It is somewhat ironic that just a week after the British Grand Prix cancellation announcement that 71 years ago tomorrow (Saturday)World Championship racing celebrates its 71st birthday on these very shores. On June 13th 1949 the 350 cc TT race in the Isle of Man heralded the start of grand prix racing on two wheels not only in this country but also across the globe.
There has been a British round of the World Championship ever since until last week’s news. Torrential rain may have caused cancellation of the actual races at Silverstone two years ago, but they had been scheduled to run until the storm arrived on the Sunday morning.
It was a clear dry morning in the Isle of Man which has not always been the case before or since, as the riders lined up to start the seven lap 350 cc race round the infamous mountain circuit. This was no modern day 20 lap dash round a purpose-built circuit but a 264.11-mile (425.047 kms) battle with the 37.73-mile (60.721 kms) mountain roads. After over three hours in the saddle Freddie Frith riding the Velocette crossed the finishing line to become the first ever winner of a World Championship Motorcycle race. Later in the week the bespectacled Harold Daniell won the premier class 500cc race riding the Norton while Irishman Manliff Barrington brought Moto Guzzi success in the 250cc race which was also held over the obligatory seven laps. Former Lancaster bomber pilot Les Graham won the very first six round 1949 500 cc World Championship, but tragically lost his life in the Isle of Man 67 years ago today (Friday). He was 37 years old when he won the title making him the oldest ever winner of the premier class World Championship. TT winner Frith was crowned 350 cc Champion, Italian Bruno Ruffo claimed the 250cc title and another Italian Nello Pagani, who was runner up in the 500cc Championship, was crowned the very first 125 cc Champion.
The British round of the World Championship remained at the TT until 1977. When many of the top riders including 15 times World Champion Giacomo Agostini refused to race in the Isle of Man because they thought it was too dangerous the Silverstone purpose built circuit, that 27 years earlier hosted the first ever Formula One car World Championship race, took over. Bad weather and crowd problems at Silverstone resulted in the British Grand Prix switching to Donington Park where it remained until 2010 when it returned to Silverstone.
It had to be a strange new MotoGP calendar that was revealed this week but at least there will be some racing this year. Two thoughts came to mind scanning the new schedule. We may be disappointed in Britain, but what about those passionate fans in Holland where the legendary Assen circuit does not host a World Championship race for the very first time in 71 years. For British fans, the chance for a British rider to win the Premier Class race (MotoGP) for the first time since it came to mainland from the Isle of Man back in 1977 will have to wait for yet another year.
I am sure that wait will be worth it and then we can bake that birthday cake and blow out those candles.