Spain’s biggest annual motor race pays tribute to the country’s century-plus history of motorsport, as well as one of its lost sports car heroes. Ahead of this year’s Hankook 24H BARCELONA, Joe takes a look back at where Spanish motor racing began.
Words – Joe Bradley
Images – RACC / Fermin Velez - Official / Petr Frýba
It seems appropriate that after celebrating the centenary of the 24 Hours of Le Mans in July, this month we pop across the Pyrenees into Spain to see what was going on there 100 or so years ago.
The Catalan Cup was perhaps the first of the major road races held in Spain. Taking place between 1908 and 1910 on roads around Sitges near Barcelona, the first edition was won by Giosue Giuppone aboard a Lion Peugeot. While his sporting career had begun in bicycling competitions, Giuppone went on to race motorcycles in the early 1900s for Peugeot. Often in the large-capacity, ultra-lightweight racers of the early 1900s, which typically weighed 50kg but which also had unlimited engine capacity, at times as much as two litres. Racing as part of the ‘Peugeot automobiles’ factory team, Giuppone went on to win the Torino Cup and the Copa Cataluyna and Circuito delle Madonie in 1908, and the Coupe des Voiturettes in 1909.
Sadly, Giuppone was killed in an accident during testing for the Coupe des Voiturettes in 1910 when a cyclist crossed the street in front of his car at high speed. Crushed by his car, Giuppone died instantly, while his mechanic, Paul Péan, though wounded, managed to escape. A monument to Giosue Giuppone was built at the site of the accident.
Both of the following events were won by Jules Goux, also driving a Lion-Peugeot. Races that helped establish a strong motorsport tradition in Spain, which has continued to this day. Indeed, this enthusiasm for motor racing was the catalyst for a permanent track to be built in Sitges. The two-kilometre (1.2-mile) oval became known as ‘Sitges-Terramar,’ and was the site of the first race to officially carry the ‘Spanish Grand Prix’ title in 1923. The event was won, in a Sunbeam, by Albert Divo, who would go on to win the formidable Targa Florio in 1928 and 1929 with Bugatti. Nine decades later, the French marque named the limited edition ‘Divo’ supercar in his honour.
The first race considered to perhaps be the first 'Grand Prix' motor race in Spain meanwhile was actually held in 1913. Though not run to the same automobile formula of the day, it was instead a race for touring cars and took place on a 300-kilometre road circuit at Guadarrama, near Madrid, heading to Valladolid.
It was officially named the 'Race Grand Prix' run by The Royal Automobile Club of Spain, and was won by a Rolls Royce Silver Ghost, driven by Carlos De Salamanca. Rolls Royce still paint their cars 'Salamanca Blue' in tribute.
We are all aware that this week’s Hankook 24H BARCELONA is all about the Fermín Vélez Trophy, and in so doing, we continue to honour the history of our sport here in Spain.
Who is Fermín Vélez? One of Spain’s finest sports car drivers of his time, Vélez was a two-time winner of the Sebring 12 Hours (1995 and 1997) and a two-time winner (1987 and 1989) of the C2 class of the World Sportscar Championship. Perhaps his finest moments behind the wheel though were winning the C2 class at Le Mans in 1987 in a Spice SE86C, and, nine years later in 1998, the WSC class in a Doyle Risi Ferrari 333SP partnered with Eric van de Poele and Wayne Taylor.
Born in Barcelona, he passed away here in March 2003 after a long battle with cancer. His memory most certainly lives on though, and we look forward to seeing our winners lift that trophy high in the air after the inevitable hard fought Hankook 24H BARCELONA.
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