All-British racing pioneers

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Last month I described how Henry Segrave won for Sunbeam the 1923 French Grand Prix, thus becoming the first British driver in a British car to win the most prestigious motorsport event since its inception in 1906.

True, in that now-historic GP he was lucky. Had the faster Fiats not succumbed to failure of their superchargers, and had Segrave’s teammate Albert Divo not jammed his fuel-filler cap while comfortably in the lead, Segrave might have been deprived of this ever-to-be remembered win. But in motor racing, today as then, luck can play its part, and ‘ifs and buts’ have only an academic part in any sport. For those 496 miles Segrave drove a well-calculated race, handling the Sunbeam very competently, and it is quite right to applaud this historic victory.

But what of other all-British pioneer winners of races?

SF Edge’s 17-litre Napier had been too heavy for its tyres in the 1901 Gordon Bennett race, but he won the event in ’02 on a 6.4litre Napier, being the only finisher, having taken almost 11hr 23min, an average of 31.8mph, from Paris to Innsbruck. (Charles Jarrott was another British driver who won races in this heroic era, but on foreign cars.)

J S Napier won the first loM TT with an Arrol-Johnston in 1905, but this was hardly a top-line fixture, and John Duff won the 1924 Le Mans 24 Hours in a Bentley.