“I’m afraid the weather doesn’t look like it’s going to be terribly kind to us today,” remarked Louise Goodman during a wet and miserable press day at Silverstone last month. “But that’s all under control for the event, because we’ve got three days of glorious sunshine on order for July, and alongside the sunshine there is plenty more to look forward to at the 2012 Silverstone Classic.”
Remarkably, Louise was correct on both accounts. Not only did the home of British motorsport bask in glorious sunshine last weekend, it also played host to what was undoubtedly the biggest – and best – Silverstone Classic yet.
With full grids, great races, rock concerts, thousands of classic vehicles, a funfair, retail village and an AA motoring theme park, it now finds itself in the enviable position that there is perhaps too much vying for the visitors’ attention over the course of the three-day jamboree.
Being a lover of historic motorsport, I concentrated mostly on the on-track action and, without any hint of exaggeration, rarely have I seen such fantastic racing across an entire race weekend as I did at this year’s Classic.
More than 1,000 legendary vehicles – spanning seven decades of motor racing heritage – put on an evocative display of on-track entertainment for the record number of visitors that descended upon Silverstone.
Each of the 24 races was scintillating to watch and most were captivating until the very end. And there was none of this ‘touch-feely’ business you so often see at other historic events; this was proper ‘have a go’ racing – cars being driven in anger and not out of fear of incurring a hefty repair bill.
Selecting a particular highlight from this year’s event is no easy task; such was the quality of rare exotica and racing on-track.
Seeing the six-wheeled machines of the March 2-4-0 and Tyrrell P34 mixing it with some of the most revered F1 cars in the Grand Prix Masters races – running under the Daily Express International banner this year – was fantastic to see.
An equally magnificent spectacle came in the form of the three Martini Lancia LC2s that were sharing the same race track for the first time in almost 30 years. Their participation in Saturday evening’s Group C race was a joy to behold – if a little short-lived!
Tin-top fans had plenty to celebrate this year too, as the newly devised Fujifilm Touring Car Trophy featured a huge – and hugely varied – field of ‘modern’ touring car classics.
The focus for the new category was on the Super Touring era of the 1990s, and these clearly had an advantage over their Group A and pre-1992 DTM brethren – locking out the podium places in both races – but there was still plenty of door-banging action going on throughout the field.
But it was the double-header Formula 2/F5000 races that served up the best racing action this year, and both were a fitting tribute to the late Peter Gethin, whose name adorns the new category.
Perhaps best known for his triumph in the 1971 Italian Grand Prix, Gethin was also victorious in the British F5000 Championship in 1969 and 1970, as well as the Tasman F5000 Series in 1974, so it was appropriate the event was named after him.
Rarely is the case that European Historic F2 competitors take on their F5000 counterparts, but I hope they continue to do so, because the varied nature of the cars – the F2s quicker in the corners, the F5000s on the straights – creates fantastically close racing.
Modern GT driver Michael Lyons and historic ace Martin Stretton put on a fabulous display of wheel-to-wheel action during the first race of the weekend. The duo took turns in taking the lead, with the order changing on almost every tour of the circuit. This was motor racing at its very best. No argy-bargy, no gesticulating, just good honest clean driving.
Lyons emerged victorious by just 0.144 seconds, and the gap between first and second was even slimmer in Sunday’s race, when Simon Hadfield crossed the line 0.124 seconds ahead of Stretton, having enjoyed a race-long duel with the historic racing regular.
Admittedly, I felt somewhat guilty that I did not make more of an effort to wander around the vast number of classic cars that packed the infield, especially with the Ferrari F40 celebrating its silver anniversary. More than 60 examples of Italy’s favourite sports car turned up and participated in an evocative cavalcade which looks set to make the Guinness Book of Records.
And that comes back to the aforementioned problem of there being perhaps too much going on at Silverstone Classic. Nobody can complain that it doesn’t offer fantastic value for money, but it does lead to having to make the decision out of the racing, car clubs, music concerts or the family-friendly AA World, they will have to miss out on.
Trimming the schedule and alleviating some of the issues for punters and competitors alike in travelling between the two paddocks should make Silverstone Classic an even more of a pleasurable experience.
But those are merely logistical issues which, over time, will probably be ironed out as the circuit evolves and the race card finely tuned. What’s important is that Silverstone Classic has something that is not replicated anywhere else, and that’s its unique, unpretentious, atmosphere.
Like a fine wine, Silverstone Classic seems to get better with age and this year’s event will certainly be a tough act to follow. I don’t for one minute envy those whose job it is to ensure that the 2013 Silverstone Classic is equally successful. But I have every confidence that there are greater things to come, and I for one cannot wait.