25-26 March: This Weekend in Motor Sport History

~25 March~

1901: The Mercedes was introduced by Gottlieb Daimler at the five-day “Week of Nice” in Nice, France. Driven by Willhelm Werner, the car dominated the events at the competition. Mercedes cars were conceived at the same venue in Nice two years earlier. After seeing a Daimler car win a race there, businessman Emile Jellinek approached Gottlieb Daimler with an offer. Jellinek suggested that if Daimler could produce a new car model with an even bigger engine then he would buy 30 of them. Jellinek also requested that the cars be named after his daughter, Mercedes. Daimler died before the Mercedes was released. In 1904, a Mercedes clocked 97mph over a one-kilometer stretch, an astonishing feat in its day. Mercedes cars dominated the racing world for half a decade before Karl Benz’s car company could catch up.

1909: The Brooklands Test Hill opened. Built in 1909 to encourage use of the track for development and test work, it was 352 feet long and divided into three sections, starting with a gradient of 1 in 8, then 1 in 5 and the top third has a gradient of 1 in 4. Manufacturers to test both the ability of cars to climb steep hills and also of their brakes to stop them coming down used it.

1928: Tazio Nuvolari in a Bugatti T35C won the Grand Prix held at the Pozzo Circuit in Italy.

Donnington Park c. 1937
Donnington Park c. 1937

1933: The first ‘road race’ car meeting was held at Donnington Park. English law did not permit racing on public roads, but the Donnington course was laid out in private parkland. The original lap length was 2.25 miles, subsequently lengthened to 3.13 miles for the Grand Prixs of 1937 and 1938. On the outbreak of war, Donnington was closed, the army occupying it as a military transport depot until 1956. Tom Wheatcroft purchased the site in 1971, and spent thousands building a museum for historic cars and reconstructing the circuit for car and motorcycle racing.

1956: Buck Baker, in a Kiekhaefer Chrysler, won the 100 mile NASCAR Grand National race on the 1 mile dirt Lakewood Speedway. Teammate Speedy Thompson was 2nd to give the Kiekhaefer Chryslers another 1-2 finish. Pontiac factory supervisor Lou Moore, a former Indy Car driver, builder & owner (of the famous Blue Crown Specials that dominated the Indy 500 in the late 40’s), collapsed and later died from a brain hemmorhage.

1961: Phil Hill and Olivier Gendebien won the Sebring 12 Hour World Sports Car Championship race in a works Ferrari. Masten Gregory led early in a rear-engined Camoradi Maserati before Pedro & Ricardo Rodriguez took over in a Ferrari. Stops put the Ferrari Dino of Wolfgang von Trips out front, but his steering broke to move the Rodriguez’ brothers back into the lead. Defective rear lights cost the Rodriguez’s badly after dark, giving the lead to Hill/Gendebien.

1972: The Ford-Cosworth powered Mirage M6 made its race debut in the World Championship of Makes 12 Hours of Sebring. Jackie Ickx and Mario Andretti drove a Ferrari 312PB to victory in the race.

1973: The Vuelta de 25 de Mayo was a Turismo Carretera race held on a public road course around the town of 25 de Mayo, province of Buenos Aires, Argentina. In a country with the avidest passion for motor racing an enormous crowd invaded the roads as usual, and the racers drove at full speed beside the spectators. While watching the race, a father with his two young sons apparently decided to climb a railway embankment to view a more large stretch of the track. As they started to climb the embankment, several people shouted at them but suddenly all three were struck and killed by a train arriving from Buenos Aires. Possibly they did not hear the warnings nor the oncoming train due to the racing cars rumble. Winner of the race was Nasif Estéfano in a Ford Falcon, from Carlos Marincovich in a Chevrolet.

1990: The Brazilian Grand Prix was held at Interlagos. The race was won for the sixth time by the reigning world champion Alain Prost driving a Ferrari 641. The win extended Prost’s record for most wins of the Brazilian Grand Prix. Prost’s winning margin was 13 seconds over Austrian driver Gerhard Berger driving a McLaren MP4/5B. Berger’s Brazilian team mate Ayrton Senna was third.

~26 March~

1900: The 202 km Nice to Marseille road race was won by René de Knyff in a time of 3 hours 25 mins 30 seconds driving a Panhard 16 hp. It was originally scheduled to return to Nice from Marseille, but it started to rain. The 12 competitors refused to start the return leg because of the road conditions that were already dangerous enough when dry.

1903: Speed trials were first held at Daytona Beach, Florida. Alexander Winton, one of the instigators of the Gordon Bennett Cup, made the fastest run with a speed of 69.0 mph over a flying-start mile in his low built Winton Bullet. The 17 litre engine of the Bullet was placed on its side to reduce the height of car.

The first Mille Miglia
The first Mille Miglia

1927: The inaugural Mille Miglia, the most famous long distance race of its time, run over 1,618 km (1,005 miles) from Brescia to Rome and back, began. Just 51 of the 77 starters reached the finishing post. Entry was strictly restricted to unmodified production cars, and the entrance fee was set at the nominal level of 1 lira. The winner, Giuseppe Morandi, completed the course in just under 21 hours 5 minutes, averaging nearly 78 km/h (48 mph) in his 2-litre OM. Brescia based OM swept the top three places. The Mille Miglia was responsible for popularising the Alfa Romeo, which won the race 11 times between 1928 and 1939.

1933: The Tunis Grand Prix was held at the Carthage Street Circuit in Tunis, the capital of colonial Tunisia. Tazio Nuvolari won the 37 lap race, driving for Scuderia Ferrari, Alfa Romeo’s works team, while his teammate, Baconin Borzacchini, finished second. Third place was taken by the privateer Maserati of Goffredo Zehender.

James Dean - 1955 Porsche 356 Super Speeder
James Dean – 1955 Porsche 356 Super Speeder

1955: Just before filming began on Rebel Without a Cause, actor James Dean driving a Porsche 356 Speedster, won the first formal motor race he entered, a qualifying race during the California Sports Car Club event at Palms Springs, California, USA. The following day he finished second in the main event.second overall in the Sunday main event. Dean also raced the Speedster at Bakersfield on May 1–2, finishing first in class and third overall. His final race with the Speedster was at Santa Barbara on Memorial Day, May 30, where he started in the eighteenth position, worked his way up to fourth, before over-revving his engine and blowing a piston. He did not finish the race. During the filming of Giant from June through mid-September, Warner Brothers had barred Dean from all racing activities. In July, Dean put down a deposit on a new Lotus Mark IX sports racer with Jay Chamberlain, a dealer in Burbank. Dean was told that the Lotus delivery would be delayed until autumn. As Dean was finishing up Giant’s filming, he suddenly traded in his Speedster at Competition Motors for a new, more powerful and faster 1955 Porsche 550 Spyder on September 21 and entered the upcoming Salinas Road Race event scheduled for October 1–2. He also purchased a new 1955 Ford Country Squire station wagon to use for towing the new Spyder to and from the races on an open wheel car trailer. According to Lee Raskin, Porsche historian, and author of James Dean At Speed, Dean asked custom car painter and pin striper Dean Jeffries to paint Little Bastard on the car: “Dean Jeffries, who had a paint shop next to Barris did the customizing work which consisted of: painting ‘130’ in black non-permanent paint on the front hood, doors and rear deck lid. He also painted “Little Bastard” in script across the rear cowling. The red leather bucket seats and red tail stripes were original. The tail stripes were painted by the Stuttgart factory, which was customary on the Spyders for racing ID.” Purportedly, James Dean had been given the nickname “Little Bastard” by Bill Hickman, a Warner Bros. stunt driver who became friendly with Dean. Hickman was part of Dean’s group driving to the Salinas Road Races on September 30, 1955. Hickman says he called Dean “little bastard”, and Dean called Hickman “big bastard.” Another version of the “Little Bastard” origin has been corroborated by two of Dean’s close friends, Lew Bracker, and photographer, Phil Stern. They believe Jack L. Warner of Warner Bros. had once referred to Dean as a little bastard after Dean refused to vacate his temporary East of Eden trailer on the studio’s lot. And Dean wanted to get ‘even’ with Warner by naming his race car, “Little Bastard” and to show Warner that despite his sports car racing ban during all filming, Dean was going to be racing the “Little Bastard” in between making movies for Warner Bros. When Dean introduced himself to British actor Alec Guinness outside the Villa Capri restaurant in Hollywood, he asked him to take a look at his brand new Porsche Spyder. Guinness thought the car appeared ‘sinister’ and told Dean: “If you get in that car, you will be found dead in it by this time next week.” This encounter took place on September 23, 1955, seven days before Dean’s death. He died Dean on September 30, 1955, near Cholame, California. Dean was traveling to a sports car racing competition when his “Little Bastard” crashed at the junction of California State Route 46 (former 466) and California State Route 41. He was 24 years old.

1966: The 12 hours of Sebring was won by Ken Miles and Lloyd Ruby in a Ford GT X1. Dan Gurney’s car, leading with four minutes left, stopped on course. As he tried to push the car across the finish line, the Miles/Ruby Ford passes him in the final minute. Tragically four spectators were killed when Don Wester’s Porsche 906 hit them while attempting to avoid a spinning Ferrari.

1989: Nigel Mansell in a Ferrari won the Brazilian Grand Prix at Rio de Janeiro from his sixth spot on the grid. He won over fifth place starter Alain Prost in his McLaren, finished 7.8 seconds behind Mansell. A stirring drive from Mauricio Gugelmin in a March took the third place spot from 12th on the grid. Ayrton Senna in the other McLaren, sat on pole but finished a disappointing 11th, 1 lap down. Riccardo Patrese set the fastest lap of the race in his Williams but was out with a broken camshaft.

Jenson Button - 2000
Jenson Button – 2000

2000: Brazil hosted the second round of the championship; five of the top six finishers were disqualified after the race because of problems with the wooden running board under their cars. After an appeal the cars were scrutineered again and everyone, except David Coulthard, was reinstated. The wing-end plates on Coulthard car were found to be 7mm lower than permitted. On the eve of the race Jean Alesi had a narrow escape when he hit an advertising hoarding that had collapsed onto the pit straight at 180mph. Sauber had to withdraw both its cars after the dreadfully uneven track had caused rear-wing failures, even though the whole circuit had been relaid. Bernie Ecclestone was slammed in the press for his failure to criticise the track – he had attacked Silverstone and Malaysia – which they claimed was simply because he owned the commercial rights to the event at Interlagos. Jensen Button became the youngest Formula 1 Championship points winner when he finished in sixth place in the Brazilian Grand Prix aged 20 years and 67 days old. Driving for the Williams team in his first season in Formula One, Button originally finished the race in seventh position, but later McLaren driver David Coulthard was disqualified from his second place finish and Button was promoted to a points scoring position.

2007: Rookie Oliver Jarvis broke A1 Team Great Britain’s duck giving the team its maiden victory in the Mexico City Feature race. Despite finish third overall in the first season and sitting in third place again in the 2006/07, Great Britain had made it 39 races without a single win.

2010: Two days before the Australian Grand Prix, Victoria Police witnessed Lewis Hamilton “deliberately losing traction” in his silver Mercedes-AMG C63, and impounded the car for 48 hours. Hamilton immediately released a statement of apology for “driving in an over-exuberant manner”. After being charged with intentionally losing control of a vehicle, Hamilton was eventually fined A$500 (£288), being described as a “Hoon” [boy racer] by the magistrate.

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