The Silverstone Classic is one of the great success stories of the UK motor racing scene – huge crowds, huge fields, great entertainment; in short, an enthusiast’s delight. What could possibly go wrong?
The Great British Summer, that’s what!
For the second time in three years, torrential rain coincided with the festival and adversely affected the Group C Racing programme for the weekend. But while 2013 saw a monumental downpour late on the Saturday (which resulted in large areas of the East Midlands suffering flash flooding), 2015 saw prolonged – nay, incessant – rainfall on both the Friday and Sunday and severely disrupted the schedule.
The first drops of rain began to fall at around 7.30 on the Friday morning and things just got worse from there. And by the time the Group C qualifying session was due to begin, the conditions were simply terrible; to the extent that serious discussions were underway as to whether it was even safe for the cars to go out. Eventually a decision was made – all cars would need to complete a minimum of three laps behind the Safety Car in order to qualify. Quite what this was meant to achieve was a bit of a puzzle, but the field complied (it later transpired that the driver of the Safety Car decided that it was too wet even for his vehicle to stay out).
With no meaningful qualifying data to hand (the #27 Nissan R90 of Bob Berridge was technically the quickest qualifier with a laptime of 3:53.507), the grid was thus assigned on the basis of results to date for 2015.
Pole position therefore went to the Spice SE90 of Steve Tandy, with the Class 3 Jaguar XJR14 of Christophe D’Ansembourg alongside on the front row. Berridge’s Nissan and the Bud Light Jaguar XJR16 of Richard Eyre shared the second row, ahead of Tommy Dreelan’s Leyton House Porsche 962 and Eric Rickenbacher’s Cheetah.
Sharing the fourth row with David Methley’s Class 2 Spice SE89 was Henrik Lindberg, but not in his familiar Tic Tac Porsche. That car had suffered tub damage during the Monza round and could not be fixed in time for Silverstone. The Dane thus decided to unpack ‘the spare’, his red Lancia LC2.
This car was never intended to be raced in 2015 and so had not been prepared, but Henrik’s team pulled out all the stops to get it race-worthy – an effort that included several very long-distance and very last-minute drives to acquire the necessary components. But while these heroics ensured that the Italian car made the grid for Saturday’s race, the combination of a late arrival at the circuit (mid-afternoon Friday) and the qualifying wash-out meant that there was no opportunity to work on set-up.
Further back on the grid was the Dow Corning-liveried EMKA 84C of Rudolph Ernst, which was making its debut in the series (running in the 1b Invitational class), the Tiga GC287 of Jonathan Fay, and the Gebhardt C91; the red car usually piloted by Michael Lyons, but on this occasion in the hands of mum Judy. Her situation was even worse than Lindberg’s in that Henrik had at least driven his Lancia before. Poor Judy’s only experience of the Group C car – indeed, any Group C car – came via those few, very wet, minutes behind the Safety Car.
The rain finally ceased at around 2.30am on Saturday, and the second day of the meeting would prove to be very different to the first. The day to come would be dry and warm, and the sunshine brought a huge crowd to the circuit; ticket sales being 25% up on the previous year – rather appropriate, given that this was the 25th Classic.
Many of the Group C drivers were active in other races during the day, but even so there was a long wait before the first of the series’ two contests began – 8.30pm being the official start time. This did, however, allow fans and friends (legendary team manager Hugh Chamberlain among them) a great opportunity to visit the open paddock and see the cars up close.
As the start time approached, the field collected in the assembly area behind the Wing before making their way to the grid. It had been decided that, due to the lack of running the previous day, the race would begin with two laps behind the pace car, but with the clock starting to count down from the start of the second lap. Steve Tandy duly led the way for 7.3 miles at reduced pace before he and the rest of the runners could finally put pedal to the metal and unleash their multitudinous horses.
The pole sitter was fully expecting the more powerful XJR14 and Nissan to quickly pass and pull away on this fast circuit, but the Spice held on to the lead through Abbey and The Loop before the speed of his pursuers carried them past on the run down to Brooklands. Christophe D’Ansembourg assumed the lead through Luffield and Woodcote, but was pushed back to second by Bob Berridge at Copse; in the process initiating a highly entertaining duel that would be fought over several more laps.
Richard Eyre quickly closed on Tandy in his XJR16, but the SE89 responded and the gap between third and fourth was soon widening again. Aaron Scott, meanwhile, had managed to put the Courage C26S of Georg Kjallgren between his Spice SE86 and the SE89 of Class 2 rival David Methley at the start, and things were improved still further for him on the next lap when the Cheetah of Eric Rickenbacher also went by.
As this was going on, D’Ansembourg made his move on Berridge and the Silk Cut Jag was through into the lead at Village. The move, though, momentarily upset the #17’s handling and the car ran wide out of Aintree, leaving the door open for the Nissan to retake P1; an opportunity Bob never refuses. By the end of the second green lap (Lap 3 officially), the gap between the two leaders was just 0.031s, but the Jaguar was clearly the quicker of the two. Steve Tandy was still under three seconds behind in third.
Just as entertaining was the now three-way fight between Kjallgren, Rickenbacher and Methley; the Cheetah finding a way by the Courage on Lap 4 to take seventh, with 1.5s covering the trio.
Rudolf Ernst, meanwhile, had taken his first Group C scalp – the Class 1 Spice SE90 of Richard Bateman – and was now in hot pursuit of Frank Lyons’ ALD C289.
D’Ansembourg decided on Lap 5 that he was no longer prepared to occupy P2 and made his move for the lead at Vale; the Jag sweeping by the Nissan and this time staying on the tarmac. The Belgian now pressed home his advantage on a clear track and a 1:53.234 on Lap 7 widened the gap between the leaders to 2.3s. Berridge did what he could to stay in touch – his 1:54.726 on Lap 7 also being his fastest of the race – but the 3.5ltr car ahead was clearly in its element.
Up to this point, Tommy Dreelan’s race had been quite a quiet one; the Irish racer holding fifth quite comfortably with a five-second cushion either side. Things got a lot more interesting on Lap 7, though, when a slow lap from Richard Eyre resulted in the 962 and XJR16 suddenly being separated by just a second. Seeing his chance, Dreelan latched onto the back of the Jaguar and halved the gap again over the course of the next lap. Eyre resisted, but his challenger kept the pressure on and found a way past into fourth on Lap 10.
The race had sadly lost the Cheetah on Lap 8 – electrical issues accounting for the Swiss car – but this did not mean that the fight for position between Georg Kjallgren and David Methley was over; far from it, in fact. Methley overcame the Courage on Lap 8 to move up to seventh, but Kjallgren stayed with the Spice and retook the position on Lap 9.
A lap later, the two cars were side by side through Brooklands and round Luffield before Methley got his nose ahead and finally managed to pull clear out of Woodcote. He now had clear air ahead, but the gap to Aaron Scott was by now 27 seconds and insurmountable on pace alone in the time remaining; his task not aided by a spin a few minutes later.
At the head of the field a series of quick laps (Christophe D’Ansembourg clearly enjoying himself) saw the lead Jaguar continue to pull away from the Nissan, while the gap between second and third was also growing. Tommy Dreelan’s only concern, however, was the car immediately behind him in fifth. Both cars’ pace had dipped below two minutes as the battle intensified, but Eyre had clawed himself back onto the Porsche’s back end with five minutes to go and was perfectly placed to take advantage when the 962 was momentarily boxed in by the ALD; the IMSA car swooping past across the line into fourth at the start of Lap 13. The Jag pulled away, but the Porsche wasn’t finished yet.
Barring mechanical failure, it was clear that this was D’Ansembourg’s race and he continued to up the pace of his car; his fastest lap of 1:52.857 coming on Lap 13. As he crossed the line at the end of Lap 14, however – with 90 seconds still remaining on the clock – he was greeted by the sight of the chequered flag. Although the Belgian was fully deserving of his win, the early curtailment of the race put a slightly sour note on proceedings; but Christophe was still delighted with his win, with his margin of victory being 15.868s at the flag and with Bob Berridge beating Steve Tandy home to second by 12 seconds.
“I’m very happy to have won this race with the Jaguar,” said Christophe. “It was not so easy against the Nissan which is more powerful with its turbo engine. But the Jaguar chassis is so good that it made the difference. This car keeps amazing me!”
We’ll never know if Tommy Dreelan could have retaken fourth before the end of the 30 minutes, but the gap between his car and Richard Eyre’s Jag was back down to a quarter of a second at the flag, suggesting a close finish was likely, but both racers had enjoyed the encounter immensely.
Tommy’s second car came home sixth in the hands of Aaron Scott to take Class 2 honours, with David Methley seventh and Georg Kjallgren eighth; the Courage driver completing the Class 1 podium and collecting his first ever Group C silverware.
Ninth for Henrik Lindberg was some reward for his and his team’s determination to race this weekend, while Frank Lyons stayed ahead of Rudolf Ernst to claim the final Class 2 podium spot.
The TV forecasters had long been telling us that Sunday would be wet, but the scale of the dampness was again a source of huge frustration for the Group C runners and, indeed, for the entire festival. The conditions were once more atrocious and the memory of Saturday’s sun soon receded as the reality of the situation sunk in; namely that it wasn’t clear if the second race would even take place. The scheduled start time of 15:30 came and went as the organisers struggled to keep things on track, but eventually the go-ahead was given with a new time of 17:10.
Not all of Saturday’s runners would be taking part in the second event. The Nissan of Bob Berridge was withdrawn with crank-sensor failure, while Richard Eyre’s Jaguar stopped on its way to the grid and frustratingly could not be restarted. The winner of the first race, meanwhile, had the grace to admit to the series organisers that, while he was happy to risk his F1 car in the conditions, his Jaguar was just too value and that he wouldn’t be taking part. There was one surprise, however, with the addition of Michael Lyons to the grid in the Gebhardt. His Spa 24 Ferrari had been crashed by a teammate during the night and he had dashed back to the UK; the event organisers allowing him to race despite not qualifying.
The remaining cars assembled on the grid, but even as they were setting off for the pace lap the news came through that the race length would be shortened from 30 to 15 minutes.
As had been the case in Race 1 the first lap was behind the pace car, but once that had peeled off into the pitlane David Methley made his move; the Class 2 Spice immediately challenging Steve Tandy’s Class 1 SE90 and taking the overall lead before the lap was out.
Tommy Dreelan found himself slipping down the order as his Porsche struggled for traction in the conditions, allowing Aaron Scott to move to third in the second Celtic Speed car, the #170 Spice SE86. Scott’s main attention, however, was on the looming Gebhardt in his mirrors, with Michael Lyons having already passed dad Frank and Henrik Lindberg’s ailing Lancia to take fourth.
Having built a lead of 2.048s by the end of Lap 3, Methley began to notice that Tandy was starting to come back at him and a 2:22.847 from the Class 1 car reduced the gap to just six-tenths by the end of the fourth lap. Tandy pressed home his advantage and the cars swapped position on the next lap; the SE90 finishing with a flourish to take the flag after just six laps by 4.319s.
“It’s difficult to take much satisfaction from a win like that,” admitted Steve. “Especially as we didn’t know that the race was going to be shortened until we were underway. It was a good little dice with David, however, and it would have been nice to see how that developed. But my focus has always been on the title this weekend, and on that score it’s very much mission accomplished!”
Indeed, Tandy’s points-haul from the weekend leaves him with an almost unassailable lead going into the final round at Paul Ricard.
Aaron Scott held off the challenge from Michael Lyons to take third overall and second in Class 2, while Tommy Dreelan finished fifth and Frank Lyons sixth.
“The Silverstone Classic is a special meeting and it’s always fantastic to be part of it,” said Aaron. “Driving a Group C car in the twilight race is awesome and I always enjoy it. The Celtic Speed team have done an incredible job to prepare two fast and reliable cars and it’s fun to be part of this team. I must add that despite the challenging weather, we have had some great feedback from the spectators about the cars and the racing. We should also say a big Thank You to all the marshals who braved the wet weather on Friday and Sunday – I’m pleased we could still get out there and put on a race for them.”
“The Classic is a fantastic annual event and never disappoints,” added Tommy. “Despite the miserable weather it did not prevent Group C and other series from racing. I thoroughly enjoyed the racing and I would like to say well done to all the organisers, marshals and not forgetting my own team members.”
The chances are that the weather at Paul Ricard, even in October, will be much more clement than was seen at Silverstone, and the intervening two months should provide the perfect opportunity for teams to repair and refettle their various cars. All being well, a large field will set the scene for the title decider.