Early Circuit Races

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Sir,
Further to Mr. Maycock’s interesting observations on “the first circuit race ever”, may I try to shed some more light on the subject? The Narrangansett Park track race outside Providence, Rhode Island, was held on September 7th, 1896, as a virtual sideshow attraction at the Rhode Island State Fair. A.H. Whiting drove the Riker electric to which Mr. Maycock refers, and reputedly he covered five laps of the dirt course—which was only one-mile in circumference—in a time of 15 min. 1.75 sec., to average around 24 m.p.h. The Circuit des Ardennes of 1902 which Jarrott won for Panhard was held on July 31st around a circuit outside Bastogne, comprising six laps, to total some 318-miles, but other European circuit races had pre-dated it.

Discounting the earliest “there and back” races which might be considered as forming a “circuit of sorts”—down one side of the road and back up the other—the earliest closed road circuit race in Europe was the 1898 Course du Perigueux, run over one lap of a closed 90-mile loop on May 1st. The circuit ran from Perigueux itself through Musidan, Bergerac, Le Bugue and back to Perigueux, and the race was marred by the sport’s first immediately fatal accident, suffered when the Marquis de Montaignac’a Landry et Beyroux collided with M. de Montariol’s Benz Parisienne within a mile of the start. Of the four crew members involved, two died, including the unfortunate Marquis. The race was won by G. Leys, whose Panhard averaged 23.1 m.p.h. for the 90 miles.

On February 18th, 1900, La France Automobile organised the Course du Catalogue, run over two laps of a 45-mile triangular course starting at Melon, then passing through Chatillon, Nangis, Valence-en-Brie and Le Chatelet on its return to Melun. Leonce Girardot made FTD on the inevitable Panhard. Four days later the rather more important Circuit du Sud-Ouest race was held on a 209-mile loop starting and finishing in Pau, but as a one-lapper I guess that has less novelty interest than the Perigueux event, two years previously.

On Mr. Orpin’s letter about Brabham’s Indianapolis venture with a 2.7 Cooper-Climax in 1961 he was absolutely right, but the Australian actually finished ninth, averaging 134.116 m.p.h. and covering the full 200 lap distance. But as early as 1913 Albert Guyot placed a Sunbeam fourth in the “500”, when of course a European car set what was to become a fashion of winning America’s major race.

Surely the earliest British attempt on the “500” after the Second World War was R.M.W. Arbuthnot’s journey there with a “semi-stock Lagonda sports car” in 1946. The car was damaged en route to the speedway, and could not he repaired for Qualification Day. If my memory serves me right, didn’t Leslie Brooke also attempt to qualify the dreaded E-Type ERA for the 1947 Indy race?

Farnham, Doug Nye