Now in its 17th year, the Silverstone Classic has established itself as one of the top events on classic motor racing’s international calendar. Over three days, the Classic celebrates eight decades of motorsport with one of the world’s largest gathering of classic racing cars, coming together for a high-octane weekend of competitive racing and entertainment.
The weather, being kind to us with more-or-less blue skies throughout, brought ideal racing conditions And with an enormous selection of motors on display – well over 4,000 of the world’s most iconic marques – funfairs, air displays and open pit garages, the festival atmosphere hung thick in the air each day, sparking crowds totalling well over 65,000 across the weekend – and that’s without counting the thousands of children under 16 who were allowed in for free.
As for trackside, a spectacular array of original Formula One cars, classic saloons, sports cars, Le Mans cars and more gathered at the historic and demanding Silverstone circuit. Around 700 race cars – many with extraordinary racing and ownership pedigrees – together with 900 competitors, locked horns over two days in 21 races.
We had a vested interest in a few of them – but none more so than the inaugural Jochen Mass Trophy, the Group ‘C’ class race, where our Jaguar XJR9 and XJR11 lined up alongside a spectacular field of Jaguars, Porsches, Lancias, Spices and many more, recreating the great duels of yesteryear.
The most striking and emotive, purpose-built cars ever
With swathes of horsepower, highly-developed aerodynamics and enormous slicks, Group ‘C’ cars were designed to thrive in long-distance races on demanding circuits. For this reason, together with their testosterone-fuelled good looks, many regard their time as the golden era of sports car racing.
Indeed, Group ‘C’ in the eighties arguably produced some of the most striking and emotive, purpose-built racing cars ever seen. Run by manufacturers, these cars were fashioned with little or no regard to cost. And it shows. In their day, they ran at 1000 hp and hit top speeds of 240 mph whilst being driven by some of history’s greatest names in motorsport.
This means that when crowds of enthusiasts gather to watch Group ‘C’ racing today, the sense of history and anticipation they bring adds even more adrenaline to the excitement and tension of the race itself. So by the time qualifying came on the Friday, we were burying ourselves in our routinely thorough preparation, trying to ignore the oversized butterflies fluttering under our overalls.
Now you need to forget F1 qualifying for events like these. With hundreds of cars competing in 21 races, you’re given minutes not hours to post your best lap. In the event, our Jaguar XJR11 qualified sixth on the grid and our Jaguar XJR9 only just failed to gain pole position, lining up in the second starting position for the hour-long trophy race.
Saturday couldn’t come soon enough. A long wait until the late afternoon start provided extra time for last minute double checks. When racing high-value, historic vehicles, it’s impossible to be too thorough. But before we knew it, we were under way.
Both our cars ran strongly despite the large field of competitors, holding on to second and fourth places well. As if there wasn’t enough adrenaline sloshing about, the 33-lap race featured compulsory driver changes and fuel stops, resulting in a furtive pit lane awash with cars, refuelling rigs, tyres and pit crews. But ‘ordered chaos’ isn’t good enough. Everything and everyone has to be in place, primed and ready for action.
So all our attention to detail paid off when some slick work by our crew saw Chris Buncombe’s XJR9 come in for refueling and slip into first place as it emerged from the pit lane. The Gary Pearson-driven XJR11 was next to pit for fuel, although he rejoined the race in the fourth place he’d held from the start.
With both cars lapping in just over 100 seconds, Chris was extending his lead and Gary was moving smoothly through the field to take second place. And thankfully, both our drivers were able to maintain their exacting pace. Chris, in fact, had recorded the fastest lap. But as the race drew to a close, the question was, having come close before, had we done enough this time to hold onto our first one-two? When the flag finally dropped after 60 exciting minutes, we knew we had!
JD Classic’s Race Team had achieved our very first 1-2 podium finish – something our managing director Derek Hood had been striving for over the past couple of seasons. The elation and sense of reward felt amazing and, although leaving us hungry for more, will live long in the memory.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t repeat our success in the Sunday sprint race (just 25 minutes long). When Chris was being challenged for second place by Justin Law’s Jaguar XJR12D, Gary, who was following closely, was forced to take evasive action. This allowed the field through and Gary couldn’t recover.
However, Chris was able to continue and pulled off a delightful manoeuvre to overtake the mighty Sauber Mercedes and Law’s Jaguar to take second place. And although he made a valiant effort chasing down the lead Nissan (ending only four seconds adrift at the flag) he had to settle for a very well earned runner’s-up spot.
Jaguar’s 60th Annivesary
And then there was Silverstone Classic’s feature race, celebrating the 60th anniversary of Jaguar’s win of the first-ever production car race held at Silverstone, the Daily Express Trophy Race for Production Jaguar Cars.
Sixty years back, Britain’s Daily Express newspaper sponsored the first production car race at what was then the new Silverstone Circuit; a contest that allowed high-powered cars produced for the road to be used in track races with just a few modifications. And it was good to see them honouring this landmark by sponsoring such a ‘nationally modest news event’ again all these years later.
Intriguingly loaded with symmetry, this one. Firstly, Derek drove Colonel Ronnie Hoare’s old Jaguar XK120 OTS (he of Maranello Concessionaires/Ferrari UK fame) starting from the tenth row on the grid for Saturday’s tenth race – of 10 laps around the track! Secondly, starting in 17th place on the grid, Derek fought well to finish in… 17th place. And lastly, 60 years ago, the first production car race was won by the iconic Jaguar XK120, as was this one!
A very competitive race with a large field of 47 cars, packed with pre-1960s XK120, XK140, XK150, MK I and Mk VII Jaguar models made Friday’s qualifying very difficult. However come race day, Derek fought well for his hard-won 17th spot and just missed out on a class place.