Sri Lankan rac­ers

Old Bike Australasia - - CONTENTS -

Sri Lankan-born Chris Pereira has lived in Eng­land since 1955 and is the au­thor of sev­eral books on the his­tory of mo­tor­cy­cle rac­ing. Here he re­veals the lit­tle-known back­ground to as­pir­ing in­ter­na­tional rid­ers from his home coun­try.

De­spite be­ing in the In­dian Ocean, thou­sands of miles from Europe and the Isle of Man, dur­ing the late 1940s and early 1950s, Sri Lanka had a small group of mo­tor­cy­cle en­thu­si­asts who were very knowl­edgable about the TT Races. Fore­most amongst them was arch en­thu­si­ast An­drew Mi­rando who had been to the TT in 1949. In­evitably sev­eral rid­ers had am­bi­tions to ride in the TT.

Fol­low­ing the suc­cess­ful run­ning of the first road race in Sri Lanka at Nuwara Eliya in Jan­uary 1950, the Cey­lon Motor Cy­cle Club launched a fund rais­ing cam­paign, to send a team of rid­ers to the 1950 TT Races. A bal­lot was held among club mem­bers and four of the best rid­ers were se­lected. Pat Helsham, Wally de Zylva, Pe­ter Fer­nando and Colin Silva. Pat Helsham and Pe­ter Fer­nando were en­tered in the Ju­nior TT. Wally de Zylva and Colin Silva were en­tered in the Club­mans races.

Early in 1950, An­drew Mi­rando had im­ported a new Mk8 KTT Ve­lo­cette. This ma­chine was even­tu­ally bought by Pe­ter Fer­nando to be rid­den in the TT. Pat Helsham had pre­vi­ously bought the ex-Brown and Co 1948 500cc Manx Nor­ton on which he had set the fastest lap at the Nuwara Eliya road races. But this ma­chine was now ob­so­lete and Pat or­dered a new Mk8 KTT Ve­lo­cette from the fac­tory through Ve­lo­cette agent An­drew Mi­rando. Wally de Zylva was in busi­ness with Tri­umph agent Al­lan Jef­feries in the UK and or­dered a new Tri­umph T100 through him. Colin Silva ar­ranged to buy a new 350cc Club­man’s BSA Gold Star from the fac­tory through the lo­cal BSA agents Cargills. Hav­ing sorted out their var­i­ous ma­chines, the team even­tu­ally sailed for the UK in the com­pany of Aus­tralian TT rid­ers Harry Hin­ton and Ge­orge Morrison.

In the races, Pat Helsham was the most suc­cess­ful, fin­ish­ing 57th out of 64 fin­ish­ers at an av­er­age speed of 73.62mph, win­ning a Bronze TT Replica; the only Sri Lankan rider to win a Replica. Pe­ter Fer­nando fin­ished 61st at an av­er­age speed of 70.06mph. Wally de Zylva and Colin Silva both had bad luck in the Club­man’s races. Wally re­tired on the first lap when he lost the gear lever on his T100. Colin had re­ally cruel luck. The reg­u­la­tions for the Club­man’s races re­quired rid­ers to kick start their ma­chines from cold and many rid­ers ex­pe­ri­enced prob­lems. Poor Colin kicked away at his ma­chine and changed plugs without suc­cess, even­tu­ally af­ter half an hour, to cheers from the spec­ta­tors in the stands he even­tu­ally got his BSA started and set off. He was re­ported to be go­ing well and com­pleted 3 laps, but had to be flagged off be­cause he had run out of time. A pho­to­graph in the book “His­tory of the Club­man’s TT” shows Colin work­ing on his bike by the start line. Pe­ter Fer­nando re­turned to the TT in 1952 with a new 350cc Manx Nor­ton and was 47th in the Ju­nior TT at 74.42mph, but re­tired in the Se­nior TT with me­chan­i­cal prob­lems. He then went over to Hol­land for the Dutch TT where he fin­ished 19th in the 350cc race. To the ca­sual reader the re­sults achieved by the Sri Lankan rid­ers may seem dis­ap­point­ing, but it must be re­mem­bered that the Sri Lankan rid­ers had rel­a­tively lit­tle road rac­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, while the TT races usu­ally had be­tween 80 and 100 starters.

The next rider to set off for the Isle of Man was Rally Dean, the el­dest of the Dean broth­ers. Rally had rid­den in a few races in Sri Lanka in 1950 on his Tri­umph T100. In 1951 his fa­ther sent him to the UK and bought him a new 350cc Manx Nor­ton to ride in the Manx Grand Prix, ba­si­cally a race for am­a­teur rid­ers on the TT course, run each year in Septem­ber. Rally fin­ished 58th in the Ju­nior race and later rode in the In­ter­na­tional Hutchin­son 100 race meet­ing at Sil­ver­stone, be­fore re­turn­ing to Sri Lanka with his new Nor­ton.

Rally re­turned to Eng­land in 1952 and over the next four years he rode a pair of 350 and 500cc Nor­tons in the TT and on the Con­ti­nent. In 1952 he was un­lucky to re­tire in both the Ju­nior and Se­nior TTs with me­chan­i­cal prob­lems. In 1953 he fin­ished 52nd in the Ju­nior TT but re­tired in the Se­nior TT. He rode in the Ul­ster GP in 1952, 1953 and 1955 and also trav­elled on the Con­ti­nent with a van, his wife and his two Nor­tons, rid­ing in some of the ma­jor Grand Prix races and other mi­nor events. In the win­ter months Rally lived in Birm­ing­ham and worked in the rac­ing de­part­ment at the Nor­ton fac­tory.

Rally’s younger brother Zacky had started rac­ing in 1951 on a Nor­ton Dom­i­na­tor and in 1953 he rode in the TT on Rally’s orig­i­nal 350 Manx Nor­ton, on which he did quite well, fin­ish­ing 54th in the Ju­nior TT and 35th in the Se­nior TT on the same ma­chine. He also rode in the Ul­ster Grand Prix in North­ern Ire­land fin­ish­ing 24th in the 350cc race.

In 1953 Ralph Wi­jesinghe who had been win­ning races in Sri Lanka on his Tiger 100, em­i­grated to the UK to do a course in Engineerin­g. In 1955 he bought a 350cc Club­mans BSA Gold Star which he rode in vir­tu­ally stan­dard trim in the TT. He re­tired in the Ju­nior TT, but did ex­tremely well to fin­ish 44th in the Se­nior TT at 77.85mph, the fastest speed set by a Sri Lankan rider. He also rode in the Ul­ster Grand Prix fin­ish­ing 30th in the 350cc race. For 1956 Ralph car­ried out a few mod­i­fi­ca­tions to his Gold Star and in the Ju­nior TT which was run in damp con­di­tions, he slid off at Ramsey hair­pin and had to re­tire with a bro­ken footrest. In the Se­nior TT he fin­ished 43rd just miss­ing out on a TT replica. Ba­si­cally that brought to an end any in­volve­ment by Sri Lankan rid­ers in the Isle of Man and Europe for sev­eral decades.

Fast for­ward now to 1984, when I fi­nally achieved a life-long am­bi­tion to race in the Isle of Man. I had raced in Sri Lanka in the early 1950s and em­i­grated to Eng­land in 1955 and even­tu­ally started rac­ing in Eng­land in the 1960s, by which time the TT races were now be­yond my mea­gre re­sources. Un­like my pre­de­ces­sors I chose to race on Bri­tish cir­cuits. Dur­ing the 1960s I raced a Honda CB77 in Club events. Be­tween 1978 and 1981 I rode a bor­rowed 1937 MSS Ve­lo­cette in Vin­tage races and in the 1982, started rac­ing a 250cc Du­cati in Clas­sic races.

My fi­nal op­por­tu­nity arose in 1983 when a new race for Clas­sic ma­chines was in­au­gu­rated to be run with the Manx Grand Prix on the TT cir­cuit in Septem­ber. In 1984 I rode my 250cc Du­cati in the Ju­nior Clas­sic Manx Grand Prix, fin­ish­ing 31st at a mod­est 72.81mph. In the 1990s I also rode in His­toric events at Hock­en­heim and the Nur­bur­gring in Ger­many and Chi­may in Belgium, but fi­nally re­tired in 2017 due to health prob­lems.

ABOVE RIGHT Pat Helsham on his KTT Ve­lo­cette at the 1950 Ju­nior TT. MAIN Chris Pereira on his 250 Du­cati in the 1984 Clas­sic Manx Grand Prix.

TOP LEFT Nor­ton-mounted Pe­ter Fer­nando in the 1952 Ju­nior TT. TOP RIGHT Rally Dean rounds Brad­dan Bridge on his Nor­ton dur­ing the 1952 Ju­nior TT. ABOVE Ralph Wi­jesinghe try­ing hard over the Mountain dur­ing the 1955 Ju­nior TT.

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