The greatest moments of world endurance racing in Britain

With the World Endurance Championship round at Silverstone this Sunday we look at memorable moments from past races – with stunning photography

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Racing for the world's oldest motorsport trophy

The World Endurance Championship round at Silverstone, the latest of which is this Sunday, is always keenly-anticipated. It’ll be even more so this time with Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button among the drivers. While recent events mean Alonso will have more focus on him than usual…

World championship endurance racing has undergone various incarnations over time, and Britain’s history as a host stretches back to 1953 when it was held on the Dundrod road circuit in Northern Ireland. Yet there is a common thread through history as the RAC Tourist Trophy awarded for that ’53 race is these days awarded to the winner of the Silverstone WEC event – it’s the world’s oldest motorsport trophy still being competed for.

Thanks to Motorsport Images, AutoClassics looks at some memorable moments from world sportscars races in Britain.

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1967: Britain is back on the map

‘It is remarkable, but true, that we have not had a serious motor race, other than Grand Prix events, in Great Britain since 1959’. So said legendary scribe Denis Jenkinson as Britain officially got back on the World Sportscar Championship itinerary in 1967, with a Brands Hatch 6 Hour race (commonly known as the BOAC 500). This was the first since the 1959 Jenks cited when Goodwood held the Tourist Trophy.

Moreover this Brands round was the championship decider, and a second place for Ferrari ensured it the title over Porsche. The race though was won by the distinctive Chaparral 2F with its large rear wing suspended high above it, sportscars beating Formula 1 to the punch on the now de rigueur innovation. Moreover the 36-car race on the claustrophobic Brands circuit was a frantic and exciting affair. Jenks concluding approvingly that ‘this country is back on the International map’.

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1970: Rodriguez stings in the rain

A drive that has gone into legend. Who knows how Mexican Pedro Rodriguez, born in the heat and dust, became such a great rain driver. Perhaps it only adds to the magic. And on a miserable April day at Brands Hatch in 1970, precipitation lashing down, Rodriguez was in his element.

Not even an early black flag for passing several cars under yellow came close to depriving him. After the requisite dressing down in the pits he fish-tailed his Porsche 917 back into the action with if anything even greater determination. By lap 20 he was back in the lead after an immaculate pass of Chris Amon’s Ferrari at Paddock, then he moved clear proceeding five seconds a lap faster than anyone else on the circuit. Needless to say his car, Rodriguez was paired with Leo Kinnunen, was never seen again and it won by five laps.

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1971: Alfa at last

We all know that Alfa Romeo took the first two Formula 1 world championships in 1950 and ’51 then quit. From the mid-1960s it sought to make its motor racing comeback, first in saloons then in sportscars. Progress in the latter was slow but still tangible and in 1971 at Brands Hatch Alfa’s effort was topped off finally with an outright win.

And it was a classic endurance race triumph, prevailing by running smoothly on-track and in the pits as various theoretically faster rivals encountered problems. Jacky Ickx in the Ferrari led initially but hit a bank avoiding a spinning backmarker. The Ferrari continued after lengthy repairs but then lost more time with a jamming throttle. One Porsche stopped with engine problems, the other lost four laps with trouble changing a wheel in a pitstop. The sweet running Alfas took up the first two places, though the leading car of Rolf Stommelen and Toine Hezemans then retired in a cloud of smoke. The Andrea de Adamich and Henri Pescarolo machine kept going, ensuring long-awaited victory for the delighted team.

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1980: De Cadenet multi-tasks

Brands Hatch from 1975 had a world sportscar hiatus and the following year Silverstone stepped in as world championship round, with a six-hour race (though Brands returned too in 1977 and for a time Britain therefore had two world sportscar stop-offs). And the 1980 Northamptonshire visit was particularly memorable, as the redoubtable Alain de Cadenet won the event as a driver, team owner and constructor – paired with Desire Wilson he triumphed in a car of his own design. With it he became the first winner of the Silverstone 6 Hours in a sports prototype.

They’d recovered from a lap’s penalty too after Wilson missed the Woodcote chicane, yet still beat the Jürgen Barth and Siegfried Brunn Porsche 908/3 into second. And it wasn’t the first time de Cadenet had done it, as he and Wilson had won the previous World Championship for Makes round at Monza too.

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1986: The cat lands on its feet

Four years of Porsche domination in the World Sportscar Championship was suddenly ended in this Silverstone round, and ended by Jaguar. With it the British marque got its first sportscar win since the 1957 Le Mans, and it got it surprisingly quickly. The Tom Walkinshaw-run effort had only debuted in the late rounds of 1985, yet even in those sent shots across the Porsche bows. In 1986’s opener at Monza it fought for the lead but didn’t finish. In the Silverstone 1000km its day arrived.

The Silk Cut liveried car ran perfectly with Derek Warwick and Eddie Cheever at the wheel and beat the champion Porsche pair Derek Bell and Hans Stuck into second by nearly three laps – but the Porsche was never in the running, hampered with gearbox problems. Instead the closest challenge came from the other Jaguar of Jean-Louis Schlesser and Gianfranco Brancatelli and the Lancia of Andrea de Cesaris and Sandro Nannini – but both hit problems by half distance. That left Warwick and Cheever to cruise home.

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1991: Brundle beggars belief

The Ross Brawn-penned Jaguar XJR-14 was a classic, driver Martin Brundle calling it ‘basically a single-seater with bodywork…[it] stuck to the ground. It was a car in which I felt totally and utterly at one’. And Brundle never made better use of it than in the 1991 Silverstone round. He lost 10 minutes with a broken throttle cable sustained on the second lap, then got his head down for an astonishing recovery drive.

He made up three laps on the leading Mercedes which had a certain Michael Schumacher among its line-up; two laps on his victorious stable-mate Jaguar and five laps on the Peugeots. Third place in the end was Brundle’s ill-fitting reward. And he did it driving solo; championship-contender Derek Warwick deciding with the problems to pair instead with Teo Fabi across the garage – though the FIA, citing regs disallowing such a switch, deprived Warwick of the points anyway.

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2013: Audi beats Audi

That Toyota didn’t challenge Audi in this one could have removed all drama. Fortunately Audi allowed its cars to race – and a fine race was the result, one redolent of Nigel Mansell vs Nelson Piquet at the same circuit in 1987. For a time it looked a foregone conclusion. Allan McNish – paired with Tom Kristensen and Loic Duval – trailed the sister Audi driven by Benoit Treluyer – who was with Andre Lotterer and Marcel Fassler – but was set to pass at the final pitstops as the Scot had less fuel to take aboard. However McNish actually emerged 30s behind as he’d spun after encountering a GTE Aston Martin and had to change flat-spotted tyres too.

It looked forlorn yet with a combination of fresh tyres and Treluyer having no hybrid power boost and a failed front driveshaft McNish was able to rip chunks from the deficit every time. He got on his team-mate’s tail with six minutes to go and passed almost immediately on the Wellington straight.

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2015: The three supremes

The 2015 World Endurance Championship season-opener showed sportscar racing at its best. The top three cars from three different marques – Audi, Porsche and Toyota – ended the six hours separated by just 10.2s. And they had a thrilling fight to get there. Porsche locked out the front row in qualifying; come the race Audi had the overall pace edge but needed a clear track to exploit it as the leading Porsche was superior on the straights – repeatedly Audi had passed Porsche at the Village complex only to be outdragged on the subsequent Wellington full throttle stretch.

The race pivoted Audi’s way at half distance shortly into Andre Lotterer’s stint – again Audi passed Porsche at Village but crucially this time Lotterer ran Romain Dumas in the Porsche out wide as he did so. This gave him vital breathing space to retain the place. By the end Audi still headed Porsche to win – by a scant 4.6s.

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Images courtesy of Motorsport Images

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