Car enthusiasts gear up to retrace Cork grand prix

Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines for a grand prix circuit down memory lane.

Motor sports enthusiasts are set to retrace an international Formula One circuit in Cork this summer to mark the 75th anniversary of what was one of the largest motorsports events ever staged in Ireland.

The 1938 Cork Grand Prix was the last in a series which began in 1936. It was organised under international formula regulations — giving it the equivalent status of a modern day Formula One race — as part of a grand prix season of races in Crystal Palace and Brooklands, England; Pau, France; and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

It attracted some of Europe’s top racing teams, such as Bugatti and Maserati, and was watched by an estimated 70,000 spectators.

The Munster Vintage Motor Cycle and Car Club announced plans at the weekend to mark the 75th anniversary of the event in June. Event co-ordinator Alan Cavanagh said it will consist of a three-lap parade over the original circuit, with Garda escorts and rolling road closures in place.

“The circuit remains relatively unchanged from the one raced in the 1930s,” he said. “The landscape has changed but the road circuit itself is almost exactly the same as it was in the 1930s, and for a street and road circuit, that’s fairly unique.

“It offers a unique opportunity for vintage car owners to cover the same lap the cars did in the 1938 race.”

Mike Foy plans to drive his 1932 Smithfield Special, which competed in the ’38 grand prix, in June’s event, which will be open to pre-1950 race and sports cars.

Cavanagh said organisers are hopeful that cars including Maseratis and ERAs, which competed in 1938, will also participate.

They are now trying to trace the cars’ owners, including a person who owns the 4.5-litre Delahaye, which was driven to victory by Rene Dreyfus in the ’38 race, and which is now based in California.

The event, which will tie in with the second Titanic vintage car run organised by Cobh Classic Car Club, will be based on the Carrigrohane Rd on Jun 22 and 23.

British Pathé recorded footage from the three grand prix races. It shows spectators standing within feet of speeding cars on dangerous chicanes, and one winning driver lighting up a cigarette as his car pulls in to the pit lane.

The 1936 grand prix attracted 27 top drivers from all over Europe piloting some of the most technologically advanced race cars of their time.

One of the most famous drivers was Austin Dobson, of Surrey, who piloted the Alfa-Romeo, in which the Italian ace Nuvolari won the German Grand Prix in Jul 1935.

But Corkonians took Prince Birabongse of Siam (present day Thailand), who took part in all three races, to their hearts. He led for most of the 1936 race in his supercharged ERA but was forced out with a broken fuel pipe.

He competed against 13 other drivers in the 1937 race and set a new course record for the light car race in the 1938 event, with a speed of 93mph, again in an ERA. He competed in the 1938 heavy car race driving a Maserati but Dreyfus overtook him on the second lap and went on to win, breaking the course lap record with an average speed of 96mph.

*Vintage car owners interest in taking part in the June event should register with

Fast lane

The 320km Cork Grand Prix, which was staged in 1936, 1937, and 1938, took place over a 9.6km circuit starting on the Carrigrohane Rd, where cars reached speeds of up to 160km/h.

Drivers sped city-wards towards Victoria Cross and in to a tight right-hand hairpin bend which took them towards Dennehy’s Cross, and on to Model Farm Rd, before racing west.

The back stretch finished at the Poulavone hairpin bend, on the eastern outskirts of Ballincollig, where a roundabout now exists.

The circuit featured a notorious drop to the left, just after the Poulavone hairpin, known as Hell Hole Corner.

Several drivers failed to make the turn and ended up driving through a wall, and off a steep embankment. However, there were no serious injuries.

* See various shots of cars competing in Ireland's International Light Race here

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