Chasing light at the Silverstone Classic

Chasing light at the Silverstone Classic

Words and photos by Andrew Coles.

Silverstone Circuit is a big place. A very, very big place, and accordingly, it is home to the biggest historic motorsport event in the world – the Silverstone Classic.

It’s all about the numbers – there are two complete paddocks, and two independent┬ápit facilities (the national and international pits) which are full of vintage machines of all varieties. All up, there are around 1,000 entered competition cars, and a staggering 10,000 display cars parked on the infield. Yes, ten thousand. It’s huge and it’s almost impossible to see everything.

Silverstone Classic has carved out a niche in the packed British summer motorsport season. You’ll find none of the pomp and pretension here that you encounter at the Goodwood events and the numerous other races that seek to copy their formula. That’s not to say we don’t like that sort of thing – quite the contrary. Throwing on a bow tie and swilling champagne while you watch the racing is what makes those events so enjoyable, but Silverstone Classic isn’t that. Here it’s about the racing – pure and simple. It’s somehow more everyman, and seemingly classless. You can stand in your shorts, beer and hotdog in hand, and watch an F40 LM go sliding past. In the traffic leaving the event, you’re quite likely to see a handful of F40 road cars and the odd F50 mixed in with the sea of Triumphs and Alfas. We did.

Yes, that’s a Cosworth DFV Formula One race engine strapped to the back of a quad bike. As we said, this event transcends all classes.

Silverstone Classic is all about having a good time, especially on the Saturday of the three-day long event. Nothing gets photographers more excited than a warm golden sunset, and if there are some of the most epic race cars to ever be conceived being driven at ten-tenths in that incredible light, well, that’s an experience to be savored.

The Prodrive Ferrari 550 GTS takes my vote for the best sounding car. Ever.

And as the final race for Saturday night is winding down, the concert stage is just kicking into gear. It truly is a classic festival like no other, focussed purely on having a good time.

The pits, both of them, are open for all ticketholders to wander around and inspect the machines. There are no exclusive areas, no invite-only lounges or secret VIP dining rooms. It’s as honest as historic motorsport gets, and that alone makes it one of the most enjoyable events on the calendar.

Debate raged as to what exactly constitutes a historic race car – does the 2012 Peugeot 908 HDi FAP have a place at an event with the word ‘classic’ in its name? The blue Le Mans weapon is certainly one of the more contentious cars entered, but the new Global Endurance Legends class on the Masters Historic roster raises this question again and again with every passing lap.

For us, it’s an easy one. As soon as an iconic race car becomes uncompetitive in modern racing it should immediately have a home among its peers in the classic fields. As we stood and watched these endurance racers of years gone past spitting flames into the golden sun, we smiled.

Of course, a Low Drag E-Type casually drifting through the fast Silverstone bends doesn’t hurt, either. It’s thanks to modern attitudes at events like the Silverstone Classic that we can enjoy both – there is a car here to invoke those feelings of nostalgia in just about everyone.