The Choice of a Road-Race Course.
There is Much to be Done Before a 131.(1 Race is Run. time to time one reads in the correspondence columns of the motoring press suggestions that it would be a good idea if someone could arrange a road-race on Salisbury Plain, or some other spot favoured by
the writers, but many of the letters reveal a complete ignorance of the factors which have to be taken into consideration, and it is the purpose of this article to set down some of the points which govern the choice of a circuit.
The first essential, of course, is that the laws of the country should permit the closing of roads for racing. As the law stands at present, there is no possibility of this in England or Scotland, except on private roads, for the Road Traffic Act expressly forbids the use of the highways for racing of any kind. This objection does not hold in Northern Ireland or the Isle of Man, since both these territories have their own legislatures, which can and have passed Bills allowing the closure of roads for certain periods, while the Irish Free State is entirely independent of English control, and has passed similar measures through the Dail. In the old days the greatest hope of getting permission to run a race was to show that it would be held in a place not likely to interfere with the normal traffic of the district, but the publicity value of such events is now widely recognised and local bodies are only too pleased when it is decided to promote a race in their jurisdiction.
Once the approval of the GOvemment of the territory has been gained, the next step is to find a course physically suitable. Assuming that the roads of the district have a reasonable surface, the most elementary requirement is that of width. In modern car racing, especially that of the T.T. variety, there is generally a big entry, and the handicap against the large cars makes it necessary for them to pass the small ones four or five times before they can secure a winning position. The minimum width which can be tolerated in these circumstances, on a normal road is 28 feet, though it may be less where it passes through villages, but such narrowing will bar any overtaking at that point, naturally. C
The next important dimension is the length of circuit, and modern courses have a short lap—usually of about 12 miles. This is not so important in the Grand Prix type of race, where all competitors start from scratch, but in T.T. races the crediting of one class with a whole lap more than the next larger may favour it unduly, while a time allowance in lieu of distance is apt to make the race difficult for the spectators to follow. A long lap is not popular with drivers, as they do not get sufficient practise time in which to memorise it thoroughly, and it may force them to carry a great quantity of fuel in order to avoid stopping too often, while the pits cannot keep their men properly informed of the progress of the race if the cars only pass them, perhaps, half-a-dozen times in three hours.
A Short Course Necessary.
The great increase both in spectators and the number of cars which take part in the big races make necessary a cordon of flagmen whose sole duty it is to warn drivers of accidents still hidden from view, and the number of these, together with the armies of police, marshals and doctors which are required, make it imperative to keep down the length as far as possible. Last and not least, spectators like to see something for their money, and the passing of a car every five minutes or so, as must have been the case in some of the early events, would not be considered very exciting nowadays.
In comparison with width and length, the vertical dimension is not very important. Moderate hills demand from all cars a drop to a lower gear, which could equally well be arranged by the inclusion of more corners. Such long pulls as the ascent of the Mountain in the Isle of Man do provide a searching test, but unfortunately they cannot as a rule be embodied in a short course. The proportion of straight stretches, bends, and corners has a great influence on the character of a circuit. The first give the big cars a chance to show their speed, which is after all the great idea of racing, and the grand-stand is usually set on one of these. Bends form an important part of the circuit, since a clever driver will be able to
discover and maintain the maximum speed at which they may be taken, and in this way can gain considerably on a rival whose vehicle will not allow of such liberties. Sharp corners have been decried to some extent by ignorant people, but their value is unquestionable, for they test braking and gear-changing very thoroughly, while cars which have good acceleration show up to advantage in the stretches immediately following. Thus, the ideal course, should have good stretches of straight to allow full speed and safe passing,
bends to try the observation and daring of individual drivers, and a few sharp corners to weed out cars lacking in steadiness and good power-weight ratio. Towns are avoided if it can be managed, as the danger of children and dogs is one which can never be entirely guarded against, but in most courses at present in use this trouble has to be faced.
The race may be run in a clockwise or an anti-clockwise direction, according to the physical features of the course. It is desirable that the corners should be on the driver’s side, so that in countries where cars are fitted with right-hand steering a clockwise course is usually chosen, but it may happen that lapping in this direction is dangerous, for instance when there is a sharp turn on a bridge at the bottom o. a steep hill, whei the undue of brakes would mean plunging through the parapet into the river. Should this be the case, the race would have to be run in the opposite direction. In Continental races one would expect an anti-clockwise course, but considerations similar to the one mentioned above may prevent this. The rule of the road may be either left or right hand, but this is fixed according to the side of the road on which the pits are placed. Finding a site for the grand-stand is often a matter of some difficulty as it has to be placed so as to give a good view, and also where a service of feeder roads is available to deal with the spectators and other traffic. It is, therefore, usually erected at the end of a long straight, with the pits either in front of it or on the other side of the road. It is generally placed on the outside of the course to avoid bridging the road. The pits also require a good stretch of road on which the chefs d’equipe can pick out their cars as they approach, and the faster cars are placed farthest along the line in order to give the drivers more time to see their signals. The road is usually widened to some 40 feet at this point, to allow pulling off the fairway, and
must be fairly level so that cars do not roll off their jacks when wheels are being changed. The pits should be preferably on the mechanic’s side to facilitate re-fuelling, in which case the left-hand rule is in force, but at Phoenix Park, for instance, they were on the inside, with a consequent change to the Continental rule.
After settling these little details, it merely remains to get permission for the race, and to run it. The governing body for the British Empire (excluding the Irish Free State) is the Royal Automobile Club. When the Club has satisfied itself that the proposed race will meet with everyone’s approval and will be properly run, it will approach the International Body for a date. As the supposed event would be an important one, they would have to ask for an exclusive date and contest our claim against other countries, who naturally also want dates in the middle of the season for their exclusive use. Assuming that the pleas of the R.A.C. are answered, a permit would then be granted, and the organisers can run their carefully-planned race with the knowledge that they have done everything possible to make it successful. The presence of a body of racing experience going back for many years makes it unlikely that any requirement would be overlooked, and the modern road-race, like the modern car, starts to work as soon as its parts are assembled.—TM.