The first Silverstone Classic boasted a huge entry, a chaotic paddock, and every type of historic racer
Silverstone’s new Classic meeting was a fine achievement, in particular because such an immense and high quality entry was assembled for the hectic two-day programme. Almost 550 cars, from the 1920s to the 1990s, started 17 races, and they echoed almost every racing epoch.
Of course, a classic event at Silverstone is always going to be a matter of old cars being raced around a modern circuit, rather than a real step back in time. Compared with the stylish quest for originality of the Goodwood Revival, or the hard-edged road circuit charm of a Pau or a Porto, there was a distinct lack of atmosphere. This is inevitable: Silverstone not only has to cater for modern motorsport all year, but also has to meet the damaging requirements of Bernie’s circus each July. So it will never be able to look or feel as it did 40, or even 20, years ago.
But at least the wide, featureless track and its vast paddock can accommodate huge numbers of cars. There were nearly 60 Formula One machines from the 1966-85 era across two half-hour races. There were Le Mans sportscars from the 1930s, the ’50s and the ’80s. In two thunderous 12-lappers there were 29 full-blooded Formula 5000s. The Formula Junior race, representing just five seasons from 1959 to ’63, drew 44 starters and 40 finishers. It was marvellous stuff, and the racing itself was almost universally very good.
Some of the lack of atmosphere can be remedied next year if the organisers are prepared to impose more paddock discipline. Ever since F1 forced the BRDC to turn Silverstone’s entire infield into a Tarmac desert, there has been too much room. So nobody seemed to worry if a competitor set up camp where he wanted, with motorhome, awning, trailer, car, and a clump of support vehicles and equipment. Cars of differing categories were scattered from Copse almost to Stowe, and it was impossible for spectators to examine all those historic cars in context. Hard-worked mechanics may dislike Goodwood — because they are forced to park their transporters, trailers and support vehicles a long way away — but the result is a beautifully ordered period paddock which is a vital part of the entertainment. A higgledy-piggledy mess of modern vans and rusty trailers does not enhance the experience of getting close to the cars.
Of course, many of the service vehicles in historic racing these days have to be F1-sized anyway. Some of the most prolific racers run their operations as a business, preparing customers’ cars as well. Martin Stretton and his team were looking after eight cars at Silverstone, from an F1 Lotus 87B and two 250F Maseratis to a Formula Ford. In the two-driver BRDC 500 Martin drove both Mike Sythes’ BMW and Murray Smith’s low-chassis Invicta, winning in one and simultaneously finishing fifth in the other.
Duncan Dayton is a prime example of today’s serious historic racer. An evidently very successful American real-estate developer, he manages to find time for modern ALMS and Grand-Am in the States as well as historic racing on both sides of the Atlantic. Single-seaters are his particular love, and he has a large collection. In this country his cars are looked after by Sid Hoole, whose huge transporter disgorged for Duncan three F1 cars for three different races: a 1959 Lotus 16, a ’70 Brabham BT33 and a ’79 Williams FW07. He was a front-runner in all of them and a winner in the Williams.
But, happily, you can still race in historics on a comparative shoestring. Tony Goodwin started racing with an 1172 special in 1956, when he was an impoverished medical student. Over the next 28 years he managed to combine racing around Europe in F3 and sportscars with his daily round as a doctor, finishing Friday morning surgery at his practice in Kent before dashing for the ferry with battered tow-car and trailer to get to Zolder or Montlhéry in time for his practice session. He has owned and raced his ancient Turner through four decades, and his 1959 Gemini is one of the fastest BMC-powered front-engined Juniors. It is very nicely turned out, although Tony admits that his Transit tow van does have patches of rust “to lend it some authority on the road.”
Many come to historic racing late in life, having been too busy earning a living in their younger years. Once they have the time and the money, they can start to enjoy the cars that entranced them in their youth. Adrian Newey is one of those — except that he is still one of the most successful racing car designers of all time. Having always been too busy to think about racing himself, he was 44 years old when he was able to sneak away from F1 long enough to get his signatures in a Ferrari 355.
Now Adrian has a superb white and maroon Ford GT40, the ex-Scott/Revson/Whitmore/Gregory Essex Wire car, which arrived at Silverstone in an unassuming, unmarked white van. He drove it single-handed in the one-hour Denny Hulme Trophy, unbuckling and running round the car during the mandatory driver-change stop. His racing is meant to be relaxation, but he goes hard — hard enough to spin at an oily Becketts, and have a big sideways moment at the same corner a lap later. But out of a huge 44-car grid he won his class and finished 12th overall.
While Adrian was racing at Silverstone, one of his designs, with Kimi Raikkonen at the wheel, was winning the Hungarian Grand Prix. But Adrian clearly values his time off from F1. He says Ron Dennis has given up voicing an opinion about it — in his hearing, anyway.
And, at a time when F1 is much condemned for lacking a human face, watching a top McLaren man enjoy himself campaigning a historic car makes one feel altogether better about it.