Posted: 28 Aug 2013
The Manx Grand Prix is an integral part of the motorcycle racing calendar and this year’s event, running now, is celebrating the 90th anniversary of its first race which was held on 20 September 1923 and then called the Manx Amateur Road Races, which was won by Les Randles aboard a Sunbeam.
The race was decided over the Mountain Course, and was borne out of the highly successful TT races that had been first held in 1907, as the Manx Motorcycle Club decided to host their own event which would be open to amateur racers and naturally their own members.
The fee to enter that first ever race was a crisp 'fiver', considerably less than the £21 to run in the TT, and the distance was a gruelling five laps, 189 miles, on roads that are not as conducive to racing as those of today are. A former mayor of Douglas, Alderman A B Crookhall, MHK, JP, put up a magnificent trophy for the winner, and it is still presented, going to the winner of this year’s Seniot Manx.
Randles became the first recipient of the trophy, with a winning time of 3:34.32, having completed the race at an average speed of 52.77mph. Kenneth Tremlow ran second on his New Imperial some 77 seconds down while Arthur Marsden was third on his Douglas. The event was strictly amateur, even the pit-crews were amateurs and not allowed to be connected in any way with the trade.
That was the way it continued through to 1930 when changes were made, in no small part due to the controversies of the previous year, based on the definition of the word amateur. Whatever it was, 21 riders were disqualified and in the wake of that Eric Lea who had finished second in both the Junior and Senior races was declared the first double winner of the event.
The name of the event, after discussions between the Auto Cycle Union and the Manx Motor Cycle Club became the Manx Grand Prix in 1930 with the races distances for both the senior and junior events set at six laps. And in 1936 Austin Munks became the first double winner of the Manx. Two years later, the Manx was run for the last time until the end of the second world war with the resumption of racing in 1946 – the Manx Grand Prix were the first races to be held over the Mountain Course, after the conclusion of the hostilities.
The honour of becoming the first Manxman to win went to Derek Ennett in 1954 as he took the Junior race and a couple of days later George Costain made it double glory for the islanders as he won the Senior. By now the races were growing in stature with entry levels high, and lap times were reducing.
And in the event’s Golden Jubilee year, 1973, the first 100mph lap in a Manx Grand Prix race was set by Phil Haslam riding a Yamaha who averaged 103.15mph. Interest was getting higher and soon a Newcomers race was introduced and then in 1983 “Classic” races were on the programme giving a blast of the past to the Mountain Course. And for the statisticians and historians in 1986 there was a first again with a father and son double. Ralph Sutcliffe won the Lightweight race while his father Roger took the Senior.
The event that has been crucial to the development of the TT stars of the present continues to thrive and this year is sharing the billing with the inaugural Classic TT, but for the purists, the Manx Grand Prix remains something very special.
Images from 2013 Manx GP courtesy of Dave Kneen.