 GP race, winning in a Lotus 18, with son Will taking third in his Lotus 27. Rod Jolley’s Cooper was the meat in the Lotus sandwich. Later, John Harper claimed the Tom Delaney Trophy with a stirring drive in his Cooper T51. Michael Hibberd narrowly won a typically exciting Formula Junior race.

Aston Martin was celebrated for a second year, with a fabulous grid of cars for the Roy Salvadori Trophy. Appropriately, Nick Leventis led the way in the DBR1 in which Salvadori and Carroll Shelby won the 1959 Le Mans 24 Hours. Graeme Dodd (Cooper Monaco) claimed a double in the BRDC Historic Sports Car Championship, while Andy Jenkinson and John Young were the top Gentleman Drivers in the former’s Jaguar E-type. Young later lost the Historic Saloon race in his Ford Mustang, picking up a 30-second penalty for a pit-stop infringement,  which handed victory to Leo Voyazides (Ford Falcon).

Porsches spice it up

Group C cars – particularly Porsches – featured large at the Classic

With Porsche as the featured marque, and 25 years of Group C racing as a central theme, five-time Le Mans winner Derek Bell was one of the guests of honour for the Silverstone Classic, and the 65-year-old legend was in constant demand from the fans.

“It’s a fantastic weekend here,” said Bell. “You don’t really realise how big an event this is. For the enthusiast there is everything here. It’s great to see so many Porsches here, and now I wish I had driven my own car up!

“I’m racing a Group C Porsche here at Silverstone for the first time since the late 1980s. I was supposed to be out in a Formula 1 Surtees TS9B, but we lost oil pressure in qualifying.”

Bell shared a Porsche 962 with its owner Mark Sumpter. “It was a fantastic race meeting with a brilliant atmosphere, but I’m still not sure how we managed to operate 30 Group C cars from nine garages. It was very busy,” said Sumpter.

Just as busy was local historic race car preparation ace Gary Pearson, with a gaggle of cars for customers and self. 

“It’s a busy meeting with lots of racing,” said Pearson, who drove four classic Jaguar sports cars. “On Saturday I drove C, D and E-type Jaguars as well as the Group C XJR11. I should have been out in a Mirage as well, but we had an engine failure. The Silverstone Historic Grand Prix circuit has to be one of the best in the world; it really flows in this layout and is perfect for racing these cars. The Silverstone Classic is one of the highlights of our year.”

Bell was drafted in to share the Porsche 962 of series leader Sumpter and they set the pace all weekend, with Sumpter bagging pole by nearly a second. In the solo race on Saturday, Sumpter rushed off into the distance from the Spice SE90C of David Mercer and the Jaguar XJR12 of Justin Law. But Sumpter was destined not to finish. With a lead of 22 seconds after 12 laps, he dived inside a group of backmarkers under braking for Stowe and brushed wheels with the 962 of Janine Payne. 

“It was 50/50,” accepted Sumpter. “She was passing a car as well. We touched wheels and it broke the valve off the tyre. There was no damage at all,” added Sumpter after the race.

“The car was great,” said the versatile Pearson, who won the race in the XJR11. “I saw Mark off with his car smoking, and knew I just had to keep a gap to David,” he said, having kept Group C/GTO club chairman Mercer at arm’s length. Law made it two Jaguars in the top three, while US commuter Brian de Vries took a good fourth in the Intrepid.

Sunday’s race was a 45-minute contest with a compulsory stop and optional driver change, but the action kicked off at Copse. Sumpter and Mercer clashed and the 962 looped into a spin, running backwards over the kerbs in the process. Further back, Richard Eyre got his Jaguar XJR16 out of shape and the resulting confusion also put Fredy Kumschick (Spice SE90) and Kent Abrahamsson (Porsche 962) out.

Sumpter rejoined in 10th and set about charging up the order, aided by a shroud of red mist. “I had a really good race,” he said, having scythed through to take the lead before handing over to Bell. However, after a couple of laps, Derek reported a loud bang and major vibration as a piece of the front splitter broke away. That was probably a legacy of the first corner incident and he wisely toured to the pits.

Wallace had by then taken over the XJR12 of Law, but the wonderful prospect of Wallace versus Bell was not to be. Shortly before Bell retired the Porsche, Wallace brought the XJR12 back in to the pits with low oil pressure

Mark Gillies left his pit stop very late in Jim Mullen’s Spice-Chevrolet to lead the middle part of the race, but when he pitted it was a surprised Andy Purdie who emerged as the leader, taking his ex-Richard Lloyd Racing 962 to victory with Lloyd watching.

“The win was a surprise. I read the pit board wrong and thought that was my gap to the leader, not my lead,” said Purdie. Lloyd added: “It’s nice to see one of my cars winning, 25 years on, especially with young guys like Andy racing them.”

Charlie Agg took advantage of the retirements, which included Pearson’s Jaguar with a faulty master switch, to bring his Nissan R90CK home second ahead of Gillies/Mullen.

Group C2 wins went to Ian Stinton (Spice SE86) and Tony Wood (Ecosse) but the last word rested with Sumpter, the quickest driver of the weekend. “We beat ourselves in both races, really!”