Now firmly entrenched as the premier event on the Historic Racing calendar in Queensland, the Leyburn Sprints this year were of extra significance as they commemorated the Fiftieth Anniversary of the 1949 Australian Grand Prix held at Leyburn.
The 1949 race was the first time that an Australian Grand Prix had been held in Queensland. Organisation of the event was in the hands of Queensland Motor Sporting Club, and the Leyburn venue only came about after the original plan to run the race at Lowood fell through due to objections by local religious groups to running the event on a Sunday. A hasty survey of alternative locations saw the eventual choice of Leyburn, on an abandoned WWII airstrip a few miles out of town.
The circuit consisted of two intersecting runways connected by a taxiway to give a triangular course of 6.9 kilometres with three left-hand comers. These were named after the local farmers whose permission had to be obtained for the use of the venue. All were quite different, ranging from the tight 90 plus degree turn at the end of the main straight, Potter Comer, to the fast sweep of Backhouse Bend and finally the two part Hamblin Comer to return to the finish.
Race day exceeded all expectations, with a massive crowd estimated at between 25, 000 and 30,000 people. Unfortunately these numbers were not catered for in some areas and there were access problems and huge traffic jams due to the single access road (not unlike those at the recent opening of the new Queensland Raceway!). Eventual winner, John Crouch in his Delahaye and Frank Kleinig in the Hudson Special both posted the fastest lap of the 1949 AGP at 2:52 for the 6.9 kilometres, a respectable 144.8 kmh average, and the fastest AGP to that date.
While the current Leyburn event is not held on the original circuit, it is nevertheless very interesting for drivers and spectators alike and this has contributed to its popularity on the historic racing scene in Queensland. The 1000 metre course uses closed public roads right through the centre of the small Darling Downs town. Two 350 metre straight allow the faster cars to run to over 160kmh, and four right angle turns and a chicane keep the drivers on their toes and the crowds amused.
Bill Westerman and his organising
committee from the Historic Racing Car Club (QLD) Inc. were particularly
keen this year to have as many cars as possible representing the
era of the original
event. They certainly succeeded with an impressive entry list of 223 vehicles, ranging from prewar motorcycles, racing cars, specials, tourers and sports cars through to examples of more
modern machinery such as Sports 1300's and current special interest and invited vehicles.
To continue the anniversary theme, this year's souvenir program contained an article by Ben Westerman recollecting the 1949 race, as well as a reprint of Noel Tuckey's contemporary report. Accompanying the official program were reproductions of the 1949 race program, and the QMSC club magazine containing the report on the original event. All of these items are sure to find permanent homes in many enthusiast's collections!
The weather was kinder this year, and Saturday was warm and sunny. Sunday was overcast and cooler, and this certainly helped promote good times from most competitors during the day. A light shower in the early after-noon scared off some of the record crowd, but it did not emulate last year's torrential downpour and those who stayed were treated to an-other two hours of spectacular runs on the 1000 metre course.
Crowd favourites at Leyburn seem to be anything that is either Ford, Holden, V8 and/or loud, and there was plenty to keep them cheering. Biggest cheers of the weekend went up for Martin White and his 1967 Mustang Fastback GT, which depending on whose rumours you listen to produces something over 600bhp! It certainly appeared to be true judging by its performance, as Martin managed to keep the rear tyres lit up and smoking for the entire 350 metre length of both main straights to the delight of the crowd! Shane Smith in the 1970 Ford Escort GT 1300 also received a standing ovation for spinning inside the school chicane, then perfectly executing a "Hopkirk" to exit and continue!
As part of the celebrations of the 50th Anniversary of the 1949 Grand Prix, a memorial cairn was also erected at the old airfield site and was dedicated at a ceremony on September 18. This was attended by many significant Queensland motor sporting identities as well as some of the original attendees of the 1949 race, and was a fitting conclusion to the year's celebrations.
Preparations are already underway for next year's sprints, and a provisional date has been set at August 20/21. Entries always far exceed available places in the field, so contact HRCC as soon as possible if you wish to be part of this great event.