The 27th edition of the Silverstone Classic, now firmly established as the world’s biggest classic motor racing festival, once again drew crowds in excess of 100,000. With more than 1,000 race entries and more than 100 car clubs displaying more than 10,000 classic cars, it was a highly concentrated action-packed event from start to finish. For three days, examples of many of the cars that have vied over the decades of racing at Silverstone once again went wheel to wheel, entertaining race fans and delivering some of the best of classic and historic motor racing, even though some enthusiastic participants had that red mist cloud their judgement.
If the “on track” and “on field” display of cars was an abundance of nectar for the petrol head adrenalin junkies, the rest of the family was kept similarly entertained by live music concerts with former stars and tribute bands putting the rock into the “Rocking and Rolling” event, along with the usual fun fair, and trade malls. Aerial displays, a two-day classic car auction and a live restoration show augmented the foregoing, truly defining the intensity of the event.
Various anniversaries were celebrated this year, including 50 years of Formula Ford, 50 years of the Cosworth DFV, 40 years of the Williams F1 team, 25 years of the Jaguar XJ220 and homage to Bruce McLaren in what would have been his 80th year.
Looking in more depth at these celebrations, the 50th anniversary of the world’s most famous junior single-seater series kicked off the first day’s racing with the Formula Ford 50 presented by Historic Motorsport International. In fitting fashion, the world’s pre-eminent junior single-seater series celebrated with a traditional Silverstone slipstreaming spectacle, as five drivers energetically disputed the spoils. Seasoned competitor Michael O’Brien fought back from an early error to triumph at the end of a terrific tussle, with the similarly delayed Ed Thurston carving through to 2nd. Callum Grant produced a heroic recovery from a costly spin to finish 6th. On Sunday, in the second race of the weekend, Michael O’Brien replicated his Saturday success as he expertly navigated a track surface still damp from overnight rain. Despite seeing his early lead erased by a safety car intervention, the Merlyn Mk20A driver maintained his composure and had enough pace to head off a challenge from reigning champion Callum Grant in the closing stages, with Benn Tilley getting the better of Ed Thurston in a last lap tussle over 3rd.
Celebrating the DFV and Williams, the FIA Masters Historic Formula One races put the power and glory into the commemorations. Fittingly, it was Nick Padmore who took victory in the Saturday race and Silverstone instructor Michael Lyons who was first to the flag on Sunday, both aboard Cosworth-powered examples of the Williams FW07 — the car that delivered the squad its first Grand Prix victory at Silverstone back in 1979. Underlining past success, Nigel Mansell’s “Red 5,” the 1992 World Championship-winning FW14B, was demonstrated by Williams Heritage, adding a little nostalgia to those who could recall “our Nige” winning a memorable British GP at Silverstone as he and the team marched to their respective crowns.
Curated by renowned XJ220 specialists Don Law Racing, an unprecedented display of 42 XJ220s from all around the globe helped to create a spectacular on-track parade led by David Brabham driving the very #50 car in which he claimed GT class victory at Le Mans in 1993 before being controversially disqualified (kindly loaned by JD Classics). Indeed, all four competition specification XJ220Cs in existence were on show at Silverstone, including the #52 team car that had come all the way from Japan just to be part of the anniversary celebrations.
“I’ve never seen so many 220s in one place,” Brabham remarked. “I remember when the race program all came about and Tom asked me to be part of it. It was such an epic feat even to get to the first race and to go to Le Mans in reasonable shape and, of course, at the end of the day we finished first on track. To be involved as one of the lead drivers was very cool. It was a brilliant time, and seeing this car again always brings back memories. It’s a special day to see so many 220s turn up.”
Leading the Bruce McLaren 80th birthday celebrations was Bruce’s daughter Amanda, his only child, who was just four years old when he lost his life. Today, Amanda is a McLaren Brand Ambassador. Commenting on the parade of over 100 cars she said: “I am very excited to be attending the McLaren Owner Group’s national event at the Silverstone Classic, celebrating what would have been my father’s 80th year. His dream to build road cars began with his prototype M6GT, and has now been realized by the cars McLaren Automotive is producing.”
The two Group C races were both rain affected. With just 14 cars on the grid, many of those involved in the preparation of the cars were truly exhausted and a little disappointed by such a low turnout, but the harsh program of historic Group C races had taken a toll, with many cars withdrawing due to mechanical failures of one sort or another. Despite the low numbers, however, the boys on the grid wanted to give the crowd something to remember. Saturday’s Classic action concluded with a twilight race, although twilight descended rather quickly into darkness in the prevailing conditions. Steve Tandy and Mike Wrigley indulged in an old Spice battle at the front of the field, before a brace of spins for the latter settled the result. Sunday’s Race Two, the second Group C contest of the weekend, found the field starting on slick tires but obliged to pit for wet weather rubber as the precipitation intensified. When the race continued, the ex-Michael Schumacher Silver Arrows Mercedes C11 held a commanding lead, with driver Kriton Lendoudis even able to afford a couple of off-track excursions on his way to victory. Following a pit-stop delay, Saturday’s winner Steve Tandy charged back through to snatch the runner-up spoils.
Other highlights included renowned Formula Junior exponent Sam Wilson doubling up in the Commander Yorke Trophy for Historic Formula Junior in what was another capacity, 50-car-plus contest. Wilson replicated his results from last year’s event, although he was made to work hard by the ever-present Andrew Hibberd as the pair sped clear in a class of their own. The single-seater star later completed a hat trick of triumphs in the Maserati Trophy for HGPCA Pre ’66 Grand Prix Cars.
Tin-top legend Steve Soper looked set to add another success to his impressive career CV in the John Fitzpatrick Trophy for Under 2 Litre Touring Cars (U2TC), only for late misfortune to hand victory to Mark Sumpter in a similar Ford Lotus Cortina.
Former Silverstone chief instructor Chris Ward demonstrated the benefits of track knowledge to dominate the Stirling Moss Trophy for Pre ’61 Sports Cars behind the wheel of his Lister Costin. Oliver Bryant threatened to challenge before being forced into retirement, promoting Rob Barff to the runner-up spot.
The Kidston Trophy for Pre War Sports Cars, meanwhile, served up a superb David vs. Goliath duel between the “GO 52” Talbot 105 behemoth of Gareth Burnett and Frederic Wakeman/Pat Blakeney-Edwards in the nifty and nimble Frazer Nash Super Sports. A shortened race it might have been following an early safety car intervention, but it was an epic encounter as the Talbot ultimately got the verdict by a scant 0.162s.
Questionable driving standards blighted the Silverstone Classic Celebrity Challenge Trophy Race, which was red-flagged after a number of early incidents, and when the action re-started, a four-way fight ensued between Soper, fellow former touring car ace Anthony Reid and ex-Formula One drivers Mark Blundell and Martin Donnelly, with intensifying rain adding to the drama. Soper ultimately held off his pursuers for victory, with a late spin for Reid promoting Donnelly to 2nd and Blundell to 3rd. Take That’s Howard Donald was the top rookie racer in 12th. The Blundell-led Screen Stars squad — additionally comprising Dragon’s Den host Theo Paphitis, Wheeler Dealers presenter Ant Anstead, BBC Radio 2 sports presenter Vassos Alexander, Sky Sports F1 pundit Tony Jardine and former Top Gear anchor Tiff Needell — took the celebrity teams’ prize, and with it helped to raise £10,000 for the event’s official charity partner, Prostate Cancer UK.
The JET Super Touring Car Trophy appropriately brought the curtain down on the 2017 Silverstone Classic, with Saturday star Jason Minshaw and James Dodd waging a titanic duel for glory on a drying track. Dodd’s Honda Accord ultimately got the better of the ex-Rickard Rydell Volvo S40, as former European Touring Car king Gianfranco Brancatelli won the simultaneous Group A race in his flame-spitting, Spa 24 Hour-winning Ford Sierra RS500.
The Silverstone Classic has become a “Goliathan” event for motoring and motor racing enthusiasts and their families. As the years roll by the numbers and records at this event increase. My only hope is that this pressure-cooker doesn’t explode, as each year something new is crammed into an already busy schedule.
Above is a mere touching of the surface as it’s almost impossible to pack in all the highs, lows, features and fun of the 2017 Silverstone Classic, so for more information and news of how to purchase your 2018 tickets please visit www.silverstoneclassic.com