Silverstone Classic

Silverstone, Northants

Year after year, the Silverstone Classic just gets bigger as more side affractions are bolted on to what is already a mammoth historic race meeting. Across three days, over 83,000 visitors flocked to this year’s edition.

Away from the core business of 24 races for 800 cars and 1000 drivers, there was an awful lot going on. Anniversary celebrations included those for the Ferrari F40 and AC Cobra, while thousands of classic cars were on show on the infield along with funfairs and trade markets. Live music on Friday and Saturday evening, topped by Mike and the Mechanics and Adam Ant, justified the event’s ‘rocking and racing’ tagline, while AC/DC front man Brian Johnson and Jay Kay visited the podium in the Morgan celebrity race, won by soap actor Kevin Fletcher. Seasoned historic racer Johnson was making his UK race debut and shared a GRD S75 with his friend and former Grand Prix driver Roberto Moreno in the World Sportscar Masters race. Unfortunately, the car broke before Johnson got aboard, but he was buzzing about the whole event.

“They take it very, very seriously over here and you don’t get crowds like this in America,” he said. Inevitably, the sheer scale of the event provides its own logistical problems, not least for those preparing and racing cars. Both Silverstone paddocks were in use and while improved internal transport links resolved some of the problems of the 2011 event, the two facilities being some way apart, the layout still caused raised emotions. However, security ranked as a prime grumble for many competitors.

“It was completely over the top: it was really most annoying,” said Jaguar racer Nigel Webb. “I haven’t got any other negatives.”

“Gaffing a hot racing car back to the new pits was a nightmare,” said one leading preparer trying to field cars in several races. Meanwhile driver Mike Wrigley, who was campaigning four cars in six races, recognised the problem of operating both pits. “The organisation was fantastic, but they’ll never get it right using two pits.”

Once again, the on-track action threw up some great racing on the Grand Prix circuit, with Saturday alone offering more than 12 hours of track action for the die-hard fans.

Unfortunately, a first-corner tangle rather took the shine off the Group C race that ran into the dusk of Saturday night, but there was still a fine evocation of Le Mans as the pack raced with headlights ablaze and baffled for sound supremacy with the music concert on the infield. Gareth Evans won the race, and repeated the feat on Sunday, in his Sauber Mercedes C9.

However some of the weekend’s best racing came from the pair of races named in memory of Peter Gethin for Formula 5000 and Formula 2 cars. In the opener, F2 flier Martin Stretton muffed his start and spent the whole race forging his ex-Lafiffe March 742 back into contention. Ahead of him, Michael Lyons and Simon Hadfield were driving their Formula 5000s the way the lord intended. The sight of Lola T400 versus Trojan T101, both on the limit, was nothing short of sensational, with Hadfield’s Trojan making up in straight-line speed what it lacked in downforce. As Streffon joined the party, after one of his typical charges, Hadfield had a quick spin and Lyons was just safe even though he had an F2 car under his gearbox at the chequered flag. “He was very fair” said Hadfield of Lyons after a glorious encounter which included running side-by-side through Copse.

The second race was lining up to be just as good when Lyons parked the Lola with engine dramas and it was left to Hadfield to fend off the attacking Streffon. Lyons luck also deserted him in the opening Grand Prix Masters race. He had blitzed 17sec clear in the exKeegan Hesketh 308 when the ignition switch failed and handed victory to Bill Coombs (Tyrrell 009). Coombs, making up for running out of fuel when leading the British Grand Prix support race two weeks earlier, made it two on Sunday as Lyons stormed through to third from the back of the grid.

Four races from a reduced HGPCA contingent included a double win for Jason Minshaw in his father’s Brabham BT4, now back with a rebuilt gearbox after a two-year wait, while Philip Walker and Roger Wills took a Lotus 16 win apiece in the Pre-61 division.

The Touring Car Trophy races were a very popular addition to the programme and a fine grid of cars spanning four decades did baffle, dominated by Super Touring Cars. Rick Pearson dedicated his double success to his Nissan Primera’s former pilot, David Leslie. Elsewhere, stellar historic racers such as Jon Minshaw, John Young and Gary Pearson all had victories and modern GT racer Alex Buncombe swept to a hat trick of wins in Jaguars from the JD Classics stable.

Paul Lawrence