Where now for the Tourist Trophy?

The announcement that Silverstone – and therefore the UK – will be missing from the FIA World Endurance Championship calendar from now on is not a surprise. There has been much hoo-ha on social media about it from British ‘fans’ – although it’s quite likely that more people have taken the trouble to post their outrage than ever bought a ticket.

Of rather more pith and moment is the fact that at present the Royal Automobile Club’s Tourist Trophy has no home – and there is no obvious candidate to replace it. But why, after so many decades, is top flight sports car racing abandoning the UK?

In 2011, the S&G worked on behalf of the Automobile Club de l’Ouest to promote the event. A phone call in mid-July basically said that there was a budget to promote the race, which was in mid-September, and as everyone in France takes August off would we mind awfully doing what we could to sell some tickets.

58f387b165450

The Tourist Trophy has been awarded to the winners of the Silverstone 6 Hours in recent years

It was the dream brief: a client who gives you a budget first and asks questions later. It was quite possibly the most fun that will ever be had in this working life.

Local radio stations from the Solent to the Black Country ran adverts that used Steve McQueen’s movie Le Mans as the theme, with a heartbeat getting faster and engines bursting into life while a sonorous voice spoke in wonder about the world’s most advanced sports-prototypes and the elegant GT cars, Audis, Peugeots, Aston Martins, Porsches, Corvettes and Ferraris.

Every station that took the ads got pairs – sometimes several pairs – of VIP hospitality tickets to use as competition prizes. So did any local newspapers that we advertised in, which from memory was about a dozen from Herefordshire to Suffolk and Watford to Uttoxeter.

On the PR front, we realised that it was the 35th anniversary of the first Silverstone 6 Hours race, and got the winner of that inaugural race, John Fitzpatrick, to describe his giant-killing act alongside Tom Walkinshaw in a home-brewed BMW against the might of the BMW and Porsche works teams. We also got Desiré Wilson to talk to the press about being the first and only lady racer to win the event.

298789_10150357768121002_4624720_n

The girls of the Silverstone 6 Hours with Dunsfold’s P-51D

There was a media day at Silverstone where home favourite Allan McNish took journalists round the track in a race-prepared Audi R8 GT car. Among the victims we sorted out for the day was BBC Radio 2 Drive Time sportscaster Matt Williams, who did a brilliant piece for roughly five million listeners which basically involved him asking questions in a panicked scream and Nishy laughing like a drain in reply.

Northampton railway station was completely wrapped to look like the grid at Le Mans (a little tribute to how our Bahraini friends promote their Grand Prix so well), and at every station between Euston and Birmingham there was advertising to be found on the platforms.

Finally, we found some of the finest-looking promo girls in Britain, dressed them in replicas of the iconic and much-lamented Hawaiian Tropic girls’ outfit and sallied forth to as many other motoring events as we could – armed with a barrel-load of flyers with unique 10% discount codes. At Dunsfold Wings & Wheels we took along one of Trackspeed’s Porsche GT3s and a Gulf Aston Martin DBR1/2, at Chelsea Autolegends we had the Aston and the Strakka Racing HRD that slotted in to the Le Mans-themed main display, and the ACO came and did a press conference.

303578_10150363112671002_4558659_n

On the lawns of the Royal Hospital at Chelsea alongside a few billions’ worth of classics

303018_10150363114361002_3855509_n

If in doubt, grab a Chelsea Pensioner.

Because enthusiasts of motor racing tend to like having models of the cars in some shape of form, we did a deal with the now sadly defunct Modelzone company to put posters in the windows of their 46 shops across the country and for each shop to have a prize draw for a pair of hospitality tickets. They also ran a competition on their website and to their email distribution list to win the opportunity to wave the flag that starts the race.

We had branding all over Autosport.com, a competition to do the grid walk on Pistonheads and yet more competition prizes of hospitality. As a final offer, we contacted the marque clubs of every brand with cars taking part in the event and offered them display parking on the infield with a sliding scale of up to 50% off the ticket price, the more cars (and therefore people) that came with them.

As a final treat to reward the hordes of people that we hoped would be coming, we got the distributor of SCX slot cars to set up a tent with a massive track in it and plenty of Audis and Peugeots to race. We got John Fitzpatrick and Desiré Wilson to come along and do autograph sessions. We got Porsche 956 chassis 001, the 1982 Group C class winner and founder of 12 years of success for Porsche, together with a BMW CSL representing the inaugural 6 Hours and a Porsche 935.

All of this was done in six weeks from a standing start. All of this was done on a total budget that would scarcely pay for a tatty second-hand Porsche. All of this reached an audience of millions and we sold… something like 8,000 tickets. It was raining at Silverstone and there is seldom a more desolate part of the world on a soggy September day than the old airfield, especially when one is wandering round looking at the fruits of one’s labours and seeing not one soul between Copse and Stowe other than the ever-hearty marshals.

With heavy hearts we reported in to the ACO folks, expecting to be informed that we’d never work in this town again. They were… coq-au-hoop! Refreshed from their month in Provence, they couldn’t believe that they’d sold around 15% more tickets than the previous year with a campaign that lasted six weeks instead of three months.

It’s Silverstone, they said, with suitably Gallic shrugs. Everything costs too much because they have to fund the Grand Prix. The Wing stood empty above the paddock because it was too big and infeasibly priced, so all the hospitality had to be done in the old units on the old start/finish straight and guests had to be bussed the mile in between lunch and the working area.

1374742.main_image

We even had a page in The Sun – although the cars were notably absent…

The only location that could be found for the marque clubs, slot car track and historic racing cars display was exactly half-way between the two paddocks, meaning that few people bothered to get off their buses and brave the rain to come and have a look. As it was, neither the tent for the historic cars or the security person to look after them had shown up, so we had to send the Porsche 956 back to its owner and keep the BMW and 935 outside while a short-notice tent was found to house them.

When the S&G returned to the event in 2014, it was the first round of the new season and there had been much excitement on social media about the return of Porsche and all the rest of the pre-season chatter. There had been a photo call with the cars in central London but very little in the press had resulted from it, there were no adverts to speak of and no campaign of the sort that we’d done but the weather was uncommonly pleasant on the Saturday.

af862bc298db4e189fb8e10c4764a314

Le Mans brings fans together from around the world – especially the UK

There was still barely a soul in the public areas around much of the circuit. If more tickets were sold the difference was marginal. Yet at Le Mans one can barely walk a step without falling over roaming families, all eagerly discussing the race in every accent and dialect of the British Isles. Chuck a rock into the crowd at Le Mans and you’re far more likely to be told to ‘eff off’ than you are to ‘va te faire foutre’.

So now the ACO has decided to abandon its crusade to give British fans a treat on home soil. It’s not possible (as so many of them have wished) to return to Brands Hatch because the circuit isn’t to modern endurance standards – and anyway the 1000km races there in their 1980s heyday were fairly processional because there’s no room for overtaking.

People remember those races so fondly because there were big crowds, in part due to the presence of Jaguar and Porsche’s great ace Derek Bell as national heroes… and also in part because everyone buying a ticket to the Grand Prix at Brands got a free ticket to the 1000km. Sometimes, nostalgia ain’t what it used to be.

tumblr_oqf6os6NvG1s0rjbno1_500

Brands Hatch had a packed house for Group C sports cars in the 1980s

So, a chapter closes and all that remains to be said is what the future holds for the Royal Automobile Club Tourist Trophy, the world’s longest-serving motor sport prize? It’s only warranted a small mention in the World Endurance Championship arena, but this grand old prize was awarded to the winner of the Silverstone 6 Hours.

In 112 years it’s been awarded at a sports car race 29 times, GT races 11 times, to races for Grand Prix cars three times and for touring cars 25 times. Perhaps Alan Gow and TOCA might like to use it for a non-championship touring car all-comers race as they did 20 years ago? Or maybe the thriving British GT series should take it on? Undoubtedly there will be a lobby for reinstating Britain’s round of Formula E and using it for this purpose… it’s the in thing to do these days, after all.

Perhaps the most pragmatic suggestion is to permanently base the TT at Goodwood, where the current tribute race for 1960s GT cars can be restored to full glory. After all, there are few events in Britain that attract a similar size of crowd, and the prestige of winning it is enormous amongst a group of drivers and owners who actually care about its heritage and history.

At present, the longest-standing prize in motor racing history, a trophy that unites C.S. Rolls, Tazio Nuvolari, Sir Stirling Moss and Alain Menu is rootless. Steps must be taken fast to ensure that this grand old prize remains fixed to the greatest motor sport occasion on the calendar, the most stylish, the most glamorous and the most relevant – because if we lose our sense of identity at this moment of crisis for motor sport in Britain then we might as well all pack up and go home.

Advertisements

Cheerio, Foub.

This blog would not exist were it not for the encouragement of Peter Foubister, who died suddenly and unexpectedly last week. ‘Foub’ was a constant in the world of motor sport as a journalist, publishing executive and latterly as the Motoring Secretary of the Royal Automobile Club. He was someone who knew virtually everyone and had a bad word for few.

Above all he was an enthusiast – and a contagious one at that.

Being one of the few who in our industry has never darkened the doors of Haymarket Publishing (in an official capacity at least), our paths did not truly converge until 2009. That was when the Foub was recruited by Martin Whitaker to assist with bringing the Bernie Ecclestone Collection of historic racing cars to the Bahrain Grand Prix.

ecclestone_collection-car2

The ex-Hunt, ex-Villeneuve McLaren M23 in Bahrain, 2009

Together we worked on turning this astonishing and seldom-seen collection into an informative attraction for fans and media, while also building notes on the cars that were provided by Doug Nye into a commemorative book with Interstate.

It was enormous fun and made all the more so by Foub’s very obvious delight at the role – not least when Bernie’s BRM V12 took to the circuit long after nightfall, with the Bahrain International Circuit’s safety car in front illuminating the way.

The following year saw Foub back in Bahrain – this time as anchorman for the official 60th anniversary celebrations of the FIA Formula 1 World Championship. An astonishing array of title-winning cars and drivers had been assembled, from the ‘father of the house’ Sir Jack Brabham through to the young pups still competing on the grid.

2010-196998-60th-anniversary-of-f1-world-championship-mario-andretti-usa-1978-f1-world-cha1

Mario Andretti leads Damon Hill around the Bahrain International Circuit in 2010

Only two living world champions failed to make their way to the ‘gem of the Gulf’: Nelson Piquet, who was persona non grata after blowing the whistle on ‘crashgate’, and Kimi Räikkönen, who couldn’t be bothered to come. All of the rest were coaxed and cajoled with alacrity by the Foub, who ensured that their every heart’s desire was met and every inducement found its mark.

This time all the writing fell upon yours truly to put together. The midnight oil was burnt in trying to piece together exactly which chassis were coming, in putting press material together with approved quotes from our retired champions and bullying people on the price of pictures – all of which was achieved in record time with the Foub’s assistance.

The memories of that weekend will last a lifetime. The Williams mechanics successfully wedging Keke Rosberg back into his car; the moment when John Surtees mashed the throttle on Bernie’s Ferrari 1512; helping Mario Andretti to locate a lost crash helmet when he was late for his flight; Nigel Mansell feeling a little aggrieved that his was the only Williams not present and correct – and Patrick Head’s response.

All that and so much more was possible because of Peter Foubister’s efforts in making it so. It was his attention to detail with what the drivers wanted or needed that helped ensure that Sir Jack Brabham rallied to make it to the grid on raceday. That was the moment when it all crystallised and, after that, all that was left was to write the book.

Thereafter, back in the UK, Foub and self became a bit of a double act at the Royal Automobile Club for a time. If something needed writing on behalf of the Club, the phone would ring and there would be the lilting request that a website be rehashed, the bon mots for the Segrave Trophy be jotted, the description for the latest car to be shown off in the Rotunda or some stories about the Future Car Challenge be put about the place.

vet1_2049642i

Nigel Mansell made the London to Brighton Run an experience to savour.

My favourite mission from Foub was to cover Nigel Mansell’s appearance on the London to Brighton Run, driving a Mercedes. Your scribe was dispatched in a brand new Peugeot 207 GTI to chase after the 1992 world champion and his jovial co-driver, transport minister Mike Penning, to capture the story of their Run for the Club magazine and website.

Despite giving away more than a century in technology and a hat full of horsepower, it was I who reached each checkpoint with the metaphorical tongue hanging out as Mansell set a blistering pace at the helm of his veteran machine.

In fact he reached Brighton nearly two hours ahead of time, so we decamped to the nearest hostelry for something restorative. Nigel, unbidden, took out a packet of playing cards and proceeded to entertain not only our table but all of the lightly stunned families and drinkers with an hour-long improvised magic show. The minister could do little else but go with the flow (and say something about abolishing the MOT).

It was while writing about the first Royal Automobile Club Tourist Trophy that the Scarf & Goggles came into being. I’d written a story for Foub about the first race in 1905 to support the return of the TT to the FIA World Sportscar Championship calendar. Eventually that story ended up on the cutting room floor but I felt it deserved resuscitation. Foub suggested that I should start a blog for such pieces. So I did… and for a while stories to be found on here often coincided with work undertaken on behalf of the Club.

Eventually Foub and his brilliant PA-cum-manager Jemma were joined by a permanent member of staff to help with the workload and Haymarket moved in to produce the ‘assets’ for RAC events. Our little production company became redundant, although there were still occasional and enjoyable calls. There will be no more, and that is a very sad prospect. Thanks for so much fun, Foub. My thoughts to all your nearest and dearest.

pictured-left-to-right-peter-foubister-peter-read

Peter Foubister (left): an enthusiast and a good man

Tazio’s first TT winner

The 1930 Alfa Romeo 6c 1750 GS with which Nuvolari tamed the Ards circuit

The Royal Automobile Club has decided to accord the opening round of this year’s FIA World Endurance Championship with the world’s oldest motor racing title. The Tourist Trophy dates back to 1905, and has seen some of the most celebrated cars and drivers in the sport’s history put their name on the roll of honour.

One of the most evocative names etched into the TT legend is that of Tazio Nuvolari, who made his debut on the event at the fearsome Ards circuit on 23 August 1930. This race told a story of of Italian passion and British pride which hinged around Fred Stiles, a British dealer for Alfa Romeo.

Throughout the run-up to the TT there was considerable friction between the Alfa Romeo factory at Portello and the British racing community. This was caused by the relentless hounding of the Italians by wealthy British drivers, including Malcolm Campbell, Edgar Fronteras, and Lord Howe, who believed that they should be given the chance to add a TT victory to Alfa’s many racing achievements.

By all accounts their persistence brought about considerable frostiness in Anglo-Italian relations, which in turn was damaging to Stiles’ business. He was ultimately forced to speak out in the international language of cold, hard cash – going to Alfa Corse and purchasing three of its 6C 1750 GS models with the latest race-prepared and strengthened chassis and fitted with the very latest 102 brake-horsepower Testa Fissa engines previously only available to the works team.

The trio of Alfas at the start of the 1930 Tourist Trophy - Nuvolari closest

The trio of Alfas at the start of the 1930 Tourist Trophy – Nuvolari closest

The cars arrived complete except for bodywork, because the Gran Sport was only made in two-seater form, and the TT regulations stipulated that four-seater bodies with full touring equipment were required. One of the cars received a body fashioned in duralumin alloy by Hoyal – a body which had previously contested the Brooklands Double Twelve – while the other two were fitted with less exotic coachwork by by James Young.

Having invested so heavily in his cars – and doubtless to the further annoyance of Campbell, Howe and company – Stiles also secured the services of Alfa’s ‘crack’ squad of works drivers Tazio Nuvolari, Achille Varzi, and Giuseppe Campari. The duralumin-bodied car was given to Nuvolari and it quickly proved to be one of the fastest on the entry list – only Birkin’s 4½-litre ‘blower’ Bentley and Howe’s supercharged seven-litre Mercedes-Benz were able to lap faster.

The race turned out to be very wet, and this helped to level the playing field for the Alfas against their high-powered British and German competitors. The big Mercedes was particularly afflicted by the wet weather, while the main challenge to the Alfa team disappeared when Birkin’s Bentley crashed at Ballystockart.

This left the three Stiles Alfas to romp away from the field, entertaining the crowds with a mesmerising show of skill from these three heroes of the Grand Prix world. The lead changed several times during the race between the trio but it was almost inevitable that Nuvolari, the ‘Flying Mantuan’ would prevail with an average speed of 70.88 mph, slightly faster than Campari’s average of 70.82 mph, followed by Varzi at 70.31 mph.

The Anglo-Italian squad celebrates its 1-2-3 finish, hoisting Nuvolari aloft

The Anglo-Italian squad celebrates its 1-2-3 finish, hoisting Nuvolari aloft

Following the race, the eight bearing Testa Fissa engine was retained by the factory and a standard detachable head five bearing engine replaced it with matching numbers to the chassis. In order to sell the car, a very attractive two-seater James Young drophead coupé body was fitted, which reused original front end parts of the original racing body. GK 3481 was exhibited at the October 1930 London Motor Show and the first private owner was H.H. Prince Aly Khan, followed a year later by racing driver Whitney Straight.

After World War 2 the car passed through owners in Devon, Notting Hill, Kent and Dorset – where it remained until 1996. It was then sent to Italy for restoration, where the drophead body was replaced with a replica of the Hoyal duralumin racing body with which Nuvolari had won the TT. The car was sold by RM Auctions at its 2012 London sale for £784,000 ($1.2m) – quite a bargain, really.

$1.2 million gets you the chance to see the world from Nuvolari’s seat

Segrave Trophy – the ongoing endeavour

Today sees the presentation of the Segrave Trophy at the Royal Automobile Club in Pall Mall: a living link to the deeds described in this blog and reminding us of just how many great endeavours are made to this day.

Charles Kingford-Smith was the inaugural Segrave Trophy recipient

Charles Kingford-Smith was the first Segrave Trophy recipient in 1930

It is an astonishing achievement to be able to say that an award inaugurated more than 80 years ago has never lost its relevance or appeal, while acting as an accurate barometer of where British talent and endeavour have been focused throughout the past nine decades.

When the award was founded, the Segrave Trophy represented a Britain in the zenith of her days as an Imperial power. The sun never set on British soil and this inspired a raft of aviators and aviatrixes to reach the furthest outposts of the Empire faster and with greater daring year after year. It was they who dominated proceedings, over and above the many speed records attained on land and water.

Each journey would confront the record breakers with thousands of miles of hostile ocean, jungle, desert and tundra against which they were armed only with light aircraft; usually experimental and frequently unreliable. The frequency with which they succeeded stands as a testament to the airmanship and engineering skills that went into every such attempt.

Segave brought recognition that the industry did not

Segave brought recognition that the motor industry did not

Motor racing, by contrast, did not feature strongly in these formative years because it was not something towards which the British motor industry paid great attention. While Britain had built the world’s first permanent venue for racing, at Brooklands, her Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders held a long-standing ban on manufacturers displaying ‘vulgar and irrelevant’ competition cars at the annual Motor Show.

When motor racing finally entered Britain’s wider sporting consciousness after World War 2, it was neither the glamour of Le Mans or the splendour of Grand Prix racing which won acclaim – but rather the grit of motorcycle racing on the Isle of Man TT.

Geoff Duke was the first racing winner in 1951

Geoff Duke was the first racing winner in 1951

The first recipient of the Segrave Trophy for racing exploits was Geoff Duke in 1951, in recognition of winning both the 350cc and 500cc motorcycle world titles with a total of nine race wins, including the Senior and Junior Isle of Man TTs. Not until 1957 would a racing driver claim the award – this being Stirling Moss, and this was both for winning three Grands Prix and setting five world speed records.

Even at this time, however, aviation still held sway… although the differences brought by the war were profound. Records were no longer set in small, lightweight aircraft but by gleaming metal jets. The British Empire no longer existed but another great boundary was targeted and conquered – the sound barrier.

The sound barrier brought a mighty new challenge

The sound barrier brought a mighty new challenge

It was with the presentation of the award to Concorde test pilot Brian Trubshaw in 1970 that a fundamental change affected the Segrave Trophy. Where previously it was the setting of records that had provided the majority of winners, it became more a recognition for achievement – a broader definition, bringing a more diverse collection of disciplines to prominence.

In the past 40 years the Segrave Trophy has become increasingly focused upon achievements in motor racing, and of these the overwhelming majority have been attained in Formula One. This is where so much focus in terms of engineering, management and driving talent has been placed – not to mention public interest – and continues to act as the ‘engine room’ for the largest sporting economy in the world.

For more information on the Segrave Trophy, visit the website here.

Britain’s first Grand Prix

At the highest level of the sport, Grand Prix racing remained largely a French affair from its inception in 1906, with only the American Grand Prize achieving anything like similar status internationally. In the aftermath of World War 1, however, Italy and Spain both inaugurated their own Grands Prix and in October 1923 the possibility of a future world championship for Grand Prix racing was discussed at the annual conference of the sport’s governing body, the Association Internationale des Automobiles Clubs Reconnus (AIACR), in Paris.

Alfa Corse won the inaugural world championship with its brilliant P2

Alfa Corse won the inaugural world championship with its brilliant P2

In January 1925 a world championship format was duly agreed between the sanctioning bodies of the sport in France, Belgium, Great Britain, Austria, Italy and the USA. It would be contested by manufacturers for cars of 2.0-litre engine capacity weighing no less than 650kg. These cars must be two-seaters but riding mechanics were banned, while the championship they entered would be staged over four rounds of a minimum 500 miles each, these being the Indianapolis 500, the European Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps, the Grand Prix itself at L’Autodrome de Linas-Montlhéry near Paris and the Gran Premio d’Italia at Monza.

The Royal Automobile Club in Britain had initially signed up to organise a 500-mile race on the Isle of Man, but the rigours of the 50-mile circuit were felt to be too great by the AIACR. A secondary plan to race at Brooklands circuit was thwarted by noise regulations and Britain was thus absent from the inaugural world championship season when Alfa Romeo powered to an emphatic victory in the inaugural points standings.

For the 1926 season Alfa had withdrawn from Grand Prix racing but the British had got themselves organised and the English Grand Prix at Brooklands was duly added to the calendar with a race date of August 2nd. The large kidney-shaped oval at Brooklands was nevertheless felt to be unsuitable for the overseas cars, designed to race on twisting public roads, and so two chicanes were made at vast expense on the home straight, made from a huge amount of bright red sand, which effectively cut off the right-handed fork bend outside the Vickers aircraft shed and most of the steeply-raked Members’ Banking.

Further development of Brooklands in readiness to host a Grand Prix included installing more sand banks to protect the crowd from errant machinery, the construction of covered race pits on the Home Straight and both a scoreboard and footbridge, the latter being sponsored by J. Smith & Co. the London-based import agents for Delage cars.

Henry Segrave tries out the newly-installed chicanes in practice

Henry Segrave tries out the newly-installed chicanes during practice

Although there was considerable interest surrounding the 110-lap race, the Brooklands motto of ‘the right crowd and no crowding’ was enforced by setting the ticket price at five shillings per person and a further ten shillings to bring a car through the gate. Entry to the paddock meanwhile was subject to an astonishing levy of £1 per person – fees which, in the context of the day, even Bernie Ecclestone would blush at demanding!

A total of 15 entries arrived for the big event, led by the trio of works Talbots for Albert Divo, Jean Moriceau and British hero Henry Segrave. Three more entries came from the works Delage team for the bright new French talent Robert Benoist and the old stagers Louis Wagner and Robert Senechal. Bugatti did not send any works entries but their British importer – and land speed record breaking hero – Malcolm Campbell privately entered a Type 35.

Segrave (seated in car) in a pre-race photo opportunity

Segrave (seated in car) enjoys a pre-race photo opp with ‘the right crowd’

Elsewhere six of the British entries did not arrive, leaving only the Major Frank Halford’s ‘special’ with a 6-cylinder engine of his own design mounted in an old Aston Martin, and Captain George Eyston in another Aston Martin, this time fitted with an Anzani side-valve motor. So it was that nine cars took starters’ orders from ‘Ebby’ Ebblewhite and as his celebrated red flag fell Divo’s Talbot got away cleanest to lead Cambell, Moriceau and Eyston into the first lap.

One unexpected effect of adding the chicanes to the circuit was however the toll taken on brakes and suspension as the cars, flat-out for most of the 2.6-mile lap as they screamed down Railway Straight and round the long, low loop of the Byfleet Banking, were slowed to almost walking pace. At the end of the first lap the front wheels of Moriceau’s Talbot collapsed under the strain but his team-mates Divo and Segrave powered on at the head of the field, with the Delages in pursuit.

And they're off: the 1926 RAC Grand Prix d'Angleterre

And they’re off: the 1926 RAC Grand Prix d’Angleterre

It soon became clear that if the Talbots suffered from worrisome frailty, the Delages presented their drivers with a rather more pressing problem: burnt feet. Heat from the engine was turning the firewall and pedals incandescent, forcing the drivers to stop and bathe their feet in ice water and wrap wet rags around their shoes.

Eventually Wagner’s car picked up a misfire and retired, but after he had cooled his roasted soles suitably the grand old man was called up to replace Senechal at the wheel of his car, as he could no longer sustain the agony. The youthful Benoist had also reached breaking point and it was fortunate that Delage had brought another ‘ace’ – Andre Dubonnet – along to entertain its corporate guests. Resplendent in a pristine lounge suit, Dubonnet abandoned his post in the hospitality tent and hopped gamely into the car to complete the race.

While all this drama unfolded for the Delages, the Talbots were also coming unstuck as their superchargers gave out and both Segrave and Divo were forced to retire – although a barnstorming performance by the British star did at least secure the fastest lap in consolation. Both of the homespun efforts of Halford and Eyston also failed, leaving Campbell’s Bugatti as the lone challenger to the Delages and their long-suffering drivers.

After four hours the result was victory to the Delage of Senechal/Wagner with Campbell Second and the second Delage of Benoist/Dubonnet the only other finisher. It had been a remarkable event in so many ways, and one which unknowingly set the tone for world championship Grands Prix in a distant future that none of those in August 1926 could possibly have foreseen. Britain, meanwhile, was at long last on the Grand Prix racing map.

Here’s a video of the event, please feel free to turn the volume right down, though!

1905 RAC Tourist Trophy Race Report

The Royal Automobile Club has announced that this April’s British round of the FIA World Endurance Championship at Silverstone on April 12-14 will be given the name RAC Tourist Trophy and the winners presented with the oldest active trophy in motor sport. It’s a title that has passed from sports to saloon and GT cars over the years, but remains one of the most evocative in the sport – so here’s a little taste of the TT’s first edition, back in 1905:

Action from the 1905 TT, now the world's oldest active event

Action from the 1905 TT: now the world’s oldest active event

The RAC was not yet Royal – still being the humble Automobile Club – when it laid out its plans for the inaugural Tourist Trophy race. The event would comprise four laps of the fearsome 52-mile Highroad Course: an open road loop around the Isle of Man, used the previous year in selecting the British entry for the Gordon-Bennett Cup.

The course was daunting: climbing from near sea level in Douglas to 1,384 feet at Brandywell, with many sections on what were then rough tracks and featuring more than 420 corners. In addition to this challenge, the Club also decided that there was to be a fuel allowance of one gallon for every 22½ miles driven.

The prospect of achieving victory against such odds drew a total of 54 entrants, of which 42 would eventually line up to take the start on 14 September 1905.

Predictably there was heavy attrition, with the first run at the loop accounting for four cars – most notably the Rolls-Royce of C.S. Royce, which was the first retirement with a broken gear. Five more cars retired with mechanical problems on the second loop. On the third loop the calculations made regarding fuel consumption came in to play and the first car to run out of petrol – a 14-16hp Argyll – rolled to a halt after just 143 miles and 3 furlongs of running.

Five cars failed on the fourth and final loop of the course, of which all but one ran out of petrol. Meanwhile a three-way battle for victory featured the 14hp Vinot et Deguingand of Norman Littlejohn, the 20hp Rolls-Royce of Percy Northey and the 18hp Arrol-Johnston of John Napier.

Ultimately it would be Napier who triumphed and, in so doing, set a new lap record of 1 hour 31 minutes 9.6 seconds which stands to this day – an average of 34.2mph. In total he drive for 6 hours 9 minutes and 14 seconds, averaging 33.9mph and consuming his fuel at an optimum 25.4 MPG.

Two minutes and nine seconds behind Napier came Northey’s Rolls-Royce while Littlejohn was forced to slow in order to reach the finish, coming in three minutes behind Northey with just 2.6 pints of fuel left in the Vinot’s tank. It would be another 20 minutes before the next finisher – Cyril Roberts in another Arrol-Johnston – came by the line, with only 18 cars being classified as finishers.