Huge grids, fantastic racing, big crowds and superb weather all pointed to the best edition of the Silverstone Classic so far. Tragically, an awful shadow was cast when Denis Welch lost his life after his Lotus 18 overturned in the HGPCA Pre-61 race on Sunday.
Welch’s death was a stark reminder of the inherent risk in racing cars that are 50 years old – or more. Only the previous day Sid Hoole, another stalwart of historic racing, suffered a very big accident in his Ensign N173 Grand Prix car, but fortunately escaped without major injury.
Those two accidents aside, there was a great deal to enjoy as the Classic builds towards its 25th anniversary in 2015. The racing across two full days and 22 races was generally excellent and the sight and sound of more than 700 cars in action on the full Grand Prix circuit was truly impressive.
More than ever, this was the Classic that brought younger career drivers into action alongside the established aces of the historic scene. Sports car racer Nick Padmore was peerless in the pair of Classic F3 races, winning at a canter in the March 783 of Max Smith-Hilliard, while Phil Keen was mighty as he teamed up with British GT partner Jon Minshaw in Lola T70, Lister Jaguar and Jaguar E-type.
Michael Lyons, of course, needs no introduction in historic racing, having learnt his craft in cars from the family stable. But this time around, fortune deserted the GT racer and Lyons came away with little reward. Aboard the ex-Keegan Hesketh 308E, he was way faster than the rest of the FIA Masters Historic Formula 1 field and dominated the opening race until a piece of debris wrecked a rear tyre. In the scintillating second race, he was on a charge when the gearbox played up and left him to limp home fifth.
In Saturday evening’s Group C race into the dusk, Lyons put the unfancied Gebhardt C91 into third before the ignition packed up. Up front, Bob Berridge (Mercedes C11) toyed with Katsu Kubota’s Nissan R90CK for a few laps before rushing off into the distance. Berridge made it a double in Sunday’s second race.
Back in Historic Formula 1, another young star – in the form of Ollie Hancock – took over to win the opener when Lyons pulled off. Hancock showed fine pace in his father Anthony’s Fittipaldi F5, but it was former champion Martin Stretton who won a cracking second race.
It didn’t look so good for Stretton’s ex-Bellof Tyrrell 012 after qualifying, however. The bottom engine bolts had pulled out of the chassis and the car effectively broke its back. But some sterling work by the Stretton crew had it ready to go and Martin did the rest to win on Sunday in a race that had the fans on the edge of their seats as a mighty four-way battle raged at the head of the field. Hancock, Stretton and Steve Hartley (Arrows A4) were joined by Lyons, who made up many places in the early laps, and this quartet delivered a glorious race.
New to the historic arena for the event were current BTCC stars Gordon Shedden and Matt Neal, in Neal’s latest toy – an ex-Neil Brown Lotus Cortina. Unfortunately, missing his flight home from holiday meant that Neal didn’t qualify the car and never got to race it. Shedden, however, ran strongly in the U2TC race until a holed radiator stopped it just as Neal got in at the driver change. “I was having a lot of fun out there,” said Shedden.
Instead, journalists Chris Harris and Richard Meaden took a fine U2TC victory in the Lotus Cortina of Grant Tromans as their rivals faltered; the Alex Furiani Alfa Romeo with axle dramas and the Richard Shaw/Jackie Oliver BMW with a failing gearbox.
Of course, the old guard of historic racers took their share of glory. Leo Voyazides saw off a spirited challenge from Mike Gardiner to win twice as Ford Falcons dominated the Masters Pre-66 Touring Car race that marked 50 years of the Mustang. Voyazides then partnered Simon Hadfield to another FIA Masters Historic Sports Car win in his Lola T70 Mk3B.
Young Sam Wilson was top dog in Formula Junior as David Methley twice spun away his challenge, while James Dodd (Honda Accord) and former WTCC champion Rob Huff (Ford Mondeo) shared the Super Touring glory at the head of an impressive 42-car grid.
An absorbing Pre-63 GT race fell to ultra-experienced Jackie Oliver and Gary Pearson (Ferrari 250GT), but only after a wonderful duel with the Jaguar E-type of brothers Jeremy and James Cottingham. The result was only settled when the E-type lost time with a trip through the gravel from the oily track.
Finally, though terribly over-shadowed by the Denis Welch tragedy, the four HGPCA races delivered double victories for Jason Minshaw (Brabham BT4) and Philip Walker (Lotus 16). Paul Lawrence
The ultimate lap of honour
More than 80 Grand Prix cars gathered for an affectionate tribute at Silverstone
Three weeks after Silverstone staged its 50th Grand Prix, the largest collection of Grand Prix cars ever assembled took to the track as Sir Stirling Moss headed a parade of 84 cars during the Classic.
Fittingly, Moss led the parade at the wheel of a Maserati 250F and ran alongside David Brabham driving his late father Jack’s BT24. Moss, now 84, was thrilled to be back behind the wheel of a 250F as he won twice during the 1956 season in the classic front-engined design.
Further back in the long convoy of motor racing history was the Talbot Lago T26C entered in the first Silverstone Grand Prix for Lord Selsdon, while inaugural BTCC champion Jack Sears was reunited with the Cooper he raced more than 50 years ago. Alfieri Maserati, son of founding Maserati brother Ernesto, joined Moss on the track in another 250F as the Italian marque celebrated its centenary year.
The Grand Prix story was told by machinery ranging from pre-second World War ERAs and Bugattis through to DFV-powered cars of the 1970s and 1980s. Meanwhile, more than 90 Grand Prix cars raced during the weekend as fabulous fields assembled for FIA Masters Historic Formula 1 and HGPCA Pre-61 and Pre-66 races.
“To be driving a car like this is just magic and reminds me just how fabulous the Maserati was,” Moss said. “I guess it shows just how good it was if you can win a race like Monaco in one. I still have pretty vivid memories of the first Grand Prix here at Silverstone, which was back in 1948 when I was driving a 500cc Formula 3 in the support race.”
David Brabham said: “To be alongside Sir Stirling Moss was really amazing. The crowds really appreciated the parade, and having Stirling up front in the Maserati 250F was very cool.”