The objective of the Lansdowne Classic Series is to create and maintain a level playing field for those wishing to race genuine (and faithful replicas) of pre 1963 Group 1 and 2 machines without encountering the modern short stroke, lightweight faired missiles that predominate in classic racing.
This is with the intention of recreating as far as possible the sight, sounds and spirit of racing in the 1950s and early 1960s for both rider and spectator alike, while at the same time maintaining a viable event for the host club or circuit. Both riders and machines must be registered and approved by the organisers.
The history of The Lansdowne
by Richard Thirkell, Founder Member
How it all started
The Lansdowne was inspired by the very first Goodwood Revival meeting in 1998. The motorcycle grid for this meeting was organised by John Surtees. At the time we submitted our entries for consideration by the great man nobody was quite sure what to expect! What transpired was a grid of 20 very original Manx Nortons, Matchless G50s, AJS 7Rs etc, the like of which had not been seen for a very long time.
The racing was close and atmospheric without the ‘white heat’ of having to compete against machines bearing post – period modifications, as John Surtees was very keen to keep these out. Not being in a rush to go home after the prize giving, a small group of riders comprising John Ruth, Mark Blackden, Len Haggis, Mick Hemmings, Malcolm Clarke and I found ourselves sitting on the embankment by the chicane enjoying the last of the Duke of Richmond’s Champagne and all we could think about was how we could do a lot more of this type of racing!
Yours truly drew the short straw by agreeing that if each gave me their contact list of suitable owner-riders then I would write to everyone with the idea of starting a Series next year. A few weeks later I sent out 70 letters and received over 100 replies almost by return, many of which were from riders who had retired from racing but only because there was no championship dedicated to our particular genre. This told me something about the huge untapped demand!
Armed with this response, the following January I went round all the racing clubs at the Racing & Sporting Show at Alexandra Palace to try to find a Club that would give us a slot in the 1999 programme. All were interested but, understandably, they had already finalised their 1999 programme so had no spare track time, that is all except New Era. New ERA had just decided to drop their open classic class so had a slot that they would be very happy to discuss with me.
At around this time, serendipity led me to a meeting with Malcolm Barber of Brooks Auctioneers (now Bonhams) who generously offered The Lansdowne a sponsorship deal, which I am delighted to see still continuing today. The National Motorcycle Museum started sponsoring the Series in 2003/4 they too are still our sponsors today, and in the last few years The Classic Motorcycle magazine and Avon Tyres have joined this list of very supportive people.
I forget how many races we did in that first year but our inaugural meeting was at Cadwell Park early in the Season with 15 entries, not bad given it was just two or three months after Jim Parker, President of New ERA, and I had shaken hands. The races were then push start at the drop of the Union Flag which, for that Cadwell Meeting, were flagged off by my 16 year old daughter… from the edge of the start-line. Again, I forget who won – perhaps because for me it was more about the success of the races – but I seem to recall that Tim Jackson and Malcolm Clarke featured prominently.
From that inauspicious start, the Lansdowne rapidly went from strength to strength as the word quickly got around that this was for real and something to be part of. Over the last 18 years ‘The Lansdowne’ has been hosted by many well known clubs and organisations and supplied full grids of period machines at several BSB meetings, the Silverstone MotoGP, Scarborough, Chimay (where we ran separate 350cc and 500cc classes) in Belgium and several vintage car events with the VSCC. At these various meetings the Series has also attracted famous names such as Chas Mortimer, Phil Read, Stuart Graham, Stan Woods and Charlie Williams. In 2010 we achieved a British Championship for the ‘premier’ Lansdowne class the Bonhams Lansdowne British GP Championship.
As a final reflection, I had no idea in 1999 that The Lansdowne would take up 12 years of my life but looking back I feel very privileged to have played a part in helping to revive the fortunes of classic thoroughbred racing. I can honestly say that it was all great fun but just as important to me is that ‘our’ machines seem to attract a certain type of very genuine like minded and totally dedicated enthusiast. As a result, the camaraderie in the Lansdowne was, and still is, quite exceptional… rather like being part of an extended family (who all get on!). It is this that sets The Lansdowne apart.
If you are reading this as a prospective Lansdowne competitor please don’t delay – become part of a living legend and make your mark on history!