Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix turns 100
When the current crop of MotoGP™ superstars go into battle at the 2014 Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix on 17-19 October, it will mark a very special occasion – 100 years since the event was first held just outside of Bathurst, NSW.
The centenary adds to the already storied history of motorcycle competition in this country. A history which not only spans road racing but other disciplines such as dirt track, motocross and speedway, the latter having its origins in Australia.
To commemorate the milestone, a 1914 Indian Motorcycle will be on display across the weekend at this year’s Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix at Phillip Island and will complete a demonstration lap on Sunday with Australia’s first modern era World Champion, Wayne Gardner at the helm.
At the beginning of the 20th century motorcycling was in its infancy in Australia, but due to the diligent and tireless efforts of multiple organisations, 1914 proved to be a ground-breaking year.
On 5 October a total of 24 riders fronted the starter for the inaugural ‘Grand Prix of Australia’. As one publication put it: “Fearsome-looking, goggle-eyed, leather-helmeted speed fiends, crouching on machines that were stripped for action, with mufflers removed, swept over the better parts of the course with a roar that thrilled.”
It was a handicap race held over nine laps on a hilly 15.50 mile (24.94 km) public course, with the start held near Yetholme, about 26 km from Bathurst. A total of 700 spectators, including the local Mayor and Sergeant of Police, were scattered around the circuit and treated to an entertaining affair.
The onlookers that day saw Sydneysider Edgar Meller – the son of English migrants – claim victory on his Douglas after 210 minutes of racing, ahead of Alexander Macfarlane on his Matchless and William Sinden on a Zenith.
There were only eight finishers, with the mass attrition triggered by factors which are almost unheard of these days – punctures, leaking petrol, ball bearing failure, magneto troubles and, for one unfortunate competitor, crashing into a creek.
Australia’s five-time 500cc World Champion Mick Doohan is full of admiration for those road racing pioneers.
“It was road racing in the purest sense – an enormous spirit of adventure and hunger for pushing the boundaries of what was possible,” Doohan said.
“To witness that event in 1914 would have been incredible, and even more so considering the race was held over 140 miles. That’s a long way with very basic suspension and brakes. Today, only world endurance competitors compete in races of that length; it’s simply amazing.”
In 2014 the Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix will enjoy its 18th consecutive year at Phillip Island, making it the perfect venue to acknowledge Australia’s proud motorcycle racing history according to Australian Grand Prix Corporation CEO, Andrew Westacott.
“It’s fitting to celebrate the centenary of the Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix at the home of motorcycle racing in Australia – Phillip Island,” Westacott said
“Motorcycle racing has a rich history in this country and Australia has produced multiple World Champions. To see an Indian which belonged to that pioneering era at the event this year will be very special.”
Motorcycling Australia CEO, Dale Gilson, is also looking forward to the 100 year celebrations.
“This is a major milestone for motorcycle racing in Australia and it’s fantastic that the Australian Grand Prix Corporation is celebrating the moment at the 2014 Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix,” Gilson said.
“The early pioneers certainly paved the way for motorcycle racing to become an integral part of the overall motorsport landscape in Australia.”
The first Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix:
- Held on the 5 October, 1914
- 24 riders fronted the starter for the inaugural Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix
- It was a handicap race held over nine laps on a 15.50 mile (24.94 km) public course, with the start held near Yetholme, about 26 km from Bathurst
- 700 spectators, including the local Mayor and Sergeant of Police enjoyed the race
- Sydneysider Edgar Meller claimed victory on his Douglas after 210 minutes of racing, ahead of Alexander Macfarlane on his Matchless and William Sinden on a Zenith
- Only eight finishers were classified after the nine lap 140 mile (225 km) race