THE RE­TURN OF BRI­TISH ROAD RAC­ING

F1 Racing - - CONTENTS - MUR­RAY WALKER

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”

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