Silverstone Classic Preview: On-Track


Lotus Cortinas and Mini Coppers star in the Under 2-litre touring cars (Photo Credit: Chris Gurton Photography)

Silverstone Classic powered by the AA is the world's largest racing festival, taking over the Silverstone Grand Prix circuit for three days. As well as the 7,000 cars from car clubs on static display on the infield, to the interactive motoring attractions on offer at AA World on the Stowe Circuit and the race cars waiting their turn on track there is the racing on offer throughout the three days.

In common with the music festivals that punctuate the British summer Silverstone Classic demands attention on different 'stages' at the same time.

Once more over 1,000 race cars will fill 14 different race grids, representing different eras of Grand Prix Racing, touring cars and sportscars. Each grid has its own reasons to make it un-missable.

Even the smallest – and arguably least familiar cars on the Silverstone Classic billing demand attention. The Historic Formula Juniors are tucked away in two races, starting both the Saturday and Sunday running, and if 2011's pair of races is any indication are a fine advert to arrive at Silverstone early and find yourself a spot trackside.

A year ago Jon Milicevic and Sam Wilson shared the wins, Wilson's Sunday victory by only a second by far the bigger margin. Their race long fights were not only a highlight of Silverstone Classic but of the 2011 club racing season as a whole. Both men return for a rematch at this year's event, part of entry list that is arguable the most varied of the weekend, with front and rear engine cars facing off against each other, famous names like Cooper, Lotus and Brabham sharing the track with small European designed cars.

Highlights and must sees are hard to pick on a weekend where you need three days, military planning or the power of human flight to feel you've seen everything.

Once more the Group C sportscars are given a prime slot, racing into dusk on Saturday night. Three Lancia LC2 share top billing with a Peugeot 905 driven by very current sportscar star Nicolas Minassian.

Such is one of the appeals of Silverstone Classic, where race grids span from 1950s sportcars, including the 1959 Le Mans winning Aston Martin DBR1, right up to the supertouring cars made familiar by the BTCC of the mid and late 1990s.

What your favourite cars of the weekend will be is largely personal – depending on your favourite series or what you grew up watching – personally, I'll be regressing to my childhood watching these in the two Fujifilm Classic Touring Car Trophy races.

Coupled to the 25th anninversary of the Ford Sierra Cosworth RS500 which dominated the Britsih and World championships of the later 1980s, the 'modern' touring cars return to the billing after skipping last year's event with four of Ford's Group A killer favourite for victory over a fleet of BMW M3s and a grid of supertouring cars that rivals the 1990s in terms of variety with Nissan, Honda, Audi, Vauxhall and Renault all represented.

Super Touring cars feature on their return to Silverstone Classic (Photo Credit: Chris Gurton Photography)
Super Touring cars feature on their return to Silverstone Classic (Photo Credit: Chris Gurton Photography)

Also race will be touring cars of an earlier era, with Lotus Cortina, Mini Cooper in the Alan Mann Trophy races, named in honour the famous team boss, whose name will be presented by a red and gold liveried Cortina piloted by Mann’s son and BTCC race winner Mat Jackson.

With grandstand seating free, but at a premium, especially over looking the Arena section the full days of racing are an opportunity to watch racing from several different spots over the course of the weekend. Try the outside of the track on the apex of Maggotts, watch the cars flash by then swing and slide through the sweeps of Becketts into the distance. You'll never think that Classic racers are taking it easy again!

In total three grids are dedicated to Grand Prix machinery. One each dedicated to 1960s machinery either side of Colin Chapman and John Cooper's mid-engined revolution, and one Grand Prix Masters grid for cars from the 1970s and 80s, giving spectators at Silverstone Classis a chance to glimpse something unique – two six-wheeled F1 cars racing each other.

The Tyrell P34 is the familiar six-wheeler, if something as alien as a six wheeled F1 car can be familiar, but for the first time one of the clutch of attempted emulators will join it on track. Jeremy Smith's March 2-4-0 raced for the first time in six wheeled configuration at last year's Silverstone Classic – the concept was dropped, like all other six-wheelers after only test running – and will return for a second year, joining Roger Wills' Tyrrell on the entry list.

The six wheeled March 2-4-0 will face the equally hexi-cycled Tyrrell P34 (Photo Credit: Chris Gurton Photography)
The six wheeled March 2-4-0 will face the equally hexi-cycled Tyrrell P34 (Photo Credit: Chris Gurton Photography)

Alongside races for sportcars of the 1950s, 60s and 70s – including some mouth-watering exotica from Ferrari, beaufitful Jaguar D-Types and the brutal sounding Farallac Allard co-driver by Nick Wigley, the event organiser responsible for bringing the entire event together the return of the E-Type Challenge, after starring as part of the car's record breaking golden anniversary celebrations last years could be described as a 'minor' race – and that's a race that includes 35 cars driven by the likes of current British GT pilots Alex Buncombe, Tim Harvey and Jon Minshaw.

Providing some light(weight) relief over the weekend is the Celebrity Challenge race – and even that provided some close racing 12 months ago. Sport stars -Steve Bull, Chemmy Alcott and Andrew Castle line-up up against Soap actors – Nicola Stapleton, Kelvin Fletcher and Tony Hirst – any many other including Heston Blumenthal, 'Comedy Dave' Vitty (a front runner in 2011 until a spin) and Brian Johnson, who holds something of an unfair advantage after competing in January's Rolex 24 Hours. All drive identical Morgan Lightweight cars, both qualifying and racing on the Saturday of the weekend.

In total more than 1,000 race cars are entered for the Silverstone Classic, and if you can tear yourself away from a trackside view you can get an up close view of most of them with access to both the National paddock and the Silverstone Wing, with vintage Routemaster buses providing the only means of transport between the two hubs of the event.

Trying to fit in time to watch all of the racing, taking in as much as many views of the Silverstone Grand Prix track as you can is tough enough, and that's before you consider the myriad distractions generated by the car clubs on the infield and the interactive AA World on the Stowe Circuit.