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1 January in Race History – F1 Glory in the African Sun

A popular day in race history, New Year’s got many a splendid racing season off to a flying start

New Year’s Day is busy in motorsport history. Especially in the southern hemisphere, with six 1 January South African Grands Prix among the headlines.

The first three races were all pre-World War 2, all of which brought upset results. French master Jean Pierre Wimille and his state of the art Bugatti T59 averaged over 160km/h early on in the 1 January 1936 Second SA Grand Prix at East London. But he had not factored a slippery late race squall or the experienced Italo-South African Mario Massacuratti ‘s older Bugatti T35B into his race equation. ‘Mario’ overcame gearbox trouble to hold Wimille and Pat Fairfield’s ERA off to a great home victory.

Von Delius, Taruffi & Rosemeyer, East London 1937

The following year’s race was even more of a thriller as Bernd Rosemeyer and Ernst von Delius’s mighty supercharged V16 Auto Union ‘Nazi propaganda machines’ ran into issues with their experimental tyres. That handed the ‘37 victory to Pat Fairfield’s 1100cc ERA R4A from Buller Meyer and Steve Chiappini’s Rileys, Swiss visitor Hans Reusch in his grand prix Alfa Romeo and Rosemeyer.

And to make it a giant killing New Year’s Day SA Grand Prix hat trick local legend, Buller Meyer put in a faultless drive to win the 1938 race in his little normally aspirated Riley. He held off a fleet of supercharged Grand Prix Maserati 6CMs and ERAs, headed by Italian pro Eugenio Siena.

Three more New year’s Day South African Grands Prix delivered a team Lotus post-War hat trick. Jim Clark broke the magic 100 mph barrier as he took his third East London victory in Lotus 23 Climax this day 1965. Mike Spence then took the ’66 win in a Lotus 33 Climax V8, but only after Clark had retired from the lead.

Jim Clark en route to 1 January 1965 South African GP victory

The final South African Grand Prix on this day was at Kyalami in 1968. Sadly, it was to prove double F1 World Champion and Indy 500 winner Jim Clark’s final Grand Prix victory before his untimely death.

Still Clark broke several F1 records that weekend. Including the most-ever 43 Grands Prix led, leading the most laps led at 1943, and scoring a record 33 pole positions. He also took his tally of the most perfect pole-fastest lap-win weekends up to eleven. And raised his record number of grand prix wins to 25.

In other 1 January racing over the years, George Hill won the 1913 San Diego US AAA Champ Car race in his Fiat. Albert Guyot won the 1923 GP of San Sebastian in a Rolland-Pilain. Renato Balestrero won the 1925 GP of Tripoli in an OM. Aymo Maggi won the 1926 Gran Premio Royale di Roma in a Bugatti and Albert Edwards the Aspendale Trophy in his Alvis 1500.

Mario Borzacchini took the 1930 Gran Premio di Tripoli in a Maserati 16C. And Babe Stapp the accident shortened 1932 AAA Pacific Coast 100 at Oakland. In the UK at Brooklands, John Cobb won the 1931 Scratch Race in his Delage, which race Henry Birkin won in a Bentley in ’32. And Cobb won again in a Napier-Railton in 1933.

Also, on New Year’s Day down under, John McCutchen drove his Bugatti to Australian Victorian Trophy at Phillip Island in 1934. Les Murphy won in an MG in ’35. Also in Aussie, Jack Phillips took his Ford Special to 1940 South Australia Trophy honours at Lobethal in 1940. And back in South Africa, Dick Gibson won the 1959 False Bay 100 at Gunner’s Circle in Bellville, Cape Town in his Cooper Climax.

Hans-Joachim Stuck and Jacky Ickx are both New Years Babies

Away from the track, sportscar racing greats, Jacky Ickx and Hans-Joachim Stuck were born on New Year’s Day 1945 and ’51, respectively. Interestingly, Ickx and Stuck often raced in the same teams in endurance racing, but seldom shared the same car. Except while racing BMW’s 635 CSL ‘Batmobile together in the mid -70s (below).

Also, on 1 January 1952, Colin Chapman and Michael Allen formed the Lotus Engineering Company. And triple Indy 500 winner Mauri Rose and the man who made it possible for amputees to drive, died aged 85 on this day 1981.