The Ards circuit
Posted 19 February 2001 - 21:19
In the late twenties, with racing on the road banned in England, the Ulster enthusiasts cam up with a magnificent circuit on the outskirts o Belfast, forming a triangle between the village of Dundonald, Newtownards and Comber. I contained everything a proper road circuit required, hills both up and down, fast straights hairpin bends, fast corners and built-up section through the three villages. The RAC in those days were very adventurous and believed that Great Britain should have a sports car race of some standing in the International scene, and the only way this was possible was to hold it on true road-racing circuit, the equal of anything in Europe at the time. The Ards circuit was the answer and in 1928 the first RAC Tourist Trophy race was held over 30 laps of the 13 2/3 mile circuit. It wasn't just another motor race, it was a great affair, and each year until 1936 the RAC Tourist Trophy race was an important event on the International calendar of motor racing. It was supported by all the racing factories of the time, Alfa Romeo, Daimler-Benz, Bugatti at the start, Lagonda, Delahaye and BMW in later years, and of course MG and Riley among many other British makes. To the people of Northern Ireland it was much more than a motor race, even more than a great affair, it was part of their life for nearly a month each year, with unofficial practising going on amid the Model-T Ford delivery vans and the donkey carts. Race days brought everyone out of Belfast and from miles around while boat-loads of spectators travelled from Liverpool, Scotland and the Isle of Man. The Governor and Prime Minister of Northern Ireland were in attendance at the start and for five hours and more the Ards was locked solid in the excitement of the Tourist Trophy; Dundonald, Newtownards and Comber were virtually isolated from the outside world and everyone revelled in it.
It was not until 1955 that I was able to visit Northern Ireland, by which time the Ards Tourist Trophy races were long ended and the RAC were using a new circuit out in the open country to the west of Belfast at Dundrod. By this time 1 had visited most of the important road-racing circuits in Europe, at Spa, Berne, Nurburgring, Rouen, Pescara, Siracusa, the Targa Florio, the Tour of Sicily, the Mille Miglia, Le Mans, Chimay, Mettet, Pan, Monte Carlo and so on, and had a good idea of what real road-racing was all about. The Dundrod circuit was quite nice, though a bit narrow, but could stand the scrutiny of any visiting teams, such as Lancia, Daimler-Benz, Ferrari, Maserati or Gordini, who were all over in Northern Ireland for the RAC Tourist Trophy.
After practice one evening I borrowed a little Morris Minor and made a pilgrimage across Belfast to visit the Ards circuit. It was all there, just as in all the photographs I had collected since 1933, very little seemed to have changed, and I drove round the 13 2/3 miles in wonderment. It was all much better than I even imagined. It was more than the equal of all the road-circuits 1 knew in Europe, it was road-racing in its purest form. No wonder the Ards TT races were classics in their time, no wonder all the top drivers like Caracciola, Campari, Birkin, Howe, Lewis, Nuvolari, Dixon, Dodson, Hall and all the others enjoyed racing on it.
I went back to Dundrod very ill at ease and had difficulty in working up enthusiasm for the 1955 Tourist Trophy race, even though Mike Hawthorn was doing heroic things with a D-type jaguar against the Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR team. I kept thinking " ... the lap record was over 85 m.p.h. ... Eddie Hall drove the 410 miles non-stop in his 4 1/2-litre Derby-Bentley ... they actually Went through Conway Square in Newtownards, and along that narrow street in Comber..” I was very disturbed
Denis Jenkinson had very high standards so this was clearly a serious circuit. I looked for a map, but couldn't find one even in Darren Galpen's web-site. It sounds worthy of the treatment Ray is giving Lobethal. Can anybody tell me more?
Posted 20 February 2001 - 07:08
The Ards TT, John S Moore, 1978, Blackstaff Printing. Soft cover.
Barry offered it to Darren with his regards.
Posted 20 February 2001 - 10:20
Then again, after dallying around for ten minutes the last time I opened the page... now it comes out right!
Posted 20 February 2001 - 11:28
Posted 20 February 2001 - 11:31