23-24 May: This Weekend in Motor Sport History

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

~23 May~

1914: A quarter-mile track opened in Toronto, Canada with all 7,000 seats full and many more standing. 1,000 candlepower nitrogen bulbs lit the saucer. Races roared far into the summer nights, two to three nights a week all summer. Racers reached speeds of 80 mph over long distances, but thundered at over 90 mph in shorter races. Racers played rough and dirty elbowing and kneeing to get to the head of the pack.

1925: Land speed record holder Henry Segrave made the fastest climb at Shelsley Walsh on his only appearance at the famous hillclimb with a works 2 litre Grand Prix Sunbeam.

1948: NASCAR staged three championship events in different locations in the US on the same day. Gober Sosebee won at Macon, Georgia, Bill Blair captured the feature in Danville, Virginia, and Johnny Rogers tops the field at Dover, New Jersey.

1954: Lee Petty lapped the field to notch a rain-shortened win in the only appearance for NASCAR’s top series at Sharon Speedway in Hartford, Ohio, US. Buck Baker finished second with pole-starter Dick Rathman third in the race, which was stopped 40 laps short of the scheduled 200-lap distance.

1982: Don Prudhomme set an NHRA Funny Car top speed record of 250.00 mph in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, US.

1982: The Monaco Grand Prix was held, the first race following the death of Gilles Villeneuve at the Belgian Grand Prix; consequently Ferrari entered only one driver, Didier Pironi. By around lap 67, the race became a 2-horse sprint between Alain Prost and Riccardo Patrese. Once it started to rain and while Patrese was pushing hard Prost was storming around the track, trying to finish the race before it started to rain; and by lap 74, Prost pushed too hard and crashed into the Armco barriers coming out of the Chicane du Port (also known as the Dog Leg). On lap 75, Patrese led, spun and stalled at Loews. On the last lap, Didier Pironi led into the tunnel and ran out of fuel, Andrea de Cesaris also ran out of fuel before he could take over the lead, and Derek Daly, the next leader, already had a car with no front or back wing- and then a damaged gearbox which seized up before he could start the final lap. Patrese, who had managed to restart his car by rolling downhill and bump-starting, took his first race win. Pironi and de Cesaris were classified 2nd and 3rd, with Daly sixth. BBC commentator and 1976 world champion James Hunt commented, “Well we’ve got this ridiculous situation where we’re all sitting by the start-finish line waiting for a winner to come past and we don’t seem to be getting one!”.

1993: Ayrton Senna driving a McLaren-Ford MP4/8 won the Monaco Grand Prix. It was his sixth win at the Grand Prix, breaking Graham Hill’s record for most wins at this circuit, set 24 years earlier. Damon Hill finished second for the Williams team with Ferrari driver Jean Alesi third. Prost took pole ahead of Schumacher, Senna, Hill, Alesi and Patrese. Prost jumped the start with Berger getting ahead of Patrese. The order was: Prost, Schumacher, Senna, Hill, Alesi and Berger. Then Prost was penalised for the jump start with a stop-go penalty. He went on lap 12 but stalled the car as he was trying to exit. Finally the problem was fixed but he was a lap down and in 22nd. Schumacher, now leading, pulled away as Alesi waved through teammate Berger. Schumacher, comfortably ahead, suddenly slowed down with a hydraulic problem on lap 33 and retired. The main entertainment was provided by Prost as he climbed up the field despite difficult overtaking at the Monaco street circuit. It was time for the stops with no changes in the top 6 but Prost was the big gainer as he climbed from 10th to 7th. This became 6th and into the points when Patrese’s engine failed on lap 54. Prost passed Fittipaldi for fifth soon after. On lap 71, Berger attacked Hill and there was contact. Hill rejoined but Berger was out immediately. Senna won from Hill, Alesi, Prost, Fittipaldi and Brundle.

2004: The Monaco Grand Prix (formally the LII Grand Prix de Monaco) was held at the Circuit de Monaco, contested over 77 laps. The race was won by the Renault driver Jarno Trulli. The BAR driver, Jenson Button finished in second position, one second behind Trulli. Rubens Barrichello took the third and final podium spot for Ferrari.

2005: Ernst Henne, one of the most successful German motorcycle racers, died at the age of 101. After joining the BMW works team, he became the 1926 German champion in the 500cc class, 1927 German champion in the 750cc class and the 1928 winner of the Targa Florio. Starting on 9 September 1929 at 216.6 km/h (134.6 mph) on a supercharged 750 cc BMW, Henne achieved a total of 76 land speed world records, increasing his speed annually from 1929 to 1937. His last motorcycle land speed record was set on 28 November 1937 with a speed of 279.5 km/h (173.7 mph) on a fully faired 500cc supercharged BMW. This record stood for 14 years. Henne competed in the International Six Days Trial, and was a member of the winning German teams of 1933, 1934, and 1935. He also raced sports cars, winning the two-litre class of the 1936 Eifelrennen in the first appearance of the BMW 328. Having earned his pilot’s licence in 1932, Henne was conscripted by the Luftwaffe during World War II, but was declared unfit due to the skull fractures and concussions he had suffered during his racing career. After the war, he developed a contract workshop with Mercedes-Benz. In 1991 he founded the Ernst-Jakob-Henne Foundation to help innocent victims of misfortune. From 1996 until his death, Henne lived in retirement with his wife on the Canary Islands.

~24 May~

1903: At 2:00 am 224 participants {subdivided as follows: 88 cars in the heaviest class, (650 to 1000 kg), 49 cars between 400 and 650 kg, 33 voiturettes under 400 kg and 54 motorcycles} started at one minute intervals in front of the Eau des Suisses at the gardens of Versailles, for the first leg of the Paris to Madrid road race. Almost immediately the track became clogged with spectators after the soldiers, whose job it was to keep the track clear of human obstacles, failed to hold back the 300,000 or so spectators. To worsen an already dangerous situation, severe dust hampered the drivers’ vision and in some locations the drivers reported a visibility of no more than a few feet in front of their cars. This made it near impossible for the drivers to effectively weave around the careless spectators. A young soldier who stepped in front of a car to save the life of a toddler who had innocently strayed into the path of the car, died. He wasn’t the only person to lose their life over the course of the first day. Marcel Renault, co-founder of the car brand which shares his name, and his mechanic were killed when Renault’s car left the road at Poitiers. A mechanic riding on Porter’s car was killed instantly and Porter himself was badly injured when his car hit a rail crossing guard and overturned. A driver and two spectators died when a car left the road while trying to avoid a dog in the latter part of the day and hit the crowd. Loraine Barrow crashed his De Dietrich into a tree, killing the mechanic. A woman who was obscured by dust was killed while crossing the road when she was struck by another driver. Over the course of the first day, half of the cars left the race, either through retirements or crashes, while four spectators and five drivers or mechanics were killed. The French Parliament reacted strongly to the news of the numerous accidents. An emergency Council of Ministers was called and the officers were forced to shut down the race in Bordeaux, transfer the cars to Spanish territory and restart from the border to Madrid. The Spanish government denied permission for this, and the race was declared officially over in Bordeaux.

1914: A modified Singer driven by Lionel Martin won its class at the Aston Clinton (England) Hillclimb, an event that led to the creation of the Aston Martin sports car.

1931: The ninth Gran Premio d’Italia was run to the 10-Hour international formula and was part of the 1931 European Championship. From 25 entries of the best European drivers, 14 took the start with eight classified after ten hours. Due to the length of the race, a second driver had to be nominated to each car. Nuvolari with the 12-cylinder Alfa-Romeo retired early, while in fourth place. The Varzi/Chiron Bugatti had been the early leader but expired due to rear axle failure. The Lehoux/Etancelin Bugatti, for three hours in third place, retired with a broken connecting rod. Campari with reassigned Nuvolari won for the factory with the new 2300 straight-8 Alfa Romeo. Minoia/Borzacchini in another works Alfa of the same type came second, Divo/Bouriat in a factory Bugatti third and independent Wimille/Gaupillat fourth, both in twin-cam Bugattis. Ivanowski/Stoffel finished in fifth place with a Mercedes-Benz SSK, next were 1500 cc class winners Pirola/Lurani (Alfa Romeo) fighting off Ruggeri/Balestrero (Talbot) and last finisher Klinger/Ghersi in a stricken Maserati. The race was overshadowed after the popular Arcangeli crashed fatally during practice the day before the race.

1964: Glenn “Fireball” Roberts was badly burned in a crash – cover image – during the NASCAR World 600 stockcar race at Charlotte, North Carolina. He sadly died from injury related complications just over a month later. On lap number 7, Ned Jarrett’s and Junior Johnson’s cars collided between turns one and two and began spinning. Roberts spun off turn two trying to avoid the accident and his Lavender colored Holman-Moody # 22 Ford slammed backwards into an opening on the inside retaining wall, exploded, flipped over and burst into flames. There were no fuel cells or fire retardant suits in those racing days and they only had a fire resistant solution they could dip their driving uniforms into. It was thought Fireball was allergic to the chemicals in the solution, but he very privately suffered from an asthmatic condition and the chemicals affected his breathing. Jarrett’s car spun to a stop near Fireball’s car that was engulfed in flames. Jarrett rushed to and pulled Roberts from his car as Fireball was screaming, “My God, Ned, help me! I’m on fire!” With just a tee shirt for protection Roberts received second and third degree burns over 80 percent of his body. He was airlifted to Charlotte Memorial Hospital in extremely critical condition. Good friends Jarrett & Johnson were most shaken by the incident and it’s said to have hastened the end to their driving careers a short time later. Glenn miraculously made it through the first few days. Then he made it a week, then a couple more. It looked like the crew cut, athletic, always smiling driver was going to beat all odds and pull through this horrifying ordeal. It was only his athletic regime of staying in shape that helped him sustain. But 36 days later, on Tuesday, June 30th, Glenn began to fade fast. He contracted pneumonia, sepsis (blood poisoning), and a fever shot his body temperature up to 104 degrees and he slipped into a coma Wednesday night. Then, just 12 hours after things started turning bad, at 7:13am in room 3305 at Charlotte Memorial Hospital on Thursday, July 2, 1964, Glenn Fireball Roberts’ six week struggle for life came to an end. The checkered flag dropped over this fun loving, practical joker at the young age of 35 years old. He was buried July 5th, 1964, at a funeral service that saw over a thousand attend, in an above ground mausoleum in Bellevue Memorial Gardens (now Daytona Memorial Park) in his adopted hometown of Daytona Beach.

1964: Jim Clark in a Lotus-Climax 25 won the Dutch Grand Prix run over 80 laps of the 2.6 mile Zandvoort Circuit.

1981: Herbert Muller (41), 1966 and 1973 winner of the Targa Florio was killed when he crashed during a race at Nurburgring in Germany.

1981: Hans J. Stuck and Nelson Piquet teamed in a BMW M1 to win a tragic World Sports Car ‘ADAC 1000 Kilometers-Rennen’ shortened by the fatal crash of Swiss veteran Herbert Muller. Muller (41), co-drove to two victories in the ‘Targa Florio’ (1966 and 1973).

1981: Bobby Unser was first to the checkered flag at the 65th Indianapolis 500 for his third major victory since 1968. The victory, however, was short lived, as race stewards took the win away from Unser the next day and awarded it to Mario Andretti. It was the first time a driver had been stripped of the championship. Race officials, looking at videotape, said that Unser had violated the caution light rule and penalized him one lap. After a lengthy protest and appeals process, the penalty was rescinded, and Unser was reinstated the victory on October 9. Officially, it became Unser’s third-career Indy 500 victory and his final win in Indy car competition. Unser stepped out of the car at the end of the season, and retired from driving.

1987: Al Unser Sr. won his fourth Indianapolis 500 driving the year-old March-Cosworth car. At 47 years and 360 days old, Al became the oldest winner in the event’s history. Unser wasn’t even slotted to drive in the race, but he replaced March-Cosworth’s injured racer, Danny Ongias. The win was a spectacular ending to Unser’s storied career. One of only three men to ever win the Indy 500 four times, Unser also won on the Indy car circuit 39 times, posted 27 poles, and won over $6 million before his final retirement in 1992. Sadly during the race, a spectator was killed when an errant tyre was hit into the grandstand, the first spectator fatality at the event in a racing-related incident since 1938.

1987: Kyle Petty survived a race of attrition to score his first superspeedway victory in NASCAR’s premier series, winning the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, North Carolina, US. Petty, driving the No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford, took command when Rusty Wallace developed engine problems 17 laps from the finish to secure his second Cup win. Morgan Shepherd was the runner-up, one lap back with third-place Lake Speed. Only 17 of the 42 starters were running at the finish. Joey Logano, Ricky Craven, Brent Sherman, Colt Hammond, Tommy Chong, Jack Smith.

1992: Dale Earnhardt avoided the watchful eye of NASCAR officials as he exceeds the 55-mph speed limit down pit road for his final stop, then outran Ernie Irvan to win the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte, North Carolina (US). Earnhardt trailed by more than three seconds entering the pit stop, but returned to the track 1.27 seconds ahead of his closest rival. Other contenders howled in protest after the race.

1992: Al Unser Jr. became the first second-generation winner of the Indianapolis 500; his father, four-time winner Al Unser, finished third. It was the the closest race in Indianapolis 500 history. The margin of victory was 0.043 of a second. Lynn St. James, the second woman to race in the Indy 500, finished 11th and was named race Rookie of the Year.

1998: Jeff Gordon ran down Rusty Wallace with 10 laps to go and hustles to victory in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, North Carolina, US. With his late-race pass, Gordon denied Wallace a shot at the Winston No Bull 5 $1 million bonus. Gordon also took the points lead for the first time in the 1998 campaign.

1998: The 82nd running of the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race was dedicated to the memory of Mary Fendrich Hulman, chairman emeritus of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, who passed away on April 10, 1998 at age 93. Eddie Cheever Jr. earned his first Indianapolis 500 victory, at an average speed of 145.155 mph.

1998: The Monaco Grand Prix was won by Mika Häkkinen in a McLaren-Mercedes MP4-13, his fourth win of the season. Häkkinen recorded a grand chelem, having taken pole, set fastest lap, and led every lap of the race. A perfect start from both McLaren-Mercedes saw them lead through the first corner, with Häkkinen ahead of Coulthard. Fisichella and Schumacher were running 3rd and 4th. In the early stages the two McLaren-Mercedes pulled ahead, netting 12 fastest laps between them from laps 4 to 12. The pack stretched out behind them, while Heinz-Harald Frentzen succumbed to pressure from Eddie Irvine. On lap 18 David Coulthard retired with engine problems. Michael Schumacher was first to pit for fuel on lap 30. One lap later Giancarlo Fisichella went in, although he came out of the pits behind the Ferrari. Soon Michael came up behind Alexander Wurz and tried to get past him at all costs. When the two came to the Lowes corner, Michael went down the inside but the Austrian did not give way. The two cars touched and the Ferrari was damaged. Michael went in to pit for repairs, and he eventually came out three laps down on the leader Mika Häkkinen. Wurz appeared unaffected by the contact, but his suspension broke due to damage from the collision and he had a huge accident coming out of the tunnel, finally stopping at the Nouvelle chicane. After Wurz’s second accident on lap 42, the order was Mika Häkkinen followed by Giancarlo Fisichella, Eddie Irvine, Jean Alesi, and Mika Salo. However five laps from the end Jean Alesi experienced gearbox problems, and he was forced to pull out of the race, promoting Pedro Diniz to sixth. Michael Schumacher attempted to pass Diniz in the chicane, but they made contact. This second accident broke his front wing, and Michael finally ended up two laps down in tenth place, out of the points.

 

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