ON THE OPENING OF THE SOUTHERN ROAD-CIRCUITS
The closing weeks of April and the first day of May marked an important period in British motor-racing, When two new road-circuits were opened, one at the Crystal Palace grounds almost in the heart of London, the other at Brooklands, Weybridge, a mere twenty miles from London.. It is unnecessary to discuss all that these new circuits mean or at all events can mean to the movement, which has up to this year existed, first of all for thirty years with only one motor-course in this country, and for four years with only one road-circuit, and that Over 120 miles from London-living enthusiasts, —albeit a very excellent little course well worth the journey up to Donington Park. Now we have our three road-courses, all ” in action ” as it were, and of interesting variety, for Donington really consists of :adapted parkland roads, the Palace is
miniature, artificial circuit with a ” Panamac ” Macadam surface, while Brooklands combines banked concrete track, and a quarter-mile of straight track, with a concrete surfaced artificial road course, rather as if Montlhry’s road section has been built inside the track at Weybridge whereas actually the French track is more fortunate and winds away for many miles into the surrounding country. All of which just serves to remind us that motorrace course planning is quite an art and one about which no one knows very much because, unlike an aerodrome, which must be tacked onto every reasonable-sized town, one road-circuit or banked autodrome has to serve a very wide area indeed. Which is why, although we are entitled to our opinions and the airing of them, nevertheless, criticism should not be too harsh at this early stage of honest endeavour to provide the Southern counties with what they have so long lacked. Brooklands got its official opening ceremony in first, on April 22nd, when the uninviting meteorological conditions aid not deter a goodly number from going down to watch, but -doubtless kept very many more quite keen people away. Things went off efficiently and quietly, as they do most-always when “
directs their functioning. Dame Ethyl Locke-King cut the tape across the new road hi sight of an orderly group of onlookers, who seem to have been dressed rather more conventionally than their ” opposite-numbers ” are on race-days. Then S. F. Edge, known to motorists generally, drove a lap of the course, in an early Napier, popularly described as similar to the six-cylinder Napier with which he so sensationally ” opened ” the outer-circuit in 1907 with his 24-hour record run. Actually to me the car looked to have been the Blake brothers’ 1903 four-cylinder Gordon Bennett car, as worthy a veteran as one could wish, but not at all like the bigger 1907 sixcylinder cars with their wire wheels, long rounded bonnets and imposing modern-looking radiator shells. Thereafter a delightfully varied procession of cars seems to have observed quite remarkable restraint in touring the circuit in close company. H.E. alongside Ford V8, Austin beside Bentley. And so
after thirty years useful service, Brooklands had, as it were, taken a fresh lease of life and I wonder if anyone present was sentimental enough to release a sigh at dimming thoughts of things like Wolseley ” Moths ” and the ” Chittys ” burning up the weather-scarred banked bits of old Brooklands. Very likely not ! The official ceremony at the Crystal Palace Course occupied about twenty minutes, or less, of the afternoon of April 24th, when fine, sunny weather graced
the proceedings. Press badges and cameras 1Vcre abundant, and ere long an imposing procession of cars came round the course itself, from the official reception, to the grandstand.
Silence was call._ it for $ir Samuel HillWood, Bart., who spoke of the sport he hoped the new course would provide, where road-racing in all its forms, car, motor-cycle and cycle, would be furthered.
Particular emphasis was laid on the sporting aspect, and I rather wished something had hem said about the lessons that result from serious motor-racing because, even if no cars are specially built for races over a new circuit, the mere preparation of existing cars must give to many men knowledge of unquestionable value, and if the Crystal Palace circuit is ultimately to be open for everyday testing, as one sincerely hopes it vill be, its proximity to London must make it a research centre of the utmost importance. Sir Samuel Hill-Wood was followed by Lord Howe, who thereafter drove through a tape in an open drop-head 4i-litre .1.4aganda and away round the course. After some time, the Lag,onda was seen coming high along the Fisherman’s Rise—the Palace course is very picturesque and quite ” Nurburg ” in parts —then to disappear and re-appear down New Zealand Hill, to take Stadium Dip in a fine, controlled slide and arrive back at the grandstand. Howe carried a passenger and a chauffeur in the stern sheets. The latter, someone naughtily
suggested, in case his Lordship had any difficulty about negotiating the bends. His performance was greeted by a few feeble handclaps and. London’s first and only road-racing course had truly come into being—some forty yeats after the birth of motor-racing. Thereafter Sir Malcolm Campbell talked to us and those in possession of cars were invitzd to drive round the course. There appeared to be no especial keenness to 00 so, but at last quite a large procession circulated without excitement, though it soon tired of so doing, kaying all the enterprise to half-a-doyen or so very ” funeral-carriage” Armstrong-Siddeleys, which went round and around, presumably glorying in the knowledge that one of their respected ancestors, in tliot form of Dame Ethyl Locke-King’s 1903 Siddeley, had opened the Brooklands Motor Course with honoured lappery thirty years before. Meanwhile, one attempted to form an opinion of the circuit. Without a doubt it is very, very interesting. The grandstand and directors’ stand, most impressively and vivilly decked out, gave quite a Continental touch, though there were no elaborate pits opposite them and the cars will not howl past at 180 m.p.h. —indeed, the speed here is quite low, as the stands are just past the stadium curve. And what pits there are at present are particularly crude, and are, indeed, merely termed signalling depots. The impression persists, too, that the course is small, a trifle circus-like. But that really isn’t at all fair, because the straight allows speeds well above 100 m.p.h. and, later, standing on the Paddock Bridge, the cornering at Avenue Ramp and Maxim Rise was discovered to bear comparison with the more interesting corners of other circuits. I think the impression exists only because one knows the Palace grounds so intimately. In the same way, I tried to analyse my impressions as we drove Over from South London in the Austin, via Streatham Common and the dip down past unkempt houses to that sweeping hill up to the Palace grounds. But I knew the route too well to sense that fascination I always experience when going to Brooklands, Donington, Shelsley or Southport. Is it that racing-cars seem, as yet, out of their true element at the late home of fireworks, poultry exhibitions, the speed
way and dog-shows ? It is purely a personal impression, of course.
The Paddock, with proper lounges and restaurant, is excellent, if a trifle small (it seemed more appropriate to C. E. C. Martin’s tiny Fiat than Raymond Mays’s resplendent Bentley) and the downsloping ramp should be balm to many recalcitrant starters, though the blind bend needs watching. The presence of lock-ups, too, is commendable.
The racing-cars were, by now, circulating on the old dirt-track to warm up, not, I was pleased to see, indulging in any real fireworks, for E.R.A.s, M.G.s, Masers, and the like are not for that kind of thing. Though Querycoe, driving Aitken’s Frazer-Nash, said this experience intrigued him and Ralph Secretan was obviously interested.
At present the cars go via this Speedway and a running track from Paddock to course. The practising was not especially interesting, and the broadcaster’s attempt to lure the crowd into imagining that Pat Fairfield and Mays were duelling ended when the E.R.A.s came in simultaneously for a change of plugs. EssonScott was continually taking off the bonnet of his newly-bodied double-wipe Bugatti, so that the silver signature on the side seemed in danger of obliteration before Saturday. The practice period was pretty devastating. I doubt if so many cars have gone off the course or into things in such a short space of time in practice over a new course before. Raymond Mays scattered the Press, Appleton went backwards over a bank with the Appleton-Riley but came back for some more, Ian Connell bent his E.R.A.’s front axle, and Whitehead and Parnell took the streamline out of their cars’ tails against the wall by the grandstand. It seemed the surface was prone to polish, so that one wondered how it would be in hot sunshine or rain, and Ithw it would last if, as one hopes, the course is eventually opened continuously for
testing and practice. Flag marshals were out, but mostly appeared to be novices. Scribbans (E. R .A. ) was, perhaps, cornering as fast and having as little pother as anyone. All of which gave rise to discussions as to possible lap speeds, one authority suggesting 75 m.p.h. before the season closes, though ” Dunlop Mac” thought 65 the highest likely, and the cars were mostly going round at less than .50 m.p.h. The scoreboards looked distinctly good, but the loud-speakers suggest more voltage or an Oswald Mosley as announcer. I should like to see sandbanks built before the sleepers that mark certain of the corners, and it seems regrettable that no book-in akers are allowed at the Palace, as this may affect the gate, more especially if a series of short races is staged at any time. The foregoing was written before the Coronation Trophy Race had been run, and leaving home on the day of the race it certainly was most impressive to see Brookla.nds type traffic streaming along our local South London thoroughfares to the course—evidence indeed. that -motorracing has come to London. Although the daily Press estimates of the crowd that I have seen vary from 20,000 to 50,000, I believe that 30,000 actually spectated, which is very encouraging indeed. Apparently there was a bad delay in the car-parking that kept many more people outside, and about which an apology was
duly broadcast after the meeting. As far as I could see the probably unexpected bulk of traffic was handled very commendably by the police, in spite of the streams of cars that came up the steep Anerley Hill, which never helps matters. Inside the course the expression “black with spectators” certainly goes for Stadium Dip and Cascade Bank, and everyone seemed to get a good view and to be enjoying themselves. The scoreboards worked admirably, albeit they had an easy task and have yet to cope with the complexities of a handicap race with credit laps and varied starting times.
The speeds of the races were about on a par with Monaco and Fairfield’s record lap at 541 m.p.h, points to the Palace being a slow course, though that does not necessarily cast any reflection on its value as a testing-ground. It must be remembered that an absolutely fair comparison is not offered by the accompanying table, as lap speeds will undoubtedly rise before the end of the season and we have yet to see the big cars released at the Palace course. Nevertheless, it looks as though it will be a slow circuit, and as a lap of two miles cannot be considered unduly short and as there is one long and one short straight, it is obvious that the corners are of the slow variety. The Aevere nature of the course was reflected in the retirements in the forty-mile heats and the serious ” blowup ‘ of Mays’s Zoller-supercharged E.R.A. in less that sixty miles racing. Apparently it was not possible to get into top gear anywhere on the circuit with some of the cars. The match race between Sam Clutton’s 1908 12-litre Itala, which carried Robertson-Roger, Scott-Moncrief and a helper, and Dick Nash and helper in the 1912 15-litre Grand Prix Lorraine-Dietrich was really excellent fare and thoroughly acceptable to the crowd, even if it wasn’t a real race. Nash was particularly masterly at Stadium Dip, and it isn’t easy to tail-slide a heavy and high motor-car running on heaven knows what age covers. Unfortunately the noise effects were spoilt for those of us by the stands on account of an inconsiderate mechanic warming up an E.R.A. The other unexpected entertainment was the pillion-riding policeman who raised such cat-calls and mirth from the onlookers that we realised that at last the pleb:scite had come to a motor-race. Numbers of visitors by air came too, for a temporary look-see, from the A vro with an unusual in-line motor, flying the Regent Spirit banner, to an imposing Junkers JU52 liner that climbed noticeably after its inmates had had their fill. One’s outstanding impression was that Harry Edwards had achieved his object and
brought London to watch a motor-race. Now good pits and a longer race for unlimited capacity cars will be awaited with appreciation and interest. If lap speeds do not increase appreciably the Crystal Palace course may prove a trifle disappointing, but that remains to be seen. The Campbell Trophy Race proved. Brooklands to be far faster than the Palace course, for the practice lap record was set at well over 70 m.p.h. and the race was comfortably won by ” Bira ” at over 69 m.p.h. Drivers were varied in their opinions of the circuit, some saying the corners seemed too much alike in character, others that it was all most interesting. Certainly the turn on the Members’ Hill I found very interesting as a spectator, being present during practice when Earl Howe put in some very neat work with the E.R.A., keeping a very central path, and when the Bilnotore Alfa turned Dobson around. That there is nothing wrong with the course is evident by the
race speeds. Earl Howe’s very unfortunate accident may have been attributable to the course being unusually difficult at the particular place where his E.R.A. crashed, but that is not evidence of danger through wrong planning or a faulty surface which would result in a wholesale crash. A racing driver has to cope with any sane hazard on a roadcourse.
The new pits are excellent, if a little damp and dismal within, though it’s a pity we cannot have rest-rooms and restaurants or at least a snack-bar incorporated, though if this were done the very penetrating dust from the surface of the course would have to be excluded. The new scoreboard is not so clever, as it only changed every ten laps, rather belatedly, and gave the continued impression that the first four cars were on the same lap.
The other Brooklands facilities are too well known to require any comment. The authorities have certainly taken great pains over the new road-course, such as building the new bridge over the section that traverses the Hill, making new enclosures and a bridge over the Test Hill, etc.—indeed one feels everything must be carefully numbered and put away again before an ordinary track meeting. Naturally these arrangements are purely experimental.
The crowd on May 1st looked disappointingly small, but Brooklan.ds is so vast that it is difficult to estimate how many were present and I have to write this before getting an official figure.
Certainly Brooklands scores on the grounds of a spectators’ view of the racing and the ” real ” aspect of that racing.
The Palace seems to have had a better “gate” and to be more amusing to a driver, apart from the passing difficulty. Which will prove to be the most gruelling to the cars and the more useful as a testing ground, time alone can solve.
At all events, it is all most interesting, and we are extremely lucky to have our three road courses in this Island where apathy towards motor-racing is so very prevalent. Long may they all flourish. Which they will do if you continue to favour them with your attendance.