By Art Evans
The Tourist Trophy is the oldest motor race in the world still being run. The first was in 1905 on the Isle of Man, organized by the Automobile Club of Great Britain and Ireland. The trophy itself is given by the Royal Automobile Club to the winner.
Over the years, Tourist Trophy races have been part of the World Manufacturers Championship, the World Touring Car Championship, the European Touring Car Championship, the International Sports Racing Series, the FIA GT Championship and the British Touring Car Championship. Although the first six were held on the Isle of Man, afterwards they moved to various other locations in Northern Ireland and England. TTs, as they are called, were not held during war years and, in addition, there were some other years without events. In all, a total of 66 have been run including 2011. For many of those years, the TT has been Britain’s foremost motor race.
Some of the world’s best racing drivers have taken part including Rudolf Caracciola and Tazio Nuvolari. Stirling Moss won it seven times! Americans Carroll Shelby and John Fitch are also among the winners.
As the name implies, the TT is for touring automobiles, although there was an interlude for sports cars and even briefly for grand prix cars. In recent years, it has been for touring vehicles. During the early years of racing, the British government did not allow racing on public roads, so there was no racing there until a purpose-built course—Brooklands—was opened in 1907. Although part of Great Britain, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man had their own laws that permitted closing public roads for racing. So both were used for this purpose.
The first race on the Isle of Man was in 1904. Not billed as a Tourist Trophy, it was an “Elimination Trial” for the Gordon Bennett Cup event held that year. It was five laps over a 52.15-mile course won by Clifford Earl in a Napier. The Trial was held again in 1905 over the same course and again won by Earl.
As an aside, it should be noted that motorcycle races were also run on the Isle of Man. The day after the 1905 Gordon Bennett Elimination Trial, there was an elimination trial to establish a team to represent Great Britain in the International Motorcycle Cup races.
The very first RAC Tourist Trophy took place the following September, again over the same course. (Called the “Highland Course). John Napier won in six hours and nine minutes with an average speed of 33.90 mph. Regulations required a vehicle weight between 1,300 and 1,600 pounds, a wheelbase of at least seven feet, six inches and a load weight of 660 pounds consisting of driver, mechanic (or passenger) and sand ballast. Entries had to accommodate the driver and three passengers (i.e., have a back seat). Examples of the same car had to be available for sale to the public for at least a month after the event.
Forty-two cars started the race. Twenty-eight were made in England. Sixteen of the English cars finished plus two from other countries. The race was four laps over the Highland Course. Charles Rolls was a pre-race favorite, but Napier in his 3.8-liter Arrol-Johnson finished first by two minutes and nine seconds over a Rolls-Royce driven by Percy Northey. Rolls had stripped his gears shortly after the start. Napier set the fastest lap of one hour, 31 minutes and nine seconds at 34.30 mph.
The RAC decided to have a second event the following year. This time, the Isle of Man course was shortened to 40.25 miles. Charles Rolls won in a more powerful 22-hp model. In 1907, the RAC ran two races, one for lighter, the other for heavier cars. The “Heavy Tourist” was run during a storm. It covered only five laps, but even so, just two cars finished. In 1908 the course was reduced to 37.75 miles in the interest of safety.
For some reason, in 1908, 1914 and 1922, grand prix (open wheel) cars were allowed to compete. There were no TTs during 1909-1913. In 1914, the event was run over two days; each day an eight lapper. For the first time, there were cash prizes with 1,000 pounds to the winner. (A considerable sum in those days).
World War I intervened and there was no race in 1915. The next was in 1922 and then there wasn’t another until 1928. World War II came along, so there were none between 1939 and 1949.
During the period 1928 through 1959 and again from 1964 through 1969, production sports cars were allowed to run, even though it was still called the Tourist Trophy. A handicapping system was used so that, in theory at least, tourers had an even chance. Sports cars were allowed again from 1998 through 2001. Otherwise, TTs have been for Touring Cars except in recent years—starting in 2005—when they have been for Grand Tourers.
In 1928, the event moved off of the Isle of Man to Northern Ireland using what was called, the Ards circuit. It was 13.6 miles around an irregular triangle on public roads. An accident in which eight spectators were killed during the 1936 race spelled the end of the Ards circuit. In 1937 and again in 1938, TTs were held at Donnington Park, a 3.125-mile purpose-built course. Starting in 1950 and ending after 1955, the events went back to Northern Ireland using what is called the Dundrod Circuit, 7.42 miles of narrow, twisty public roads. Although potentially dangerous, it was the only place the RAC could find to lay out a true road course. At the first race after WWII—1950—21-year-old Stirling Moss demonstrated his potential, winning in an XK120 Jaguar. He repeated the next year, this time in a C-Type Jaguar.
Perhaps the most noteworthy year was 1955, the year of the horrendous tragedy at Le Mans. For one thing, it was Golden Jubilee year for the Tourist Trophy. Also, it was one of the events that decided the World Manufacturers Championship. Fifteen manufacturers entered including those in the run for the championship: Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar and Porsche. John Fitch called parts of Dundrod “narrow and treacherous.” In Racing With Mercedes, he wrote that, “I’d considered it extremely dangerous when I competed there in 1953 and found no reason in 1955 to change my opinion.” On the second lap, Jim Mayers in a Cooper crashed and was killed, as was Bill Smith in a Connaught. Later in the race, Richard Mainwaring was killed when his Elva overturned. Mike Hawthorn and Desmond Tittering were leading on the last lap in their Jaguar when the engine blew. Stirling Moss and John Fitch took the checker in a 300SLR. The Tourist Trophy was never held at Dundrod again. After Moss and Peter Collins won the final race—the Targa Floria—Mercedes-Benz won the Championship.
In 1956 and the following year, there were no TTs, but from 1958 on, all have been on purpose-built courses in England. Goodwood, Oulton Park, Silverstone and Donnington Park, all have hosted England’s premier race. In 1958, Carroll Shelby, with co-driver Steward Lewis-Evans, was third in an Aston Martin and the next year, Shelby, with Jack Fairman and Stirling Moss won in the same marque. In recent years, TTs have been at Silverstone including 2011 when Michael Krumm and Lucas Luhr won in a Nissan GT-R GT1.
[Source: Art Evans]