The Story of Sitges
Our picture of count Zborowski in his miller on the banking at Sitges has resulted in a request for more information about this Spanish track. There is not much to tell.
It is clear why the so-called autodrome was built where it was, on the fashionable Spanish coast making it attractive to summer visitors, although it was some 40 miles from Barcelona. The success of Brooklands probably entered into it, for Montlhery was still being built when the Sitges track was opened in 1923. The promoters advertised the venture as “the most emotional speedway in the world”.
I have a book of gravure picture postcards issued to advertise it, many of the photos taken during construction. The lap distance was a mere 1.5 miles and the steep bankings were of an awkward section, making getting off and on them difficult for fast cars. The opening meeting on October 28 1923 was be for 2-litre GP cars. They were lucky to get Albert Divo and Dario Resta in two victorious 1923 GP Sunbeams, only because the STD concern feared greatly the two supercharged Fiats entered for the JCC of his job and would not blame a driver in acceptable circumstances for a crash involving him, Davis went so far as to say: “…each time we have raced in the loM there has been unusual unpleasantness. One cannot help feeling very doubtful as to the wisdom of racing there at all”.
This comment caused a furore, and The Autocar hastened to explain that SCHD was not casting aspersions on the Manx populace, only on those bringing the manslaughter charge. Davis did not return to the subject. But an anonymous loM correspondent was allowed a full page in which to give a reverse judgement. Don appealed, but was turned down. As the MG was being driven fast in racing trim on a public road, what else could the Judiciary do? Spectators have been injured or killed during races, but they are aware of being present at a dangerous sport.
For instance, two Talbots collided during the 1930 JCC Double-12 race and one was catapulted over the 4ft 6in high railings into the public enclosure, killing a spectator and injuring another, Christopher Hall. The Jury estimated 200-Mile Race at Brooklands, so sent these top drivers, plus two 1.1/2-litre Talbots, as far away as possible!
It had been a long time since Sitges had seen motor racing; in 1909 and 1910 Jules Goux had come from France to win the Catalan Cup event for Peugeot, but these were voiturette affairs over a 226-mile road circuit The 1923 track race was over 248.1/2 miles. Only four 2-litre entries had been received, two of the famous 1923 Sunbeams, a Diatto and the Count’s Miller, plus his 1.1/2-litre Aston Martin. As support for the far-distant track was so poor, the 1.1/2-litre cars joined in. A fine battle between Divo and Zborowslti ensued, the Sunbeam winning by 50sec from the straighteight Miller, at 96.91mph.
A later voiturette race was won by Resta in the Talbot, team-mate Divo second, Zborowski’s AM third. Still later in the year, Robert Benoist won a cyclecar contest for Salmson. That seems about the extent of this unhappy venture. Years later, in the1950’s I think, Jenks discovered it, almost intact apart from grass-infested bankings, the grandstand still standing. One wondered whether it might make a country club for motor-minded folk, even to demonstrations of vintage cars on the course. Indeed, I believe that such interest has been stirred quite recently. his injuries at £988. The claim passed from the JCC to the BARC, the Track owners; Hall lost but appealed. The appeal was lost too, the Jury, having absolved the drivers of the Talbots, being directed by the Judge that the paying spectator knew he was at a risky event and if the organisers had taken proper precautions to avoid forseeable accidents, negligence did not apply, whether the accident was caused by a cricket ball going into the Pavilion at Lords, an aeroplane at Hendon falling on someone, or, as had happened before, a member of the theatre audience being injured by bullets fired during a stage play.
At a horse-race an animal might swerve into the onlookers, at a football or hockey match a ball or player might hit people standing by the touch-line. But if those present could be assumed to have been aware of the risks, and reasonable precautions had been taken to protect them, there was no case to answer. So Hall lost his appeal.
Davis had quoted the case of TASO Mathieson, whose Bugatti used an escape road during the 1933 IoM Mannin Moar race, hit a shop, and seriously injured a lady who was in the escape area. A charge was brought against TASO, but, said Sammy, when Basil Eyston hit a cart in Ireland and a boy lost his life, no such action was taken, although it was on a public road.
What Davis had overlooked was that Eyston’s Bugatti was road-legal, which may have helped his case. Also that so keen were the race organisers they had issued temporary number plates for cars without any, and even local driving licences. The Mathieson case had deeper legal implications; an escape road would need to be covered by the Act enabling public ways to be closed for racing, a mere notice saying it was closed being insufficient, although I do not know if there was an oversight in this instance. But for certain Don’s case was different, as he was driving an illegal car on roads definitely in public use.
Don eventually went to prison for four months. Upon his release sympathetic friends gave him a dinner, but his racing career was over.