The world’s biggest historic meet is a great weekend out – if you’re not in a hurry
Pity poor Silverstone. Damned if they didn’t build The Wing, damned when they did. At least, there was a fair amount of audible damning at Silverstone Classic: fantastic grids, great racing, lots to see – but… Those were the words I kept hearing at the circuit and afterwards, and the ‘but’ was about getting around.
It stems from The Loop – the new arm of the track that slices in from Abbey almost to Becketts, then back out to Brooklands, virtually chopping the infield in two. Without this there would be a straight run between the two paddocks; with it, there’s what a mad old man I once knew would call “a major chokage”.
We saw the dificulty last year: two paddocks, two pits complexes and a 10-minute car journey from one to the other – except you can’t drive. And you can’t walk. It’s forbidden. Instead, if you were a mechanic saddled with cars in both paddocks you had to get a mechanic’s minibus. If you were a VIP you could call for one of the BMW fleet. If you were a spectator you queued for a bus, and if you had mistakenly chosen an outfield bus you were deposited in a car park to wait for the infield one. And if you were an official of the meeting, like the annoyed friend who unloaded on me afterwards, there was no obvious provision. He had to argue his way onto the mechanics’ transport by pointing out that without him getting to the Wing the next race couldn’t start.
The BRDC’s original scheme proposed a tunnel or bridge to cross the loop – but, as an inside source tells me, the cash all went on the Wing. One trouble, he went on, is that at the Classic, unlike other meets, there’s a small number of preparers running large leets of cars and moving between them. And of course at this meet spectators also concentrate in the infield.
They don’t get the same gripes at the Grand Prix. The outfit which actually organises the classic meeting is not the BRDC, nor Silverstone Circuits, nor the HSCC which eficiently runs the racing, but Goose Communications.
“With 1100 entries we have to use both paddocks,” their communications director Simon de Ville told me. “We try to smooth things by running one paddock in the morning, the other after lunch, and this year we encouraged people to visit AA World and the other attractions while the track was quiet to smooth out the low. We also price tickets to encourage people to come for the weekend, not just one day.”
He went on to say, “this year was a huge improvement on 2011. We had almost 20 buses running, but with 30,000 people over such a large area it’s never going to be easy.”
Many of those grumbling to me said they’d tried to sneak through on foot but were turned back. “Safety,” said my insider. “There’s limited space at the choke point – even the roadway needed FIA approval as it’s squeezed between two legs of the circuit. And if there was room for a walkway, even that would cost money the Club doesn’t have.”
In so many ways it was a terriic meeting: hearty grids, fierce competition, the atmospheric evening races, Super Tourers resurrected, a million Ferraris… And the grandstands and the funfair are free, a bonus for families. But until Silverstone succeeds in attracting the investment it’s desperate for, it’s hard to see a way round the logistics problem. The world’s biggest historic meeting, they call it. But it feels to me like two meetings, and to be honest I wish they were on different weekends.