New Zealand's First Road Race

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Successful Event at Christchurch won by M. Proctor (1,100-c.c. “Brooklands” Riley)

By T. G. Moore

Hill-Climbs, sand races and speed events have been held in New Zealand for many years, but the Canterbury Car Club aided by members of the newly-formed Vintage Car Club broke new ground this year in organising a full-scale road race. Originally it had been intended to use a road circuit on the outskirts of Christchurch, but ten days before the date of the race, news came through that permission would not be given to run the event over public roads. A last-minute appeal was made to the Prime Minister, and approval was then given to an alternate suggestion, that the race should be run on the perimeter track of Wigram Aerodrome’ a R.N.Z.A.F. station near Christchurch. This change of venue added greatly to the difficulties of organisation, but in spite of this the event was run off without a hitch.

The race took place on February 26th, and there were 22 starters. Two vintage racing cars headed the list, Proctor’s “Brooklands” Riley, said to be the car in which Mrs. Wisdom and Miss Joan Richmond won their class in the 1932 Thousand-Mile Race, and Roycroft’s single-seater 500-Mile Race Austin. Biggest sports car was Bennett’s 4 1/2–litre short-chassis Invicta, with twelve M.G.s ranging from a lowered P-type to Mrs. Lupp’s 1948 “TC,’ making up the bulk of the field.

Two ingenious Simca-like Singer-engined specials were notable. Logan’s car had a “Le Mans” engine in a F.I.A.T. “500” chassis, while Hoare went one better with a similar engine, F.I.A.T. suspension, a tubular chassis and a chain-driven transfer box which lowered the transmission line. Most successful of all was Green’s car, with an ex-Flying Squad Wolseley engine, Model-T Ford side-members and quarter-elliptic suspension fore and aft à la Frazer-Nash.

The circuit was a tricky one, with two corners, one acute S-bend and several fast bends, all in a circuit measuring 2.1 miles. The meeting consisted of two events, which were run concurrently. The New Zealand Road Race Championship was run over a distance of 50 laps (105 miles), while the cars were at the same time competing in a handicap event. Cars of three litres or over started from scratch, while smaller cars received credit laps according to their capacity.

A bright but cool day provided ideal conditions for racing. A crowd estimated at 30,000 was scattered round the course kept at a safe distance by rope barriers, and with the hangars ranged along the track at one point made a setting which recalled old times at Brooklands.

Starting positions were determined by the lap times put up during practice. Bennett (Invicta), Green (Wolseley Special), Christie (TA-type M.G.) and Proctor (“Brooklands” Riley) were in the first line. When the flag dropped Green shot away from the rest of the field and in four laps was starting to lap the slower cars. Roycroft on the Austin was second on the first lap, but was overtaken on the next lap by Proctor on the Riley. These two cars were well matched and the drivers continued their struggle throughout the race.

Order at 10 laps.
1st, Green (Wolseley Special, 1,604 c.c.); 2nd, Roycroft (Austin, 750 c.c. S); 3rd, Proctor (Riley, 1,100 c.c.); 4th, Ransley (Riley, 1,986 c.c.); 5th Bennett (Invicta, 4,500 c.c.); 6th, Christie (M.G., 1,292 c.c.).

At the 13th lap Green came into the pits. His petrol pump had gone out of action on the starting line, and he had had to use his auxiliary tank, with pressure from a hand-pump. He managed to clear the blockage, but lost two laps before he could get going again. Hoare, who had completed his Singer Special only two days before the race, paid frequent visits to the pits to refill his radiator, but otherwise the cars were standing up well.

The Austin now led the field, but Proctor was pressing hard, clipping the grass each time on the S-bend as he tried to pass Roycroft, and at 18 laps Roycroft had to come in to change plugs. R. F. Christie, who so far had been leading the M.G. contingent, hit a shallow drain which crossed part of the track and winded himself against his steering wheel. His father, President of the Club and the oldest driver in the race, took over, but the pit stop allowed Mrs. Lupp, the only woman driver in the race, to move up into fourth place.

Procter, Bennett and Ransley now held the first three positions. The standard of cornering was very creditable, especially in view of the fact that none of the drivers had previously driven in road races. The only accident of the day occurred at the 21st lap when Parker (M.G.) got into a slide at a corner, touched the straw bales and turned the car over into a ditch. He escaped unhurt except for a damaged thumb.

Green and Roycroft had now got going again, flat out to make up for lost time, and kept the spectators on their toes as they passed and repassed one another. In this duel Green put, up the two fastest laps of the day at 1 min. 45 sec. (72 m.p.h,) Proctor meantime was holding the lead, fast but safe on all the corners, and lapping at 1 min. 52 sec. (67.5 m.p.h.).

Order at 30 laps.
1st, Proctor (Riley); 2nd, Bennett (Invicta); 3rd, Ransley (Riley): 4th, Roycroft (Austin); 5th, Mrs. Lupp (M.G.); 6th, Green (Wolseley Special).

At 30 laps Bennett received the speed-up sign from his pit, and managed to pass Proctor on the straight. He was working hard winding his big car round the S-bend, and with only standard tyres available one wondered whether he would get through the full distance without a pit-stop. Proctor was only 200 yards behind, and Ransley, whose Riley until recently had been carrying a saloon body, was holding third position at the interval.

Proctor still had something in hand, however. At the 40th lap his pit gave him the “green,” and extra speed on the straight and some strenuous cornering brought him back into the lead. Roycroft on the Austin made a hurried pit stop to change a tyre, his mechanics raising the car bodily without bothering to use a jack. Green had been hanging grimly on in sixth place and now passed Logan, moving up to fourth.

In the last laps Bennett did his utmost to overhaul the Riley, but Proctor refused to be raffled by the challenge and continued increasing his lead. One lap still covered the first six cars and it was going to be a close finish.

The Austin had received five laps in the handicap event, and won this by twenty yards from Proctor, In spite of his two pit stops. Proctor seemed safe to win the big event, however, and five laps later finished a well-judged race with a lead of half a mile.

So ended New Zealand’s first full-scale road race, an event which held its interest right to the end. Next year a more ambitious race is planned, an Australian Championship. This will form part of the Canterbury Centennial celebrations, and with a longer race and bigger prize money it is hoped to attract drivers from overseas.

Results:

h. m. s.

1st. M. Proctor (Riley, 1,100 c.c.) … 1h. 35m. 56s. (65.7 m.p.h.)
2nd. F. Bennett (Invicta, 4,590 c.c.) … 1h. 36m. 22s. (65.4 m.p.h.)
3rd. D. Ransley (Riley, 1,986 c.c.) … 1h. 36m. 36s. (65.2 m.p.h.)
4th. H. Green (Wolseley Special 1,604 (64.9 m.p.h.) 1h. 37m. 4s.

Handicap Race
1st. R. Roycroft (Austin); 2nd. M. Proctor (Riley); 3rd. H. Logan (Logan Special); 4th. Mrs. S. Lupp (M.G.); 5th. D. Ransley (Riley); 6th. R. F. and H. D. Christie (M.G.).