Pre-war Sportscar Racing

It can be argued that Sportscar racing is the original form of racing as, despite their titles of Grand Prixs, the early races involved long, gruelling events and two seater cars, including 'riding mechanics'.

Early Targa Floria
An early Targa Floria

Initial sportscar races were true road races along public roads, closed (somewhat haphazadly) for the events. The aim of these early events to prove the reliability of the new fangled 'automobile'. Long distance trials were popular, although possibly more like Rallies than sportscar races in nature. Events like the Peking-Paris of the early 1900s and the Liege-Sofia-Liege.

By the 1920s, safety had improved a little and the idea of 'lapping' a circuit (albeit usually still on public roads) had gained in popularity. In Italy the legendary road races, the Mille Miglia started 1927 whilst the Targa Floria had first been run in 1906.

Bugatti at Le Mans '37
Bugatti at Le Mans 1937

The first Le Mans 24 hours had been run 1923 on the public roads near to the French city and in Britain, the Tourist Trophy (now a touring car, in the sense of saloon cars, race) was being run on closed public roads in Northern Ireland and the Isle Of Man from the 20s onwards.

Bentley Boys
Bentley Boys

Around this period, the two centres of true circuit racing were Brooklands in England, near to Weybridge and Indianapolis in the States. Of course, Indianapolis has never been a mecca for Sportscars, but Brooklands was the second (maybe first) home to the legendary Bentley Boys, like Birkin, who dominated Le Mans in the 20s and early 30s.

Bentley at Brooklands
Bentley at Brooklands

Other makes who achieved success in sportscar racing in the 20s and 30s were Alfa Romeo, Bugatti, Lagonda and Aston Martin (long before their merger).

Alfa Romeo 8C
Alfa Romeo 8C

By the time the war started in 1939, Mercedes and Auto Union (later to become Audi) were used to perpetuate the myth of Nazi supremacy in Grand Prix racing. Mercedes were also involved in sportscar racing, but with less success. That was to come, unlike the thousand year reich.

Mercedes SSK
Mercedes SSK in action

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