Well here we are nearly half way through May and I have visited 4 of the circuits on my tour of the 15 major motor racing circuits in Great Britain and so far, touch wood, it has been a fairly mild start to the season with only Silverstone at Easter suffering from poor weather.
Silverstone, as my nearest circuit was my starting point for the year’s travels and as I have done for many years, I went to the 6 hour race meeting, though only on the Saturday for the qualifying and the ELMS 4 hour event. The weather forecast for the Sunday was not very good and so it turned out, with the main event being curtailed because of a flooded track.
I have really fallen out of love with Silverstone in recent years and I will try to explain why. When I first went in the late 1970s – the 1977 F2 meeting was my first experience – it was pretty well flat out around the 6 corners and I will never forget the sheer feeling of speed watching Mike Thackwell qualifying the Sauber-Mercedes around Club seemingly without lifting. And it was not a case of peering through a wire fence either – this picture was taken at a very wet 6 hour race in 1981 and if I was standing there today I would be staring straight across at the monstrosity of the “Wing”.
The “Wing” has seriously cut the viewing for spectators at that end of the circuit – no more can you stand between Stowe and Club and see the cars heading up through Abbey and not only that the new GP circuit takes so long to circumnavigate that you see the cars less frequently for shorter intervals!! To my mind the GP circuit is just too long especially for historic racing – with the majority of historic cars taking 2 minutes plus to get round and the great speed differential between them some of the slower runners only get maybe 7 laps in a 20 minute race.
One of the great joys of going motor racing is taking pictures to remember your day by when you look at them later - and another confession – I still take photographs using film – so much easier to show the results to your friends later, though I have recently bought a digital camera to enable me to populate this blog. But, to return to the point, there are very few places around Silverstone where the spectator can take a picture without that darned wire fencing blocking your view – and don’t think I am going to reveal my secrets of where those are – I am sure most readers know anyway.
I now prefer the National circuit to the full GP /International circuit – it is not very different to what was called the Club circuit when at the end of what is now the Wellington Straight the cars turned right, around the end of the pitlane, and onto the start / finish straight – the sight from the Grandstand of hordes of Formula Fords racing down towards you and braking as late as possible to get round to the finish in a typical Silverstone style finish was one of the great sights of motor racing. You certainly found out who was the latest braker!!
Back to this year, however, and as usual when I go to Silverstone these days I packed my bicycle to get around the place as easily as possible. Having both paddocks / pit lane in use was not a real problem as there was no way to see into any of the garages and so the most one could hope for was to see the European F3 teams in the open paddock. But if any of you have a bike at home then I would seriously think about taking it to Silverstone as it is so effortless to get around with the lack of hills – the worst part is getting over the bridge into the old paddock area!! I noticed a few more than previously and so maybe the Olympic cycle craze is having an effect on motor racing fans as well.
Now you might be thinking – why go to Silverstone if there are all these issues – I just love sports car racing – the variety of manufacturers and the combination of the different classes means that there is almost always something happening for the whole of the race, somewhere in the field. The absolute speed of the Audis, Porsches and Toyotas was astounding and they were just like Scalextric cars through the Becketts complex in particular – but am I alone in thinking they are so ugly looking – I know the central fins are there for safety but side on you could mistake the profile for that of a van – and especially with the new more upright nose treatments as well!!
The ELMS 4 hour race was riveting as the various driver skill levels in the LMP2 cars saw much shuffling of position and the final 30 minute dash to the flag was incredibly tense. Without the help of the radio of course it is almost impossible to follow what is happening and that is another recommendation for the casual spectator – take a small radio as well and tune in to the commentary on FM – it will add so much to your day’s enjoyment.
I sat at home and watched the race on TV while my sons went off to the circuit and as the rain poured down later in the afternoon I was glad to be snug and warm at home – I was at the 1978 International Trophy and survived!!!
Getting to Silverstone is usually quite easy from Bedford – again the prudent use of back roads avoids the crowds - but how do you get there without a car? One experiment that was tried back in 1978 was a bus service which ran from Northampton Bus Station to the circuit in time for the first race with a return service about 5 pm. This was laid on for all meetings, not just the International meetings , and I used to catch the bus in Northampton having travelled up from Bedford on a connecting service. It was always a double-decker but on the majority of occasions I was the only passenger using it!! It was obviously contracted for a year as it kept running to the end of the year but it never appeared again as far as I am aware.
And to finish off a few more photos from my collection of Silverstone outings over the years.
First - a young Nigel Mansell with plain white March in 1978
Ginger Marshall's Reliant Kitten estate in 1983 - I had had one of these as a road car a few years previously and loved its nippiness and handling:
The sports car grid at a BMRMC meeting in 1985 - that is Phil Barak's Esprit on pole.
The old Dunlop Tower with field of F1300 cars waiting to go.
The short lived Woodcote Esses with Damon Hill negotiating them in 1987, the first use of this new corner installed after the Woodcote chicane was removed and the start of the major changes which led to the circuit as it is today.