This summer’s Silverstone Classic (26-28 July) will honour Le Mans, the world’s most famous 24-hour race, with Saturday evening’s on-track action featuring three spectacular sportscar showdowns under the evocative ‘Twilight Tribute to Le Mans’ banner.
The exciting initiative was launched today (Wednesday 10 April) at the special Silverstone Classic Preview by Tom Kristensen, the great Danish racer who holds the record for the most outright victories at Le Mans.
Widely known as ‘Mr Le Mans’, Kristensen has won the gallic endurance epic no fewer than nine times, six of which were consecutive successes between 2000 and 2005. Seven of his wins came with Audi, one in a TWR Porsche and one with Bentley in 2003.
“Le Mans is very much where my career unfolded, but it actually began almost by accident,” he revealed. “I only signed with the team four days before the race in 1997 as a late replacement, so I had very big ears trying to gather as much information as possible.
“I had a little bit of prior sportscar experience, but Le Mans is obviously a different challenge altogether. I didn’t know the track, and I only got chance to drive 17 timed laps before the race. It was quite an eye-opener, and I fell in love with the race there and then.
“It will be a real highlight of this summer’s Silverstone Classic to see these cars driving into the dusk – that’s when the race truly starts at Le Mans. For me, the UK is very much the centre of motorsport – and Silverstone is at the heart of it all.”
Ensuring the Classic tribute celebrates the full history of Le Mans, the trio of races selected for the Saturday evening highlight programme will feature 150 cars spanning almost a century of racing through the French countryside, drawn from the Bentley Centenary Trophy for Pre War Sports Cars, FIA Masters Historic Sports Cars and Masters Endurance Legends (photo below top).
Bringing some of the Le Mans magic to Silverstone, all three showdowns will see iconic cars racing flat-out into the sunset and will run to a mini-enduro format, with mid-race pit-stops for driver changes.
The Bentley Centenary Trophy for Pre War Sports Cars will not only celebrate the illustrious Crewe company’s 100th birthday with a record entry of Bentleys from the 1920s and 1930s, but will also showcase early Aston Martins, Alfa Romeos, Bugattis, Lagondas and MGs from the dawn of Le Mans.
The celebrated Circuit de la Sarthe staged the very first running of the now fabled 24 Heures du Mans back in 1923 on closed public roads close to the city of Le Mans in north western France. A lone Bentley was among the pace-setters in that inaugural race, and the hallowed marque won five times over the following seven years – and then again in 2003, when Kristensen was among the victorious driving crew.
The more recent Tom Kristensen era is celebrated by the Masters Endurance Legends grid, which caters for both the super-fast prototypes and supercar GTs that competed at Le Mans between 1995 and 2012.
The FIA Masters Historic Sports Cars that complete the sparkling Twilight Tribute to Le Mans at the Classic highlight another great Le Mans epoch, with a glittering line-up of racers from the 1960s and early 1970s. Typically, the grid includes legendary Ferrari 512s, Ford GT40s, Lola T70s and Porsche 917s.
“It’s going to be an absolutely amazing evening and a real crowd-pleaser,” predicts Nick Wigley, Silverstone Classic CEO. “The three races cover almost the entire history of Le Mans from the original ‘Bentley Boys’ right up to the current generation of hi-tech Peugeot and Aston Martin purpose-built prototypes. Watching them all race into the twilight will be very special for everybody attending the Classic this summer – and to have Tom Kristensen’s blessing is the icing on the cake!”
BENTLEY, MINI AND CAPRI ICONS PREPARE FOR BIG BIRTHDAYS AT THIS SUMMER’S ‘GLASTONBURY OF MOTORSPORT’
The 2019 Silverstone Classic Preview today (10 April) brought together a plethora of iconic marques and models celebrating special milestones this year and attracted a popular appearance from a true legend of the sport, as the event dubbed the ‘Glastonbury of motorsport’ revs up for its most spectacular summer to-date.
Firmly established as the world’s biggest classic motor racing festival, the Silverstone Classic – founded in 1990 – continues to go from strength-to-strength, as evidenced by an illustrious turnout at the iconic British Grand Prix venue today. Whilst the cars are invariably the stars at the Classic – and today’s Preview was no exception – a number of honorary guests added to the appeal for attending media.
Marking the centenary of famous British brand Bentley in 2019, nine-time Le Mans 24 Hours winner Tom Kristensen and Guy Smith – one of his team-mates in the triumphant 2003 Team Bentley entry – were reunited, with the former additionally taking to the wheel of a vintage model for a future magazine article as he launched a new ‘Twilight Tribute to Le Mans’ feature for Saturday night at the Classic. Smith climbed into the cockpit of Bentley’s latest GT3 model for some special tracking photography.
Similarly in the spotlight was another famous British motoring success story – the beloved Mini, which is sixty years young in 2019. This summer’s event will welcome a record-breaking double-header grid, bringing together more than 50 pre-1966 Minis. In homage to the original ‘pocket rocket’, Mini rallying and racing hero Paddy Hopkirk – reunited with his 1964 Monte Carlo Rally-winning car – was joined at the Preview by fellow period Mini racers Gordon Spice, Steve Neal and John Rhodes.
Spice is perhaps better known for his British Saloon Car Championship exploits behind the wheel of the Ford Capri, which turns 50 this year. A trophy named after the most successful Capri racer in history will be awarded to the highest-finishing Capri driver in the Historic Touring Car Challenge race at the Classic.
Special photo-calls and interviews were hosted by famous television personality and racing driver Tiff Needell – who will front the TV coverage for this summer’s Classic alongside Louise Goodman – with Paul Stewart a particularly welcome guest as he spoke about the appointment of Alzheimer’s Research UK (ARUK) as the event’s Official Charity Partner. This year’s Classic will raise funds for the Race Against Dementia Fellowships, an initiative founded by his father – three-time Formula 1 World Champion Sir Jackie Stewart – and administered through ARUK.
Sir Jackie’s 1971 title-winning Tyrrell-Ford 003 was one of the stand-out highlights on display today, while the man himself will attend this summer’s Classic, half a century on from his first World Championship triumph and British Grand Prix victory at Silverstone in 1969.
Silverstone Auctions chose the occasion to reveal its star lot going under the hammer in July – a Gullwing Mercedes once owned by Team Lotus Formula 1 team manager Peter Warr.
On the track, more than 150 cars offered a tantalising foretaste of some of the high-octane action to come at the end of July, while the new Aston Martin Heritage Racing Festival Series was out in force as it prepares to make its debut at this summer’s Classic. The HSCC Historic Formula 2 International Series is another newcomer to the Silverstone Classic bill, and was well-represented at the Preview. Many of the record number of car clubs celebrating landmark model and marque anniversaries were also present, including Abarth, the Austin Healey 3000, Middlebridge Scimitar and Triumph TR6.
Nick Wigley, CEO, Silverstone Classic:
“The cars are the stars at the Silverstone Classic and are always a significant draw, which is exactly why so many have been celebrated as part of our hugely successful Preview. There is of course so much to look forward to at the Classic this coming July – both on and off-track – and today’s events have further whetted the appetite. The outstanding off-track activities and attractions get bigger and better every year, whilst on-track we are set for some incredible wheel-to-wheel racing, as well as some memorable celebrations and anniversaries. It’s brilliant to see that Early Bird ticket sales have reached record numbers, as more and more people come to enjoy the full festival weekend that is the Silverstone Classic.”
Tiff Needell, TV Presenter and Racing Driver:
“The Silverstone Classic is like the Glastonbury of motorsport. It’s a wonderful event. It’s not just about the racing on the track – there’s also a funfair, football skills by tyre partner Yokohama, all sorts of shops and stalls and great car clubs with huge displays. You can even go and look at the car you sat in the back of as a young kid! It’s just a huge festival with the added bonus of an auction where you can bid £1 million for a Mercedes or a few thousand quid for your old family saloon – so the saying ‘something for everyone’ is never more appropriate than at the Silverstone Classic.”
Tom Kristensen, Nine-Time Le Mans 24 Hours Winner:
“Silverstone is a great circuit and the perfect place to celebrate Bentley’s centenary. I wasn’t one of the original ‘Bentley Boys’ – I’m not quite old enough for that – but I really enjoyed being part of the team and I feel a little bit British when I put on this suit. As a race, Le Mans is so unpredictable, with tremendous history and heritage behind it, and competing there was a great period during my career. I remember receiving so much support from the British fans at Le Mans back in 2003 – that’s something I will cherish forever.”
Mike Sayer, Communications Manager UK, Bentley:
“2019 is a hugely important year for Bentley, celebrating 100 years of combining luxury and performance, and we have a very busy summer programme of events ahead as we look back over the past century and look forward to what comes next. The Silverstone Classic features prominently on that list, with a bigger Bentley presence this year than ever before. It promises to be a truly unique event, bringing together more pre-war Bentleys than have ever previously come together in a single race. It will be a tremendously evocative sight and sound.”
Guy Smith, 2003 Le Mans Winner for Bentley:
“Winning Le Mans was the absolute highlight of my career, without a doubt. It was an amazing feeling, and to do so in a British car and with a British team made it even more special. Everybody jokes about Le Mans being a British race that’s held in France, and the number of Bentley flags flying showed just how much support we had. Every time I get back behind the wheel of the Speed 8, it brings back so many wonderful memories, and by the same token, it was great to meet up again with Tom [Kristensen] today and swap stories. In terms of stature, having a Le Mans win on your CV is a major achievement, and it’s something that – as you get older – can never be taken away from you.”
Paddy Hopkirk MBE, 1964 Monte Carlo Rally Winner:
“The Mini was originally designed by Alec Issigonis primarily as a district nurses’ car – I don’t think anybody ever expected it was going to achieve the success that it has in competition. I think part of the reason that we did so well in Monte Carlo was that the roads were quite narrow after the snow ploughs had cleared them, and that was more of a challenge for the bigger, more powerful cars than it was for the light and nimble Mini. It wasn’t a natural rally car, but it quickly became one. Similarly in racing, the bigger-engined cars like the Fords used to blast past us on the straights and then we’d get them back in the twisty parts – that was particularly satisfying. It was real David vs. Goliath stuff, and people just fell in love with the little Mini.”
Steve Neal, Former British Saloon Car Championship Driver:
“When it first came out, the Mini was the characteristic King’s Road, Chelsea car – and it went on to become one of the most iconic and recognisable cars in touring car history. Back in my day, we used to drive our cars to the track, stick the numbers on the side and then go out and race them, and I’ve certainly turned a few Minis upside-down in my time – they did tend to fall over quite a bit. You could certainly use and abuse them…”
John Rhodes, Former Formula 1 and Mini Racing Legend:
“I spent four years competing in Minis in the 1960s, and I vividly remember the first time I tested one – a Cooper S at Silverstone. As I went into Copse Corner – flat-out – I realised the tiny disc brakes did nothing at all, so I lifted the throttle, let the back end slide out and then floored the throttle again to get round the corner. That’s how I drove for the next four years… We raced without seatbelts or roll cages in those days – the cars were completely bare inside – and the Mini was just like a go-kart with a roof. The competition was tremendous, too. I think a lot of the time, people used to go to the British Grand Prix more to watch the saloon car racing because it was just so spectacular. We had a lot of fun…”
Gordon Spice, Multiple British Saloon Car Championship Class-Winner:
“I was very lucky – the Capri actually came to my rescue back in the early 1970s. At that time, Formula 5000 had more-or-less given up on me and I was without a drive, and then Stan Robinson offered me a seat in a three-litre Capri in the British Saloon Car Championship, which I snapped up. That was right at the beginning of the Capri era, and it was good-looking, nicely-balanced and a very easy car to drive – almost idiot-proof, I’d say. You had to be either very silly or ambitious to have an accident in it. For me, the Capri vs. Rover battles were amongst the highlights of touring cars down the ages, and it’s wonderful to see the Capri celebrated this year. I wouldn’t miss the Silverstone Classic – I come every year. For me, it’s a better meeting than the Grand Prix. The spirit of the place really captures what the racing used to be like, and I think that’s great.”
Tim Parry, Director of Communications and Brand, Alzheimer’s Research UK:
“We’re delighted to have secured a three-year partnership with the Silverstone Classic. It’s a natural fit – Silverstone boasts some incredible racing memories from down the generations, and we are in the business of protecting those memories. So many cars from previous decades come out on show at the Classic, and that’s what really draws people in. We will use the event as a platform to raise awareness of the diseases behind dementia and show people that we can do something about this and that our research can fund treatments and make breakthroughs possible.”
Source. Silverstone Classic/Photo. The Editor