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South African Motor Racing started in the early 1930s after the municipality constructed a circular road on the West Bank of East London.
Mr Brud Bishop, the motoring editor of the local newspaper, The Daily Dispatch, on a Sunday drive around the route decided to hold a race there.
Born in England where his career began, together with his position at The Daily Dispatch and with all his contacts, international and local racing entries began filtering through for this racing competition.
Initially, this racing event was local and went under the name of the “Border Hundred”. However, with the widespread local and global support and especially the eagerness of the South African public to see a road race, it turned into a national event and subsequently into an international event. This competition became known as The South African Grand Prix.
On 27 December 1934, the South African Grand Prix Motor Car Road Race took place on the magnificent Marine Drive Circuit, only a few kilometres from the heart of the city. Eighteen of the finest drivers from South Africa, America and Great Britain competed over six laps of the 15.2mile (24.5km) course. The first prize was 250 pounds and the 100 guinea Barnes’ Silver Trophy.
This competition and the interest generated was one of the most thrilling experiences in the annals of South African sport. Approximately 65 000 people attended this event.
The race was won by Whitney Straight, an American millionaire sportsman, who flew out from England to compete in his Maserati racing car. Second place went to JH Case, a popular Queenstown entrant and Michael Straight, brother of Whitney Straight took third place.
Whitney set up a World Record for road races steering his Maserati to victory at an average speed of 95.43miles (153.58km) per hour. During the race he reached a top speed of 152 miles (244.62km) per hour, only 4miles (6.44km) below the top speed that the Maserati was capable of. This was the fastest he had ever driven in his famous racing shell.
He was so pleased with the Marine Drive as a Grand Prix Circuit that he declared he would be back to defend his title. “South Africa has been placed on the calendar of International Racing Sport, and will in future receive recognition as such from the world’s aces”, were his parting words to the country.
The official South African Grand Prix was born!
The South African Grand Prix continued to take place from 1936 to 1939 after Potters Pass was introduced to avoid racing through the township of the West Bank. This shortened the track to 11 miles and 57 yards and was then named The Prince George Circuit.
When the old circuit was affected by the introduction of the new airport after the war, interest in motor racing was kept alive by racing on the Esplanade in East London.
1959 saw the opening of the new Grand Prix Circuit as we know it today. It measured 2.4miles (3.86km) in length.
The 6th South African Grand Prix in January 1960 on the new track drew a crowd of 50 000. The 7th race took place in December 1960, while the 8th was in December 1961 and drew 67 000 spectators. The 9th Grand Prix occurred in December 1962 and was to be the decider for the World Championship. It drew 90 000 spectators. 1963 saw the 10th Grand Prix which drew a crowd of 40,000, while the 11th race in January 1965 drew 50 000 spectators. The 12th and final Grand Prix took place in January 1966.