Beginning in 1950, the RAC held the annual Tourist Trophy at Dundrod, a 7.416 mile circuit on the rural public roads west of Belfast. This narrow circuit, bordered by hedge rows, deep ditches and stone walls, rose 500 feet from Cochranstown on the west end of the circuit to Wheeler’s Corner in the east. As any of you who’ve watched clips of the modern Ulster GP motorcycle race know, Dundrod is no place for the unskilled or faint of heart.
With the tragedy at Le Mans only 3 months prior, the works Mercedes-Benz team arrived in Northern Ireland with 3 of their mighty 300 SLR’s, to be piloted by Stirling Moss and John Fitch, Juan Manuel Fangio and Karl Kling, and Andre Simon paired with a German newcomer, Wolfgang von Trips. Contesting the 3 liter class would be a maximum effort from the works Aston Martin DB3S’s, with Peter Walker and Dennis Poore, Reg Parnell and Roy Salvadori, and Peter Collins and Tony Brooks. A single works Jaguar D-type was entered, with Mike Hawthorn and Desmond Titterington, joined by a second privately entered D-type, piloted by Robert Berry and Ninian Sanderson. The Italian teams were out in force as well, with a 3 car effort from Scuderia Ferrari’s powerful 857 Monza’s piloted by Masten Gregory and Olivier Gendebien, Eugenio Castellotti and Piero Taruffi, and Umberto Maglioli and Maurice Trintignant, plus a 750 Monza entered by Ecurie Francorchamps to be driven by Jacques Swaters and Johnny Claes; and a 2 car effort from Maserati with 300S’s in the hands of Luigi Musso and Franco Bordoni, and Jean Behra and Roberto Mieres.
Rather than line the cars up by their respective practice times, the organizers chose to arrange the starting grid by engine capacity; This would prove to be disastrous decision. Starting amidst the works 3 liter cars was a single entry by an amateur racer, the Vicomte Henri du Barry, in a standard, road going Mercedes 300 SL. Du Barry acted as a rolling chicane among the front runners, causing an enormous bottle neck of traffic behind him. On the 2nd lap, Jim Mayers lost control of his Cooper on the undulating downhill section of the circuit at Deer’s Leap while trying to pass the hopelessly overmatched du Barry, crashing into a stone gate post, killing him instantly. Bill Smyth’s Connaught crashed into the wreckage, and later died from his injuries. Flag marshals frantically warned the following drivers in vain, as six additional cars wrecked by trying to avoid the carnage. Shortly thereafter, Richard Mainwaring’s Elva overturned at Tornagrough, and the driver was killed, trapped beneath his burning car. As for du Barry, he was black flagged by the marshals on lap 39 for “poor driving”; Apparently, a marshal spotted him smoking in his car during the race!
Meanwhile at the front of the race, Moss pulled into the pits to hand the 300SLR to John Fitch with the rear body work in shreds after a tire stripped its tread. Desmond Titterington took over the D-type for Hawthorn and raced into the lead. Fitch dogged Titterington around the circuit, keeping the D-type in his sights until rain began to fall, when he handed the car back to Moss. The 2 time TT winner would continue to press the leading Jaguar, constantly narrowing their advantage.
On lap 50, Titterington and the D-type pitted for fuel and Hawthorn took the wheel again. 6 laps later, Moss’s 300SLR caught and passed Hawthorn. On lap 60, Moss pitted for fuel and tires, and Hawthorn retook the lead; seven miles later, just before the start/finish line, Moss slipstreamed Hawthorn’s D-type past the pits and shot back into the lead, as the field went out into the Irish countryside. Hawthorn now found himself on the horns of a two pronged dilemma; trying to catch Moss, while at the same time holding off the charging 300SLR of Fangio and Kling. On the penultimate lap, the engine in Hawthorn’s D-type seized , spinning the car into a side road just up the hill from the start. In his typical devil may care fashion, Hawthorn strolled back to the pits as though nothing had happened and moments later Moss won his third Tourist Trophy race. It would be the final automobile race at the Dundrod circuit.
Rare color footage of the 1955 R.A.C. International Tourist Trophy, accompanied by Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries.
The British Pathe newsreel account of the 1955 R.A.C. International Tourist Trophy Race at Dundrod.
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