Where do you take two boys who love all things car-related? Silverstone, of course!
I have previously taken the boys to motoring Meccas such as the Beaulieu National Motor Museum, the British Motor Museum and BMW and Mini flagship showrooms in central London and Reading. (Yes, Reading.) But we had never before gone to a live motorsport event. Until last weekend, that is.
Silverstone has never been high on my list of places to go, a view coloured by the expense and chaos of the Formula 1 Grand Prix meeting. But when the opportunity to meet up with friends for the British GT Championship weekend arose, I was pleasantly surprised by our experience.
First of all, the cost. I didn’t get round to booking until a few days beforehand and was delighted to discover that tickets for Sunday were £16 apiece for adults, with under-16s going free. £32 for a family of five? Thanks very much.
Better still, there were no hidden charges. No exorbitant booking fees or handling charges. Car parking was free. And there were activities laid on for kids – face painting, go-karts and remote-controlled car racing – which I would normally have expected to pay for but were also free of charge.
In addition, supercar owners had been incentivised with free tickets if they displayed their cars in the paddock at the front of the circuit. The boys had never seen so many Aston Martins, Porsches, McLarens, Lamborghinis, Ferraris and other motoring exotica together in one place before. Toby nearly passed out with excitement.
There was plenty of racing throughout the day, everything from the three-hour GT race to 20-minute events for Minis. We dipped in and out of these as the kids were keen to explore elsewhere.
Watching motor racing live can be frustrating for children. You can only see part of the circuit, it can be difficult to keep track of what is going on and there is no guarantee of action. But equally TV coverage cannot adequately convey the sounds, smells and atmosphere of actually being there. There is no substitute for the live experience, so it’s well worth doing.
At a non-GP weekend such as this, the whole feel of the event is more relaxed. It’s less crowded. With unallocated seating, you’re able to roam around and explore different views. And you can even get into the pit-lane – something that at an F1 race is the domain of the rich, famous and well-connected – have a look at the cars and collect autographs.
We were doubly lucky. Via our friends, we were able to get into the pit garage of one of the top GT teams before and during the race, seeing the cars and watching a pit-stop at close quarters. We got to spend time with the team principal, who patiently explained to us (as I assume he has to do repeatedly for all visitors) how the cars and races operate. When he pulled out the steering wheel from one of the cars and talked us through the array of knobs and buttons, Toby – whose favourite pastime is designing steering wheels (I’m not joking) – emitted a gurgle of the deepest satisfaction. I think that, in his mind, he had died and gone to heaven.
Even Kara, who wouldn’t know the difference between Aston Martin and Aston Villa, found enough to keep her occupied.
So we ended the day with three exhausted but happy children who had added a new and positive entry to their catalogue of experiences. Overall, I was impressed. The whole event was geared to encourage families to attend – attractively priced with free activities and a relaxed and open atmosphere.
Now that we’ve chalked up one success, we’ll have to plan another one. I’m thinking Thruxton (my old stomping ground) next spring.
10 tips for a day out at Silverstone
Note that some of the below apply only to smaller events. Grand Prix weekends are more restricted in terms of how much access and freedom you have.
1. Silverstone is big, flat and open to the elements. When the wind picks up it can get chilly fast. Dress accordingly.
2. Similarly, if you’re in the public car park, bear in mind it’s a 15-minute walk to the nearest stands. Wear comfortable shoes.
3. You can order tickets in advance but, if you buy closer to the event, tickets will be held for collection in the shop just inside the main gate. We found it was a bit manual and haphazard, so be patient.
4. Motor racing is a noisy sport. You may want to consider buying ear defenders for the kids. (The on-site shops sell these.)
5. There are food stalls and cafes dotted around the circuit offering the usual fare but these get very busy at peak times and, unsurprisingly, they’re expensive. There are no restrictions on bringing your own food (other than a ban on glass bottles and barbecues).
6. Silverstone has its own campsite, so if you want to make a weekend of it this is a cheap, convenient alternative to booking accommodation outside.
7. There are several grandstands and it’s easy enough to move around to experiment with different vantage points, although bear in mind that it’s quite a distance to the far side of the circuit. There are tunnels that allow you to cross over to the infield – the nearest one to the pits is at the far end of the pit straight.
8. There are places other than the grandstands where you can get a good view. For instance, there is a large grass bank at Copse with views of both the first corner and the pit-lane exit. There’s also a smaller bank by the Wellington straight overlooking the exit from Aintree and a more distant view of a number of other corners. It’s an excellent spot to watch from at the end of the day, as it’s on the way back to the public car parks.
9. If you want to follow all the action, take a radio and tune in to Radio Silverstone, which you can find on 87.7 FM or stream online via a smartphone app.
10. Smaller events generally offer more access than the Formula 1 Grand Prix weekend. For instance, for the GT event the pit-lane was opened to the public at lunchtime, allowing visitors to see the cars up close and secure autographs from the drivers. Great for the kids.
For more information about events at Silverstone, visit www.silverstone.co.uk.
I was not paid, compensated or incentivised in any way to write this review.