Motorsports is one of the most popular sports in the UK with thousands of events taking place every year. Accessible to everyone, there are many types of motorsports including rallying, drag racing and karting.
Although it’s a global sport, the UK is one of the key players in the industry. Home to some of the most iconic tracks, plus the base for leading motorsports teams, the UK has some of the strongest links in the world.
Part of the reason for this is its long history with motorsports. The UK was involved right from the start and played a fundamental role in the development of motorsports in all its forms. Here’s a closer look at the evolution of motorsports from its early years, right up to where we are now.
The Start of Motorsport Races
Although the first true motorsports races weren’t held until the late 19th century, mankind showed an interest in racing vehicles right from the start.
In Roman times chariots would be raced against each other, with audiences wagering on the event. Of course, modern motorsport betting with options such as the winning margin, fastest qualifier and podium finish didn’t come along until a lot later. Nevertheless, some form of betting was always present, even in those very early days.
Cars with motors didn’t evolve until many centuries later with the first race taking place in France in 1895. The UK were quick to get involved, holding the inaugural London to Brighton motor race the following year, kickstarting a passion which has persisted to this day.
Momentum quickly started to gather with Dunlop beginning to produce tyres for motorsports in 1902. By 1903 city-to-city races had been outlawed in continental Europe, but the UK had steadily started to increase the number of motorsports events it was holding.
The Gordon Bennett Cup in Kildare in 1903, the London to Edinburgh Motorcycle Trial and the Blackpool Speed Trials in 1904 and the RAC Tourist Trophy in the Isle of Man were all roaring successes.
By 1906 a new motorsports circuit was being built, with the now infamous Brooklands Automobile Racing Club formed in 1907. This track achieved worldwide fame with its 287,000 capacity and was generally considered to be a real feat of engineering.
These early successes spawned a whole host of different motoring events, and included the participation of female drivers right from the start.
The London to Brighton car race had been held to celebrate being able to drive quicker than walking pace but this sedentary speed didn’t last for long. By 1909 a new World Land Speed Record was registered at Brooklands, hitting 125.9mph in a Benz.
To achieve a World Land Speed Record, the car must travel through a measured mile, turn around and refuel before making a return trip within an hour. The average of the two trips is taken to produce the record.
Holding this record became a real badge of honour and it was hotly contested, primarily by British and American drivers for the first few decades.
Some of the most well-known British holders of the record include Richard Noble, Sir Malcolm Campbell, Donald Campbell and Stirling Moss.
The record is held today by Andrew Duncan Green, a British RAF Wing Commander who was the first person to break the sound barrier on land. The record was set in 1997 and to date, hasn’t been broken although there’s a team currently preparing a new challenge.
Since its introduction in 1932, rallying has become the most popular UK motorsport. Broken down into road rallying and stage rallying, any car can take part in the former while for the latter you need a car that complies with stricter regulations.
Rallying often takes place on challenging routes, such as through forests. With one person driving and the other navigating, it’s a partnership rather than a solo endeavour.
The British Rally Championship is the national competition for the sport including a series of other events such as Scottish Rally and Circuit of Ireland Rally.
Colin McCrae and Richard Burns were two British rally drivers who were very famous in the sport.
Formula One is the motorsport that has the most glamorous reputation, attracting millions of pounds and offering a champagne lifestyle. Starting in 1950, drivers from all over the world competed but British drivers have performed exceedingly well, claiming 19 titles overall, more than any other nation.
The winners have included Damon Hill, Nigel Mansell, Graham Hill, Jackie Stewart and James Hunt. The most recent winner is Lewis Hamilton, a seven-time champion who has matched the record of one of the greatest drivers of all time, Michael Schumacher.
The British Grand Prix was originally held at Brooklands but after it closed it moved to Brands Hatch, Aintree and Donnington Park but it currently takes place at Silverstone.
Much More to Discover
Although rallying, F1 and speed trials are some of the most well-known types of motorsports in the UK, there’s a great many more. These include motorcycle racing, karting, autocross, cross country, circuit racing, hill club, drag racing and sprint.
The accessibility to female and disabled drivers across all disciplines adds to the appeal. With the diversity, it’s one of the reasons for its great popularity in the UK.