When the world famous Gordon Bennett Cup car race took place in Ireland 1903 | Season 2 – Episode 3
Wheels Feb 24, 2022
In July 1903 Ireland witnessed its first international motor race in the form of the famous Gordon Bennett Cup. Ireland was chosen as the location of the race as the original option, England, could not legally host racing on public roads. After much lobbying and letter writing Kildare was chosen, partly on the grounds that the straightness of the roads would be a safety benefit.
The motorsport-colour; British Racing green came about from the Gordon Bennett race when Irish based Polish-born racer Count Eliot Zborowski had the English cars painted emerald green in honour of the race being staged in Ireland.
There was considerable public concern about safety after numerous crashes and fatalities during other international races specifically the 1901 Paris-Bordeaux Rally and the 1903 Paris-Madrid race. As a result the Gordon Bennett Cup Ireland was raced on a closed public road course which had been carefully prepared for the event.
The preparations started in April guided by the secretary of the Irish Automobile Club R. J. Mecredy who led a course inspection team. In addition the race was marshalled by motor club stewards, police officers and troops numbering in the thousands. They had strict instructions to keep spectators off the roads and away from corners.
The final route consisted of two loops that were a rough figure of eight, the first was a 52-mile loop and included Kilcullen, The Curragh, Kildare, Monasterevin, Ballydavis (Portlaoise), Stradbally and Athy. The second was a 40-mile loop through Castledermot, Carlow, and Athy again. Total length of the course was 528 km (328 miles). The cars passed through villages in the three counties along the route. Each circuit was lapped three times with an extra lap of the Western circuit.
A sophisticated timing system was put in place. This was based on 91 chronographs supplied by the Anglo-Swiss firm Stauffer Son & Co. of La Chaux-de-Fonds and London. Competitors were started at seven-minute intervals and had to follow bicycles through the ‘control zones’ in each town.
Many thousands of visitors came to Ireland by boat to view the race while some 1,500 brought their cars with the intention of touring the countryside while here. This is in the context of the total number of cars in Ireland was only around 300. With an estimated 150,000 people turning out for the event, some of them seeing a car for the very first time.
The race was won by Camille Jenatzy driving a Mercedes and representing Germany, in a time of six hours and 39 minutes. His average speed of 79.2 km/h (49.2 mph).
Rene de Knyff and Henry Farman, both driving Panhards and representing France finished in second and third places, taking a little over ten minutes longer to complete the course than Jenatzy.
Race winner, Jenatzy was nicknamed Le Diablo Rouge (“The Red Devil”) not just because of the colour of his beard but also his risky, some might say dangerous driving techniques!
For its time in 1903 it was a great success and Ireland, as usual, was fortunate in having the right people of influence to make this event happen.
Sources of information:
3. Graces Guide
This post is copyrighted© to Ireland Made®
Not to be copied or reproduced without permission.