Just before Christmas 2022, whilst visiting family in Northern ireland, I took the opportunity to go over to Dundrod, just west of Belfast. I’ve always had a great admiration for the bravery of the drivers that participated in road racing, and the 7.4 mile Dundrod circuit, used between 1950 and 1955 for the Tourist Trophy, has long been a fascination of mine.
As I’d taken my Toyota GR Yaris to Northern Ireland, the opportunity to drive the circuit, which is all on public roads, was too good to miss.
This is the layout of the circuit
And the GR Yaris, being such a quick road car, didn’t disappoint, despite the road conditions being slippery and visibility poor.
The layout is basically as it was (obviously without the grandstands, pit buildings etc) with two exceptions:
In the South Eastern corner, you have Leathemstown Corner, where the B38 joins the B101. Back in the 1950’s, the drivers would have turned right just before this junction, as this part of the B101 ran slightly to the East of it’s current profile, and they would then have accelerated hard over the stone, hump backed Leathemstown bridge up the B101 toward Deers Leap. The road here was reprofiled in the mid 1960’s to it’s current form.At the furthest Eastern point of the circuit, you have the Lindsay hairpin. This has long been used by Motorcycle racers (who’ve continued to use the circuit up until very recently for the Ulster TT), but in 1950-55 the hairpin was a little further North East, and much tighter. This part can still be driven on, so we did!
The 1955 TT was the last time the circuit was used for cars, as it was regarded as too fast, narrow, and dangerous. Coming just 3 months after the tragedy of the 1955 Le Mans, where over 70 spectators were killed when the wreckage of Pierre Levegh’s car was hurled into the grandstand, the 3 driver fatalities at Dundrod proved to be the last straw, and road racing, for cars at least, never happened again here.
The great Stirling Moss was in his element here, and headed a Mercedes 1-2-3 in his 300SLR at the end, despite suffering a puncture at 130mph.
As an aside, I had the privilege of meeting and talking to the great man twice: one of the very first Goodwood Festival of Speed meetings in, I think, 1995. Those were the days when you could wander anywhere on a standard ticket, including the pits and paddock. I spied the famous ‘722’ – the Mercedes 300SLR that Moss used to win the 1955 Mille Miglia and wandered over to it, and looked into the cockpit. I was lost in a reverie when I was tapped on the shoulder, and heard ‘excuse me young man, I need to get into this one’. Yes, it was Stirling. I was too astonished to say much, as I recall. The second time was at a dinner at the RAC Club around 10 years ago where he was guest of honour, when we had a brief chat, the content of which is sadly lost on me now.
Here’s some British Pathe footage of the 1955 event
And, last but not least, a video of our lap of the circuit. In a really capable modern road rocket, it’s difficult to imagine wrestling a 1950’s racer on comparitively skinny tyres around the 7.4 miles. Brave men in those days. As, of course, are the bike racers that have used the circuit more recently, but that’s outside the scope of this blog.