Words by Raj Hunjan
Silverstone has a colourful past. The first ‘organised’ race to take place at Silverstone was the RAC Grand Prix on October 2nd 1948. Prior to this in 1947 a group of friends used the then deserted airfield to host a race. The ring leader of the twelve participants ended up writing off his car during the race, by hitting a sheep that had wondered onto the ‘circuit’! As a result, the legendary race became known as the Mutton Grand Prix. Racing has taken place at the converted airfield base ever since, with many series currently using the track as one of their headline rounds.
Originally there was just one layout, a 3.67 mile course that included the perimeter road and two airstrips. This layout meant that
cars were driving head on down the runways. The centre of the grounds were still in use as a farm, so spectators were only allowed on the outside of the track. Safety barriers amounted to just straw bales and ropes.
The first ever World Championship Grand Prix was held at Silverstone – Guiseppe Farina was the victor, leading an Alfa Romeo 1-2-3 finish. The Royal Automobile Club lease of the grounds from the Air Ministry was taken over by the British Racing Drivers’ Club in 1951. The BRDC made the circuit permanent and improved the safety and view of spectators by erecting raised banks to replace the oil drums and straw bales previously used during events.
The pits and start/finish straight were moved ahead of the 1952 season to Woodcote corner exit, where they remain to this day. Along with other changes, this created a new 2.9 mile circuit. 1953 saw the first 100mph average lap, set by Farina in a Thinwall Special. It took until 1961 before the BRDC took over the lease of agricultural land within and around the circuit. Ahead of the the 1964 season the open face pits along the start/finish straight was modified with a raised road and ramps.
Current Circuit Layouts
Below are the current three layouts for the circuit, the Grand Prixcircuit encompasses most of the tarmac, the other two can be used simultaneously and often are for experience days and club events.
Standard road insurance policies will not cover driving your car on a trackday at Silverstone. So any damage caused by you to the track or your car is entirely your responsibility. Some road policies offer the option to cover race circuits with usually very high excesses on any claims you make. The driving experiences do include insurance, but the excess varies depending on the car you drive. For an extra £20 you can reduce the excess (in some cases to £0).
Getting to know the circuit
One of the real benefits of getting out on track yourself here, either in your own car or on an experience, is the tuition and driver instruction on offer. Silverstone pride themselves in only hiring proven race instructors and racers to guide others on the circuit. Their level of circuit driving knowledge is extremely high, which provides the right supportive environment to learn and push yourself on the track. During the experiences they will also assess your driving ability and provide you with detailed feedback on where you can improve your technique, whether it be throttle control, braking, steering or driving lines.
Where to stay
Silverstone provides its own accommodation, in the form of camping at Silverstone Woodlands or for those that prefer a roof over their head, they have a more permanent fixture called the Snoozebox Hotel. It is situated trackside on the Wellington straight. The rooms are very compact to make the best use of the space on the circuit, but feature free wifi, air conditioning/heating, an en-suite wetroom, a personal safe, a double bed and a single bunk.
Get On Track at Silverstone
There are a huge amount of opportunities to get involved in Motorsport at one of the most famous circuits in the world.
★Supercars – Driving a supercar on track is a must for any petrol head, at Silverstone you have the choice of a V8 Ferrari F430, Aston Martin V8 Vantage, Nissan GTR, Lotus Evora or Audi R8 V10. There are both thrill packages that offer 3-4 laps or a longer experience that offers up to 10 laps split into two or three sessions.
★Single Seaters – These cars may only have 140bhp but they can accelerate to 60mph in less than five seconds. Their cornering ability and direct controls are unrivaled by even the fastest supercars. What counts here is low-mass, high power-to-weight ratio and aerodynamics.
★Skid Control – The art of controlling a skid can be both thrilling as well as increasing your safety out on the road. The safe environment and instructor combination of this course can really teach you the art of car control over the limit of adhesion.
★Stunt driving with Paul Swift – Learn some of the most exciting driving stunts from the movies with a Top Gear Stunt Driver and his team. You’ll also get to link up all the stunts you learn on an Auto test circuit.
★Track Taster days with tuition options – For those that are new to track driving in their own car, taster days are the perfect introduction. The days are broken into 35 minute sessions, you book individual sessions. Tuition is also available for 20 minutes a session. Offers great value for money.
★Track days with tuition options – Driving the Grand Prix circuit is the ultimate for many track day enthusiasts. To hit the same tarmac as the Formula One cars is a special experience. It is a demanding, high speed circuit and for this reason it is best to take up the offer of free tuition for those new to the GP Circuit so you can really enjoy your day on the track that hosts the fastest racing cars in the world.
Looking at my own experience, all the events have been a superb way to hone my driving skills in a safe environment with expert tuition.
How to get to Silverstone
Silverstone is right in the heart of the UK, approximately 90 minutes north of London and 60 minutes south of Birmingham. Road access is via the A43 dual carriageway from either the M40 or M1. The nearest train stations are Northampton, Banbury and Milton Keynes.