A couple of weeks ago Super Ninety road-tripped up to Silverstone for the 2012 Classic. This was only our second year at the event, but it was interesting to get a feel of how it has changed even in just a year.
The biggest change comes probably in the form of the total AA sponsorship of the whole event. I can see that a flagship sponsor is good for the the organisers, but overall the sponsorship seemed pretty heavy-handed.
For example, last year we took part in the Retro Run - a simple, fun, navigational rally that takes place on the Saturday, starting from the circuit and taking in some great roads in the area. This year it was pretty much the same event, but had been re-branded as the AA Grand Tour. Now don't get me wrong, I work in advertising, so I can understand a little inflation of description - but a grand tour it aint. Plus the prices had been hiked disproportionally, but with a discount for AA members.
Ok, clearly this is where the sponsor hopes to tie-in some reward for customers as part of their sponsorship, but let's face it, how many serious classic owners are in the AA? Not many I'd guess. For a start, most proper classic insurance policies come with European roadside assistance. A small detail, but it showed that the AA probably doesn't understand the audience well enough. Anyway, needless to say, we didn't take part in that this year.
But that is really only a very small part of what Silverstone Classic is. Because obviously, first and foremost it is a historic race meet. The range and number of cars in action is mind-boggling, and not at the expense of quality either. I think us, the best part of SC is the access to the paddocks, we spent most of our time walking them and having a good look around the machinery. The owners, drivers and mechanics always seem to be open and friendly, and hopefully, if people remain respectful of the cars, equipment, and the work, it will stay that way.
The racing is full-blooded and deadly serious. I can imagine that from on-track it is a wonderful experience, racing these historic machines on this world-famous track. It being a current F1 track, there are plenty of run-off areas or grass and tarmac, which means less likelihood of one rearranging the design of one's car.
The flip side of this is, unfortunately that from a spectator's point of view, some of the racing can lack a bit of atmosphere. This isn't anything to do with the quality of cars or driving, which is excellent, but more because of the F1 regulations, you find yourself so far from the action. It's hard to build atmosphere sat in a stand a fifty yards from the track with a run-off area, and a ten-feet high catch fence between you and the excitement.
The bigger machines, especially the group C cars, can carry this, like the F1 cars - especially the group C races which run into dusk, which are amazing. But the atmosphere of the historic touring and GP races does suffer a bit.
But overall, the fantastic paddock access does make up for it, and the chance to get close to the cars as they are tuned and prepared is great.
So, back to the sponsor, and this is meant as constructive criticism for the AA. They created a large AA World on the infield, hoping to attract visitors and, obviously, promote their services. But unfortunately it was just a collection of kiddies rides and gimmicky attractions. Again, it felt like they didn't really understand the people who go to SC, and why they go. Surely they would have been better serves, and had a more successful promotional area, if they had, say, collected together some extremely rare race cars of the past in a special display? Something that people would have to go to see and engage with. Anyway, just a thought AA.
Overall though a great event. See you there next year. There are a few of our photos in this post, we'll probably put some more up over the next few days.