Motor Racing at Longford
Opened 1953; closed 1968
The town of Longford is recognised as historic not only for its architectural heritage - but also has motor racing history. The Longford Circuit, a temporary motor racing course laid out on public roads, hosted many races back in its heyday of the 50's and 60's. Its first race meeting was held in 1953. During its 15 years of operation, it established itself as a popular venue with fans and competitors alike. Held over the Labour Day bank holiday weekend at the start of March, the annual race meeting was the biggest event of any kind on the island, attracting huge crowds. Drivers and bike aces who came over on the Princess of Tasmania ferry enjoyed not just the challenge of the circuit, but also the unrivalled hospitality of the locals, a trait that survives today in this attractive part of the world.
The start of the Australian Tourist Trophy for sportscars, 1964: Pit Straight with Frank Gardner's Alec Mildren owned Lotus 23 Ford leading from Bib Stillwell's Cooper Monaco, Frank Matich in the Total owned Lotus 19B Climax and Bob Jane's Jaguar E-type.
But what really put Longford on the map was the arrival of the international names, starting with World Champion Jack Brabham, winner in 1960. Others followed, including a flu-ridden Roy Salvadori in '61 (he won the main event after Brabham retired), John Surtees in '62, and Bruce McLaren, Chris Amon and Tony Maggs in '63. The launch of the Tasman Series in '64 further strengthened Longford's place, and for five glorious years it held a special role as the final round. Australian open wheel and touring car stars Bib Stillwell, Lex Davison, Leo Geoghegan, Frank Matich, Frank Gardner, Spencer Martin, Kevin Bartlett, John Harvey, Ian Geoghegan, Norm Beechey, Bob Jane and Allan Moffat alll raced at the circuit.
The Australian Grand Prix was staged there in 1959 and 1965 and the track hosted a round of the Tasman Series each year from 1964 to 1968. The outright lap record of 2:12.6 set by New Zealand's Chris Amon in a Ferrari P4 sports car at the final meeting was, with an average lap speed of 196.62 km/h, the fastest lap record for any Australian motor racing circuit until 1987. Longford remained as Australia's fastest road racing circuit until the Formula One series moved to the Albert Park Grand Prix Circuit in Melbourne in 1996.
Longford Circuit in 1968 - Graham Hill's BRM P261 leading Jim Clark's Lotus 49 Climax, Amon Ferrari's Dino 246T, Frank Gardner's Brabham Alfa BT23D, Leo Geoghegan's Lotus 39 Repco, Richard Attwood's BRM P126, Kevin Bartlett's Brabham BT11A Climax and Pedro Rodriguez's BRM P126.
The Track was located on the northern edges of the town and its 7 km lap passed under a railway line viaduct, crossed the South Esk River via the wooden Kings Bridge, turned hard right at the doorstep of the Longford Hotel, passed over the railway line using a level crossing and traversed the South Esk again via another wooden structure, the Long Bridge.
The same bridge (below) and the disused section of the track under it today. The faintest shadow of a painted Shell logo is still visible on the viaduct's red bricks.
Sections of the old Formula One race track still remain today even though the track was closed back in 1968. You can also visit the Flying Mile which saw motorcar speeds of up to 288 km/h. The two bridges have long been demolished and a highway now intersects the network of roads on which the circuit was laid out. In spite of that, some 80 per cent is still driveable and it's possible to get some flavour of the original circuit.
The outright lap record of 2:12.6 set by New Zealand’s Chris Amon in a Ferrari P4 sports car at the final meeting was, with an average lap speed of 122.2 mph (196.62 km/h), the fastest lap record for any Australian motor racing circuit and would remain so until the opening of the new Calder Park Thunderdome in Melbourne in 1987, though unlike Longford which is a road circuit, the Thunderdome is a 1.8 km (1.1 mi) high-banked (24° in the turns) quad-oval speedway. Longford would continue as Australia's fastest road racing circuit until the Formula One series moved to the new Albert Park Grand Prix Circuit in Melbourne in 1996.
Country Club Hotel
The closest the racing circuit got to the town of Longford was the corner of Wellington and Union Streets - known as Pub Corner - just outside the town centre of Longford. The cars came along Union Street and turned right into Wellington Street, around the front of the Country Club Hotel. A large brick Georgian inn, it was built about 1850 as the Prince of Wales Hotel. Being right on the racing circuit, the hotel was a popular drinking place among spectators.
Today it keeps alive its link with Australian motor racing history with memorabilia and photographs on its walls of races held here and the names of the legends of motor sport who raced here. You can enjoy a meal at the Chequered Flag Bistro.
Location: 19 Wellington Street, Longford. Ph: (03) 6391 2769.
Motor Racing at Longford