Fine racing from Historic Formula 2, Thundersports and Historic Formula Junior added up to a great weekend for the Historic Sports Car Club during The Classic, Silverstone (August 26-28).
The biggest historic racing festival of all was a runaway success on its new late August date, with bumper grids, big crowds, and so much going on within the Silverstone complex. Managing the racing element of the weekend was the HSCC team and three tremendous days were delivered with a very busy schedule successfully completed.
One of the headline races was the HSCC’s Historic Formula 2 Series, and a bumper grid of stunning F2 cars of the 1970s made a wonderful spectacle on the full Grand Prix circuit. The star of the weekend was Ben Mitchell, racing the Martini MK19/21 of Matthew Watts. Ben, who had previously won on his F2 debut at Dijon, swept to a double victory in the Martini with a faultless performance.
However, in the opening race, Mitchell was heading for second place behind dominant leader Andrew Smith in the ex-Eddie Cheever March 782. Smith was away and clear in the closing stages of the race when a brake problem led to overheated and subsequently failed wheel bearings on the front of the March. It was an unfortunate end to what had been a sensational run for the car that Richard Evans has spent many hours rebuilding.
Mitchell had to battle ahead of his car’s owner in the early laps as Watts took second initially in his March 782. However, a little moment on oil at Luffield was enough to allow Mitchell to shoot through and take full advantage of his team mate’s delay. With no team orders in the squad, Mitchell pulled clear for victory.
With Smith missing and Watts an early retirement on Sunday, Mitchell had an easier task and swept to a second win to complete a great weekend. Up from the back of the grid to finish second came Greg Caton in the March 782 raced by David Shaw to third place on Saturday. Caton was chased home by the Chevron B35 of Tim de Silva, another back of the grid starter on Sunday after a throttle cable failure on the green flag lap on Saturday.
Others to really star were included Graham Ridgway on his F2 debut in the ex-Richard Evans March 742. He was heading for fourth place on Saturday until an inadvertent bump with a backmarker bent a rear wheel rim and put him out. On Sunday, Ridgway started from the back and stormed through the field to take fifth. David Thorburn was another to make a fine F2 debut in his March 762, finishing eighth in the second race.
The Thundersports race was full of action and drama and included two safety car periods. Unfortunately, the race ended behind the safety car when the clock ran out before the circuit was ready for the race to go green again. Initially Dean Forward powered the McLaren M8F ahead, but a broken oil pump drive belt signalled the end of his race.
Instead, John Burton (Chevron B26) moved into the lead but was coming under increasing pressure from Greg Caton, now racing the March 75S that he’s owned as a rebuild project for the last decade. The car was finally finished in time to test on Friday, and Caton was flying in the race as he pressured Burton. During the stops, Caton just nosed into the lead but as they resumed racing after the first safety car Burton immediately attacked and re-took the lead just before the second and final safety car, so it was Burton’s race.
Joining them on the podium, having chased them over the second half of the race, was the Chevron B23 of Giancarlo Gomes and James Claridge. Fittingly, HSCC patron Derek Bell was on hand to present the winner’s trophy to his fellow octogenarian. Fifty years ago, they were racing contemporaries in international sport car events.
The two Formula Junior races were contested by a huge grid of cars and the opening race was a real thriller. It was an affair of constantly changing fortunes with Cam Jackson, Alex Ames and Sam Wilson all featuring before hitting various dramas. Meanwhile, Michael O’Brien was hampered by a mysterious electrical gremlin that had evaded the team through testing and qualifying.
Despite the handicap of being well down on straight line speed, O’Brien managed to lead into the final lap but was powerless when Horatio Fitz-Simon swept ahead on the Hanger Straight. Undeterred, O’Brien kept on chasing and managed to dive back ahead at the last corner as Fitz-Simon avoided a backmarker and O’Brien took an emotional victory by little more than a tenth of a second.
With the electrical issue resolved overnight, O’Brien was a dominant victor on Sunday and when Fitz-Simon retired the Lotus it was Wilson who came up to take second after a mighty three-way battle with Ames and Tim de Silva.
Once again, The Classic had been a fantastic event and everyone within the HSCC race control team paid tribute to the dedication and professionalism of the marshals who ensured that the weekend ran smoothly, safely and efficiently.