Silverstone Classic’s Celebrity Race
One of the highlights of this year’s Silverstone Classic was the star-studded Celebrity Challenge Trophy Race that had spectators on the edge of their seats and also raised vital funds for Prostate Cancer UK.
No fewer than 21 high-profile personalities joined track days at Silverstone and many of the celebrities were coached to gain their mandatory competition licences by Silverstone’s Motorsport Academy before being given the opportunity to race in a field of equally-matched Austin A30 and A35s at the Classic on Saturday evening. It was a bold initiative that not only helped to introduce the many wonders of the Classic to new audiences but will also, hopefully, encourage others to get involved in the sport.
Those competing included gold medal winning Olympians Jason Kenny, Mark Hunter, Greg Searle, Jonny Searle and Amy Williams, boxing legend Carl Froch, world champion bike riders Wayne Gardner and Freddie Spencer, TV stars Theo Paphitis and Ant Anstead, radio presenter Vassos Alexander, best-selling crime novelist Peter James plus rock and pop stars Brian Johnson and Howard Donald. The enthusiasm of both the celebrities and the owners who so generously made their cars available for the race on Saturday before taking part themselves on Sunday also helped raise almost £20,000 (and still counting!) for the event’s official charity partner, Prostate Cancer UK.
The Screen Stars team won the Silverstone Classic Celebrity Challenge Trophy Race. Led by former Formula 1 ace and Le Mans winner Mark Blundell, the winning team included Dragon’s Den host Theo Paphitis, Wheeler Dealers presenter Ant Anstead, BBC Radio 2 sports presenter Vassos Alexander, Sky Sports F1 pundit Tony Jardine and former Top Gear anchor Tiff Needell. Between them, the speedy sextet helped towards raising £10,000 for the event’s official charity partner, Prostate Cancer UK.
Their victory did not come easy, however, with the race staged in increasingly difficult conditions as early evening drizzle turned into rain to leave grip at a premium on the famous 3.6-mile Silverstone Grand Prix circuit – a particular challenge for many of the celebrity rookies making their track racing debut in the star-studded encounter.
To add to the spectacle, all 26 entrants were behind the wheel of equally-matched Austin A30s and A35s kindly provided by members of the HRDC (Historic Racing Drivers’ Club) Academy, who had their own race on Sunday.
Following a short familiarisation and afternoon qualifying session held under sunny skies, the rain began to fall as the cars took to the track for the early evening race, with a brief red flag intermission and safety car re-start adding to the drama.
In such tricky conditions, it was no surprise that the experienced team captains came to the fore, as Blundell, fellow ex-grand prix driver Martin Donnelly and touring car legends Steve Soper and Anthony Reid diced furiously at the front, exchanging positions with brio.
In a four-car slipstreaming thriller, it was Soper that prevailed, with a last lap spin for Reid elevating Donnelly to second and Blundell to third. Former Motorcycling 500cc World Champion Wayne Gardner came home ‘best-of-the-rest’ in fourth, with Jason Kenny CBE – Britain’s equal-most successful Olympic athlete and a man with a modicum of prior motor racing experience – finishing a commendable ninth.
Take That’s Howard Donald claimed rookie bragging rights, ahead of multiple super-middleweight boxing world champion Carl Froch MBE and gold medal-winning Olympian Amy Williams MBE.
Amongst those with hard luck stories to tell were former AC/DC front man Brian Johnson – who was unable to start the race after taking a tumble his car in qualifying – and all three Olympic gold medal rowers, with Jonny Searle MBE, Greg Searle MBE and Mark Hunter MBE all struggling to conquer the treacherous conditions. Thankfully, everybody emerged unscathed.
“Our first Silverstone Classic Celebrity Challenge Trophy Race proved to be a superb addition to the bill this year,” enthused Event Director Nick Wigley, who participated in the race himself as a team captain, taking the chequered flag tenth. “Considering the distinctly inclement weather, I think everybody did really well – most notably the complete rookies in the field who had never done anything like this before.
“It was anything but a straightforward baptism for them, and I must congratulate Mark and the Screen Stars team on winning and helping to raise so much money for such a worthy cause. I also need to thank all the owners of the cars, who kindly entrusted us their pride and joy yesterday. We look forward to seeing them take to the track themselves.”
On the Sunday, the Silverstone Classic Celebrity Challenge Trophy Owner Race witnessed a terrific three-way slipstreaming scrap for the top spot between Mike Jordan, Jonathan Lewis and Ben Colburn, with the advantage switching on practically every lap. The ex-BTCC race-winner ultimately drew upon all of his racing experience to prevail, with the pursuing Colburn and Lewis separated by a scant two thousandths-of-a-second at the flag.
Both HRDC races helped the event to raise a very significant amount of money for the Classic’s official charity partner Prostate Cancer UK, and once the results were combined, it was the Bike Legends team that came out on top.