THE RETURN OF BRITISH ROAD RACING
Motor racing began in the early 1900s with the great city-to-city events in France where men such as Christian Lautenschlager, Felice Nazarro and Victor Hemery raced mighty leviathans over dusty public roads at incredible speeds. It continued at countless city, town and countryside locations on public roads on the Continent until after World War II. But not in the British Isles – with the magnificent exceptions of Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man.
Legislation put a stop to the multitude of hill climbs and speed trials we used to have on closed public roads, which meant our racing had to be done at ‘private’ locations like Silverstone, Brands Hatch, Oulton Park and Donington Park. Not that there’s anything wrong with them – they’ve been the scene of magnificent racing over the years – but when I think of the awesome spectacles that are the Isle of Man’s TT motor cycle races, the Ulster Grand Prix for bikes and the many other superb public road race courses in Northern Ireland, like Dundrod, I’ve always yearned for the same opportunities in Great Britain. Well now we’ve got them.
But let’s be realistic. In our overcrowded and nimby-ridden environment, what chance is there of having a city-based grand prix like Monaco and Singapore? Could we ever have a Serpentine GP like Albert Park in Melbourne, Australia? Or Montréal in Canada? Common sense says it’s unlikely – but hang on. We’re supposedly going to have an electric-car race in London and Mayor Boris Johnson is allegedly in favour of racing on the streets of the capital. A grand prix can bring in at least £100million pounds of extra income – and London would surely welcome that.
But can you imagine the ‘anywhere else but here’ opposition that such an idea would understandably come up against? Monaco is used to the weeks of noise and disruption its grand prix creates. It grits its teeth and thinks of the money. Maybe, some strong men could make it happen here, as Ron Walker did in Melbourne. If they could, the publicity, tourism, hospitality and race attendance rewards would dwarf anything that’s happened anywhere else. Remember how the 2004 F1 demonstration in Regent Street had over half a million people watching? The real thing could be sensational, although the political, organisational and logistical problems that would have to be overcome don’t bear thinking about.
But in a situation where the UK is only ever likely to have one grand prix, there’s another question to consider and that is how many of us would like to see a ‘London’ GP replace muchloved Silverstone? I, for one, would not, and since it has the right to host it for many years to come it’s thankfully a hypothetical question. The scene of the very first F1 GP in 1950, Silverstone is a superb, centrally placed circuit, rich in history, with ever-improving facilities and infrastructure, loved by drivers and fans alike.
But British motorsport’s new-found freedom to lobby local councils to close their roads for racing creates other opportunities. How about the return of single-seater racing to the streets of Birmingham? Or its debut at Manchester, Leeds, Bristol or Newcastle? Or the use of some of our thousands of miles of country roads? The possibilities are now endless. Making them happen, even with the passion for motorsport that exists in Britain, is something else but I’m sure they will. Roll on that happy day!
“Remember how the 2004 F1 demonstration in Regent Street had half a million people watching? The real thing could be sensational”