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County Kildare History and Heritage

Gordon Bennett Motor Race 1903

Intro and Menu | April Articles

Leinster Leader, Saturday 11 April 1903- Page 6.


The great race for the possession of the Gordon-Bennett trophy, which will take place in the first week of July, has an interest for Ireland which cannot be exaggerated. For the first time in her history Ireland will be the envy of the sporting world. She has been selected as the battle-ground on which to decide the supremacy of the latest inventions to revolutionise locomotion. France, Germany, England and America will enter the lists to fight out the battle of speed on the morning of the 2nd of July. The contest will not only be a test of speed, but a test of the native workmanship of each of the competing countries as well.
One of the conditions of the race is that the cars must be the absolute production of their respective nationalities. This rule is rigid, and cannot be evaded. The application of it handicapped England in the first years of the contest, for the art of manufacturing the electric coil, the most vital part of the machinery, in which the French were adepts[sic], was only acquired by England recently. With such tremendous international trade issues depending upon the result, it will be readily understood how keen will be the struggle.

When it was first decided to run the race in Ireland, Naas was spoken of as the likely starting and finishing point, but quite recently the English and French champions decided that the roads from Naas to Kilcullen and Newbridge would be unsuitable for high speeds on account of their numerous turns and twists. After inspecting the district they at last decided that it would be much safer to start the cars a few miles south of Old Kilcullen, at the Ballyshannon cross roads, where the road lies straight for nearly three miles. The fatal accident to Count Zborowski recently at Nice, who was to have been one of the competitors in the race, justifies this alteration. The Count failing to bring his machine completely round a corner a few yards from the starting point, dashed straight onwards into the rocks which border the road, and was killed. This unhappy incident should be a timely warning to all and sundry to avoid corners while watching the race.

Notices printed both in English and Irish will be freely circulated, illustrating the dangers run by crossing or running out on the course after a car has passed.

Each nation will have its own distinguishing colours. English cars will be painted green in compliment to Ireland, German white, France blue and America red, so that spectators will be easily able to distinguish the car’s nationality, however fast they dash by. Punctually at 7 a.m. on the morning of the 2nd July Mr. Edge driving the first of the English green cars, will be despatched, followed by France, then America, and lastly Germany. One can imagine with what eagerness all will strive to distinguish the colour of the leading car as it returns on its first round. It is expected that the last will not reach the finishing point before 4 p.m.. On the Curragh the finest sport will be seen, for there the racers will take advantage of the flat fields in their endeavour to pass one another, and the sight of two leviathans each travelling at the rate of 70 miles an hour within a few inches of one another will be a sight worth seeing.

It is a difficult matter to predict the ultimate winner, but if speed were the only factor in the race the French cars, which are universally acknowledged to be the fastest, would probably take the prize. The new German cars built especially for the race have come out 28 lbs. over the regulation weight of one ton, so there will ensue a process of “sweating” them down to the proper weight. The English Napiers have been built more for reliability than abnormal speed, and have already been thoroughly tested on the road, but it is yet undecided whether the third place will be filled by another Napier or by a Star racing car. The eliminating test to decide this will probably be run in Ireland over a 20 to 30 mile stretch in the course of the next few weeks. This will be a good opportunity to get an idea of the rate of speed at which they can travel. The Americans are still in the experimental stage, and have as yet taken part in no important contest. They are unknown factors in motor racing, and speculation is strong as to their speed and capabilities.

The course will be kept clear by a guard of nearly 1,400 persons, and the whole length of the road will be roped off. The approach of the cars will be announced by buglers stationed at regular intervals, and all dangerous corners and bridges will be marked with flags. A request will probably be made to the farmers in the district which we are sure will be readily granted, to lend them carts and hurdles to block up all side roads and approaches. Intending spectators will do well to remember that on the day of the race the only way to the inside of the course will be through the “controls” at Kildare, Castledemott, Carlow and Athy. Through these towns the cars will be obliged to travel at a slow speed, preceded by a bicycle. The racing cars will be in Ireland several weeks before the contest, but will not be allowed to go round the course till the day of the race. Several fields have been purchased near the Ballyshannon cross roads on which large stands and enclosures will be erected for the accommodation of the foreign visitors – Sir C. K.