I.O.M - Cradle of British Road Racing



I.O.M. Cradle of British Road Racin

BY ” MANNIN.” IN the clays of Elizabeth, England was sufficiently gay to merit the title of ” merry,” but since that time there has been a great decline of this agreeable feature, and the arrival and precept of Albert the Good completed the cycle and filled the land with overpowering gloom, but happily there have always been men willing to fight against the damping

• decrees of officialdom. The arrival of the automobile coincided with a particularly heavy period in the country’s history, and the new pastime was weighed down by all possible hindrances. Fortunately there existed in the Isle of Man a place not yet overwhelmed with the kill-joy spirit and governed by an independent legislature, which came forward with offers to close roads and permit racing. Without this, the English industry would have been deprived of the vast fund of experience which it accumulated in that territory, and how much the Island has been used for that purpose may be realised from the fact that in its area of 30 by 10 miles no fewer than four different circuits have been used, and about 200 cars and 3,000 motor cycles have taken part in the various events.

When England Lagged.

While the English manufacturers were struggling with the prejudice and vested interest which was doing its best to crush the growing industry, motor racing on the Continent was firmly established, and cars capable of a mile a minute had been built. Intense national rivalry sprang up, and as a result of a dispute as to the merits of French and American cars, Mr. Gordon Bennett, an American newspaper proprietor, gave an international trophy. Each nation competing had to select a team of three cars which were to be made entirely in its own territory. The first races did not arouse great interest in England, but in 1902 a challenge was sent in, and a Napier and a Wolseley car took part in the race. Edge on the Napier completed the course, and also brought the Trophy to Great Britain.

The holders of the Trophy were entitled to have the next year’s race in their own country, but the Law did not allow road-racing in England. The Irish authorities with characteristic enthusiasm got a private Bill through Parliament, allowing the race to be held in Irish territory, and the 1903 race was run near Dublin. England was represented by Edge, Stocks, and Jarrott, all on Napiers, but all our champions met with disaster, and the Trophy was won by Jenatzy on a Merced…s. Next year the question of choosing a team again came up, but the Automobile Club were once more up against the difficulty of finding a course. Here the Manx authorities stepped in and offered to close the roads for the eliminating trials, thus commencing the intimate connection

with motor racing which the Island has maintained ever since. The trials were not run on a simple

“first man home” footing ; the members of the team were to be chosen on the result of three separate events. The first was a high-speed reliability trial, and bore a certain resemblance to the reliability trial of to-day, in that timed and acceleration tests were included, while control stops limited the speed when passing through towns and narrow places. The start of the race was on the Castletown road just outside the Quarter Bridge Hotel, whence it ran to Ballasalla, where there was a control, through the outskirts of Castletown, north to Ballacraine, where It joined the present motor-cycle course. It followed the same route as far as Ballaugh, turned off to the left through Old Ballaugh, and then north through Sandygate to Ramsey. The Mountain road to Snaefell was then taken, and the track then ran down past Hillberry to Douglas, but instead of turning to the left at Cronk-ny-Mona to Governor’s Bridge, went straight on. to Willaston and, joined the present course at the top of Bray Hill.

On the following day there was to be a hill-climb at Port-e-Vullen, near Ramsey, and after that a speed trial along Douglas Promenade. The Club apparently tried to disguise the fact that there was any element of racing about the first day’s events by saying that they were at liberty to choose whoever they liked for the team irrespective of his performance, but this polite fiction did not discourage the competitors.

The race took place on 14th May, with eleven starters. As was usual in the early competitions, a certain weight limit was imposed, in this case 1,000 kgs., or about one ton, and it says much for the cars of those days that motors developing a hundred horse-power could be brought within the limit.

Assorted H.P.

Another rather remarkable thing was the number of different types of the same make which appeared in the one race, Napiers for instance being represented by an 80 horse car driven by Edge, Mayhew one rated at 100, while the other three were rated at 65 and 55. Three Darracqs were entered, and it shows the remarkable keenness of those days that in order to make them eligible for inclusion in the English team all the parts for the cars were sent over from Prance to Glasgow to be machined and assembled, while the Michelin Tyre Company sent a complete plant to England for the same reason. On the race day the cars drove down to Quarter Bridge and at 9 a.m. the first man, Stocks, on a Napier, was sent off. The acceleration of the cars from a standing start was measured by the fall of a

flag held by an official stationed 200 yards from the start ; all went well for the first few times until it came to the turn of Henri, the first member of the Darracq team. Not knowing much English and deafened by the noise of his motor, he mistook the summons to take his place at the starting line for the signal to go, and before anyone could stop him shot off the mark at great speed and, continued on to Ballasalla, where he drove through the control without slowing down, and was at C.astletown before the officials had really made up their minds what to do.

A Wolseley Winner.

The trial was run over six laps of the course, making a total of 300 miles, and was won by Earp on a Wolseley in 8h. 40m.; second and third were Girling and Edge on Napiers.

The next day the hill-climb was held at Maughold and this time Edge was the winner, the others in the same order. The final test was a speed trial along Douglas Promenade, and an accident which occurred in these altered the personnel of the English team. Earp, who was likely to be chosen as the third member, contrived to get a back wheel locked when returning from a practice run, and crashed into a wall. He was too badly injured to allow him to take part in the Gordon Bennett races that year, and Charles Jarrott on a Wolseley took his place. The English team was not successful at Homberg and Jarrott was the only member to finish.

Next year the Manx Government repeated its invitation to the Automobile Club, and. the Eliminating Trial was again held in the Island. This time selection was based entirely on the result of the road-race, which was held, over the same course, and was again won by Earp, this time on a Wolseley. This race saw the appearance of some new faces in the Island, the Goodwins on Stars, A. L. Guinness on a Darracq, who quickly became a favourite, and the Hon. C. S. Rolls on a Wolseley, who later appeared on the cars bearing his own name. The trial was won by Earp, this year on a Napier, in 7 h. 48m., an average speed of 41 m.p.h. The Hon. C. S. Rolls was second, and Bianchi, formerly Jarrott’s mechanic, third. Some of the cars were capable of surprising speeds, Macdonald’s

Napier being timed to do 89 and other cars were little slower. The Autocycle Club a day later ran a similar event over the long course to select a team to represent England in the International Motor Cycle Cup race at Dourdan. It began at the barbarous hour of 3 a.m., with the same system of control as in the car races. These races are interesting only as showing how early was the connection of the racing motor-cycle with the Island, but the weight limitation of 110 lbs. is also worth noticing when one

realises that the modern 350 can weigh nearly three times that amount.

The year 1905 saw the last of the Gordon Bennett races but it also brought with it the first of the Car T.T.’s. These races were started, as the name implies, with the object of developing the touring car, and in order to exclude the huge machines which were usually used for racing at that time, a petrol allowance of 25 m.p.g. was fixed. The long course was again used, but the start was from a side-road on the outskirts of I.; onglas just above the Quarter Bridge. The chassis and body of each car was weighed separately, and one can imagine the fury of a driver when he found that all the coachbolts had been rivetted over at the works to prevent the nuts working loose. After the weighing, the tanks were filled up, and the cars were towed to the starting line by horses. The organisers had evidently devoted some time to thinking out the rules, for they arranged the finish near the top of a rise, so that cars which had used all their fuel would be unable to coast in on an empty tank. In the actual race, canny drivers descended the hill before switching on, but the Hon. C. S. Rolls tn.acle a fast start with engine running. He was one of the fancied drivers, and set a hot pace, but was soon put out of the running by failure of his steering gear. The pace was a hot one ; wheels came off and transmissions gave out. Bennett on a Cadillac, which was at that time one of the cheapest cars

made, met with a startling accident. The ballast which all cars were compelled to carry was lying in a sack in the tonneau of his car, and when he attempted to take Crag-n,a-Ba.a corner at speed, the weight was flung outwards and upset the balance of the car so that it rushed into the ditch and turned over, luckily without injuring the driver. The corner was forthwith christened Bennett corner.

There was a keen struggle for first place, J. S. Napier on an .Arrol-Johnson being slightly ahead of Northey on a Rolls. In the last round, just as Napier was passing the judges, his silencer came adrift, and he lost two minutes in securing it. Northey slipped into first place, but by dint of hard driving Napier was able to catch up and overtake his rival, and brought in the Arrol, which incidentally was a twin with four pistons, into first place. The race was won at 33.96 m. .h., and Northey finished two minutes behind the leader.

A New Course.

A similar race was held in 1906, but in 1907 various alterations were made. The old course was considered to be too long, so instead of running from Quarter Bridge to Castletown, the direct road to Ballacraine was taken, thence on to Peel. Here the course turned north along the coast road, round the famous Devil’s Elbow, joining the modern course at Kirk.michael, whence it passed through Sulby to Ramsey and the Mountain Road ; this gave a lap of 40 miles. The cars competing were divided into two classes— Heavy Cars, and Tourist Trophy cars proper. Ballast was again carried, but this year was increased to the absurd figure of 1,400 lbs. for the light ears and one ton for the heavy class, so that it was not surprising that springs broke under the strain, while the steering was.adversely affected. In addition the Heavy Car class had to carry a vertical erection behind the driver, the top of which -was fully 10 feet above the road, and which was pierced with two portholes to permit a view of an overtaking driver. Anyone seeing the photographs for the first time might be pardoned for imagining that the racers were normal touring cars towing sleeping caravans I The race was to have been six laps for the light cars and seven for the heavy, but this was reduced to five for the latter. The race was held in very heavy rain so that the Club was compelled to increase the petrol allowance, while everyone was ordered to fit non-skid tyres. The extra petrol supplied was not sufficient in all cases to balance the increase occasioned by the heavy weather and a large number of cars were put out of the race from this cause. The Berliets had removed their undershields to reduce weight, but so much mud, was thrown up that it filled the gear box of one car through the hole for the selector rods and rendered it immovable. Co vii nued overleaf

Most of the drivers conserved their petrol on starting by not turning it on till they were almost on the Quarter Bridge, and several of them stalled there, as the Bridge was then much steeper than at the present day. After this rather tame beginning, things began to move quickly, and the Beeston-Humber overhauled nine cars in the first lap, and the HillmanCoatelen thirteen, but the latter took Quarter Bridge too fast on the second lap, and lost 15 minutes getting back on to the road. Napier on an Arrol-Jolmson then took the lead but was put out of action by a choked petrol pipe. Courtis on a Rover, who had been driving with no thought but that of finishing ran into first place.

In the Heavy Car race the early leaders had been put out of action by lack of petrol, and allowed the big Beeston.-Humber to win. There had been some doubt in 1907 as to whether the T.T. races were to continue, but the close finishes and the success of the steady drivers showed that the objects of the organisers were being achieved, and the Automobile Club dee idea to continue the events. 1907 saw the beginning of the motorcycle T.T. races which have been such an important feature of the Island’s racing calendar. The course was a short one, commencing at St. johns and running up Glen Helen to Kirk Michael, returning to Peel by the coast road. The single cylinders were given a petrol allowance which worked out at 90 m.p.g., and the twins 70 m.p.g., so that everyone ran a 3i to I gear, which was found embarrassing on Creg Willy’s Hill and the corner at Kirk

michael. C. R. Collier won the single cylinder class at 38.5 m.p.h. in spite of having to push his machine up Creg Willy’s, while R. Fowler on a 5 h.p. Norton won the multi-cylinder class.

The limitation of fuel, whatever effect it may have had in keeping down engine size, was not conducive to high speed. so in 1908 the problem of developing an efficient small car was tackled from a new angle, and the Four Inch Race took the place of the fuel-consumption races. The rules provided that four-cylinder cars were to have a bore not exceeding four inches in diameter, six-cylinders proportionally less, and all other restrictions were abolished.

The Start was situated quarter of a mile above Hillberry, so that spectators were able to see the cars coining into sight at what is now Brandish corner, and. running down the slope to the corner at the bottom. The marshalling was still a little sketchy to our modern ideas, for in places where the telephone was not installed, marshals were provided with a pair of bicycle orderlies, who needed an iron nerve, as in the event of an accident they were expected to ride round the reverse way of the course and inform the nearest telephone depot. The “Rules and Regs ” naively pointed out that special care was required on corners “as the drivers would take them on the inside whether they be right or left hand.” It was found that the “4 inch” engines, small though they were in comparison with the 100 h.p. monsters of the past, with unlimited petrol could develop

95 at 2000 r.p.m. and the Darracqs with an engine considerably below the limit were capable of 80 m.p.h.

The race was won by Watson on a Hutton at a speed of 50i m..p.h., representing a very considerable increase on the figures of the year before, while A. L. Guinness on a Darracq was second. Darracqg also won the team prize and forced home the conclusion that a small highefficiency engine could be reliable.

The motor races continued until 1914, and were revived again in 1922, but the narrowness of the mountain roads and the torrential rain which fell on the race day made proceedings far less successful than in. former years, and no race was held in 1923. The T.T. was revived successfully in. 1927, when it was run in Ulster, but the Manx people have never ceased to hope that it will return to their shores some day, to be run on a shorter and more easily handled circuit.

The motor-cycles we had left at 1907 ; they continued to use the Peel course until 1911, when they followed the cars races on to the Four Inch course. Since then with the exception of the War period they have been run with the greatest success, and this year will provide their usual week of excitement. Many thousands will come over and witness these events and the Grand Prix Races in September, but for those who cannot get away to see these living survivals of the earlier days of motoring, there are many worse things to do than to visit the scenes of the G.-B. trials in July, and muse over the departed thunder of Napier and Darracq, and the men who drove them.