Motorcar Racing


A motorcar trial at Brown's River (Kingston) in 1910 (AOT, PH30/1/8176)

Motorcar racing started soon after cars appeared around 1904, with clubs in Launceston (1905) and Hobart (1907) holding hill climbs, the most popular motor sport, as well as reliability trials and speed runs. The clubs merged in 1926 to form the non-racing Royal Automobile Club of Tasmania, but the Light Car Club of Tasmania (1939) did promote motor racing though not immediately.

After the Second World War races were held on airstrips at Tunbridge, Valleyfield and Quorn Hall, and hill climb championships were held on public roads until 1972. Meanwhile, in 1953 an international standard road-racing circuit was established at Longford. Regarded as the fastest in Australia, it attracted such drivers as Jack Brabham, who drew huge crowds. In 1960 the Australian Sports Car Championship was raced at Longford, and in 1959 and 1965 the Australian Grand Prix.

Meanwhile, in 1958 the Hobart Sporting Car Club built a road-racing circuit at Baskerville, near Old Beach. Among the drivers was John Youl, who leased a paddock on his property, Symmons Plains, to the Light Car Club, which constructed the Symmons Plains International Raceway (1960). Soaring costs caused the Longford circuit to close in 1968, but Symmons Plains boomed, from 1969 holding rounds of the Australian Touring Car Championship and the Gold Star series, Australia's premier open-wheeler race. Meanwhile, from 1975 Baskerville hosted the Tasmanian Ten Thousand. Circuit racing was popular in the 1980s but in the 1990s support dwindled as the economy declined and tobacco sponsorship was prohibited. Several circuit managers went bankrupt, and the last round of the Australian Touring Car series was held in Tasmania in 1999; however, a new statewide group, Motorsports Tasmania (2000), has revived racing at Symmons Plains. Successful drivers included John Bowe, who won the Australian Driving Championship, 198486, and the Bathurst 1000 in 1994 and 1998; Paul Stokell, who won the Australian Drivers' Championship (open wheelers) in 1994, 1995 and 1996; and Marcos Ambrose, who won the national V8 Series in 2003. In 2004 a crowd of 30,150 attended the V8 Supercar championship, a Tasmanian record.

Other forms of racing have been popular. In the 1950s speedway tracks were built at Latrobe, Carrick and Richmond. The Richmond track closed in the 1970s, but soon afterwards the Hobart International Speedway track was formed at Sorell Creek. Speedway continues on these sites with a race meeting every three weeks. Well-known drivers include Peter Aylett, Gene Cook and Robin Best.

Tasmania's first rally was held in 1937, with entrants given mystery clues that took them to an unknown destination. From the 1960s, four clubs conducted rallies on gravel roads, with the state championships conducted over five events. Since 1975 three motor rallies have been significant: the Southern State Safari, conducted on gravel roads, which became a round of the Australian Rally in 1992; the Forest Stages Rally (1979, Rally Tasmania from 1986), which became a round of the multi-event Australian rally; and in 1992 Targa Tasmania. Meanwhile, Rally Tasmania was revived, and is Burnie's biggest sporting event. Four car clubs continued to hold their own rallies.

The state's first off-road race, the Tasmanian Sand Enduro, was held at Peron Dunes near St Helens in 1973. An 'inland circuit' was set up near George Town, and the Frogmore Track near Latrobe, but in 1986 races moved to a new track behind the Latrobe Speedway, while in the south a track was formed at Kellevie. Still the most significant race is the Sand Enduro, the longest-running off-road endurance race in Australia.

Further reading: D Young, Sporting Island, Hobart, 2005.

Alison Alexander and David Young