A little bit of history repeating
To read the full March edition of Revolution click HERE
Goodwood’s headline events, like the Members’ Meeting and Revival have struck gold with their knowing blend of nostalgia, hard racing and glittering grids of gorgeous classics, while the Silverstone Classic continues to evolve into a summer festival of diverse racing, club displays and live music. Rightly, they represent the pinnacle of the scene and attract huge crowds, incredible machinery and star drivers galore but there’s more to historic racing than matching numbers GT40s and multi-million dollar grids. Here, with the aid of race organisers, competitors and those working within Motorsport UK we seek to bust some of the myths you may have about historic racing. And hopefully convince you competing in old cars can be just as much fun – and just as accessible – as doing it in new ones.
Myth: it’s pipe and slippers racing for old boys
While it’s true you may see more tweed than Nomex in your average historic racing paddock you’d be mistaken to think the racing is any less serious. The very term is an incredibly broad one too. At one level it can mean brave souls perched atop smoking Edwardian monsters at the Goodwood Members’ Meeting or in the Vintage Sports Car Club’s Formula Vintage series, or plucky trialists bouncing Austin Sevens up muddy hillsides. But, as with classic cars in general, as time goes on, ‘historic’ covers a broader spectrum of cars and series, such as the Historic Sports Car Club’s 70s Road Sports and new-for-2020 1980s Production Car Challenge, which both open the floor to a wider range of accessible metal.
“I’ve always been drawn to older cars,” says 33-year-old Cameron Jackson, a multiple champion in Historic Formula Ford who embodies a younger generation of historic competitors. “The stories from 60s and 70s Grand Prix racing are enthralling and almost unbelievable – I grew up listening to Led Zeppelin, played the drums and, as a teenager, I always thought I’d been born in the wrong decade! With cars like this you’re sat in the same seat having the same experiences that others did back in that era. I love it.”
Andy Dee-Crowne of the HSCC agrees. “You don’t have to be historic to race historics and there are a lot of younger drivers coming straight to us from karting.” This melting pot of youth and enthusiasm and age and wisdom also creates a great atmosphere at events. “I was clerk at Cadwell Park for an event and Richard Attwood arrived for the new drivers’ briefing, which I thought would be terribly embarrassing for him,” recalls Dee-Crowne. “But he said ‘please, I’ve never actually driven here before, treat me the same as everyone else’. This is typical of the way we see generations interacting, the mutual respect in the paddock and on the track and a shared passion that crosses age boundaries.”
Myth: I’m not rich or famous enough to race at Goodwood style events – what’s the point?
As with any motorsport discipline, competing at the highest level can be an exclusive club. “People see the Revival and the Members’ Meeting as the pinnacles of historic racing and that’s totally understandable with all the glitz and the glamour,” concedes David Wheadon of the British Automobile Racing Club. “But it’s only attainable from the competitor’s point of view if they have a vehicle which has the pedigree and history to be invited to compete.”
Inevitably that creates a hierarchy but organisers are keen to create more inclusive events too. “The Classic Touring Car Racing Club’s regulations allow competitors to build cars from original road versions without having to comply completely with Appendix K,” explains Wheadon by way of example. “This keeps the costs down as you can go and buy a Morris Minor road car for a couple of grand and convert it into an eligible race car for not too much more money.”
And, in some respects, it can be better value than racing moderns. “Budgets for racing modern single-seaters are out of control and the relative pay-off is very slim as we know very few drivers make it as professionals,” says Cameron Jackson. “In historics there’s a whole spread of people from all sorts of backgrounds involved at a club level. Obviously, there are different events for different budgets like anything but this stereotype of it being exclusive certainly isn’t true for the UK.”
“You can buy a Morris Minor for a couple of grand and convert it into an eligible race car for not much money” David Wheadon
Myth: it’s too dangerous compared with racing modern cars
Given all the safety advances in recent years why on earth would you strap yourself into a machine the uninitiated might consider a deathtrap on wheels?
Cameron Jackson competes in the single-seater machines we associate with Grand Prix racing’s deadlier age and accepts risk is an inevitable part of any motorsport, but one mitigated in historics by the attitude of competitors. “I always race with respect and give room in single seaters, and over the many, many races I’ve taken part in over the last four years I’ve not once got airborne or hit a barrier,” he says. Touring cars, meanwhile, offer a degree more protection should the worst happen but, while the racing is close, the more gentlemanly atmosphere curated by race organisers is also critical. “At the HSCC we pride ourselves on our safety record and standards,” says Andy Dee-Crowne. “We have our 10 commandments for all our competitors and promote safe racing.” You’ll hear the same from all promoters too, the fact historic racers are there for the fun of it rather than the death or glory pursuit of a pro drive striking a healthier balance between competitive spirit and taking it too far.
Myth: preparing and running a historic race car is an expensive, bureaucratic nightmare
Appendix K and Historic Technical Passports are terms commonly bandied about but what do they actually mean? And is it actually that difficult to prepare a car for historic racing? Motorsport UK’s Michael Duncan is part of the team charged with administering the HTP process and says it’s not necessarily as bad as people think. “Appendix K is the FIA technical regulation for cars competing in international historic competitions,” he explains, taking it back to basics. “The HTP is a document issued on behalf of the FIA to cars which comply with these technical regulations. Appendix K sets out what cars are eligible for an HTP and what modifications are permitted beyond the period specification.”
In simple terms getting an HTP requires an inspection from an approved registrar, who assesses the car against the original homologation documents and other regulations. For the paperwork alone the process costs about £1,000 for the registrar’s time, the FIA and Motorsport UK’s fees, HTPs are valid for 10 years and transferable if the car changes ownership. Many registrars are scrutineers too and experts in their field, while clubs and organisers are able to put you in touch with the right person for the series you’re competing in. Duncan says it’s worthwhile getting to know your registrar long before the final inspection, on the basis they can spot issues along the way rather than demand expensive alterations.
If you’re applying a road car mindset to it, the registrar is your local MoT inspector while Motorsport UK is the DVLA, managing the process on behalf of the FIA, with whom the final say rests. Their standards are famously exacting and disputes can occur, Michael and his team are experts in brokering the process when required. But do you even need an HTP?
Possibly not, and to make the process easier there’s now the Period Defined Vehicle Identity Form. “Although the information on the form is similar to that required on an FIA HTP, the application process is very different and much less onerous,” explains Michael. “The PDVIF does not require an inspection, it is a self-declaration submitted by the applicant which is then reviewed internally by Motorsport UK before issue. And the issuing of an identity form that confirms the specification and period, which is easily checked by scrutineers at events, is a recognised and effective way of managing what exemptions from modern safety equipment cars to period specification are authorised.”
If in doubt the best advice is to have a solid idea of where you want to compete, in which series and which regulations apply before buying or preparing a car. Organisers and clubs can help with that process and, once underway, Michael and his team at Motorsport UK are experts in seeing it through to a successful conclusion so you can approach the scrutineers’ bay confident you’ll get your ticket.
Myth: old cars are too difficult to drive or work on As a modern racing driver graduating from karts and into paddle-shifted single-seaters, GTs and touring cars there’s every chance you’ve never used an H-pattern gearbox in anger, let alone perfected your heel’n’toe or double de-clutching. What hope do these drivers have in historics and how does this young generation raised on slicks and aero learn four-wheel drifting on crossplies?
“All of the manual gear changes and lack of aero grip might seem intimidating to younger drivers now but it’s really such an enjoyable attribute of these cars as you have so much feel and command over the car,” says Cameron Jackson. This comes back to the safety point too, the fact historics generally have lower limits meaning the all-or-nothing grip in modern racing cars is less of an issue.
The BARC’s David Wheadon thinks it’s also about attitude as much as anything. “For me, it’s more about personality and dedication. The best way to develop any skills needed for historic cars is to get behind the wheel or under the bonnet and get your hands dirty,” he says. “This breeds mechanically sympathetic drivers and mechanics and, with championships ranging from pre-1966 to 2003 in the Classic Touring Car Racing Club, we have every type of expertise you need to learn about historic cars across the grids. No matter what skills you want to learn, you can in club historic racing.”
With thanks to David Wheadon (BARC), Andy Dee-Crowne (HSCC), Cameron Jackson, Michael Duncan (Motorsport UK) and everyone else who helped with this story
To read the full March edition of Revolution click HERE