Chasing the Ghosts – Gordon Bennett

Racing Daydreams - Mote of Ardscull

I’ve always considered ‘Racing Daydreams’ to be an attitude. The willingness to look beyond presented information, armed with some knowledge and an empathy for times & people past. How better to explore and take joy from our sport?

Similarly approached, locations too can rattle the senses.

Standing in silence at the top of Dundrod. Inhale the damp air slowly, calm the mind. Any moment now Stirling will rip through this mist and the Silver Arrow metaphor will be made real… surely?

Early to rise, ahead of the rest. “Good morning”, as you pass through the gate. Minding your step, watching your feet. Pause when they reach the asphalt, Lavant Straight. You lift your head, and feel Roy Salvadori’s truth in your soul.

In May 1966 Alice Caracciola – second wife of the late, great Rudi Caracciola – represented Daimler-Benz on a trip to Ireland. The event was an international vintage motor rally, and Alice was in attendance to unveil a monument to the 1903 Gordon Bennett Cup race. On a recent trip to Kildare I went looking for it, and found much more for us ‘daydreamers’.

Leave the historic town of Athy on the R418, chasing the route of the Gordon Bennett Cup race, and you soon come to The Mote – or Moat – of Ardscull. It’s likely originally a Norman construction, on a site full of history & legend.

It will appear however as a clump of trees and a lay-by, as you slightly lower your left hand at the prescribed 80 km/h.

You need to stop!

The modern road has led you astray.

This gentle curve on the R418 is not Jenatzy’s route, but it is there to be found.

The heroes of 120 years ago approached the famous Ardscull S-bend at top speed; and it is at this point, on the original racing line, that the Daimler-Benz stone & plaques were placed, fifty-five years ago.

Racing Daydreams - Mote of Ardscull 1903 - Gordon Bennett
2 July 1903 – Camille Jenatzy races toward the Mote of Ardscull on the works’ Mercédès 60hp Simplex

Let’s reference the above photo. The spectators are on the mote, which was planted with trees after the race. The Mercédès is on a stretch of road now abandoned, as the modern road diverts near the distant banner. When Jenatzy swings right he will immediately enter a left-hand bend, then keep the 60hp Simplex nailed over the remaining, essentially-straight, undulating 6 miles to the grandstand at Ballyshannon… and beyond.

Just out of shot to the left, where the left turn begins, is the roadside halt today. It is here that you will likely find ‘white van man’ eating a sandwich, a sales exec on the phone… and the Daimler-Benz commemorative stone. It remains rather splendid.

Racing Daydreams - Ardscull Daimler Plaque

Racing Daydreams - Ardscull Daimler Plaque - Gordon Bennett

Racing Daydreams - Ardscull Daimler Plaque

Racing Daydreams - Ardscull Daimler Plaque

So far, so wonderful… so tangible. But what of the metaphysical that we opened with?

Daydreamers – once you have taken in the monument and traced the line of the original route – cross to the field in the 1903 photograph. The field with the spectator vehicle, bell tent and Allsopp’s Lager advertisement. It is still there, separating ancient and modern roads, and is now planted as a wildflower meadow.

Rest a while, close your eyes.

Maybe it’s imagination, or the heat of the sun. Maybe it’s the mischief of ‘the little gentry’ who live on the mote. But just relax and let time pass, let the century slip… now listen and tell me, is that a distant chain-drive?

Ardscull, variously the ‘hill of the shouts’ or the ‘hill of the heroes’. It was both 120 years ago, and remains so today – for those who believe.

Racing Daydreams - Ardscull Corner
Ardscull Corner

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