15-16 December: This Weekend in Motor Sport History

Discover the most momentous motor sporting events that took place this weekend in history….

~15 December~

1923: The first modern-type speedway race around a short track was held at West Maitland, New South Wales, Australia. The races were organised by a 31 year old New Zealander, John Hoskins.

1949: Raymond Mays and Ken Richardson test drove the first BRM V-16 race car in its public debut at the Folkingham Airfield, Bourne, England. Work began on the BRM V-16 in 1947. Regulations at the time split Grand Prix into two classes: cars with 4.5-liter naturally aspirated engines, and cars with 1.5-liter supercharged engines. BRM chose the second option, mating a Rolls Royce designed centrifugal blower with two tiny dual overhead cam V-8s joined at the crankshaft. The resulting machine was a little fireball that made 612 horsepower at 12,000 RPM. This astronomical power figure was achieved by the more than 80 pounds of boost coming in from the supercharger. Naturally, an engine of such strange proportions would create a note like no other. In 2004, Pink Floyd drummer, and vintage racing collector Nick Mason wrote a book entitled Into the Red. This book came with an audio CD featuring recordings of 22 of Mason’s race cars, and one chapter is dedicated to the BRM V-16. That audio has been cut over some sped-up footage in this YouTube video, and it’s a sound you will not regret listening to. Unfortunately, the V-16’s racing career didn’t really live up to its stat sheet. In its debut race at Silverstone in 1950, the car broke down on the starting line. The V-16 did later take a win at Goodwood, but blown head gaskets then became a persistent issue, thanks to the insane amount of boost being forced into the engine. Improved cooling would later make the V-16 somewhat reliable, but by 1955, new class regulations meant the engine was obsolete. It was replaced around that time with a much more sensible four-cylinder unit. These events can be seen in a short documentary below. Even if the engine was not the world-beater that BRM had hoped, it is impressive by even modern standards, and it represents the drive and creativity of its era.

1980: Peter Gregg, winner of the 1979 Daytona 24-hour race, died of a self inflicted gunshot wound. The 40-year-old was discovered at a sand dune south of Jacksonville by a hiker. An hour earlier he had written the suicide note found in his briefcase. Reports at the time suggested that Gregg was suffering from a progressive and incurable nervous system disorder which would have slowly degraded his physical capabilities and would have eventually been fatal and that this, in the context of his perfectionism for which he was known, was what motivated his suicide.At the time of his death Gregg had achieved a reputation as one of America’s greatest and most successful road racers with 152 wins out of 340 races he started. He won the IMSA GTO overall championship in 1971 and 1973, the 1973 24 Hours of Daytona in a Porsche Carrera, co-driven by Hurley Haywood, and the Trans-Am Series in 1973 and 1974 in a Brumos Porsche. Gregg won the 24 Hours of Daytona in 1973 1975, 1976, and 1978. Gregg won IMSA GTO overall championships in 1971, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1978, and 1979, giving him six career titles in the class, and the Trans-Am Series in 1973 and 1974. Gregg was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1992 and the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 2000.
2006: Racer Clay Regazzoni (64) was killed in a bizarre road accident crashing head on with a truck in Parma, Italy. He drove for Ferrari from 1970-72 and 1974-76, winning the Italian Grand Prix in 1970 and 1975, the German Grand Prix in 1974, and the United States Grand Prix in 1976. In 1974 he was second to Emerson Fittipaldi in the F1 championship.

~16 December~

1934: Scuderia Ferrari conceived plans for the 16-cylinder Alfa Romeo Bimotore race car.
1937: Doug van Riet driving an Austin Van Riet won the “II Rand Grand Prix” handicap race at the Lord Howe track, South Africa from Roy Hesketh (MG) and Don Giovanni “Johnny” Lurani (Maserati).

1982: Colin Chapman (54), founder of Lotus Cars, suffered a fatal heart attack. The son of a hotel manager, Chapman grew up in Hornsea and studied mechanical engineering at University College, London. He was an enthusiastic member of the University Air Squadron and learned to fly while still a student. He then did his national service as a Royal Air Force pilot in 1948. Chapman’s first car was a special built using a 1930 Austin Seven and this was entered in a series of trials. It was called a Lotus because Chapman and his friends had worn themselves out building it and they reckoned it had the same soporific effect as the lotus flower. In 1952, his girlfriend Hazel Williams lent him £25 to establish the Lotus Engineering Company with Michael Allen, with the aim of building copies of his racing machines. In 1953, Frank Costin joined the company from De Havilland and the Lotus Mk 8 enjoyed some success. Increasing success with the sports cars led Chapman to build his first single-seater racing car in 1956 and the Formula 2 Lotus 12 enjoyed some success in 1957. The first victory in a Lotus car came at Monaco in 1960 when Stirling Moss beat the dominant Ferrari team in his Rob Walker Lotus. The first victory for Team Lotus itself was at the end of the following year when Innes Ireland won the United States Grand Prix. Success on the race track was an important part of the company’s success and in 1963 Jim Clark drove the Lotus 25 to a remarkable seven wins in a season, winning the World Championship. The team was beaten at the last race in 1964 but in 1965 Clark dominated again. For the new 3-liter Formula 1 in 1966 Chapman chose BRM engines (a mistake) but the arrival of the Cosworth DFV in 1967 returned the team to winning ways with Graham Hill World Champion in 1968 with the Lotus 49. In 1970 Jochen Rindt was posthumous World Champion with the Lotus 72 and Emerson Fittipaldi used a revised version of the car to win Lotus another World Championship in 1972. In 1978, with six victories, five of them in the innovative Lotus 79, Mario Andretti became World Champion. Chapman was also successful at Indianapolis with the Lotus 29 almost winning the 500 at its first attempt in 1963 with Clark. The race marked the beginning of the end for the old front-engined Indianapolis roadsters. Clark was leading when he retired from the 1964 event but in 1965 he won the biggest prize in US racing. Chapman’s cars had many engineering innovations, and were always known for light weight. There is little doubt that if Lotus founder Colin Chapman had not died he would have ended up in jail for his part in the De Lorean Car company scandal.
1982: Active suspension was tested for the first time on an F1 car when Dave Scott drove the Lotus 92 at Snetterton, England.
1997: An Italian judge, Antonio Costanza acquitted three track officials and three members of the Williams Grand Prix team of manslaughter (omicido colpose) in the death of Ayrton Senna involving his accident during the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix at Imola, Italy.
2004: Lola Cars International began manufacturing 50 identical race cars for the inaugural Al GP series of 2005–2006, the largest single order in motor-racing history. A1 Grand Prix was unique in its field in that competitors solely represented their nation as opposed to themselves or a team, the usual format in most formula racing series. Unfortunately it folded in 2010.

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