Holding Off The Winter With Vintage Action At Silverstone
Photography by Will Broadhead
“Variety is the spice of life,” said William Cowper in his 1785 poem “The Task.” Smart man that Cowper, and his idiom is now just a part of everyday life, and one very familiar to the committee at the HSCC (Historic Sports Car Club), who lay on an absolute feast of classic racing throughout the year here in the UK at a number of large and small circuits. If you like your motorsport vintage, but with an added dash of actual championship points seasons and a whole heap of competitiveness, then the fine events put on by the HSCC and the competitors therein are where you’ll find it.
Other commitments this year meant I hadn’t been to an HSCC meeting until last weekend when I made plans to be there for the event at Silverstone; it was to be vintage British motorsport held on a circuit both historic and modern, and I prepared for a weekend spent seeing championships won and lost amidst fierce but fair racing. A precursory glance through the event program made it obvious I’d be spoiled for choice; no less than 12 different classes were set to compete in 19 races over the Saturday and Sunday. From small-capacity Formula Junior racers, with their barely-above-a-litre engines, to those monsters with five that made up the Derek Bell trophy race. The various grids registered classic touring cars as well as more exotic ‘70s production and everything in between. I was looking forward to some long days ahead.
Arriving, I found the paddock and garages bulging. Fans mixed in with competitors and their crews, and cars and spares everywhere. Everyone with a ticket enjoyed an open pit lane, so if you like an event with good access at major circuits, this is a good one. The program is better in person of course, and I was happy to find all sorts of quality badging that I’d see in motion soon: Lotus, Lola, TVR, Marcos, Ford, Brabham, Porsche, Alfa Romeo, the list goes. It was hard to guess what you were going to find as you walked into a new garage, each new box presenting more surprises like Formula 3s mingling with sports cars, activity surrounding everything equally.
As I got lost in amongst the tires and tools, happily snapping away at all that presented itself to me I was for a while completely oblivious to the on-track action that’d begun. This is after all a race meeting, not a concourse or a show, so I made my way outside again. That said, with the racing happening over a two-day span, I would recommend anyone interested in going to enjoy the atmosphere in the paddocks and pits as well as the great displays of racing. There’s no getting away from the fact Silverstone is a fast circuit, even if you don’t like the changes it’s gone through since the ‘40s. It’s one of the quickest on the modern F1 calendar, and its long flat out sections link more than a few more than quick corners. It’s enough to test the mettle of seasoned grand prix veterans, never mind amateurs in vintage cars! With championships to be won and lost here, people were bound to be pushing a bit harder too.
The circuit is a riot of noise and color as the different cars go at it, and the variety even within classes is excellent, with different shapes and sizes all battling to the same end. Mustangs take on Minis and E-Types trade positions with TVRs. Tires make high-pitched complaints as the limits of traction are tested, and indeed a few push too hard and spin without ceremony to a halt into gravel traps and grass.
The best race of the weekend for me is the historic Formula Ford 2000, with a three-way battle for the lead that spanned the full length of the 15-minute race. The Formula 3s are close too, displaying their scars; they trade paint and tire marks are left on side pods after a few feisty maneuvers that step over the line of being close. These are drivers that will go back to other forms of work on Monday, but here they’re dicing and pushing for position with singular focus. Anyone who’s seen amateur racing in vintage cars knows it can be extremely competitive and fun to watch, similar to how college basketball offers something the NBA cannot.
It’s because of this display that I’m one of the last to leave Silverstone as Sunday comes to a close, and the track is strangely silent after so much sound all weekend. “It’s amazing how much you notice the birdsong when the cars are all gone,” mentions one of the remaining drivers. He’s right, and it’s serene but a bit sad too, as just a few hours ago the place was loudly alive and buzzing with the thrum of highly-tuned engines. With winter ahead though, I look forward to hearing both the birds and motors come back with spring.