Having not been able to take in the glorious sights, sounds, smells and speeds of the annual Silverstone Classic racing retrospective since 2010, for reasons too dull on which to elaborate, it was with immense excitement that I returned to the commentary team for the 25th anniversary of this monster meeting.
And now, not for the first time this year, I find myself reflecting on three days of time-warp pleasure, during which the visual, aural and aromatic treats on offer were out-of-this-world. That trusty dilemma about choosing a favourite driver, car, moment or performance at events such as this being similar to choosing between your children has made another appearance, too. Impossible!
Twenty races, comprising everything from pre-war sportscars to early-1990s Group C endurance prototypes, via 1960s GT cars, hi-tech Super Tourers, 1970s/’80s three-litre F1 racers and Formula Junior single-seaters of the late-’50s/early-’60s, produced a line-up so enormous that the original Silverstone pits and paddock and the new Wing F1 complex were required to house the hundreds of historic machines.
The weather tried hard, but failed, to dampen enthusiasm among racers and spectators during Friday’s qualifying day, with no interruptions to the action.
A warm and dry respite (we knew Sunday would be horrid, too) blanketed the Home of British Motor Racing for nine races on Saturday, with Sam Wilson kicking off the programme with the first of two Peter Arundell Trophy Formula Junior wins in his immaculate Lotus 20/22. Appropriately, he was presented with his trophy and garland by period FJ king Arundell’s son Neil.
Gregor Fisken mastered the sublime front-engined 1960 Ferrari 246S to take top spot in the Stirling Moss Trophy for pre-1961 sportscars, beating the vastly experienced Gary Pearson aboard the Lister-Jaguar Knobbly.
British Touring Car Championship fans were treated to a consummate performance from Honda team-mates Matt Neal and Gordon Shedden who guided their Lotus Cortina to Warwick Banks Trophy for Under 2-Litre Touring Car glory, before receiving the accolades from 1964 European Champion Banks himself (and you can ride along with that win in our video here, ed).
The oldest cars at the event, the pre-war sportscars contesting the Kidston Trophy, put on a fine display, with the indecently rapid Frazer Nash Super Sports of Fred Wakeman and Patrick Blakeney-Edwards coming out on top. Wakeman’s acrobatic leap out of the 1928 racer to hand over to PB-E during the compulsory pitstop was as amusing as it was efficient.
A massive horde of three-litre F1 cars from an era when shapes and colours made the fat-tyred, Cosworth DFV-powered racers instantly recognisable produced a classic between veteran Martin Stretton and modern racer-turned historic lover Sam Hancock. Tyrrell 012 driver Stretton defeated Hancock’s Fittipaldi F5A by less than two seconds and repeated the feat, albeit by a smaller margin, in the wet on Sunday.
The first of two tin-top thrashes for an eclectic and entertaining assortment of paint-traders and door-bangers, comprising Group 2, Group A, Super Touring and S2000 machinery, gave Classic returnee Frank Wrathall victory in the potent Audi 80 Quattro, the turbo four-wheel-drive machine defeating the Honda Accords of James Dodd and Stewart Whyte. In Sunday’s delayed and shortened part two, Whyte triumphed in Wrathall’s absence, pipping Goodwood regular Patrick Watts’s Peugeot 406 by a few yards.
Former single-seater junior-turned BTCC hero Tim Harvey was parachuted into Roger Wills’s ex-Bruce McLaren Cooper-Climax T51 for the pair of HGPC pre-’66 F1 races after the Kiwi cracked two ribs in an enduro bike adventure ahead of the event. Harvey drove superbly on his debut, taking both wins in the 1959 car.
The two Jet Battle of Britain races for British-built GT cars of the 1960s pitted Mike Whitaker’s pugnacious 4.7-litre V8 TVR Griffith against Matt Nicoll-Jones’s svelte Jaguar E-type. Whitaker held on to win the opener in the dry, before Nicoll-Jones avenged his defeat in the soggy rematch a day later.
In the latest scrap for FIA Masters Historic Sports Cars glory, in which the fastest 1960s GT prototypes do battle, soloist Martin O’Connell took his Chevron B19 to victory over the Lola T70 Mk3B of international endurance ace Marino Franchitti and rapid journo Richard Meaden, the car having moved up to second from 14th on the grid. Former World Touring Car Champion Rob Huff took pole and led early on before his Lola T70 fell back in the hands of its owner Richard Meins.
Straight after 50 minutes of slog in his Chevron, O’Connell jumped into Sandy Watson’s Jaguar E-type and produced an hour of powersliding mastery to defeat the AC Cobra of Michael Gans and Andy Wolfe, both of whom had diced furiously with O’Connell either side of the pitstop. Their battling was among the best seen in a quarter of a century of Silverstone Classic action.
A small but startling field of Group C cars appeared twice during the weekend, the Saturday opener falling to the breathtaking Jaguar XJR-14 of Christophe D’Ansembourg, who held off the Nissan R90 of former winner and multiple champion Bob Berridge. In a very wet and depleted second affair, British GT racer Steve Tandy improved on his third place from race one to triumph in his 6.5-litre Chevrolet-engined Spice SE90 IMSA GTP beast.
Sunday’s opener, which took place on a greasy track thanks to light rain mixing with the oil from Saturday’s action, featured the RAC Woodcote Trophy for pre-1956 sportscars. And it proved to be a Jaguar benefit, courtesy of the C-type of John Young and Chris Ward defeating the younger and faster, but weather-hampered, D-type of Gary Pearson.
The Royal Automobile Club’s prestigious Tourist Trophy for pre-1963 GT cars offered an invitation for Simon Hadfield to show off his mastery of any conditions in any car as he took the Aston Martin DB4 GT, started by owner Wolfgang Friedrichs, to victory, comfortably clear of the Jaguar E-types of Rob Hall and James Cottingham.
That man Martin O’Connell, voted Man of The Meeting by Silverstone Classic organisers, took a third win of the event when he topped the Historic Sports Car Club’s Guards Trophy – another popular and well-supported 1960s GT initiative. O’Connell’s Chevron B8 finished more than a minute clear of the Elva Mk8 of Dion Kremer to round out an exceptional weekend’s work.
See what I mean about trying to pick favourites?