August again. That means holiday season, height of summer time and for us the Bentley Drivers Club Silverstone meeting. This year I’m being brave and making the journey in the Land Rover which makes the longest trip the car will have done since I’ve owned it. Why I should allow myself to get so worked up about this I don’t know, 150 miles from Somerset to Silverstone race circuit near Banbury isn’t such a big leap and I should trust my own workmanship enough to drive the car that distance. So we burble semi-cross-country to avoid the motorway as much as possible, taking in a few sights we otherwise wouldn’t have noticed and even make good time. In the end the only shock was that we made it on one tank of fuel which happily disproves my original 18 miles to the gallon estimate!
Arriving early the night before the event ensures a speedy entry to the circuit and a choice of tent pitches, thunderstorms and torrential rain are no stranger to this event so it’s wise to turn up on time and choose some slightly higher ground. Having erected our salubrious accommodation (bringing the land rover means we’ve plenty of room to bring along a proper duvet and pillows!) we head for the pit lane garages in time to catch the evening entertainment. This year boasted a mouth watering hog-roast (apple sauce, crackling and stuffing included!) followed by spectacular jazz and swing from Lincoln and his band who were just as good as remembered from Bentley drivers Club Whit weekend earlier this year. Well fed, danced and reunited with friends and family it’s back to the tents for a small wine before turning in.
The morning dawns bright and warm as we pack up the tent, put the chairs and picnic in the land rover and cart it up to the banking above Copse corner. With our outpost set up we settle in with the usual crowd to watch practice and chew the fat. Lounging in the sun on a rug with one eye on the track and the other on the assortment of pies, cold meats, cheeses, bread etc being arranged for later on, the mood is light. As a variation on the usual theme, a Sopwith Snipe drops by to give a short display in the form of a few circuits. There are no fancy loops or rolls but flight in general was hairy enough in that era, especially considering men in goggles and scarves used to chase each other around the sky in these ‘stringbags’. If flying an aircraft made of wood and cloth wasn’t enough of a fix for you then you could always shoot at one another between your own propeller blades as they whizzed round and then (hopefully) fly home for a stiff drink…… I think I’ll stick to cars!
The afternoons racing is kicked off with the BIC Healey Trophy, streamlined 100’s and sprites being chased by a couple of AC aces, three- wheeling in the corners as they swap positions. The thunderous Morgan challenge is followed up by the Bentley scratch race which sees Mk6 specials battle it out with 3 and 4 1/2 litres and a pair of Lagondas. It’s good to see Gerard McCosh back with his recently rebuilt Mk6 (LXT) and he makes a great comeback with 3rd place.
The good weather has filled the paddock and pits this year creating a fantastic sight. A long line of vintage Bentleys, a gaggle of Healeys and AC Aces, the Morgan army and an Aston Martin here and there make good ogling material as they gleam in the sun. Well worth taking time out to amble between the bays.
Next, the handicap races produce an excellent live and energetic timeline as cars from all eras battle for the next position, old surprising new as the ‘faster’ cars try to claw back their time penalty. If you’ve never seen a handicap race before then I shall try and outline the idea. Cars of all types and ages may compete (though at Bentley Drivers Club Silverstone there are ‘fast’ and ‘slow’ versions of this race). Slower cars start at the front and get a head start, the next, slightly quicker group, set off soon after and so on until Speedy Gonzalez at the back is allowed to go! As a spectator this is quite hard to keep track of, but just think of how it must be for the drivers. Looking around, a driver will have an idea of who’s in the same sort of league but a well driven, under powered car further up the grid could easily steal the day. This is fine at the start of the race as your immediate rival is just ahead of or behind you but as the race progresses, the field becomes muddled and it is at this stage that the Handicap race becomes a joy for the spectator. When everyone is thrown in together there are some (plenty in fact) who are able to coolly focus on their immediate opponent whilst letting the faster cars slip past. And there are some (the much more entertaining few) who appear to adopt the ‘bugger it, I’m going to have everybody’ technique. With this mentality, anyone and any car is capable of greatness! Suddenly, the main goal of the Seirra Cosworth isn’t to keep up with the Caterham 7 through the complex, but to try and shake the MGB which is three wheeling in the rear view mirror, who in turn is wondering why in every corner there’s a Morgan three wheeler in his mirrors. Is it attached to my car by a bungee cord or does he just never brake…… ever? Isn’t methanol wonderful? Thinks the driver of the three wheeler (smells good too!) Get the idea? The ensuing wheel waggling and place changing makes superb watching even if you aren’t sure who’s winning.
Unfortunately, after a promising start and first few laps, Dads Morgan suffered from mechanical failure. Not the best end but it did do a full days racing (not counting the previous 3 seasons) before throwing in the towel. And that’s not really the end…..
After a long day in the sun we pack up the Land Rover and convoy to Worcestershire for a huge and delicious friends and family meal, swapping accounts from the racing and listening to the tales from the hot seats.
Must we do this again next year?!….. Go on then.