When Silverstone Circuit is mentioned, Formula 1 is normally the first thing that springs to mind. Regarded by many as the pinnacle of motorsport, opulence, excess and huge spending are the order of the day. However, for those of us who favour more Castrol R than caviar, more oily rags than evening wear, The Classic at Silverstone is the one for you.
Tagged ‘The World’s Biggest Classic Motor Racing Festival’, over three days the circuit played host to everything from pre-war sports cars right up to modern endurance purpose-built race cars.
Silverstone, like most British circuits, started out as an airfield during the Second World War, but over the last five or so decades has evolved into what we see today. While it’s not the most picturesque circuit due to its wide, largely flat layout, it draws huge crowds and competitors wanting to tackle its famous curves.
The forecast for the weekend was primarily rain interspersed with sunshine, but in the typically British approach, we complained about it for a little while and carried on. The weather did little to deter the drivers, with some incredibly close racing taking place irrespective of the challenging conditions.
Because of the sheer number of cars competing, the pits were split between the National Paddock (primarily used when the National circuit layout is active) and the International Paddock as well as spilling over into the tarmac areas immediately surrounding them.
The accessibility afforded to you at this event in the paddocks meant getting up close with cars that I had never seen outside of old VHS tapes uploaded to YouTube, let alone being lucky enough to have watched them race in period.
YouTube doesn’t, however, convey just how loud a Cosworth DFV F1 engine is at startup when you’re a mere three-feet away.
This is something every petrolhead needs to experience in real life – just bring ear defenders. The historic F1 cars threw massive rooster tails as the drivers skilfully navigated their way around the at times sodden circuit.
AMSpeed Racing brought five E30 BMW M3s out for the event, making up a strong contingent in their race. The unmistakable intake shrill from the naturally-aspirated, high-revving S14 engines was enough to send shivers down your spine.
Relatively new to historic touring car racing in Europe is the Nissan R32 GT-R. These Group A replicas looked resplendent in their iconic liveries.
No matter which corner you turned, something exciting was to be found with a few road cars and pit bikes/trucks dotted throughout the paddocks.
I think there is a degree of one-upmanship amongst teams, competing for who has the best pit transport. Maybe this should form some sort of race at a future event?
Returning to the track action, I’m not sure what the collective noun for 26 classic Minis grouped together is, but I’d imagine something along the lines of a swarm. Being such a wide and fast circuit, their trademark style of racing at Silverstone was along the lines of slight lift-off, swing it in and get back on the throttle, with little to no consideration for braking unless absolutely necessary.
In the Masters Endurance race, any cars that were eligible for endurance racing events from 1995 through 2012 are welcome, meaning a variety of cars competing. Various sub-classes divide everything from 996 generation GT3 Porsches up to the Peugeot 908 LMP1 car.
The sheer speed that the front-running cars held over their laps was impressive. To put it into perspective, a fast lap in a high end sports or supercar with a skilled driver would be 2:40 or thereabouts, whereas the frontrunners were lapping consistently under 1:50.
While I have great appreciation for modern motorsport and the advancements that have been made in terms of technology, performance and especially safety, to me the late ’80s and ’90s era is where it all peaked. There was enough of a similarity to production cars sold in dealerships to make them feel relatable (and the production-based homologation meant they often were attainable), but they were still raw and analogue enough to make for close racing where a good car wouldn’t mask a bad driver. Make no mistake, these cars do not reward anything less than full commitment.
If you have even a fleeting interest in motorsport, there would be something to pique your interests at The Classic. Outside of the Goodwood Festival of Speed, you wouldn’t find such a varied and eclectic mix of cars, nor would you see them racing head to head, lap upon lap. For this reason I’ve already marked it in my calendar to attend next year. If you’re able to, I highly suggest you do the same.