Road racing centenary celebration

Cars from throughout the 10 decades that the Road Races Act has facilitated Northern Ireland's unique motorsport tradition were on display at Mount Stewart as the Ulster Automobile Club celebrated the legislation's centenary

ON these pages last week we highlighted how the record for the world's most expensive car had been smashed into smithereens, writes William Scholes.

The 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR Uhlenhaut Coupe - one of only two ever built - was sold by the company for €135 million, a sum extraordinary enough to make it among the 10 most valuable items ever auctioned.

Mercedes retains the sister car, which is considered to be even more valuable because its history includes being driven by motorsport legends Stirling Moss and Juan Manuel Fangio.

Among the places where the 300 SLR Uhlenhaut Coupe was driven in anger was Co Antrim's fearsome Dundrod circuit. It was staged on closed public roads - you can still drive them by a car today, albeit not at Moss or Fangio speeds... - and in 1955 hosted the prestigious RAC Tourist Trophy race.

That such a race could be held on ordinary roads - in the same manner as other great European road races of the era, such as Italy's Mille Miglia and Targa Florio - was thanks to a piece of legislation passed in 1922, in the very early days of the fledgling Northern Ireland Parliament.

The Mini was an all-conquering competition car throughout the 1960s... and is still highly effective in the right hands.

Among the figures who helped steer the Road Races Act into law was the Marquess of Londonderry - which is why the Ulster Automobile Club held its celebration of the Act's centenary at Mount Stewart outside Newtownards, the ancestral home of the Londonderry family.

The UAC displayed 10 cars and 10 motorbikes to represent each of the 10 decades that the north has had legislation to allow roads to be closed for motorsport events, including the North West 200, Tandragee 100 and Armoy Road Races for motorcycles and the Circuit of Ireland International Rally, Craigantlet Hill Climb and Knockagh Hill Climb for cars.

One of the highlights of the celebration was a pedal car race in front of the House. A number of practices were held for each of the two classes of vehicles. Three racers competed in each heat and the final - a very exhausting experience for the young drivers who were aged between five and eight years old. Lady Rose Lauritzen, granddaughter of the 7th Marquess and Marchioness of Londonderry, presented awards to each of the 'Future Racing Champions' - perhaps a future Fangio or Moss among them.

Some of the 'Future Racing Champions' who gave their all in the pedal car races.

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