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Homepage. This page: Spectator programmes for the Royal Automobile Club's TT races at Ards in Northern Ireland.

RAC Tourist Trophy programmes, Ards 1931 - 1934.

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The Ards Tourist Trophy races, organised by the Royal Automobile Club (RAC) and held for nine years in Northern Ireland, ran from 1928 to 1936. Previously, from 1905 to 1922, they'd been staged on the Isle of Man. A fatal accident that took place in the final year at Ards, 1936, lead to the event no longer being re-staged on this challenging road course.

Race programmes.

Three examples of original programmes issued to spectators in 1931, 1933, and 1934, feature here. Each cost one shilling (5 pence), with the earliest example not only having the most colourful cover, but also the most pages (48, compared to 32 in 1933 and 1934). Each has an advertisement for The Motor magazine ("The National Motor Journal") on its cover, with the rear cover of each dominated by full-page promotions for arch-rival, The Autocar ("The Leading Motoring Journal").
Bryan de Grineau is the artist responsible for the cover artwork on the two earlier copies, while just a photograph of cars competing at a previous race, graces the cover of the 1934 issue.
Ards TT race programme covers
Unfortunately I don't know who these belonged to, although until recently they'd spent all their lives in Northern Ireland. Clearly he or she was a keen enthusiast though, as the score card in the 1931 programme, on which all the entries and drivers are listed, has been maintained as the race progressed, with the drivers' names pencilled in alongside the car they drove. The same record of proceedings has also been entered into the 1933 publication.
Famous marques and driver names feature in each event. 1931 for example, has cars from the following manufacturers listed:
Advert for The Autocar
  • Mercedes Benz
  • Bugatti
  • Invicta
  • Alfa Romeo
  • Talbot
  • Maserati
  • Arrol Aster
  • Frazer Nash
  • Aston Martin
  • Lea Francis
  • Riley
  • Austin
  • MG
While driver names that will be familiar to many, include:
  • L. Chiron
  • A. Varzi
  • G. Campari
  • T. Nuvolari
  • H. Birkin
  • G.E.T. Eyston
  • A.C. Bertelli
  • A.T.G. Gardner
... plus many others.
Three years later, in 1934, the list of motor manufacturers is as follows, and features a number of different marques:
  • Lagonda
  • Ford
  • Bentley
  • Invicta
  • Talbot
  • Alvis
  • Frazer Nash
  • Aston Martin
  • Singer
  • MG
  • Riley
Amongst the list of officials, is the name of K. Lee Guiness, who in earlier years had himself been a racing driver. Here though his role was of Road Control Officer. While the name Kenelm (Edward) Lee Guinness might not instantly ring a bell, his initials - KLG - were well known to motorists back in the day, adorning as they did boxes of new spark plugs. He was also a director of a certain well-known Irish drinks company..

Map of the Ards road circuit.

The Tourist Trophy took place on closed roads. Broadly speaking, the roads used included a section of the A20 (before turning onto a minor road), the A21 south out of Newtownards, and the A22 north from Comber, up to Dundonald. Interestingly, the course traversed a railway line. Rather than close the line for the duration of the race, a temporary footbridge was installed at the relevant level crossing, near Comber, as were wooden platforms on either side of the road. Passengers using the rail service simply disembarked when they'd reached the temporary closure and crossed over the bridge, before continuing on their journey in a second train. I'm not sure that would happen today, but such was the importance of the TT race to the locality, that such measures were agreed to.
Ards TT circuit map

Footage of the 1934 race.

British Pathe footage of the 1934 race, may be seen in the Youtube video below.

The Course.

Page 27 in the 1931 programme, introduces the reader to the course itself.

The Ards Circuit, over which the Tourist Trophy Race has been run since 1928, lies about five miles from Belfast; it is triangular in shape and embodies in its total length of 13 2/3 miles a fairly steep hill, a two-mile straight, and every type of corner from an acute hairpin to the smooth sweeping curve which the best drivers can take "all out". It permits of the use of maximum speed fairly frequently, but it also calls for the continuous use of brakes, gearbox and accelerator, thus testing not only the driver's skill, but also every part of the car.
The visitor from Belfast first strikes the course at Dundonald Hairpin on the top leg. From here it consists of a fine broad swinging road as far as the Grand Stand and Pits. Thence to Newtownards it is not so simple. A sharp left hand turn at Quarry Corner and then up one side of Bradshaw's Brae and down the other, curving and twisting all the way. Through the main street of Newtownards - a road as wide as Oxford Street, and sharp right at the Town Hall, where is the first danger zone in which no passing is permitted. Through the Square to the long straight past the Police Barracks to the Moate. This part of the course runs through rather wild country, and it is here that cars can be let out to their full limit with complete safety.
Over the slight rise and double curve at the Moate, another beautiful stretch of straight to Comber Level Crossing, and then about three-quarters of a mile of really tricky driving, to the next danger zone at Comber Butcher's Shop. This is another sharp right hand turn leading through the narrow main street of Comber village to the railway, where the course yet again turns right for Dundonald.
The leg between Comber and Dundonald is the most difficult of the three. It rather resembles a winding Sussex road, and whilst there is ample room for passing, to gain an advantage on this leg calls for all the skill and resolution a driver can command. This piece of the course ends with a fine straight run up to Dundonald Hairpin again, where is the third danger zone.

Following the fatal accident that occurred in the 1936 race, the running of the Tourist Trophy switched to Donington Park, where it took place in both 1937 and 1938, before the outbreak of WW2 led to the race's suspension for the duration. Between 1950 and 1955, the race was held at Dundrod, before switching to Goodwood (1958 to 1964), then Oulton Park in Cheshire (1965 to 1969). Silverstone took over from 1970, where it has remained ever since bar return visits to Donington from 1994 to 1998. A flyer for the 1953 Dundrod TT may also be found on this site, here.
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