Racing on the Isle of Man
—the R.A.C. disapprove
LAST month I wrote about the possibility of holding the R.A.C. Tourist Trophy race on the Mountain Circuit in the Isle of Man, a circuit that is used twice a year for motorcycle racing, three weeks in June and two weeks in September. It is a circuit whose value is not only proven, but one that is fully geared to racing, as regards marshalling, control, medical facilities, communications, spectator amenities and so on. The circuit comprises public roads and its use for racing has the fullest co-operation from the Manx Government and the Manx people. It can and does provide road racing in its highest possible form, a test for rider and machine that is unequalled anywhere in the world. It was not without reason that the German motorcycle industry set out to conquer it in the late 1930s with B.M.W., and the Italian and Japanese industries made it their main objectives in recent years. Any other form of road racing pales into insignificance alongside the I.O.M. circuit, as any motorcycle road racer will tell you. Fortunately for this country the Auto Cycle Union have stuck to the real principles behind racing and kept their Tourist Trophy races on the Island circuit, and have not been persuaded (or bought!) by short-circuit "circus" owners to transfer the T.T. to an artificial stadium.
In 1956 the Isle of Man Tourist Board approached the R.A.C. and offered the use of the Mountain Circuit for the T.T. Motorcar Race. The year before, the R.A.C. had made a complete nonsense of organising their race on the Dundrod circuit in Northern Ireland, resulting in very unfortunate casualties, so that they returned from Northern Ireland fearful lest "someone in power" should bring down their wrath on their bungling; or more likely the fear that someone who was aiming for Birthday Honours might have blotted his copy book. I said in 1955, and repeat now, that the R.A.C. were very misguided in their selection of competitors for that last T.T. at Dundrod, allowing unknown drivers with fast cars, drivers whose only experience was airfield racing, cars that were not fast enough and a speed differential between the fastest and slowest competitor that was almost criminal. On the wide open spaces of an airfield none of this would have mattered, there would have been room for the fastest and the slowest, the good and the bad, but on such an exacting circuit as Dundrod it was foolish in the extreme and we were the unhappy witnesses to the consequences. The offer of the Mountain Circuit was made as an attempt to keep the R.A.C. Tourist Trophy race alive, for after Dundrod it looked as though it would expire (which it inevitably did). Mr. Dean Delamont and the late Earl Howe, visited the I.O.M. but they were so strict in their requirements for a circuit that the Mountain Circuit was out of the question. The Dundrod horse having bolted the R.A.C. were out to lock the stable door, and any ideas for another T.T. would have to appear bungle-proof, so they set up impossible standards of road width, pit area, spectator protection and so on. The Le Mans disaster was still strong in the air at the time and unlike the French who merely made a great song and dance, with many explosions and apparent improvements so that Le Mans could continue almost unchanged, the R.A.C. became very shaky at the knees and instead of thinking of ways to prevent accidents happening they went out of their way to think up ways of absorbing an accident so that it would not be too obvious.
I well remember driving round Silverstone with Jean Behra, looking at an enormous ditch dug on the outside of the short straight between Stowe Corner and Club Corner. It was big enough to absorb a wayward 250F Maserati completely, so that the spectators were nice and safe. Behra said "That is fine, but what about us, the drivers, when we go into that ditch?"
In 1961 the I.O.M. Tourist Board considered the idea of constructing a suitable circuit on the Island that would meet the safety requirements and provide a permanent road-racing circuit. The B.R.D.C. were approached but they were so tied up in airfield racing at Silverstone that nothing came of the idea. In 1965 Mr. Dean Delamont and two other members of the R.A.C. Competitions Committee went to the Isle of Man to inspect the Tholt-y-Will hillclimb course. While there this trio asked to be allowed to inspect the Mountain Circuit and with the full cooperation of the Tourist Board this was arranged, their findings being most enthusiastic. Early in 1966 a meeting of the R.A.C. officials, the Isle of Man officials, people from the British Trade and Industry and numerous other interested bodies was held and everyone seemed determined to go ahead with the idea of a motorcar race on the Mountain Circuit. A race that would reinstate the moribund Tourist Trophy to the position of honour it once held. It was envisaged that a race could be promoted in 1968, and such was the enthusiasm of all concerned that it prompted Mr. W. E. Quayle, the Chairman of the Isle of Man Tourist Board, to write the following words in the programme of the 3rd Tholty-Will Hill Climb.
"We hope that we shall retain your interest and support for motoring events in the Isle of Man. In 1968, we hope to promote, with the co-operation of the R.A.C. and the Trade, a touring car race on the T.T. course, thus bringing back to the Isle of Man, the birthplace of car racing, the event which was first held in the Island in 1904."
In August, 1966, Mr. Basil Tye, Deputy Director of the Motor Sport Division of the R.A.C., to give him his full title (though he is better known as Dean Delamont's "sidekick" and the man who John Willment knocked backwards over a flower bed at Brands Hatch), made a detailed visit to the Mountain Circuit with notebook and pencil. This was an official inspection of the course to ascertain the possibility of organising a Touring Car Race. Mr. Basil Tye's report ran to eleven pages of foolscap paper and on first reading appeared to be a sales promotion script for Armco Barrier, that corrugated galvanised steel railing that keeps spinning cars on the track at most of our circuits. Mr. Tye appeared to have arrived in the Island like a Civil Servant sent on a beastly mission, his only interest being to return with convincing proof for his superiors that the trip had not been wasted, and he "had eleven sheets of foolscap paper filled to prove it." He also seems to have gone with a water-tight set of rules drawn up to make Silverstone, Mallory Park or Brands Hatch "safe" circuits and which would keep the nose of the R.A.C. clean should there be an accident. On a "mickey-mouse" circuit these rules are reasonable enough, though the R.A.C. would do much better to put the same effort into teaching people how to drive, instead of accepting anyone with a Competition Licence and a Les Leston crash-hat as a racing driver. No one in his right mind would attempt to set up a 37½-mile circuit of public roads to the same standard of control as Brands Hatch or Silverstone, yet this is what Mr. Tye endeavoured to do, seemingly all on his own and without enlisting the advice and knowledge of people in the I.O.M. with years of experience of running the Mountain Circuit for motorcycle races.
Many of us laugh at Government official papers and Civil Service bureaucracy, but Mr. Tye's report, which he put before the Competitions Committee of the R.A.C. was a classic in unbelievable documents. He applied the rules for a 3-mile circuit quite literally to a 37½-mile circuit, even to the extreme of calling for one breakdown vehicle and one ambulance for every mile of the circuit. I doubt whether there are 38 breakdown vehicles and 38 ambulances in the Isle of Man, anyway! Without enquiring how the motorcycle T.T. races manage for marshals, and how many are required for the circuit, he came to the decision that 1,300 marshals would be required. This was on the principle applied at Brands Hatch or Silverstone, where each corner marshal is in full view of the one on the corner previous and the one on the corner following. Fair enough on a 3-mile circuit, but how unreal over the Snaefell mountain. Short circuit requirements call for a spectator marshal every 75 yards, but even Mr. Tye did not have the courage to divide 75 into 38 x 1,760 yards. The best part of the report was the demand for 200 pairs of asbestos gloves and 199 sets of grappling irons! There was no explanation to this discrepancy.
The whole report made it very obvious that Mr. Tye's visit to the Isle of Man was purely a question of carrying out duties and "going through the motions." Many people who were involved with the enthusiastic meeting early in 1966 have expressed the feeling that vested interests had been at work long before Mr. Tye went to the Island in August. These vested interests could only be connected with people who would not gain anything by a race being held in the Isle of Man. I do not think they would be the drivers or car owners, while the Trade and Industry were all in favour. I suggested last month that the only people who would be likely to oppose the idea would be the circuit owners on the mainland, as it would detract from their glamour. One of the first letters I received in opposition to the idea after last month's article was from someone closely interested in the financial prospects of one of our smallest artificial circuits!
The Competitions Committee of the R.A.C. considered the report made out by Mr. Basil Tye and they decided that there would he no racing in the Isle of Man on the T.T. Course because they were not prepared to accept a lower standard of safety and protection than that laid down in the rule book for a 3-mile circuit. All along it has been assumed that a race on the Mountain Circuit would be run on the same lines as a saloon car race at Silverstone, the R.A.C. do not seem to have taken into account the fact that conditions of cars and competitors would be entirely different. Perhaps they did not learn the right lesson at Dundrod in 1955 and were thinking of letting any old Tom, Dick or Harry in a souped-up Mini take part in the T.T. in the Isle of Man. I sincerely hope this is not true.
It has been suggested to the R.A.C. that long circuits in Europe, such as the Targa Florio, the Nurburgring, Mugello, or Clermont-Ferrand, seem to manage pretty well and run successful races, but the attitude in Belgrave Square, London, seems to be "holier than thou." It might be embarrassing to compare the accident and injury rate per mile raced at, say Brands Hatch, to that at Nurburgring.
By strict application of the rule-hook the R.A.C. have ended all hope of a race on the Mountain Circuit, even though it was they themselves who germinated the idea in 1965. Undaunted the Isle of Man Tourist Board are now thinking in terms pf another sort of race, and already local people in the town of Douglas are thinking in terms of a British "Monaco Grand Prix," up the promenade past the Casino, round the houses and past the shops. It will be interesting to see how the R.A.C. "spokesmen" Mr. Delamont and Mr. Tye deal with this idea. It would seem that the big advantage to having a motor race in the Isle of Man is that the people of the Island would benefit financially. There are many people in the control and organisation of racing on the mainland to whom this would be most distasteful.