Former F1 driver and Fifth Gear presenter Tiff Needell is preparing to turn back the clock as he joins the Silverstone Classic Formula Ford grid.
Needell, who drove an Ensign at the 1980 Belgian Grand Prix, will form up on the Silverstone grid as part of a capacity 54-car grid of Formula Ford cars, the largest in the junior formula’s history.
“It’s going to be crazy,” said 61-year-old. “Naturally I’m hoping to be out in front at the start and, more importantly, out in front at the finish but with so many cars it’s going to be busier than the M25 at rush hour. Whatever the result, though, it will be a fantastic experience for all involved whether they’re racing or spectating.”
Needell will be competing in the two record-breaking races in the Formula Ford car that started his racing career before going on to take a podium result at Le Mans and becoming a familiar face in motoring television.
“I’m racing the same Lotus 69F that I won in a competition inAutosport magazine in 1971, without that I’d probably never even been a racing driver,” admitted the former Top Gear presenter. “As a special Christmas present to myself, I bought the car back six months ago; I’m thrilled to be reunited with the car and racing it again at Silverstone. It’s been almost exactly 40 years since the two of us last raced together at Silverstone in 1973. So much has happened since then and not least to the circuit layout, which is almost unrecognisable now. That said it’s still going to be pretty flat-out with lots of great slipstreaming battles, just as it was back then. The big difference now, of course, is that there will be more than 50 cars out there and it’s going to be a major challenge just to find a clear lap in qualifying. It’s going to be incredible!”
Thousands of top motorsport stars have cut their teeth in Formula Ford’s rich 46-year history, with big names including the likes of James Hunt, Nigel Mansell, Jenson Button, Michael Schumacher and Ayrton Senna.
The Silverstone Classic event director, Nick Wigley, will also compete in the Formula Ford races, driving a Merlyn Mk20 for the weekend, one of the 16 different marques represented in the massive grid.
“We have had a fantastic response from competitors,” said CEO of the Historic Sports Car Club, Grahame White. “They will all be making a piece of history. I’d like to thank Nick Wigley and his team for the chance to bring Historic Forhmula Fords to the Silverstone Classic. I’m delighted that Nick couldn’t resist joining the grid.”
As well as the Lotus 69F, another of Needell’s former race machines will be in action at the Silverstone Classic, with one of his Le Mans challengers taking part in the ever popular Group C race on Saturday evening.