Time was that Britain’s social sporting summer was dominated by horsepower of a certain kind – Cheltenham Festival, the Grand National, Royal Ascot and Badminton, to name but four – plus of course the Henley Regatta, Cowes Week and Wimbledon. Motor racing, though, has gradually emerged from its glorious, oil-stained past to become an accepted part of the aforementioned agenda.
At its core the sport remains unchanged, something in which about 30,000 UK competition licence holders indulge during the course of a season: for most there’s no fanfare, no spotlight, it’s simply an unbridled love of pursuing fractions of a second – and finding them more quickly than anyone else.
Some events, though, are almost as much about the ambience as the action. Goodwood’s Festival of Speed has a certain sense of occasion, ditto its Revival Meeting – and the same could be said equally about the British Grand Prix (fears about its future have finally been assuaged by an extension of its place on the Formula 1 calendar until 2024), the American SpeedFest at Brands Hatch (a fusion of racing, music and hot dog-eating competitions) and the forthcoming Silverstone Classic (July 26-28).
First run in 1990, the Classic has established itself as the world’s biggest celebration of historic motorsport with approximately 1,000 cars competing in the weekend’s 20-plus races… and more than 10,000 exhibited in various themed displays commemorating significant automotive landmarks (Bentley celebrates its centenary this year, the Mini is eligible for its own free bus pass in some parts of the UK, as it is now 60, and the Ford Capri turns 50). There will be races and parades to honour all three.
At a quirkier level, there will also be a gathering of Middlebridge Scimitar GTE shooting brakes (estate cars, in the modern lexicon) in recognition of the 30th anniversary of the car’s rebirth. First produced by Reliant in the late 1960s, the model was reintroduced by Japanese-owned engineering firm Middlebridge in 1989 – serial GTE owner Princess Anne was caught speeding twice in as many days in the prototype – but only 78 had been built by the time the company folded. More than a third of them are expected to converge on Silverstone from points all around Europe.
If the name sounds familiar, Middlebridge briefly owned the Brabham Formula One team during the early 1990s and also ran cars in junior single-seater racing, its alumni including future world champion Damon Hill and Le Mans winner Mark Blundell.
Brabham will be one of many bygone grand prix entrants represented on the circuit during the weekend, notably in the Sir Jackie Stewart Trophy race for Historic F1 cars. Now 80, Stewart will be in attendance to present the trophy and is also set to demonstrate the Matra MS80 in which he won the British Grand Prix at Silverstone 50 years ago, after a memorable tussle with Jochen Rindt – a close rival, and even closer friend in an era when such things remained possible.
It will be a busy weekend for the Scot, whose Silverstone duties likewise include raising awareness – and funds – for his Race Against Dementia initiative, launched after his wife Helen was diagnosed with the condition. Alzheimer’s Research UK has been appointed as the Silverstone Classic’s Official Charity Partner for the next three years and all donations received will go directly to Race Against Dementia Fellowships, which are administered by Alzheimer’s Research UK. Stewart has described his drive to help find a cure as his “biggest ever battle”.
Motorsport was invented in France during the 1890s (July 22, 1894 to be precise, on public roads between Paris and Rouen, though some consider the following year’s dash from Paris to Bordeaux to have been a truer representation of pure competition). Events at the Classic don’t quite span the industry’s full history, but come close: the oldest competing cars will be from the 1920s, the most recent from the early part of the present decade.
They do, however, embrace competition in almost all its forms, from saloon cars to sports-prototypes via single-seaters, with rallying, motorcycle grand prix and drag racing demonstrations thrown in.
As with the recent British GP at the same venue, the Classic will draw a six-figure crowd – but one of the key differences will be accessibility. In the distant past it used to be possible for ordinary racegoers to purchase paddock transfers at grand prix meetings, to get close to the F1 teams and their drivers. If you couldn’t afford the extra fiver, chances were that security would knock off during the late afternoon and you could wander in unchallenged.
Such days are long gone, with access now restricted to those with the correct electronic pass/VIP ticket or else a stout pair of wire-cutters and a neat line in camouflage.
At the Classic, access to both paddocks is included in the price of entry – adult tickets start at £45, but must be purchased in advance – as are funfair rides, crazy golf, soccer training, live music concerts (50 years after the event, there are Woodstock tributes on Friday and Saturday evenings) and admission to open trackside grandstands.
Note that Silverstone’s twin paddocks are in separate counties. If you want to absorb the event’s full breadth over the course of three days, a folding bicycle is recommended…
For full ticketing and timetable details, visit www.silverstoneclassic.com.
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