Silverstone Classic

Billed as the silver edition, the 2015 Silverstone Classic proved more grey than silver as poor weather struck two of its three days. Despite the rain, some outstanding racing shone through and Saturday’s 12-hour programme delivered some scintillating action.

Twenty-five years on from the inaugural Silverstone Historic Festival, the Classic has come a very long way and this year’s event was a monster. Everything about the event is big and some huge grids kept the committed Saturday spectators entertained from the opening lap of Formula Junior action at 9am to the final lap of the Group C race at 9pm.

With the great and the good of historic racing busy in a variety of cars, one driver stood out as the weekend’s star. The pace of former Formula 3 ace Martin O’Connell has never been in doubt, but on this occasion he really stamped his mark on historic racing. The unassuming West Midlander won in Chevron B8, Chevron B19 and Jaguar E-type and richly deserved the Motor Sport magazine ‘driver of the weekend’ award.

O’Connell took his finest victory in Sandy Watson’s E-type in the race of the weekend, the International Trophy for Classic GT Cars. From a grid drawn by lots after Friday’s wash-out, the E-type was like a surgeon’s scalpel as O’Connell sliced through traffic from 25th place to latch onto the AC Cobra of early leader Michael Gans. Mike Whitaker (TVR Griffith) went with them to make a fabulous three-way, three-marque duel.

Gans’ outstanding defensive effort only came to an end when he slid wide at the exit of Copse on lap 11 and O’Connell pounced. It had been 20 minutes of historic GT racing at its very best. Gans drove his most convincing race so far at this level and his team-mate Andy Wolfe briefly threatened to redress the balance once the pitstops were done. But O’Connell was up to the challenge and responded in style to ease away as Whitaker dropped back to a safe third. “The first half of the race was superb,” said O’Connell. “There was nothing left in terms of tyres or brakes,” said Whitaker. “Losing to those two is good enough for me!”

An hour earlier, O’Connell scored a sensational FIA Masters Historic Sports Car victory in Watson’s Chevron B19, once again driving solo. Former WTCC star Rob Huff (in Richard Meins’ Lola T70 Mk3B) flew away from pole position ahead of O’Connell. After the stops, with Meins falling back, O’Connell took the lead with Richard Meaden (in for Marino Franchitti in another T70) slotting into second. “I just drove as fast as I could. I was flat out for the whole race,” said O’Connell.

To complete his grand slam, O’Connell blitzed the Guards Trophy field on Sunday in his Chevron B8 as heavy rain made conditions particularly difficult.

Another star, as he has been since the first festival in 1990, was Martin Stretton who won twice in the FIA Masters Historic Formula One Championship as a 40-car field made an awesome sight and sound.

Stretton’s Tyrrell 012 survived a slow start and a late scare to win the opener in the sunshine of Saturday as six cars ran in a glorious high-speed train at the head of the race. In the rain of Sunday, Stretton led throughout but was kept honest by Sam Hancock (Fittipaldi F5A). Though Stretton made a mid-race break, Hancock closed in dramatically on the final lap when Stretton was held up by a backmarker through the Becketts complex.

Touring car stars Matt Neal and Gordon Shedden oversteered their Lotus Cortina to U2TC victory, while Gregor Fisken (Ferrari Dino 246) took Stirling Moss Trophy spoils with another stand-out performance.

Rivalling O’Connell as the driver of the weekend was former BTCC champion Tim Harvey, who subbed for the injured Roger Wills in the pair of HGPCA races. Back in a single-seater for the first time in 25 years and with no prior knowledge of the Cooper T51, Harvey stormed ahead on Saturday. Given his legendary wet weather prowess, another win in Sunday’s race came as no surprise.
Paul Lawrence