7th August 1926. Lust for Speed.
The first British Grand Prix was held Today on the famous Brooklands banked racing circuit in 1926. One of the contestants was Malcolm Campbell (1885-1948), father of Donald, driving a Bugatti 39A who came second.
Brooklands staged the only two British Grand Prix, of 1926 and the following year, before war came in 1939.
The races were established by the wealthy Henry Segrave, after his victory in the 1923 French Grand Prix, the first to do so driving a British car, and in San Sebastian the next year.
This had the effect of massively increasing the interest of the public in this new sport, as cars were becoming more reliable and capable of greater speeds, and who flocked to Brooklands in their thousands between the wars to witness the regular racing events.
Segrave epitomised the ‘derring-do’ of those times with his goggles and determined look, and on 16th March 1926 in a 4 litre Sunbeam was to capture the world, land-speed record by reaching over 152 mph on the sands at Ainsdale, Southport, beating Malcolm Campbell’s record of 1924.
The two Grand Prix races were made up of 100 laps in all amounting to about 280 miles, but which left out the eastern section of banks and outer circuit, and with temporary sandbank chicanes installed on the final straight of track. (see photo above). Not surprisingly many failed to complete the race owing to mechanical faults.
Henry Segrave, later knighted, was the first to break the 200 mph barrier in 1927, but his land-speed record of the previous year was soon broken. Attempts on water-speed records were also attempted, one of which killed Segrave in 1930.
However the inter-war period and indeed beyond, in the public eye, was dominated by the Campbells, firstly by Malcolm and then his son Donald, probably due to their powerful Rolex sponsorship and Bluebird Brand: money talks!
Post-war Malcolm Campbell unusually for those obsessed with speed, died of natural causes, whilst his son died attempting a water-speed record. Segrave is remembered by the Segrave Trophy founded by his wife.
Whether by design or otherwise, the final race at Brooklands, as recorded in The Times, was on August 7th 1939, thirteen years to the day after the first of the Grand Prix: racing was never to return.
The site was turned over to the production of aircraft and later some of the track was damaged by bombing, sections were also demolished for the dispersal of hangars.
bbc.co.uk/Helen Carter 16th March. 2016.Pic of Seagrave.