The sound of silence

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July 1 was going to be a very black day for historic motor racing in Britain, the day on which the RACMSA’s iniquitous silencing regulations came into force. But, for some categories at least, the axe was stayed. Following pressure from the VSCC and other concerned organisations, the governing body had the sense to reconsider its plans, and exempted veteran, Edwardian and vintage cars, post-vintage thoroughbreds and pre-1965 historic single-seaters from the new rules.

But it still completely overlooked a huge and important segment of the historic scene. Those categories of cars which have now been forced to fit silencers include thoroughbred sports-cars, historic sportscars, post-historic sports-cars, post-historic sports-racing cars, historic production sports-cars and all post-1965 single-seaters. What Motor Sport would like to know is what is the logic behind requiring some cars to run with silencers while others of the same age are exempted, depending on the category in which they are classified? Silencers are already fitted to many of the cars concerned. On developments road-going machines, or in cases where they were part of the original fitment, their installation is not catastrophic, but what about cars which were conceived as out-and-out sports-racers, cars which the original designers would never have dreamed of silencing?

The irony of the whole sad mess is that the circuit owners association, which lobbied for the regulations, is not even a unified force. While Thruxton, Castle Combe, Mallory Park and even Silverstone have noise problems, the Brands Hatch group and Donington Park have let it be known that they do not wish historic racers to be silenced. Yet it was under pressure from this very body that the governing body buckled to allow such indiscrimination.

There are many powerful arguments against silencing these cars, but they can be divided into two categories.

On the emotive side, there is the feeling that noise is an essential part of the attraction of any form of racing, and in particular for the spectators who throng to watch historic machinery in action. Put a gag on them, and a vital element is missing: imagine watching motor racing on television with the sound turned down!

We also find it difficult to believe that environmentalists, the very people the circuit owners are afraid of upsetting, specifically want to silence the histories. After all, their aim is to preserve a standard and way of life which is disappearing. Historic cars are part of that tradition. There are also practical problems in fitting silencers. They will have to be huge dustbin-like affairs, which in the case of a V8 need to be fitted on each bank. The structure to support them must be strong, heavy and ugly, and in many cases will mean the complete redesign of the rear bodywork.

Once this happens, all thoughts of keeping the car original are thrown out of the window, and the scope for cheating increased by the air dams and tunnels which could be included in new designs. Structural defects or careless installation of silencers could also lead to problems. Just what havoc would be caused if one of these heavy contraptions came adrift on the track? It could not only cause untold damage to another car, but could even kill somebody. The risk of fire is also increased. While the RACMSA can argue that any technical problems have been overcome in other areas of motorsport, namely hillclimbing, it conveniently overlooks the fact that a sprint up a hill might take a couple of minutes, but a race on the track is likely to last a quarter of an hour or more. Back pressure problems on the engines are likely to cause mechanical mayhem, necessitating at the very least persistent re-tuning.

It is the inconsistency of the regulations that creates such a smell. Why are some cars allowed to race without silencers when others of the same era are not? It smacks of politics and double-dealing, which might one day come out in the wash.

While Motor Sport recognises that some circuits do have genuine noise problems, it is not a universal concern. So why have the powers that be issued a blanket regulation, rather than let individual circuits negotiate with the responsible clubs? It is not as if historic racing takes place every weekend; the occasions are rare and the venues different.

Unless the RACMSA reconsiders this ill thought-out rule, it may be sounding the death-knell for a type of racing that is not only traditional but flourishing.