July 1st, 2013

Silverstone Classic

As pairings go, new and old is quite a common one. In creative industries such as photography, design and architecture, new and old are often put together to make something stand out. Having subjects which contrast the background often brings interesting results.

So when I was invited to go to the brand new Silverstone circuit to see old race cars pummel their cross-cut tyres around the fresh tarmac, I knew that I was attending quite a special event as new and old were coming together in the automotive world.

The Silverstone classic is  a jamboree of some of the finest race cars that have ever graced the world of racing. With a total of 1104 race entries and more than 8000 classic cars on display it gives petrolheads with youth on their side the opportunity to see the cars that their dads and grandads have been banging on about in action. This year was the events 21st birthday, so it had to be one to remember. Instead of doing a ‘dirty pint’ like most 21 year olds, the organisers put on one of the most stunning car displays in the world.

Over the weekend the entire Silverstone site is littered with ridiculously rare competition cars. Both the National and new Silverstone Wing pits and paddocks were all filled six cars deep with scarily expensive and precious cars that have a history more impressive than small countries. According to the organiser the event holds the highest number of race entries ever recorded for a single race meeting held anywhere on the globe. So it’s kind of a big deal.

Outside the pits loyal car clubs make camp on any bit of grass/tarmac/gravel trap they can around the site. Over 7000 classic cars from 120 clubs packed the Silverstone infield. The Jag boys had something to prove with the 50th anniversary of the E-Type. More than 1000 E-types were lined up and over 800 of them took part in a special track parade which is hoped will set a new Guinness World record.

The first race I managed to catch was the Royal Automobile Club Historic TT. Now this series is gentleman racers doing what they do best, taking really expensive machinery and driving them to their limit for fun with a pinch of competitvitness sprinkled on top. For a spectator this translates as beautiful machinery such as Ferrari 330 GTOs and Aston Martin DB4 GTs going sideways – a lot.

The day was split between the two paddocks, with the National pit lane being used in the morning and The Wing in the afternoon. Being a mile apart it was quite a trek for drivers and spectators. This meant that when racing had finished in the National paddock everyone caught the free Routemaster buses to move to see the action at the other end of the circuit. Bucking the trend I went against the current and headed in the opposite direction to find the cars ticking cool in deserted garages.  After snooping around for  a while I was disrupted by the sound of something very loud. Popping my head out of the garage I saw the unmistakable liveries of Group C race cars.

If I had the opportunity to step inside Bill and Ted’s time machine I would head back to the early 1980s and to Le Mans. This was the era when cars had turbos the size of houses and a cult following nearly as big as F1.

C1 cars could broke the 240 miles per hour mark at Le Mans’ Mulsanne Straight and were some of the fastest cars ever to hit the track. More than that, they had some of the most recognisble and coolest liveries ever. Luckily the Silverstone Classic rolled out a superb 30-car grid cotaining legendary Porsches, Jaguars, Mercedes, Nissans and Lancias.

But it wasn’t just on-road action as Silverstone’s dedicated rally track was also open for business to give punters some retro gravel action. Unfortunately there was a lack of legendary group B cars but seeing a MKII Rothmans Escort kick up the dust is a refreshing reminder of how things were done back in the day.

Silverstone is the home of F1 so it would be a shame if they didn’t roll out a few of the cars from a time gone by. Luckily they had it covered in a big way. More than 100 Grand Prix cars from six decades strutted their stuff around the new Silverstone layout. It was the biggest gathering of Grand Prix cars ever seen with 110 cars taking to the track and serving ample doses of tinnitus to the crowd through their exhaust pipes.

First out the pits was a 32-car field for the Silverstone Classic Trophy for Grand Prix Masters which relived the halcyon days of the 1970s and early 1980s of the Cosworth DFV engine era. With some of the most recognisable cars with gorgeous Yardley, Marlboro and John Player Special liveries, I was witnessing action I never thought I would.  Every car on the grid had seen things that is just not possible in today’s F1 racing. Highlights included the  ex-Mansell Lotus 92, the ex-Andretti Lotus 79 and the ex-Fittipaldi McLaren M23 which are just as epic machines now as they were in the past.

Next up was a return to chapter one of the book of F1, the Silverstone Classic Trophy for HGPCA Pre-1961 Front Engine GP Cars. Some of these cars dated back to the 1930s and to the early days of Silverstone. They cover the era when Ferrari scored its first Grand Prix win, 60 years ago at Silverstone on 14 July 1951.

With Aston Martin, BRM, Maserati, Cooper, Talbot, Alta, Ferrari and Gordini just being a few of the manufactures involved it was hard to keeep up and identify all the sensational cars. Even the  the oldest car on the grid, a 1928 Bugatti T35B was giving it the beans all the way around the track - very commendable stuff.

As the sun was setting in the sky the final set of 48 cars came out, the World Sportscar Masters. Celebrating sports-racing cars from the mid-60s through to 1973 it was a celebration of  memories from Le Mans in the late 1960s. With Lola T70s, Ford GT40s and Chevron B16s joining stunning Ferraris and a rare Porsche 908 it was quite a spectacle. Being a 50 minute race with pit-stops, driver changes and headlights lighting the track as the evening sun drops below the horizon it was an incredible end to an unforgettable day.

 Words: Rowan Horncastle 

Photos: Rowan Horncastle

A full set of photos from the Silverstone Classic is available on our Flickr page here.