A brief history of British motor sport: Part 1 – 1896-1916

Given the somewhat chronic condition in which British motor racing currently finds itself, the S&G has charted the history of the sport through the landmarks that have been reached at home and abroad for the past 120 years.

It appears as though Silverstone is to be reinstated on the FIA World Endurance Championship calendar with an August date for 2018, which is good news. Hopefully the Royal Automobile Club will maintain the Tourist Trophy’s presence at the event – and perhaps even make some good use of its unique stature in the sport!

This series is not intended to be definitive in describing every race or innovation, nor list every adventure and misadventure – merely to provide some landmarks for those who may seek to go back and realise why it is we do what we do. Ours is a sport whose story is ripe with brightness, bravery and joie-de-vivre that has inspired countless millions around the world.

A fact that is all-too-often overlooked today, when the financial comings-and-goings of Formula 1 are all-too-often considered to be the sum total of the sport.

Race on, dear readers. Race on…

1896

  • The Royal Automobile Club hosts the Emancipation Run from London to Brighton, celebrating the British motorist’s freedom to travel faster than walking pace.

1902

  • Dunlop begins producing specific tyres for racing based upon the experience and observation of international racing events.
  • Scottish Automobile Club organises the Glasgow-London non-stop trial
  • Selwyn Edge wins the Gordon Bennett Cup, held on the public highways between Paris and Innsbruck, on a Napier. This becomes the first British success in competition.

1903

  • As the champion nation, Great Britain hosts the Gordon Bennett Cup on a circuit of closed roads in County Kildare, Ireland.
  • City-to-city races are abandoned in continental Europe after a spate of fatal accidents during the Paris-Madrid race.

1904

  • The Isle of Man hosts Britain’s Qualifying Race for the Gordon Bennett Cup on a closed road circuit.
  • Aston Hillclimb opens on the B4009 passing through the Rothschild estate between Tring and Wendover. Eventually, this road inspires the naming of the Aston Martin motor company.
  • The Motor Cycling Club organises the London-Edinburgh Trial
  • The inaugural Blackpool Speed Trials is held on the Promenade

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1905

  • The Isle of Man hosts the inaugural Royal Automobile Club RAC Tourist Trophy, won by John Napier on an Arrol-Johnson.
  • Shelsley Walsh holds its first hillclimb event.
  • Napier employee Miss Dorothy Levitt sets a record for ‘the longest drive made by a lady’ when she drives an 8hp DeDion from London to Liverpool and back, accompanied by an official observer, her pet Pomeranian dog DoDo and a revolver. She covers 411 miles at an average 20 mph.
  • The Motor Cycling Club organises the London-Land’s End Trial
  • The inaugural Brighton National Speed Trials take place on a specially-constructed stretch of road which later becomes known as Madeira Drive. Miss Dorothy Levitt wins the award for fastest lady at the event, her 80 hp Napier setting a speed of 79.75 miles per hour

1906

  • The inaugural Grand Prix de l’ACF is held at Le Mans, replacing the city-to-city events with a closed road course. No British manufacturers enter after The Motor magazine declares that the event is being organised to glorify French motor manufacturers at the expense of international rivals.
  • Charles Rolls wins the RAC Tourist Trophy on a Rolls-Royce.
  • Shell begins advertising its Motor Spirit using success in motor sport as its unique selling point – starting with fuelling two successive wins in the RAC Tourist Trophy
  • The Motor Cycling Club organises the London-Exeter Trial
  • Construction begins on the Brooklands motor circuit near Weybridge.

1907

  • The Brooklands Automobile Racing Club is formed and Brooklands hosts its first event: a successful attempt on the 24-hour speed record by Selwyn Edge.
  • Shell opens the first purpose-built fuel and oil station for motor racing purposes at Brooklands.
  • On Saturday, July 6, Brooklands holds its first open race meeting. The only racing model available for creating a format for the event is that of the Jockey Club, with drivers being identified by their coloured smocks. Selwyn Edge wins the first major race for Napier, the Marcel Renault Memorial Plate, and claims a prize of 400 sovereigns in front of a crowd of 13,500 people. A total of 500 motor cars is estimated to have driven to the race.
  • Ernest Courtis wins the RAC Tourist Trophy on a Rover.
  • V. Herman becomes the first British driver killed in a motor race, when he fails to negotiate the Members’ Banking at Brooklands
  • Mr. V. Herman becomes the first driver killed in a motor race, when he fails to negotiate the Members’ Banking at Brooklands
  • Harry ‘Rem’ Fowler wins the senior twin-cylinder class of the inaugural Isle of Man TT on a Norton with a Peugeot engine. Charlie Collier wins the single cylinder class for Matchless.
  • At the end of the first Brooklands racing season, the motor manufacturers are graded according to prize money won – with the result being Mercedes in first place then Fiat, Daimler, Napier, Sizaire and Darracq.

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1908

  • Willy Watson wins the RAC Tourist Trophy on a Hutton-Napier.
  • Harry Reed wins the Isle of Man TT twin cylinder race on a Dot Cycle, Jack Marshall wins the single cylinder class for Triumph
  • F. Newton sets a new record of 120 mph at Brooklands on his Napier-Samson

1909

  • Brooklands hosts the successful 1km Land Speed Record attempt by Victor Hémery, raising the record to 125.9 mph in a Benz
  • In an all-comers entry for the Isle of Man TT, victory is taken by Harry A. Collier on a 6hp Matchless
  • French aviator Louis Paulhan becomes the first airman to base himself at Brooklands, having been given a roller to flatten out part of the infield to make a runway

1910

  • Louis Coatelen reveals the Sunbeam Nautilus: a Land Speed Record car that paves the way for a succession of Sunbeam racing cars.
  • Cyril Snipe wins the Modena Sprint on an Italian SPA motor car.
  • The Isle of Man TT is won by Charlie Collier, brother of the previous year’s winner Harry, heading home a family 1-2 on Matchless 5hp motorcycles.
  • Victor Surridge takes the one hour motorcycle speed record at Brooklands.
  • Brooklands ends its regular season by hosting the first Inter-Varsity meeting for motorcycles and cars entered by Oxford and Cambridge students
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Harry Collier and his Matchless

1911

  • The Isle of Man TT is split into Junior and Senior categories on the new Mountain Course, with the former being won by Percy Evans on a Humber and the main event falling to Oliver Godfrey, making American make Indian the first overseas winner of the race, claiming the top three positions. Victor Surridge is the first rider to be killed at the event.
  • While taking the Grand Prix-winning Peugeot L76 on a tour of British dealerships, Dario Resta stops off for dinner with Sunbeam chief engineer Louis Coatalen and the car is stripped by Sunbeam designers and engineers, who study, sketch and reassemble it by the time that Resta continues on his way. A dark green Sunbeam grand prix car duly appears soon afterwards, bearing more than a passing resemblance to the French car.
  • Brooklands hosts its first air race to Hendon and back. Thereafter air racing and motor racing often share the bill in the course of the regular racing season.

1912

  • Sunbeam finishes 1st, 2nd and 3rd at the Coupe de l’Auto.
  • British driver Cyril Snipe wins the Targa Florio in Sicily at the wheel of the Italian SCAT motor car.
  • The Cyclecar Club is formed at Brooklands to organise races for small cars and motorcycles.
  • Frank Applebee wins the Isle of Man TT senior race on a Scott motorcycle, W.H. Bashall winning the junior race for Douglas
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Sunbeam’s team lines up for the Coupe l’Auto

1913

  • Craigantlet hillclimb holds its first event.
  • Percy E. Lambert becomes the first man to drive 100 miles in one hour, setting the record at Brooklands on a 4.5-litre side-valve Talbot.
  • Scott wins its second Isle of Man TT senior race in the hands of H.O. ‘Tim’ Wood. Hugh Mason on a NUT wins the junior race. Frank Bateman becomes the second rider killed competing in the TT.
  • Percy Lambert is killed in the last race meeting of the season at Brooklands.

1914

  • Brooklands hosts the successful 1-mile Land Speed Record attempt by Lydston Hornsted, raising the record to 124.09 mph in a Benz.
  • Second inter-Varsity race meeting held for students of Oxford and Cambridge
  • Kenelm Lee Guinness wins the RAC Tourist Trophy in a Sunbeam Grand Prix car.
  • Cyril Pullin wins the Isle of Man TT senior race on a Rudge Multi and Eric Williams wins the junior race on an AJS. Fred Walker is killed whilst taking avoiding action after spectators crowd onto the track to greet the winner.
  • Brooklands is closed to the public upon the declaration of war, becoming a major production centre for Vickers aircraft and a research and development centre for independent aircraft factories working in tandem with the Royal Aircraft Factory at Farnborough.

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1916

  • Away from the battlefields of World War 1, British driver Dario Resta wins the sixth running of the Indianapolis 500 in a 1914 Peugeot L45 grand prix car.
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As war raged in 1916, Dario Resta won the Indianapolis 500

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

Surtees and the dream machine

John Surtees sets off towards glory on the 1957 TT

John Surtees sets off towards glory on the 1957 TT

The 500cc M.V. Agusta stands as one of the most exotic motor cycles in the world when viewed in 2013. When viewed in its competitive heyday of the mid-1950s, it was quite simply one of the most thrilling machines in the world.

Count Vincenzo Agusta and his brother Domenico formed Meccanica Verghera Agusta in 1945 as a means to save the jobs of employees of the Agusta aviation works. Their plan was to produce cheap, efficient transportation that could withstand the demands of rural life and yet cut a dash on the streets of Rome.

Despite its utilitarian ideals, M.V. Agusta was soon operating just like its great contemporary Enzo Ferrari’s burgeoning sports car business: selling domesticated racing machines as a means to fund its on-track successes.

The design team of Arturo Magni and Piero Remor developed a range of bikes bristling with performance features and success arrived in 1948 when Franco Bertoni won the Italian Grand Prix. In 1956 the senior 500cc class was dominated by M.V. with its signature machine, this 4-cylinder inline thoroughbred ridden by the brilliant young Englishman, John Surtees.

With its quartet of exhausts broadcasting an ear-splitting howl and its standard-setting technology dressed in immaculate red and silver racing colours, the M.V. Agusta 500 GP bike embodied the thrill of motorcycle racing like no other machine.

With it Surtees notched up 22 world championship race wins in 1956-1960 and was crowned world champion in 1956, 1958, 1959 and 1960. The records that he set with the 500cc M.V. Agusta include 32 wins out of 39 races entered in the 1958-60 seasons and a total of four Isle of Man TT victories, becoming the first man to win the Senior race three times in succession.

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.