WHAT OF 1930?
A review of Me 25rese nt troubles in the racing world and some possible solutions.
NOW that the shouting has died away, and works managers have a respite from the quite unreasonable importunity of racing departments, and Mr. and Mrs. Brown of Lower Clapton have lost their anxiety for the success of this or that matque (” Just like ours dear—only rather different “), it is perhaps allowable to reflect upon the future of automobile road-racing at any rate under the aegis of the R.A.C. the position to-day seems clear enough : class racing is dead, hill climbs and speed trials almost so, and the so-called touring car race alone retains its vitality. • Indeed the absence of rival competitions combined with an active press campaign have given a very remarkable prestige to this last survival of racing on four wheels.
The Grand Prix de France died a natural death two years ago with the withdrawal of the Delage equipage from competitions, and with it class racing is to all intents at an end. The post-war tendency to reduce engine capacity proved in vain. Public interest in the purely racing-car lessened, entries fell in number and in the last year Bugatti and Delage fought out a great battle on five fields. There were other entries but they were in the nature of “white hopes” : the next year Bugatti had no challenger. That class racing still exists in Italy proves that it is still a practical proposition but it is outside the scope of this article to discuss the possibilities of its renewal in Northern Europe.
An unfortunate accident on the most classic of hills, Kop, brought down the official ban on hill climbs and speed trials. Shelsey Walsh remains, and is a healthy reminder of the genuine sport to be obtained in these competitions, where the cunning hands and hard work of a mechanic counts for a lot, and the dreams of the advertising manager for precisely nothing. I see from my morning paper there is a plan afoot to build a monster straight speedway in the East Coast. It is an out-of-theway spot and I personally can find little interest in going extremely fast for a few kilometres (not that I have not the greatest admiration for the skill and courage of these who travel at these speeds). But hill climbs and speed trials were events where the amateur (i.e. “not-so expert “) had a sporting chance of annexing a place and while welcoming this speedway it would give rue even greater pleasure to learn that some one had bought a strip of the Chilterns to build a New Kop.
Thus it is that to-day we are left with the touring car race, represented as far as this article is concerned by the races at Le Mans, Phoenix Park and Ards ; most of what I have to say concerns the last of these, ” our ” race. They all receive large trade support, publicity and public attention. Motorists in general are interested in a race for cars not dissimilar to those they buy or would like to buy, and the races seem to develop a type of car suited to the needs of the sporting fraternity.
Superchargers are becoming more common and road holding is improving : the show will give examples of both directly attributable to racing experience. In short the touring car race is following in the footsteps of the Motor-Cycle Tourist Trophy races twenty years ago. It is however common kno w ledge that there is much dissatisfaction with the products of the motor-cycle races to-day: under the present rules it is bound to be so. Such a position will I believe be reached in the touring car race within a very few years. The race at Le Mans is to-day almost a certainty for the fastest car, given a certain modicum of reliability and road worthiness. Those at Phoenix Park and Ards are handicaps in which the smaller cars can and do score successes. May I surmise that Mercedes-Benz, Alfa-Romeo and Austin will gain almost equally from their performances in the latter race ? But that the biggest and fastest car in the race, backed by experience and thorough organisation won a convincing victory omens ill for the future of the sport. The weather and the course both favoured the small car which, furthermore, received a very liberal handicap. Such a victory can only have one result—to Stimulate manufacturers to market larger and faster sports cars of ten or more litres capacity purely with a view to racing. They will win and the smaller cars will drop out of the entry lists : even next year I forsee a smaller entry, for there is a market for the two litre sports car whether it races or not. These races of the giants will be thrilling to a degree but touring car races they will not be. The winning car will have
very limited market, public interest will flag, and the races will go the way of the classic class races. The system of handicapping must be altered. It is too crude to allow of accurate grading of cars varying so much in size. I believe the solution lies in percentage time handicapping, as used in yacht rating. It would mean in all probability the abolition of the mass start : (no one who saw the race in Ulster will object to removal of what many of us have always thought an unneces
sarily dangerous feature) : it will make the race harder to follow. But only the very clever ones (who are usually wrong) can ” read” the motor-cycle T.T. races unless they are at the stands, and pandering to the spectators is the surest Way of ruining any contest. It is worth remarking that any attempt to popularise motor racing by introducing “thrills” is doing the greatest disservice to the industry and the sport. If a remedy is to be found it must be found soon. I confess at the outset that I can see no inu-nediate and certain way out of the impasse but there are certain obvious measures which must be considered. The races might be run as class races pure and simple. A study of the advertisements in the press after this year’s race might lead the ignorant to believe that every single entrant was placed in the R.A.C. Tourist Trophy. There are too many classes and. to limit the number would raise countless difficulties: furthermore there would be not one winner but six or seven winners which
enormously lessens the value of any race. Rather the race be a handicap, but divided into two sections (as at Phoenix Park), 750c,c.-2 Litres, and 2 litres-8 litres. I name an upper limit advisedly because, while admitting it against the principle of the races as now run, I believe it is a size (Class B) which includes the great majority of practical touring tars. The Ards course has come in for a lot of criticism. I suspect the ideal course exists only in the imagination. To make it narrow and give the smaller fry a greater chance is to confuse motor racing with suicide. To make it a circular arterial road (like Nurburg ring) is to put too great a premium on mere speed and remove road conditions. Perhaps it is best to state the desideratum. It must be normal road with unbanked corners and allowing in places a speed of at least 110 m.p.h., it must if possible include a real climb and
descent : it must avoid freak features like hump backed bridges and roads on the edge of a precipice. There is no such in these islands to my knowledge and yet that which most nearly approaches it is the classic Isle of Man circuit. A large part of the course must be widened and some bridges (noticeably Ballaugh and Ballig) improved but I believe all this is practicable, furthermore there are sentimental grounds for returning to the island where the Gordon-Bennet Trials of 1904 were held and where the Bentley which of recent years has upheld British prestige abroad, Non its spurs in 1922. I believe the Manxmen would welcome the races. Let the races be known as the Senior and Junior Tourist Trophy races (again a leaf from the motor-cyclists
book) and they will command almost equal prestige. Let them be held annually and let the R.A.C. be not unwilling to modify the rules as they see fit, to accord with the advances in automobile engineering, always with a view to encouraging progress rather than standardisation. (This applies especially to any limit on capacity). This is but a brief survey and cannot consider every possibility, but had the Auto Cycle Union shown a more progressive spirit in dealing with their races their present difficulties need not have arisen. Now that we have our car race on British soil, let it be such a model to the world as our motor-cycle races were in their earlier days : the sporting spirit is here in abundance and needs only wise and firm guidance.