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Grand Prix

Grand Prix racing grew up in New Zealand with a bang. The date – January 9, 1954. This was an historical day for New Zealand motor racing.

But if the first New Zealand Grand Prix marked the beginning of an era, there had been a prelude to it stretching back over 34 years, three and a half decades in which the pioneers of the sport followed their individual quests for speed on the beaches, on the highways in the early years, and on the dirt tracks of the late twenties and thirties.

Nor should Auckland take all the credit for bringing big racing to New Zealand, for others were in the field first, if not with the same breadth of imagination or spectacular success. The Motor Racing Club started its Lady Wigram Trophy series in Christchurch on a large scale in 1951, and the Manawatu Car Club’s sponsorship of the Ohakea races in 1950 and the subsequent years showed Auckland that it was on firm ground in taking the plunge by organising a race meeting on the largest scale.

In Auckland, quite a lot of thought had been given to starting circuit or road racing. In the late forties some races were held on the Seagrove aerodrome, on the southern shores of the Manukau Harbour and over 70 km (40 miles) from Auckland by the enthusiasts of the Auckland Car Club.

Much closer to Auckland, however, was another deserted wartime airfield, Ardmore, closed to motorised traffic and used occasionally by gliders. After many approaches to the Civil Aviation Department, the Club was rewarded for its persistence by permission to use the airfield for racing – for one event, on one weekend of the year.

This ruled out the car club’s modest plans, which were to have several days’ racing a year at Ardmore, but forced it into a far wider field, organisation of a genuine grand prix under Formula Libre (unrestricted class), the only kind of racing possible at the time in New Zealand, because of its mixture of venerable racing cars and made-up specials.

A team was put together to organise the major event. Realising that it was too big for the Club to handle alone, they co-opted the Northern Sports Car Club and the Auckland Motorcycle Club. By the middle of 1953, the organisation was strong enough to be able to make attractive offers to overseas drivers, and the stage was set for the beginning of true grand prix racing in New Zealand.

On January 9, 1954 an estimated 70,000 people turned up at Ardmore, and the event was a howling success – literally, with the supercharged 1 -litre BRM screaming around the circuit. One person in every 12 in the Auckland province was there, and grand prix racing had come to stay.

Ardmore Circuit

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