Given that time has passed, and exact recollections of this event will soon become hazy, it is with some urgency that this report has been compiled in order to document that great Silverstone weekend.
The latest intake of new students meant that our team was not short of members, with us committing ourselves to a team of about 30. With 9 tickets in hand, this was already set to become quite the logistical challenge.
On the evening before, we made our way to the track with six drivers - myself, Wesley Thung, Bobby Bragg, Tom Grant (in Ding’s XC90), Ollie Raja-Brown towing the Riley in his Defender, and the LWB (or FL) Sprinter race van towing the Sebring Sprite. Ollie went ahead to get ourselves a favourable space in what was expected to be a packed paddock (119 cars over the weekend), whilst the rest of us pulled over outside the circuit to rearrange ourselves in a more ticket-friendly fashion…
We had made our way through security with a heavily packed van and four empty cars trailing close behind, all of us repeating the usual ‘I’m with him’ as we breezed through, somehow not rousing any suspicion on the way (how they didn’t question this, I don’t know). We practised our racing lines around the service road (sensibly!) until we reached the Silverstone ‘Wing’, and the van could finally unload itself outside of the pit garage Ollie found us.
Pit garage?! This was certainly my first time in a pit garage with OUMF, I almost felt jealous of all the first-timers amongst us who haven’t had a taste of the gravel yet (hold that thought), although I suppose I wasn’t complaining. We emptied the van of all our tools, made ourselves comfortable on the smooth painted concrete, and gawped at the ranks of lovely cars parked in the garages - Mustangs, Cobras, Escorts, Cortinas, Alfa GTVs, MK2 Jags… our Riley 1500… a truly incredible collection!
And an Austin-Healey Sebring Sprite, of course.
Once the topic of food came up, things really started to get complicated. We learned earlier that calling a restaurant and asking ‘can we have a table for 25… tonight?’ doesn’t yield a favourable response, and so we had to opt for the takeaway route. A quick glance on Google Maps brought us to a chippy in Silverstone village, so we made haste to order fish and chips, 25-off. Bobby and I took on the herculean task of fetching them, and made our way to the village. Lo-and-behold, £125 later (my haggling-self couldn’t hustle a single penny off), we stank-up Bobby’s Golf with vinegar-laden meals for all. Upon return, I was greeted by my ever-grateful friends, not by a sea of thanks, but instead with ‘Didn’t you get any ketchup?’... You really can’t please everybody! No, I didn’t bring any ketchup. Shoot me. Anyhow, we rallied ourselves together, herding back the lost members amongst us, and tucked in for dinner, with everyone’s leftovers ending up in my lap to finish. After a lively visit from ex-OUMF James Martin of Crosthwaite and Gardiner, my food-induced coma sent me to bed. Many of us unfurled their blankets in the pit garage, sheltering themselves from the unrelenting rain falling just beyond the garage shutters.
Scrutineering was first-thing in the morning. With the rainstorm still ongoing, the Sebring passed, and we expected the same outcome for the Riley.
When I hit the brake pedal for the Scrutineer, we found that we had no brake lights – or side lights – so this made things a little awkward. The Scrutineer still passed us on the basis this would be fixed quickly, so me and Dave Sellars started to pull things apart. We put it down to a faulty switch on the dash, decided that the Riley no longer needed a horn, and borrowed the switch from that.
The Sebring went out for qualifying onto a totally flooded Silverstone GP circuit, and I must admit it felt like a matter of time before someone aquaplaned into a barrier, but somehow everybody held it together and avoided incident (only just, in our case), letting Ding qualify 7th in the Sebring. He returned to the garage totally blinded by a fogged-up windscreen, so more Rain-X was readied for the next round. The Riley then qualified 4th in-class for its own race, setting us up for a good race result with both cars.
The Sebring went out shortly afterwards onto a drying track, finishing the race in a drama-free 6th in class, leading us into an extended break until our race with the Riley. During the spanner-checking of the Riley, Thomas Leclaire and Bobby found a near-terminal issue with the front hubs, where - in short - the wheel bearings had slowly been machining its way into the uprights. The hubs are custom made, but we had suspected that they had been made out-of-tolerance, which put the entire prospect of racing in jeopardy.
We needed to think fast about how we proceeded with things. Ding’s confidence in the car had plummeted upon hearing the news, fearful that he may jettison a wheel on the Hangar Straight. A small group of us gathered and deliberated about what we could do:
Just as we were concluding our meeting, we found ourselves inclining towards option 2 - just packing up and mitigating any risk. This was until ‘The Weatherman’ Dave approached us with news:
“The car’s ready Ding, it’s all sorted”.
Well, that sorted that one out then. Option 1!
It did take some convincing to get Ding on-board, but Dave reassured him to the best of his ability:
“It’ll be fine!”
So with that, we sent the Riley out into the rain, with our ‘wet rats’ Seb Paul and Archie Stewart boldly volunteering to man the pit-boards over the next 40 minutes.
We’d learnt that ‘The Wing’ had been left open, meaning that we could kill time by wandering through the building, where I eventually found myself on the balcony. This area is usually strictly reserved for suits and champagne, but once you get rid of the tea-parties, you’re left with a vast open space with a fantastic view of the racetrack, so I invited everyone up for a tea party of my own.
Lap after lap went by, and once the Safety Car was thrown out, Ding came in for his mandatory driver change. Ding swapped seats with himself, returned to the track and followed the pack. We continued to watch him race past along the pit straight from our lofty VIP balcony, only for him to suddenly go missing!
I peered through the driving rain on my tip-toes to the gravel trap at Club, and I thought I could just make out a stricken Riley 1500. We all wondered, is that our car? We agreed that this was our car. We all sprinted along the balcony to get a better view, yelling down at our team on the pit wall to inform them that they’re relieved of their duties. We couldn’t tell quite what happened, and I think we were all thinking the same thing:
Did a wheel fall off?
Apparently not, as the breakdown truck and marshals pulled and pushed him out three laps after he buried himself in there, to our collective disbelief.
So then, what happened?
It turns out our driver just made a rare mistake, and even more extraordinarily, he managed this behind the safety car…and persuaded the recovery crews to let him rejoin the race!
Anyway, he was due a bollocking when he got back, and that’s exactly what he got.
In his defence, keeping up with a brand-new Porsche Safety Car on modern tyres (in the EXTREMELY wet) is no laughing matter, and even more so when you’re in a 60’s family car on Dunlop crossplies. His wipers had packed-up moments before, so he was blinded. Amidst all the stress of keeping up with the Safety Car, he was having to fiddle with the wiper switches too, and alas, something had to give. However, we did not let this tarnish what was an excellent race day (irrespective of any driver’s excuses), with such a great showing of enthusiasm from all our new OUMF faithfuls who did their very best to get involved - so much so that I found myself twiddling my thumbs for a lot of the time! The confidence and eagerness to learn shown by our fresh team holds far more value than any race result, and really encapsulated all that OUMF stands for. These amazing experiences and opportunities would not exist without the continuing vision and generosity of Julius Thurgood and the HRDC paddock. They understand that providing these youngsters with the forum to work as an autonomous team, with their self-built cars, in real, door-to-door racing, is the most powerful spark with which to ignite a life-long passion and secure the future of historic motorsport. So thank you Julius; you inspire young and old alike. And so, to you, the OUMF Team, our wonderful sponsors, and everyone in the happy HRDC paddocks…Bravo!
We all look forward to a cracking HRDC season ahead in 2023.
There they all are! (I think...)
Jalal Mehdizada - Final year Motorsport Engineering, Brookes