Silverstone, March 19th
This year saw the running of the thirtieth International Trophy race at Silverstone, the first one in the present series being held in 1949, which Alberto Ascari won with the then new and exciting short-wheelbase Ferrari with supercharged V12 engine of 1 1/2-litres. However, the International Trophy as a major British race started long before that, in 1933 to be exact, when the junior Car Club organised a new race on a special circuit laid out on the Brooklands Track. This was long before aerodromes had Concrete runways and perimeter roads, and before anyone thought of using disused airfields as racing circuits. The imaginative JCC thought up a new idea for equalising the performances of the various ears that were racing at that time, for unlike today where each category or group has sufficient supporters to field a full grid of cars, in 1933 the entry was made up of a variety of cars from 750-c.c. MGs and Austins to 3-litre Alfa Romeos and Maseratis. The normal method of equalising was to impose a time handicap on the larger cars, setting them off after the small ones, but invariably this needed a skilled time-keeper and a slide-rule to find out who was winning. and was not calculated to enthrall the spectators. The JCC devised a layout on the wide-open spaces of the Brooklands Track whereby at the end of the lap, run in the reverse direction to normal Brooklands racing, all the cars were funnelled through an ess-bend laid out with markers, ranging in the manner in which the competitors at Silverstone today are funnelled into the Woodcote chicane, After this ess-bend, and before high speeds could again be reached the various categories had to negotiate further artificial bends according to the size of their engines. Group I cars were 750 c.c. and they had a virtual straight run from the chicane. Group 2 cars were 1,100 c.c, and they had to negotiate a sharp left-hand bend before rejoining the main circuit, and Group 3 cars were of unlimited eapacity and they had to take a slow left-hand hairpin and then a slow right-hand bend before rejoining the main-stream. Each group had a distinctive colour coding on the tail and observers at the artificial bends kept a strict eye on competitors, anyone seen in the wrong “lane” being severely penalised.
Practising was carried on for a whole week before the race and during this time the severity of the bends for Groups 2 and 3 were adjusted until there was virtual equality with the small cars which were buzzing merrily through flat-out. The success of the whole idea and the accuracy of time-keeping and adjustment can be lodged from comparing two of the faster cars in Group 1 and Group 3. Driving a supercharged 750.c.c. MG Midget was Ron Horton (whom the Editor has interviewed elsewhere in this issue and he was taking the easy Group 1 route, while in Group 3 and negotiating the left and right corners was Sir Malcolm Campbell driving his Thompson and Taylor rebuilt 4-litre V12 Sunbeam, the car that Neil Corner has been racing in VSCC events in recent years. The total time for five consecutive laps by the MG Midget was 8 min. 55 sec., while the Sunbeam did five laps in 8 mm. 52 sec. this slight gain by the Sunbeam meant that it could gain 60 seconds in the length of the race, which actually lasted nearly three hours, but there was no way the faster cars could run through non-stop, so it meant they had one minute in hand for refuelling and changing tyres. The winner of this first race was the Hon. Brian Lewis (now Lord Essendon) driving an ex-Scuderia Ferrari “Monza” Alfa Romeo, and his pit stop took 57 seconds, so we can appreciate the subtle calculations of the junior Car Club officials.
If the International Trophy were to be run on these lines today, with all competitors passing through the Woodcote chicane and then negotiating extra bends, we could have Formula Ford cars scuttling straight on, close to the pit wall, Formula Two cars taking a single sharp right-hand bend, before setting off towards Copse Corner, and Formula One cars taking a double hairpin, like the old Station Hairpin at Monte Carlo, which is slow and in single file, before they used their 485 b.h.p. to accelerate away towards Copse. If things were adjusted correctly the three types of car should appear under the road-bridge before Woodcote more or less abreast each lap, with the Formula Ford car way up towards Maggotts before the Formula One car was really on the power again.
Of course, this could not happen, for racing drivers today seem notoriously unskilled and undisciplined, and they would either collide with each other or crash in the chicane or in the artificial bends, and with today’s speeds an accident would block the whole track and bring everything to a grinding halt. In addition the race would need to be of three hours duration and the Formula One “union rules” would preclude this, while the various drivers unions would soon be talking about Niki Lauda having to share the track with Phillip Bullman. With the top six front each group running together in an original International Trophy we could have a very interesting event, but we are told that the paying public (and they pay a lot of money to be public £30 for a man and his wife at Silverstone today) do not want a 3-hour race, they want lots of short races and entertainment, not motor racing.
To return to that first International Trophy in 1933, it had 28 starters who set off in a massed start, which was unusual in England in those days. and from that entry only eight finished, the 20 being eliminated by accidents, engine failures, gearbox breakages, rear axle failures, split fuel tanks, oil leaks and all the other regular reasons that still apply today. As mentioned, the Hon. Brian Lewis was the winner in an Alfa Romeo which did not belong to him. It was owned by Arthur Fox, a motor-racing “sponsor” of those days who hired the best drivers for the best machinery; nothing really changes very much! In second, third and fourth places came a trio of the new MG Magnettes, making their debut before the home crowds, having shortly before achieved distinction in the Mille Miglia in Italy. They were driven by Eddie Hall, Mrs. Wisdom and the Earl Howe, and just as Elsie Wisdom was a lone woman driver among all the men, today we had Divina Cialica in the International Trophy on her own against all the men. Alas, she could not approach the performance of Mrs. Wisdom, The 1933 winner’s time was 2 hr. 58 min. 12 Sec. and his average speed was 88.07 m.p.h with a car whose maximum speed was around 135 m.p.h. today’s International Trophy lasted 1 hr. 12. min. 49 sec. in torrential rain and Keijo Rosberg, the winner, averaged 96.64 m.p.h., with a maximum speed of 150 m.p.h. We make steady progress towards an unknown goal.
In 1934 the JCC repeated the race, this time having 37 starters, again subdivided into three groups, and again the race was over too laps, a distance of 250 miles. This time the big Cars dominated the race, not because there was anything wrong with the handicap-channels, but simply by reason of reliability. The faster competitors in the smaller classes all ran into mechanical trouble, and Whitney Straight was the winner driving his new single-seater 2.9-litre Maserati, the car which is now in the Doune Museum in Scotland. His time was 2 hr. 55 min. 8 sec. at an average speed of 89.62 m.p.h. A mere four seconds behind came the Hon. Brian Lewis in an earlier 2.9-litre Maserati and in third place was Tim Rose-Richards in a 2.3-litre Bugatti. The closeness of the finish was caused by Straight running into front tyre trouble in the last ten laps nothing changes much, does it and having to “soft-pedal” through the corners as he nursed the car to the finish. Just after the chequered flag the tread came off one front tyre. This time there were 17 finishers and the public, who had paid 3s/6d. (17 1/2p) to the track-side enclosures (it was £5 today), went home well satisfied with their three hours of racing.
The 1935 International Trophy race, to the same format, proved even more interesting for the entry contained three of the latest Type 59 Bugatti 3.3 litres and a “monoposto” 2.9 litre Alfa Romeo as well as all the regular Bugatti, Riley, MG, Austin variants. ERAs now appeared in the list and the interesting new single-seater R-type MG Midgets, with box-section back-bone chassis and all-independent suspension. With the newer and faster cars entered a fourth Group was formed with an even tighter pair of bends to negotiate. The reailty was a bit of a fairy-tale, for a young sportsman of Spanish descent named Luis Fontes, who divided his attention between flying and fast cars, hired the Monza Alfa Romeo that Lewis had won with in 1933, and proceeded to win the race at 86.96 m.p,It. after 3 hrs. 0 min. 31 secs., the more modern and faster cars all running into trouble. His entry was a last-minute affair and he was given number 13. In this race there were two lady drivers, Mrs. Wisdom sharing a Riley with her husband Toni, and finishing 4th and Doreen Evans in one of the new R-type MGs who finished 7th.
There was little doubt about the popularity of the JCC International Trophy, for in 1930 the club received an entry of 42 for the 100 lap race, and yet another capacity sub-division was incorporated, making five separate groups. Fortunately the area chosen for the artificial bends was large enough to permit the five required “lanes” for the handicapping. There were factory-entered cars from Austin, ERA, Riley, four women drivers, ex-works Alfa Romeo and Maserati cars, private MGs, Rileys, ERAs, small Maseratis and specially modified cars like the three R-type MGs with 2-o.h.c. cylinder heads. It was another memorable race with a last lap dice between Prince Birabongse of Siam (“B.Bira”) in his ERA “Romulus” (now raced in historic events by Bill Morris) and Raymond Mays in a works ERA. Mays actually took the lead half-way round the last lap and then with the chequered flag in sight his engine faltered as a sparking plug failed, and as the car slowed the healthy “Romulus” roared by to win by an official one second, after 2 hrs. 52 min. 29 secs. at 91.00 m.p.h., (and we thought the recent 1 hr.. 42 min. South African GP was exciting!). This time the women drivers had a bad time; Doreen Evans had her R-type MG catch fire and bravely jumped from the blazing car before it ran into the barriers, Mrs. Wisdom had to retire her “works:” Riley, Mrs. Gwenda Stewart retired the strange FWD Derby-Maserati with steering problems, and Mrs. Kay Petre could only manage 94 laps in an ERA when the race finished, so was not considered a finisher.
With a series of four interesting and exciting races the JCC could feel justifiably pleased with their tdea, but for 1937 the scene changed a little. By this time a road-type circuit, known as the Campbell circuit, had been incorporated in the Brooklands layout, so part of this was utilised and this eliminated the ess-bend before the “handicap-lanes”. It made the lap length longer, so only 60 laps were required to be covered, the distance being down to just over 200 miles. Whether we were entering a new phase of shorter races and less strain for the drivers and car, or whether the public wanted shorter races is a matter for speculation, but “change” had come to the International Trophy and “change” is not always the best. There was still a good entry, with works Austins, works ERAs, the latest Maseratis and regular runners in the form of ex-works Alfa Romeos and Maseratis, Raymond Mays in a 2-litre works ERA had a great battle with “B.Bira” in the ex-Whitney Straight Maserati 8CM, until the Italian car retired in a cloud of steam, whereupon Mays was able to coast home an easy winner at 82.30 m.p.h. after 2 hrs. 27 mins. 23 secs., second was Johnny Wakefield in a 6CM Maserati, and third were Billy Cotton (Senior) and “Wilky” Wilkinson in the K3 MG Magnette K3004. A JCC innovation this year had been an “Indianapolis-type” rolling-start with John Cobb driving the pace-car.; this was our old friend the 4-litre V12 Sunbeam “Tiger”, raced in the first International Trophy by Sir Malcolm Campbell.
In 1938 the International Trophy followed the same format, including the rolling start, this time behind a 4 1/2-litre drophead Bentley, but disaster struck on the opening lap when Frenchman Joseph Paul’s Delage caught ‘fire, and while trying to steer his way off the track he collided with another car and ploughed through a fence into an area thronged with pit and paddock pass holders. One woman was killed, many people injured and later the brilliant designer Murray-Jamieson died from his injuries. Our own W.B. was not far away and narrowly missed being involved. The race continued, and proved to be another exciting one with cars From different groups battling to the very end “B.Bira” had looked like winning comfortably until the back axle broke on his 8CM Maseriti and the final outcome was between Raymond Mays on the works ERA R4D, with 1,750 c.c. supercharged engine in Group 2 and Per Maclure in his well-known special Riley, with an unsupereharged 1,750 c.c. engine, running in Group 1. The works ERA was down on speed at the end, due to misfiring, and that plus the tighter “handicap lane” meant that Maclure was just able to stay ahead. This time Mays was beaten by 1.2 Seconds, or 0.02 m.p.h. average speed, the winning Riley averaging 84.36 mph. Third and fourth were supercharged 1,100 c.c. cars, running in the same group as Maclure.
The last race in the pre-war series was held on May 6th, 1939 and this time a V12 Lagonda was used as pace-car for the rolling start. All the regular runners were entered, though the new and exciting E-type ERA was a non-starter, after trouble in practice. Reggie Tongue had the very latest in 16-valve 4 cylinder Maseratis and “B.Bira” was still using the ex-Straight 8CM Maserati, now in its sixth year of racing. The race was badly affected by torrential rain, which caused, drivers to skid off the track and slowed the pace drastically. “B.Bira” ran out the winner, taking 2 hrs. 37 min. 1 sec. for the 60 laps, at an average speed of 77.25 m.p.h. With many of the favourite in trouble, Leslie Brooke was able to bring his home-built special into second place, and Tongue in the new Maserati was third after losing a lot of time during his refuelling stop.
After the war the Junior Car Club amalgamated with the Brooklands Automobile Racing Club, to form the British Automobile Racing Club and it was the British Racing Drivers Club (BRDC) who took up the International Trophy title, with a race on the new airfield circuit of silverstone. The Brooklands track was now defunct and the new BARC were concentrating their efforts on turning the airfield on the Duke of Richmond and Gordon’s estate at Goodwood, into motor-racing circuit. The BRDC enlisted the support of the Daily Express for their first, International Trophy in 1949, and it has been one of the principal events in the British’ calendar ever since. Still with support from the Daily Express this year’s race, over 40 laps of the newly surfaced Silverstone full-circuit, was run in impossible conditions of rain and flooded corners, and from the 14 starters only five survived. World Champion Lauda in a Brabham BT45 did not get as far as the start, a stuck throttle putting him out. Andretti, Hunt, Regazzoni, Depailler and others all fell victim to the treacherous conditions during the race, and Peterson crumpled his Lotus 78 during the warm-up. The fair sex are still involved in the International Trophy, with a lot less success, for Divina Galica failed to qualify, but then scraped in at the last moment when Frenchman Arnoux withdrew. She ended her race among the catch-fences. Through the holocaust the Finn Keijo Rosberg did an incredible drive to keep the Theodore car more or less on the track and pointing in the right direction, to win from Emerson Fittipaldi in his family car, and Tony Trimmer in his newly acquired Mclaren M23/24. The conditions were reminiscent of the International Trophy of 1951 when a cloudburst flooded Silverstone and stopped the race after only 6 laps, when Reg Parnell was leading in the Thinwall Ferrari.
There are some things in motor racing that never change, and unpredictable weather is one of them. – D.S.J