Silverstone Festival; 25th – 27th August 2023
FJHRA/HSCC “Silverline” Championship Rounds 8 & 9
Undoubtedly the biggest event of the year for Formula Junior is the Silverstone Festival, formerly known as the Classic. The meeting brings together Historic Racing from across the years, mixed with a variety of entertainment, ranging from static displays of modern era Formula One cars, to on track demonstrations celebrating 75 years of Silverstone Grand Prix, along with a similar anniversary for the American NASCAR. There were car club displays, stage performances, interviews, a fun fair and a foodie fest with celebrity Chefs demonstrating their culinary arts. The evenings featured musical performances from some famous acts.
Of course, the real action was in the National Paddock where the Formula Junior family got together to party and enjoy the hospitality in the garage. I think it must have been the selection of cakes being prepared that had lured so many out. It was a truly International entry of 56 cars vying for the 54 spaces available on the grid. We had Danny Baker from California experiencing an English summer for the first time. Danny’s Lotus 27 arrived in Europe in April, he raced at Lurani Dijon in June, and following the Festival he will be taking part in the Goodwood Revival before going onto Mugello. Rich Spritz had been busy at home in the USA, his run in the BMC Mk1 being his only visit for the year, whilst also joining us in the Trans-Atlantic Challenge were Timothy and Harindra de Silva in Brabham BT2 and Lola Mk 2 respectively, under the supervision of Team Hibberd. Andrew and the team had plenty to keep them busy in the Junior race. They were fielding Michael, and Andrew Hibberd, along with Horatio Fitz-Simon, Clive Richards plus the de Silvas. Andrew was hoping for a clean sweep of the pots with his spread bet approach, but they had lots of competition for those podium spots throughout the field.
Katsu Kubota was having one of his rare appearances in the UK with the Mirage Team, whilst SpeedSport Team were competing with the Hibberds on both quantity and quality, with 4 cars. Regulars this season Geoff Underwood (Brabham BT2), Mark Carter (Brabham BT6) and Alan Schmidt (Lotus 22), were joined by Michael O’Brien in a Lotus 27 loaned by Marty Bullock, hoping to repeat his double wins of the previous year.
Thursday was a dedicated test day for the event, which did prove to be just that, testing. Nic Carlton-Smith found the new engine in the Kieft was not all plain sailing, but luckily Mark Haynes was able to loan him the Elva 200 in his effort to maintain his Championship position but that did require some work to have it ready for the Friday, the Elva having been used on the hills rather than circuits recently. The session also proved difficult for Michael O’ Brien as a number of issues became apparent, including an off clipping Danny Baker, as Michael struggled with the brakes, which were to be resolved overnight.
Nic’s woes were not over when testing finished, however, when on Friday morning he found himself locked out of his Streamliner Caravan after having taken a shower. Peter Anstiss, Martin McHugh and many others rallied round to ensure Nic was suitably suited and booted with borrowed items aplenty in time for qualifying but he was not to be reunited with his clothing until his wife arrived on the Friday evening.
The qualifying that took place on Friday gave everyone a taste of the race potential to come, with Michael O’Brien sitting at the top of the times for most of the qualifying session with Horatio Fitz-Simon hard in his wheel tracks. If you combine all of Michael’s best sectors he would have been on pole, but he could not find that final link. As the session drew to a close Sam Wilson put together the time that would give him pole in his Lotus 20/22, with Michael second, Horatio third and Clive Richards fourth. The top 4 were covered by less than a second.
Team Hibberd was on a roll. Andrew Hibberd was easily top of the front engine runners starting 17th on the grid, with Andrew’s Dad Michael 20th on the grid heading class D2 and Andrew’s class rival Ray Mallock was unusually far back in 21st.
There were some surprises too, with Simon Jackson running Cam Jackson’s De Tomaso 63, heading the chasing pack in 5th on the timing sheets. Alongside him was the highly competitive Tim de Silva (Brabham BT2), with Samuel Harrison in Adrian Holey’s ex-Roger Ealand Rennmax alongside Alex Ames in his Brabham BT6, having his first run in the Junior for this year. Samuel’s effort was more remarkable as he first drove this car in testing on Thursday. Completing the top 10 on the Grid were Lukas Halusa (Lotus 22) and Nick Fennell (Lotus 27). Philipp Buhofer’s Lotus 27 would have been part of that top 10 but he had to withdraw his car with a blown engine following qualifying. Philipp would get to compete in the race, starting from the back however, as his Hall and Hall team went back to base to pick up his Brabham BT6 which son Lukas has been campaigning in Lurani this season, and Rudi Friedrichs in Philipp’s loaned Lola Mk 5A had to return home allowing space in the capacity field.
With Nic Carlton-Smith not in the formerly ultra reliable Kieft, it was Andrew Taylor who headed class C2. Richard Ferris in the Donford (E2) and Tom De Gres (A) in the Stanguellini being the other class leaders.
Chris Wilks in the Deep Sanderson was the other unfortunate retiree from qualifying with a substantial hole in his engine. For Chris this was the end to his racing for the weekend, but the Deep remained on display. The expiration of Chris’s engine did result in a few hairy moments for the unwary as some found the oil laid at the end of the qualifying session, Crispian Besley being the spinner although Andrew Taylor had put his hand up to warn the following pack. Sharon Adelman retired early in the session in her Brabham BT6 following a first lap incident. However, she qualified out of session in her Ginetta to enable her to take her place on the back of the grid.
Following qualifying there was some work for the teams to be ready for the race on Saturday morning. Michael O’Brien was having problems with the gearbox, Horatio had a broken rocker cover that caused him to finish the session early and Alex Ames had gear linkage issues. Samuel Harrison felt the engine was down on power and that he was losing time on the straights, the handling however was good.
That evening was the annual Marshal’s BBQ, arranged by Iain Rowley, which raised £450 towards the costs and donation to the Marshals Club, helped by the huge support he had from the Formula Junior Paddock. Well done to everyone.
Friday evening had seen heavy rain pass through, and Saturday morning dawned dull and chilly, with the wet creating a mist and leaving the track very damp and slippery in parts. The opening laps were going to be a challenge for the drivers. Sam Wilson commented that he was not too concerned where he was in the opening laps so long as he was part of the leading group.
Starting their formation laps from the National/Heritage Pits, 53 cars were led around by the Safety Car for one and a half laps, ready for the rolling start from the modern wing complex. Katsu Kubota’s team were still getting him going in the Wing paddock as they went out on track, and despite them getting to the National paddock with permission to join the race late, the engine troubles couldn’t quite be resolved.
At the start Michael O’ Brien led, pulling out a lead that was not to last for even one lap. Michael pulling off at Becketts with a gearbox that had destroyed itself, leaving last year’s double winner a spectator.
The man who had chased Michael to the line last year, Horatio Fitz-Simon, led across the line at the end of lap one, with Sam Wilson in 2nd place, Samuel Harrison 3rd from 7th on the grid, and Alex Ames who shared the row four with him up, to 4th place from 8th.
These four quickly established a lead over the pursuing group, which was headed by Tim de Silva from Clive Richards, and like the front four, these two would break away to have their own race long battle.
Clinton McCarthy was another first lap retiree, and then on lap 2 at Copse the slippery conditions led to what Crispian Besley, who was following, described as a frightening accident. Stuart Monument and Andrew Beaumont locked wheels briefly, pitching Stuart into a roll. Both drivers were thankfully able to walk away from the accident, but Andrew suffering concussion necessitating a hospital check up, having been impacted twice on the head as the Lotus rolled over. Credit to the marshals and the officials, who had the cars safely away meaning no Safety Car was needed.
Back to the race lead, and the event camera team had their lenses glued to the battle at the front of the field, as the four drivers provided a superb demonstration of how to race closely and cleanly. The cameras showed the different strategies of dealing with slower cars to maintain or gain advantage over your opponents combined with exploring alternative lines into the open corners of the Silverstone circuit. Horatio was probably the best at the latter, but as the race progressed his exit and entry into some of the corners was becoming a cross between rally driver and Gerry Marshall as the tail hung out in a bid to maintain momentum. With just three minutes left on the clock, a half spin exiting Stowe left the door wide open for his opponents to nip through.
It was now a two-horse race for the top step between Sam Wilson and Alex Ames. Samuel Harrison who had not fared as well in some of the heavy traffic kept a watching brief in a safe third place with Horatio now following in fourth place. With Alex Ames leading, Sam Wilson found the gap entering Luffield to take the inside and the lead when Alex missed a gear. Alex was not going to give up, with the pair running side by side, with time on the national pit straight to look across to each other and exchange a cheeky wave, no doubt accompanied by broad grins on their faces. Sam took victory by just 2 tenths of a second. Samuel Harrison coming home 3rd in what could be a first podium for the Rennmax, from Horatio in 4th place.
Behind the action on camera, Tim de Silva and Clive Richards continued their close dice for 5th place, Tim taking the place with an even narrower margin of .017 seconds. The Juniors do know how to put on a race.
Andrew Hibberd finished 10th to win the front engine classes (B2) having had a great race with Richard Wilson in the Brabham BT6. Following them Nick Fennell, Lee Mowle and Stuart Roach had enjoyed a super tussle for 11th place. Michael Hibberd (D2), Andrew Taylor (C2), Richard Ferris (E2) and Tom De Gres (A) all won their respective classes.
From the back of the grid Philipp Buhofer finished 25th, whilst Nic Carlton-Smith in the Elva 200 finished 32nd and 4th in his class.
Other retirements were Simon Jackson who tangled with Stuart Tizzard during lappery, Rich Spritz who has a rod connection to the throttle and the securing bolt unfortunately became detached leaving him powerless. Crispian Besley was the last retirement with alternator problems.
Following the Race 1 incidents, and mechanical problems from qualifying, there were still 49 healthy runners and riders who took to the start for the second Formula Junior race which opened proceedings on Sunday morning. The names at the front of the grid were familiar with Sam Wilson starting alongside Horatio Fitz-Simon. Clive Richards had Tim de Silva sharing the second row and on row 3 were our race 1 podium finishers of Samuel Harrison and Alex Ames.
Starting from the back in the Brabham BT6 with which he won the two Silverstone Classic races last year was Michael O’Brien, Mark Carter having stepped down from the drive to give Michael a shot at the podium.
The opening lap was hectic, with Horatio taking the lead from Alex Ames, Sam Wilson shuffled back to 3rd and Tim de Silva 4th. Contact in the opening corners had led to Peter Strauss spinning off into the gravel trap, having made contact with Tom De Gres and that was Peter’s race exit. Tom pitted but was able to restart. Pierre Guichard then pulled off at the exit of Becketts and required a full lift, and this introduced the Safety Car. Some confused communication between the driver and the officials making the rescue a little slower.
Further down the order Andrew Hibberd was not having such an easy time in the front engine class as he had Ray Mallock for close company. Michael O’Brien had hoped for a Safety Car to keep him in contention and within the first lap when it was introduced, he had cleared half of the field to be lying in 25th place.
When the Safety Car was able to release the pack again, it was Horatio who led from Alex Ames, Alex then running wide, allowing Sam Wilson through into second place, with Tim de Silva 4th, Samuel Harrison in 5th and Clive Richards 6th. Sam Wilson then took the lead from Horatio for a couple of laps, and these six broke off into pairs with Sam and Horatio creating a gap that would not be bridged again. The following four continued to squabble and at one point the battle between de Silva and Ames created a four-car chain before Alex finally broke clear.
For Michael O’Brien the Safety Car period looked to work against him as the cars in front of him were not close enough at the restart for him to be able to take full advantage. However, he did battle through to 8th place with a car he described as being down on power.
The race amongst the front-engined runners was a lot closer this time, with Ray Mallock pushing Andrew Hibberd really hard, but not as hard as Horatio was chasing Sam Wilson. Their battle for the lead, bringing an even closer finish. This time the margin was .021secs on the line when on the final corner Horatio again ran wide and Sam Wilson was able to take the opportunity to take the inside line out of club to score his second and well deserved win at the Festival.
Alex Ames came home in 3rd place to complete his podium double. Fourth was Tim de Silva, Clive Richards 5th and Samuel Harrison 6th, with Lukas Halusa 7th. Michael O’Brien was 8th with Richard Wilson in 9th place leading the trio with Mark Woodhouse and Nick Fennell in close contention.
Ray Mallock also left his challenge for the front-engined race to the last lap. He waited until entering Luffield so he could complete the manouevre in front of the BRDC Clubhouse. Another day of great close racing, as he took the front victory.
The only remaining retirements were Crispian Besley again falling foul of electrical gremlins with Stuart Roach completing the list of retirees, coil being the reason. Tom De Gres, who lost so much time in the pits having his car checked over, put on a terrific display as he caught the Safety Car chain, eventually finishing 40th and winning his class. The other class winners were, Michael Hibberd, Andrew Taylor and Richard Ferris.
Prize-giving took place each day, with Silverline Tools and trophies aplenty, and Sam Wilson was awarded FJ driver of the weekend. A great atmosphere in the garages, and another wonderful FJ weekend.
by Alan Jones