Electrifying racing lights up soaked Silverstone circuit


Torrential rain on the Friday threw the expected qualifying order on its head for the Silverstone Classic last weekend. “It felt more like the end of the world – but at Spa!” said C&SC contributor Neil Godwin-Stubbert, who took this shot of Georg Kjallgren’s Courage C26S. 

Current BTCC Honda teammates Matt Neal and Gordon Shedden made up for last year’s disappointment – when their Team Dynamics Lotus Cortina suffered a holed radiator – by taking victory in Saturday’s Warwick Banks Trophy for Under 2 Litre Touring Cars contest. Fittingly, the trophies were presented by tintop legend Banks, to celebrate 50 years since he won the European Touring Car Championship.

Former BTCC star Tim Harvey also revelled in the poor conditions, going fourth fastest in Roger Wills’ historic Cooper T51, raced by Bruce McLaren in 1959 and ’60. Will Nuthall made the best start in his T53, to take the lead from pole-sitter Julian Bronson’s Scarab and was soon being pursued by Harvey, the two trading fastest laps until Harvey nipped in front through Brooklands but Nuthall kept him honest to the end.

“That was incredible!” Harvey enthused. “I gelled with the Cooper straightaway, even in the rain yesterday. I can’t even remember the last time I drove a single-seater, and the sensation was fantastic.” Harvey was clearly in his element because, once released by the safety car in the wet second race, he soon passed leader John Fairley’s Brabham BT11, while Bronson pleased the crowd, sliding up from eighth to an impressive second in his beautiful Scarab.

If you closed your eyes, it could have been the late ’70s as 37 mostly DFV-powered cars contested the first Masters F1 race. There was even a wailing Matra V12 in Rob Hall’s evocative Gitanes-liveried Ligier JS17, which sadly lasted only five laps.

Sam Hancock was quickest away in his Copersucar Fittipaldi while Steve Hartley’s Arrows A4 was all over the Tyrrell 012 of Martin Stretton who straight-lined Maggots on lap one allowing current series champ Hartley to take second. Stretton reclaimed the place next time round at Brooklands and, on lap four, pulled off the move of the weekend, going round the outside through Village and The Loop to pinch the lead. He looked to have it in the bag, going 8 secs clear of a five-scrap, but wheel problems allowed the pack to catch him up but not close enough to challenge. The top six crossed the line separated by barely 6 seconds for the weekend’s fastest race with the closest finish.

It was a case of David vs Goliath from an outstanding 53-car grid for the Kidston Trophy as Gareth Burnett’s Talbot AV105 ‘GO 52’ battled for the lead with the mostly sideways Frazer Nash Supersports of Charles Gillett. Burnett had the advantage on the straights, but was outmanoeuvred around the Brooklands-Luffield complex by the nimble Nash until it was sidelined by engine failure. That left another Nash to take up the challenge. Fred Wakeman may have started slowly, but he vaulted from the car for a demon-quick swap to Patrick Blakeney-Edwards, who emerged with a clear lead.

“We watched the gymnasts at London 2012 and have been practicising the changeover,” Wakeman joked, “but I think that’s what won us the race.” Blakeney-Edwards added: “It’s really good to have pre-war cars back at the Classic. The quality of the grid was fantastic.”

Racing kicked off on Saturday morning with a capacity 54-strong grid of Formula Juniors, from which Sam Wilson got the best start into a lead that he would never relinquish – aided by pole-sitter Jonathan Milicevic being on the damper side of the track. Wilson made it double the day after, having escaped the carnage of a multiple-shunt in the midfield.

Gregor Fisken was in determined mood for the Stirling Moss Trophy for Pre ’61 Sports Cars, carving his way through from fifth on the grid in the sensational Ferrari 246S raced by Phil Hill and ‘Taffy’ von Trips in period. After overhauling early leader Gary Pearson’s Lister Jaguar Knobbly during the pitstop phase, he went on to take a commanding victory.

Rain had shuffled the qualifying for the Masters Sports Cars race, with Martin O’Connell’s 1.8-litre Chevron B19 and Mark Bates’ 911 RSR in the midst of a thundering pack of T70s, headed by former ETCC winner Rob Huff in Richard Meins’ Lola.

Collisions and an oil slick at the old complex brought out the safety car, after which GT ace Marino Franchitti, on his T70 debut, soon relieved Grant Tromans of third. Simon Hadfield had surged through the field from 27th to second in Leo Voyazides’ T70 and passed Meins to take the lead. But it wasn’t to be: the Lola packed up, which left O’Connell in front with Franchitti’s co-driver Richard Meaden in second, which is how they finished.

Fresh from his Chevron victory, O’Connell was back in the thick of it in the International GT Trophy, a gripping one-hour enduro that passed in what felt like minutes. Michael Gans assumed the early advantage in his AC Cobra, initially pulling away until O’Connell – going solo from 25th on the grid in Sandy Watson’s Jaguar E-type – and Mike Whitaker’s TVR Griffith closed in. 

By lap five, the three had the crowd transfixed as they battled for the lead with Gans defending as best he could. They ran side-by-side, weaving their way through the traffic – going either side of a 911 at one stage. Gans’ phenomenal effort only came to an end when he caught the Astroturf on the exit of Copse on lap 11 and O’Connell went ahead.

Gans’ teammate Andy Wolfe briefly reversed the roles, but O’Connell resisted the pressure and won by 12.5 secs from the Cobra, with Whitaker third. “It was great racing with Martin, and you know it’s going to be safe with him,” Gans sportingly said afterwards. O’Connell concurred: “We had an amazing race and I had a bit of a break with the traffic.”

There was fireworks right at the end of the night, too, with a thrilling start to the Group C race. Bob Berridge’s Nissan R90 and Christophe d’Ansembourg’s Jaguar XJR-14 swapped the lead lap by lap, with the FromA R90 in front around the first part of the circuit while the iconic Silk Cut XJR-14 had the edge from then on. Berridge tried his damnedest, but couldn’t stay with the blisteringly rapid Jag, which put in the weekend’s fastest lap at 116mph – quicker even than the Masters F1 cars!

Only seven cars contested Sunday’s wet race two, in which Spices filled the podium headed by Tandy’s 6.5-litre SE90 Gtp from veteran single-seater ace David Methley aboard an SE89.

O’Connell landed the laurels once more in the HSCC Guards Trophy, to take his third victory in a Chevron B8 that he’d put on pole but ended up 20th following an early stop. After a dominant drive, he was more than a minute clear of the field and deservedly earned the Motor Sport Driver of the Weekend Award.

Rainmaster Hadfield had a good Sunday, too, co-driving a pair of Wolfgang Freidrichs’ Aston Martins. They came third in an incident-packed RAC Woodcote Trophy in his DB3S, behind the Jaguar C-type of John Young and Chris Ward and Gary Pearson’s D-type. They were back out an hour later in a DB4 GT (bottom photo) for the RAC TT, about half of which was run behind the safety car. Friedrichs cleverly pitted early to hand over to Hadfield, who made light work of the traffic to take the flag 15 secs clear.

Stewart Whyte led from lights to flag in his ex-Tom Kristensen Honda Accord in the second Super Touring Trophy, although he came under intense pressure in the closing stages from Patrick Watts’ Peugeot 406.

The Jet Battle of Britain Trophy featured everything from Minis and Cortinas to Elans and E-types. Whitaker’s fearsome TVR Griffith was soon in front, despatching the E-type of poleman Matt Nicholl-Jones about halfway round lap one and gradually pulled away. “People think it’s easy with a powerful car like the Griffith,” he said, “but it’s easy to spin if you’re not careful because it’s such a short wheelbase.”

Nicoll-Jones said that he’d been praying for rain and wasn’t disappointed for Sunday’s rematch. Whitaker was on pole but Nicoll-Jones took advantage of the E-type’s better handling in the deluge to make it a win apiece while Jonathan Lewis took a gallant third in his Cooper ‘S’ in the final race of the weekend.

Click here for a full roundup of the weekend's club car action


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