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County Kildare History and Heritage

Gordon Bennett Motor Race 1903

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Leinster Leader, Saturday 27 June 1903 – Page 8


The Gordon-Bennett Motor Race will take place on Thursday next, July 2nd.

Mr. Mecredy writes:- “Much confusion has been caused by unauthorised publications misleading the public as regards the Gordon-Bennet[sic] Course, in one case it being stated that the information was obtained direct from the Automobile Club. To put it briefly, the course is as follows:- The start takes place near Ballyshannon, and the cars cover the eastern circuit by Ballitore, Moone, Castledermott, Carlow, Mageny Bridge, and Athy, and return to the starting point. They then go round the western circuit via Kildare, Monasterevan, Maryborough, Stradbally, Ballylinan, and Athy, to Ballyshannon, thus completing a full lap of the figure 8 course, 104 miles. This they repeat twice, making a total of 312 miles. They then finish up with the western circuit, via Kildare, distance 53 ¾ miles, thus completing a total distance of 370¾ miles. From the above it will be seen that the stretch of road between Athy and Old Kilcullen will be traversed seven times, the stretch of road from Old Kilcullen via Carlow to Athy three times, and the stretch of road from Old Kilcullen via the Curragh, Kildare, and Stradbally to Athy, four times.

It is important to note that the “Race” is not really what the word implies. It is (now) purely a “time” test – a case of who will cover the course in the smallest number of minutes, not who will finish first. The car that finishes first may as a matter of fact be second or third in the order of winning.

It was formerly intended that the “first past the post” should have the Cup. But the Paris-Madrid horrors put an end to this perilous plan. This is how the contest will work out now:- The English holder of the Cup, Mr. Edge, will start first at 7 a.m. The other cars will start at intervals of seven minutes respectively. “Eleven sevens are 77,” and 77 minutes after 7 o’clock is exactly 17 minutes past 8. At this hour the Race will be in full swing. In the controls (the stretches between two sets of poles connected across the road by limewash marks), the cars will have to slow down. They will slacken speed on reaching the “in” limewash mark and they will stop altogether at the “out” limewash mark further on. The time lost in the controls will be credited to each competitor, and subtracted from the total time taken by him to cover the entire distance from the Ballyshannon start to the Ballyshannon finish. Watches specially made and electrical apparati. in the hands of skilled judges, will measure all times to a nicety. The competitor who has on comparison of all the figures of all the cars the lowest time (exclusive of the delay in the controls) will win the Cup.

The Race will then be a series of rushes or spurts, the complete distance of the 371 miles being punctuated by the controls. As no car will be permitted to leave a control till the one preceding it is seven minutes ahead, the chances of “dead heat” competition becomes practically nil. The judgement and the delicacy of manipulation entailed by the stopping and restarting will severely test the nerve of the motorist. He will not merely have to keep a keen outlook and a judgement “on the pounce” for dangerous curves, corners and bridges, but he will have to cautiously calculate the points at which he might “let go” his motor at maximum speed with the greatest ultimate advantage.


A Motorist writes:- “It is a question whether the wooden supports to the grand stands which are situated between the hedges and the edges of the road at the finishing point, Ballyshannon, may not prove a source of danger in the event of a close finish. It may, of course, be argued that the passing of the two cars abreast at this point is so improbable as to be almost impossible. It would no doubt be pointed out officially, in reply to the objection, that the delay in the controls – the rule that no car will be permitted to leave a control until the one ahead has been five minutes gone – would prevent any competitor overtaking his opponent so as to constitute the risk described. But there are certain chances which it would be unwise to overlook. Though cars may not break down and actually stop, they are liable to “slow” from a variety of causes with which practical motorists are familiar. For instance, a slight stoppage in the carburreter may reduce power and slacken speed; the water circulating to keep the engine cool may go wrong and so forth. These minor casualties might not have the effect of bringing a car to a standstill, but might so temporarily reduce speed as to allow the motor behind to cover the intervening space before the embarrassed competitor had again got up speed to the normal level. What would then occur? It would be neck or nothing between the two cars at any point, but more so if the two were in the last lap, for a driver would naturally risk a lot when close to the finish. The second car, of course, would be technically the winner in point of time, perhaps, but the car which had been first would have the obvious inducement to get home in front, and thus there would be the chance that either one or the other of the cars would collide with the stand supports inside the edges of the road. This being so, no risk should in my opinion be taken, and I decidedly think the danger (though seemingly remote) would justify the Club in substituting iron for the existing wooden girders spanning the road, and thus, by permitting of wider intervals between the supports, enable the obnoxious posts to be removed from off the road-side altogether and located beyond the hedge.”

Should the winner of the Gordon-Bennett race prove to be one of the drivers of the Mercedes cars, it is stated on good authority that he will receive bonuses, etc., to the amount of over £5,000. The bonus offered by the tyre makers will alone be £1,000, and the makers of the car, and of various other fittings, will contribute the remainder. Furthermore, if the winning car is sold at a big profit, as it usually is, a share of the profit will also go to the winner. Wealthy amateurs have paid up to £3,000 for a car which has won a big race, and the Gordon-Bennett winner will probably fetch even more. The guerdons of the English, French, and American teams are not published, but it can safely be presumed that they are pretty substantial.

The Automobile Club have now made the selection of the officials who will play important parts in conducting of the Cup race. The judges will comprise Mr. R. W. Wallace, K.C.; Baron de Zuylen, Mr. A. R. Shattuck, the Duke of Ratibor, Colonel R. E. B. Crompton, C.B.; Mr. W. Worhy Beaumont, M.Inst. C.E., and Mr. W. D. G. Goff, J.P. Each of the competing countries is thus represented whilst Ireland in the person of Mr. Goff has also a representative. The critical work of starting will be entrusted to Major F. Lindsay Lloyd R.E., and Mr. R. E. Philps, M.I.M.E., A.M.I.C.E., will have the still more important post of timekeeper-in-chief.

In the House of Commons, on Tuesday, Mr. Leamy asked the Chief Secretary if he is now in a position to say on whom will fall the cost of the extra police necessary for the protection of the public during the race for the Gordon-Bennett Cup.– Mr. Wyndham said no definite decision had yet been arrived at by the Treasury on this matter, but he should be prepared to give full information upon it on Thursday.– Mr. Leamy intimated that he would put a further question on that day.

The Automobile Club has issued the following:- A subscription list has been opened to defray a portion of the cost of policing the course over which the Gordon-Bennett Race will be run. The Lord Lieutenant of Ireland has headed the list with a donation of fifty guineas. The expenses of these additional police will amount in the aggregate to a considerable sum. The local authorities do not feel justified in allowing this charge to be thrown upon the local ratepayers. The Automobile Club of Great Britain and Ireland, the promoters of the Race, are under no legal obligation to pay the cost of policing the course, and it is doubtful if, as a club, they would be entitled to defray this expense. Under these circumstances, and bearing in mind the international character of the meeting, it has been decided to open a subscription list to which automobilists[sic] and those interested in the development of Ireland may be expected to liberally contribute.

On Wednesday the English racing cars arrived in Ireland. They were easily recognisable from their bright green colour and low build. The chief feature in their mechanical construction with regard to speed is that while the maximum speed attainable is limited to in or about eighty miles an hour, the mechanical arrangement is such as to render the cars very quick in starting and stopping. By means of a special clutch they can be started on their top speed, so that there is no loss of time in changing gear. By this quick starting and stopping arrangement the English team will have a great advantage in coming to a stop at the control stations, and being able to leave the stations at top speed. The cars have also the advantage of being able to go over the whole course without change of gear.

At the invitation of Messrs. R. J. Mecredy, J. C. Percy, W. R. M’Taggart, and J. Dunlop, jun., a number of newspaper representatives journeyed over portion of the course to be traversed by the Gordon-Bennett Cup competitors. The official stand, which is situated a little bit beyond the Ballyshannon cross roads, and at the point where the race begins and ends, is (in the opinion of one of them) a structure ugly beyond expression, and in its present state eminently uninviting. There are other stands in the neighbourhood tastefully constructed, and arranged to afford a good view of the Race, and the advantage of which is obviously clear at a glance. One of the leading impressions, however, was that the Moat of Ardscull, which commands a view of about six miles, would be a most advantageous point to be on with the object of seeing a good deal of the Race, and the other that judging by the narrowness of the roads, personal safety is not consistent with close proximity to the track.

During their stay the American visitors have become universally popular because of the consideration which they show to every member of the travelling public that they encounter on the road, and the entire absence of anything approaching “side” – a failing which more than any other gives strong offence to the good-natured and warm-hearted Celt. We have received communications from different quarters referring to the friendly feelings which “the Winton cars” have inspired during their tours through the various sections of country neighbouring the course. In one case the occupants are stated to have promptly dismounted on the occasion of a slight collision and paid handsome compensation to the owner of an injured vehicle. This certainly contrasts with the action of motorists who, after killing animals that came in their way in Naas district, careered wildly off with the evident desire of avoiding inquiries. The example of the Winton motorists must be more widely imitated if the new sport is to win any enduring popularity in Ireland.

Mr. Wyndham, replying to Mr. Leamy on Thursday, said the Treasury would not allow more than £1,000 towards the Constabulary expenses of the Motor Race. Mr. Leamy said the County Councils would not contribute anything, to which Mr. Wyndham replied that he “regretted to hear the statement.” The daily papers express the opinion that the Automobile Club will see that the charge will not have to be paid by the ratepayers! Whether the Club move or not, the ratepayers in Kildare at least will not pay a farthing. It is simply amazing that this fact has not yet fully come home to everybody concerned.