Motor Racing at Wigram – Part 5
Racing at Wigram began on a January weekend in 1949, with intermittent drizzle for the Friday practice runs but a mild and sunny Saturday for competition. The organisers’ expectations were more than well met with 25-30,000 spectators turning up for the racing. Drivers at this first event included several who would soon become local household names – Mike Proctor, Roy Roycroft, Hec Green, Pat Hoare and Sybil Lupp. Admission was 2/-, car parking was free. Special trams were laid on to bring patrons from the Square in the centre of Christchurch to Sockburn. Race speeds averaged 68.17 mph.
The Centennial event in 1950 was a 105 mile race, with an additional Vintage Car Handicap and a Production Car 1 Hour Test thrown in for good measure. The racing programme was still very light, but the enthusiasm of the public was in no way diminished.
It was in 1951 that the first Lady Wigram Trophy Race was staged. Nineteen starters lined up on a sodden track at the end of March. Unfortunately wet and showery conditions reduced attendance numbers on this occasion to around 10,000. Three Australian drivers brought cars across the Tasman for the inaugural Trophy Race. It was resolved that in future meeting dates would be brought forward to February at the latest in an endeavour to avoid autumn rains.
Crowd numbers improved with better weather over the following two years, though overseas drivers were still confined to Australians and continued to be few in number. There was no racing in 1955 because of resurfacing of the RNZAF taxiways.
In January 1956 the length of the Trophy Race was extended to 150 miles over 71 laps. Six overseas entrants took the starting line. Crowds continued to pour in to Wigram for this highlight of the motor racing year.
By 1957 attendance figures were again nudging the 30,000 mark. The attractiveness of this annual event as a viewing spectacle was strengthened this year through the acquisition of two ex-Royal Tour grandstands which the Motor Racing Club had purchased following the Royal Tour of 1956.
As an omen of the international status racing at Wigram was soon to attain, some outstanding overseas drivers of the future and their cars were now beginning to feature on the Wigram programme, including Bruce McLaren and Jack Brabham.
Part 3 – Motor sport of another kind
Part 4 – Wigram, the Motor Racing Circuit