07 Sep 70 Years Later
70 Years Later
While the Killarney International Raceway and Ferrari are both busy celebrating their 70 year anniversaries, it is interesting to note that the first race meeting in South Africa was staged here in Cape Town in 1903. It took place at the old Green Point Track on a gravel surface that was being used for athletics and cycling.
The field that day included a young driver who was later knighted and became Sir Alfred Hennessy. He founded the RAC (Royal Automobile Club), that controlled motorsport in South Africa for many decades. During that period, together with Sir David Graaff and Sir Ernest Oppenheimer he was also influential in the building of the seemingly impossible Table Mountain Cableway. As a result, he was appointed the first Chairman of the Board, when it opened in 1929.
But despite his help, while motorsport events in the Cape after that, were promoted with enthusiasm, the lack of a suitable track was always a problem. When Sir Alfred was asked his opinion about the Killarney development, during his later years he became enthusiastic and said it sounded like a very workable proposition.
In the immediate post war period, there were hill-climbs in Camps Bay and several other venues. Races were held on the beaches or on street circuits in Paarden Eiland, Gunners Circle and Sacks Circle, none of which were really ideal.
It was about then that the word “Killarney” began to be heard.
Legend has it that while no leprechauns or four-leaf clovers have ever been seen in the area, the name originated from the Broder family who emigrated from Ireland and set up shop on 0a smallholding that reminded them of the pub they had left behind. So, father Ben Broder named it the Killarney Hotel.
The motorsport connection began some time later when the Divisional Council bypassed a section of the main road to Malmesbury and in 1947, the AARC (Amateur Automobile Racing club), received permission to use the now dead section, for motorsport.
However, their tenure didn’t last too long and the Mets (Metropolitan Motorcycle and Car Club), the Cape’s smallest motor club, soon took over. Early events were restricted to speed trials (drag racing in current parlance), on the gently curving tarmac stretch.
But then members became hungry for real racing and in September 1950 the Mets proudly announced they had purchased 60 morgen (51 ha.) of council land in the Potsdam Outspan, for a nominal sum. This was on condition it developed a motor race track there.
Although the Mets had no money and development included the removal of acres of Port Jackson bush and fynbos, before any sort of circuit could be built, the members organised weekend work parties to get the job done. When the clearing was completed, local farmers who were members, brought their machinery to help the circuit construction.
And it worked.
The disused road was the main straight that swung left in the tightest hairpin bend in Africa (a section of it remains in existence as a feature of the old Killarney). The finished circuit was basically triangular and only just over one kilometre in length.
It wasn’t much, but the Mets members were justifiably proud of it.
And they were hungry for more.
The result was that in 1952 Killarney was increased in size, with a new loop around the Tower Hill (where the clubhouse is now), to a long, left hand corner that became known as the Big Sweep. It then joined a straight that extended to the original stretch of council road. Several sections of that track are still in use today and serve as access roads to spectator areas
It was now 1.85 kms in circumference, and a practical circuit for regional events.
The next change was in November 1954 when the Cape Town end of the circuit was extended to increase the length of the straights. The lap distance then became a more respectable 2.687 kms. As before, racing was always anti-clockwise.
The latest addition proved very successful and the circuit was used in that form for the next five years.
In 1959 the Mets negotiated a loan of 20,000 pounds from the Divisional Council for the construction of a new circuit to meet the Formula 1 standard of the time.
There was a spirit of great enthusiasm as construction got under way. So much so that it was finished ahead of schedule and ready for the first Cape Grand Prix on 17 December 1960.
The meeting included entries from Stirling Moss and Joe Bonnier in the new F1 Porsches, as well as from several other top overseas drivers. A large crowd was expected.
Unfortunately, the south-east wind was howling that day. The whole area had been bulldozed and cleared and had not yet recovered. There was sand everywhere and no undergrowth, or Port Jackson wattle, to bind it. Several racing engines were damaged, while disgruntled spectators left, saying Killarney would never see them again.
Despite a financial setback, the Mets persevered with the second Cape GP that was the last event of the initial Springbok Series, on New Year’s Day 1962. This time the F1 stars included a young Jim Clark, who went on to become a double world champion.
Although the Mets staged a major Argus Motor Show at the Goodwood Show Grounds that raised enough money to settle all their debts, the council took the ground back, but granted the club a lease to continue what they were doing.
In 1965 an amalgamation of the Mets with the AARC and various other clubs led to the formation of the powerful WPMC (Western Province Motor Club), that has controlled motorsport in the area ever since.
They went on to stage a series of sports car endurance races as well as national championship racing car meetings.
But the most successful of them all was the 1999 Continental Tyre Supertruck race meeting. Now truck racing had never been staged in South Africa and the men behind the wheel were unknowns. Yet the public turned out in their 1000’s, and they loved it.
Now, having secured the final leg of the 2017 Rallycross World Championship on November 11 / 12, the club will stage the first world championship race in South Africa since the 1994 Formula 1 GP at Kyalami. It is also the first ever world series motorsport date to be allocated to the Western Cape.
As far as the Ferrari celebration is concerned, although Enzo founded the Scuderia Ferrari in 1929, that was purely a racing venture, with an Alfa Romeo connection.
In 1947, the Ferrari factories in Maranello, that were rebuilt after being bombed by the Allies in WW2, witnessed the launch of the first Ferrari sports cars for sale to the public. And it’s a 70 year achievement that is now being celebrated around the world by hordes of Ferrari Tifosi.
Incidentally, Enzo was only interested in motor racing and was not initially in favour of the project. However he relented when he saw how successful it soon became.