Photo-Finish

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This year’s Derby (cynical readers who, like the writer, are unacquainted with the niceties of horse-racing, will ask, what is this Derby ?) produced a “photo-finish”. Has motor racing produced such close a result ? The answer is yes, and more than once. Ignoring very close finishes, such as Raymond Mays losing the 1936 JCC International Trophy Race to Bira, both driving ERAs, by one second after 250 miles racing and again to Percy Maclure’s Riley in the 1938 International Trophy at Brooklands by bare lengths (in 1936 the speeds of these two drivers varied by 0.01 m.p.h.; in the 1938 race by 0.02 m.p.h. !) and the Ickx/Oliver Ford GT40 vanquishing a Porsche 908 at Le Mans in 1969 by 0.005 k.p.h. after 24 hours, what about actual dead-heats?

Writing for Motor during the war years, D. B. Tubbs recalled that the Judges at Brooklands, without the benefit of cameras, recorded seven such finishes, five of them for first place. He makes the point that you can either regard this as excellent handicapping, or not a very good outcome in 28 years of such racing. The first dead-heat happened at the very first BARC meeting in July 1907, when Jarrott’s de Dietrich ran up the finishing straight to finish level with Newton on one of S. F. Edge’s Napiers in the Byfleet Plate—four cylinders versus six, although Jarrott was castigated afterwards for the alleged use of oxygen for his final spurt. The stakes of £450 were divided.

The next dead-heat, Tubbs tells us, came at Easter, 1909, when in a special scratch contest for 120 x 130 mm. single-cylinder Sizaire-Naudins, two of them crossed the line bonnet-to-bonnet. In 1912 there were similar finishes, but for second place, involving Pullin’s Cameron and Staight’s SCAR and Hind’s Berliet and Watney’s Mercedes. Next Tubbs deals with a one-lap match race in 1928 for the “J. Taylor” Cup, between Bouts’ 5-litre Sunbeam and “Taylor” in the 5-litre Delage II. The handicap wizards gave the Deluge eight seconds start and secured their ideal of a dead-heat finish. Bouts’ got the Cup, however. There were, says Tubbs, a couple more dead-heats at Brooklands. In 1932, over the Mountain circuit, Whitney Straight’s non-Supercharged 2-litre GP Bugatti gave W. K. Faulkner’s Type 43 Bugatti a start of 30 seconds but caught it, in another “photo-finish”, their respective speeds being 66.3 and 63.25 m.p.h. Finally, again in a Mountain race, on August Bank Holiday, 1936, Roy Eccles’ blown Rapier Special caught King-Clark’s MG Midget in spite of a rehandicap, these two being declared equal first.

As a matter of fact, Tubbs missed one dead-heat, for I remember that at the 1925 BARC Autumn Meeting J. P. Turner’s orange 2-litre Austro-Daimler left the start 18 sec. after H. W. Purdy’s 12/50 Alvis had been flagged away but that by the time they went under the overhead line of flags marking the finish, they were absolutely level, having averaged, respectively. 87.27 and 80.92 m.p.h. So there were actually six shared first-places in the major Brooklands events. It’s not only speed which makes motor racing more exciting than horse-racing! W. B.