Sir Jackie Stewart Recreates Golden Age at the Classic
Fifty years ago in July 1969 the legendary Jackie Stewart celebrated his maiden British Grand Prix win at superfast Silverstone. Roared home by his home fans, the victory was not only a career milestone but one which powered the Flying Scot on towards the first of his three world championship titles.
This summer, Stewart will be back at the Silverstone Classic (26-28 July) to mark the golden anniversary of that very special win. He will also be raising awareness and funds for dementia research, a charity cause that is very close to his own heart.
Almost exactly 50 years on from that first British Grand Prix triumph, Stewart returns behind the wheel of his victorious Matra-Ford to mark the occasion with some high speed demonstration laps on both Saturday and Sunday afternoons at the 2019 Classic.
“I am looking forward very much to getting back to Silverstone in the Matra, even if not at quite the same speeds as 50 years ago!” enthused the triple champion.
Emphasising the tartan helmeted hero’s dominance at the time, the Silverstone success was his fifth in six races but, although he had lapped the entire field by the finish, this victory was memorably hard-earned.
All those lucky enough to have witnessed the 1969 British Grand Prix will recall the incredible duel between Stewart and the hard-charging Jochen Rindt. The Austrian had qualified his Lotus 49 on pole position and was embroiled in a thrilling dice. The lead changed many times until, on one such occasion, Stewart spotted that a part of the Lotus’ rear wing was coming loose and, dangerously, starting to rub against a rear tyre.
Renowned as a campaigner for safety, Stewart warned his rival and Rindt was forced to pit for swift repairs, returning to the track to finish in a thoroughly undeserved fourth position.
“The 1969 British Grand Prix was one of the most exciting and enjoyable Formula One races that I ever had,” recalled Stewart. “Jochen was one of my best friends. The cooperation we had in not trying to block each other allowed us to definitively run away from the rest of the field. We knew, because in those days there was no aerodynamic sophistication, that we could draft each other and pass if we were not blocked. Almost every lap, we exchanged the lead on the Hanger Straight and going into the 155mph Woodcote corner, which in those days had no chicane. We pointed to each other which side to be passed on, to avoid reducing our lead from the rest of the pack. We exchanged the lead more than 30 times and it was a fantastic race for both of us.
“The Matra MS80 was a wonderful car to drive and the Lotus 49 was also exceptional, in addition to which we were such good friends that there were no nasty circumstances during the entire race, until the unfortunate point at which Jochen’s rear wing came loose. My father and my brother were there to see me win. It was a big day in my life as we had lapped the entire field.”
Today the tireless Stewart is crusading for a different cause. After his wife, Lady Helen Stewart, was diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia, he founded Race Against Dementia believing the application of Formula 1 technology and philosophies could produce earlier solutions to the condition. Almost one million people in the UK alone are living with dementia.
“I am extremely grateful to the organisers for supporting Race Against Dementia,” said Stewart. “Helen will be truly proud of what we’re doing to challenge her illness and the challenge dementia poses to us all.”
At this summer’s Silverstone Classic all funds raised by the festival’s Official Charity Partner, Alzheimer’s Research UK, will go directly to Race Against Dementia Fellowships. The Fellowships, which are administered by Alzheimer’s Research UK, will support early career scientists in their pursuit of innovative solutions to the big questions in dementia research.
“We are proud to be supporting such a worthwhile cause at the Classic this year and are very honoured to be celebrating the 50th anniversary of Sir Jackie’s landmark 1969 season in the best possible manner,” said Nick Wigley, Silverstone Classic CEO. “It will be very special to see Sir Jackieback behind the wheel of the iconic light-blue Matra and together once again roaring around Silverstone. It’s going to be a fantastically evocative sight, and one which we hope will provide some impetus to further fuel awareness of, and fundraising for, the pioneering Race Against Dementia Fellowships.”
Ian Wilson, Deputy Chief Executive Officer at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “We’re so excited that Sir Jackie Stewart will be returning to Silverstone this year to honour this iconic anniversary, while also raising much-needed funding and awareness for dementia research. Like so many people today, Sir Jackie knows only too well the heartbreak dementia causes and the desperate need there is to find a cure. Thanks to the incredible support of the Silverstone Classic, we will be able to fund research that will make breakthroughs possible.”
Adding to the Classic’s golden anniversary celebrations, the event’s pair of blue-riband retro races featuring glorious DFV-powered F1 cars dating back to the sport’s golden age between 1966 and 1985 are being renamed in the Scot’s honour as the Sir Jackie Stewart Trophy for FIA Masters Historic Formula One. The Scot will be back on the Silverstone podium, too, this time presenting the trophies.
Visitors wishing to witness Stewart’s evocative return to the scene of so many of his major successes and, indeed, to experience all the amazing attractions on offer at the world’s biggest classic motor racing festival have until midnight on Thursday 25 July to buy their tickets.
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Photo credit: Mike Hayward Collection.