Silverstone Classic 2017
Benn Tilley & Ed Thurston
The Silverstone Classic is the World's biggest classic motor racing festival and is held annually at the famous motorsport venue with cars racing around the Grand Prix circuit. For 2017 one of the features was a celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Formula Ford. Conceived as an entry level single-seater formula with no wings or slick tyres over the years a number of drivers from the category have gone on to become household names in Formula 1.
Two non-Championship races were held for the HSCC Historic Formula Ford's, one on each race-day that saw two young Lincolnshire drivers competing. Stamford driver Ed Thurston had picked up sponsorship for the meeting from Footman James Insurance on his distinctive yellow 1971 Elden Mk.8 while Bourne's Benn Tilley was in his 1971 Merlyn Mk.20a. With a huge 61 car entry and only 52 places available on the grid Friday morning's damp qualifying session was going to be all important. The pair had nothing to worry about as both qualified at the front with Tilley in 4th and Thurston in 6th.
The first race on Saturday morning was the usual close thought affair as people come to expect from Historic Formula Fords. From the green light it was season-long pacesetter Michael O'Brien who took the lead with both Tilley and Thurston challenging over the opening lap. The second lap saw Thurston half-spin and drop back to sixth, still in contention, as at the front Tilley continued to challenge.
On the forth lap Tilly took his chance taking the lead but O'Brien wasn't giving up and the pair swapped places over the next couple of laps. Behind Thurston was in contention in what was now a six car lead battle with places changing corner to corner. In the closing laps O'Brien was able to open a small gap, large by Formula Ford standards, which left Tilley and Thurston disputing second with Max Bartell. Into the complex for the final time and with just two corners remaining it was Tilley that held second, his mirrors full of the attacking Bartell.
Behind Bartell Thurston took advantage and moved around the outside of both and into second place, which he held over the line. In the run to the flag Bartell was just able to sneak third leaving Tilley fourth and off the podium. The second race opened the on-track action on Sunday morning and provided the same level of entertainment and close racing. From the green light it was O'Brien who took the lead with Thurston challenging in the opening stages as another multi-car battle developed. As O'Brian again opened a small lead it was 2016 Champion Callum Grant challenging with Thurston and Tilley. Again with positions changing corner-to-corner in the closing stages it was Grant in second with Thurston and Tilley disputing third with Bartell. Into the complex for the final time and it was Tilley's turn to spring the surprise move this time passing Thurston to take third behind Grant.
Touring Car Legend
An ever popular element to the Silverstone Classic line-up are the touring car races and this year Lincoln touring car legend Steve Soper was competing in two of the classes racing.
On Saturday Soper raced as a solo driver in the 50 minute Pre-66 Under Two-litre touring car race driving a Team Dynamics Ford Lotus Cortina Mk.1. Friday's qualifying saw Soper top the 42 car entry taking pole position by half a second. Though driving the race alone he would still be required to make a pit-stop during the window in the race so he would not gain an advantage. The race on Saturday saw Soper taking an early lead with the Lotus Cortina of Mark Sumpter giving chase. Though Soper held the lead, only losing it as he made his pit-stop, Sumpter kept close enough to keep the pressure on throughout the race. With what turned out to be just two laps remaining and with a narrow lead over Sumpter Soper's Cortina suddenly slowed with a mechanical problem. As Sumpter moved past to take the lead it became obvious that Soper was not going to be able to limp the car home and moved off the track to retire.
Soper was also competing in the JET Super Touring Car Trophy, a pair of races for various classes of touring cars from 1970's onwards. Driving a 1986 TWR Rover Vitesse, like one he raced in period, Soper qualified 20th, 5th in class, from the 40 starters. The first 20-minute race was early Saturday evening and saw Soper soon involved in a mid-pack battle with other cars in his class. Whilst battling with a second Bastos Rover Soper spun, dropping back down the order. In the time remaining he was able to get back up to finish 21st overall, 6th in class. Sunday saw another 20-minute race which again saw Soper battling with his class contemporaries. This time it was 19th place overall at the flag, 4th in class. Also taking part in the pair of races was Mark Smith who was driving a 1990 Mobil 1 BMW M3 that was driven by Soper in the British Touring Car Championship. In the same class as Soper's Rover the BMW fared better with a pair of 2nd place class finishes, 17th and 13th overall.
This year saw the return of the Celebrity Challenge race but this year there was a difference. Raising money for Prostate Cancer UK drivers would compete in teams of five driving identical Austin A35 cars over two races.
Race one on Saturday evening would see the celebrity drivers racing while in race two on Sunday afternoon the car owners would race, the combined results giving an overall result. Competing as team captain for the Bike Legends Team alongside car owner Neil Brown was Steve Soper, the other members of his team being Maria Costello, Multiple motorcycle and truck racing Champion Steve Parrish and former World 500cc Champions Freddie Spencer and Wayne Gardner. Saturday's race saw Soper start from pole in very wet conditions, the having been delayed due to a heavy storm. The 20-minute race saw a race-long battle between Soper, former Lotus F1 driver Martin Donnelly and former F1 driver Mark Blundell. At the flag it was Soper who took the win from Donnelly and Blundell in third. Sunday's race saw Brown unfortunately unable to start.
The Silverstone Classic returns in 2018 on July 20th-22nd. Further details can be found by visiting silverstoneclassic.com.
Benn Tilley leading Ed Thurston