George R Costain
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Sparrow’s Senior Manx Prix Win
The Senior Manx Grand Prix of September 9th 1954 was run in vile weather conditions, the start having been delayed by half an hour due to poor visibility on the Mountain.
As the 11.15am start approached the roads were starting to dry out with the exception of the Snaefell section.
Junior winner, Castletown’s Derek Ennett, was ‘quoted’ as ‘favourite, even so his main opposition was likely to come from Scot Alastair King on a similar Sam Cooper Matchless.
Challenging this opinion on Nortons would be John Hartle, Geoff Tanner, Jack Wood, Percy Tait, Dave Chadwick, George Costain and Derek Powell.
This time, Derek Ennett had an early starting number, four, and was second away, as numbers two and three were amongst the non-starters.
Alastair King’s ill luck which forced him out of the Junior was still with him, for his G45 Matchless went on to one cylinder at Ginger Hall on the first lap, and he finally retired at Ramsey, a few miles further on.
Also the possible ‘battle’ between Jack Wood and Dave Chadwick failed to materialise as Wood stopped at Quarterbridge to make adjustments.
Ennett’s first lap was completed in 25 minutes 49 seconds, a speed of 87.72mph from a standing start. Meanwhile John Hartle was matching the Manxman’s speed, although the rain had begun to fall. When the first lap times were posted, it was shown that Ennett held a 29 second advantage over Hartle with Tait third a mere second behind Hartle, followed by Chadwick, Costain and J W Davie sixth.
Early on the second lap Chadwick came off at Quarterbridge and although he restarted, decided to call it a day at Ballacraine. The end of lap two had Ennett leading Hartle by 68 seconds; Tait was 22 seconds down on John, as fourth to sixth places were filled by ‘Sparrow’ Costain, Powell and Dennis Christian – three Manxman in the first six!
Ennett came in to top up his petrol tank at the end of the second lap, taking less than half a minute, he was followed by the remainder of the leader board.
The weather by this time was atrocious and was reflected in Derek’s third lap time of 29 minutes 6 seconds.
However, the weather did not deter Hartle, as he began to show his mastery of the conditions and by the end of the third lap he had pulled back his second lap deficit to lead by some 25 seconds from Ennett. Tait and Costain remained in third and fourth positions.
Percy Tait was forced to retire with engine trouble at Ballahutchin Hill on his fourth lap, but not before he had shown he would be a force to be reckoned with in the future. Percy’s departure moved Costain to third place behind Hartle and close neighbour Ennett. Hartle’s lead was now 70 seconds and though Derek increased his lap speed on the fourth lap, but so did the irrepressible Hartle!
Derek’s valiant attempt to take the Senior honours came to an end on the penultimate lap, when his machine went on to one cylinder at Windy Corner – he coasted in to retire at the pits.
Ennett’s retirement left Hartle with what appeared to be an unassailable five-minute lead over Costain.
The sixth and last lap progressed, with ‘Sparrow’ leading on the roads, followed by Powell. And such was Hartle’s speed and persistence that he was now fifth on the roads.
Just after 2pm George Costain received the chequered flag for what he thought was a certain second position. A matter of seconds later Powell also took the chequered flag and they and the spectators settled back to await John Hartle’s arrival and what appeared to be a comfortable victory.
But John, having passed through Ramsey climbed the Mountain for the last time, in his immaculate style, and then ruthless fate took a hand as he approached the Mountain Box, the engine faulted and died – he was out of petrol!
George Costain could not believe John’s misfortune, which of course was his good fortune, winning the race in a time of 2 hours 47 minutes 49 seconds, an average speed of 80.95mph.
Derek Ennett’s opening lap of 25 minutes 49 seconds was the fastest of the race at 87.72mph.
The Club Team Prize went to the Southern (IoM) Club with George, Sid Mizen and Eddie Crooks as members.
By winning the Senior and taking tenth place in the Junior, George Costain was also awarded the Lady Hill Trophy for the best performance by a Manxman. It was only his second year in the Manx having made his debut 12 months earlier in the Senior, retiring on the third lap.
From 70 entrants, 61 started the race, 31 finished and 15 gained replicas.
Apart from George, another three Manx riders finished in the first twelve – Dennis Christian in fourth place; Bob Dowty sixth and Eddie Crooks 12th.
Compiled and written by Philip Edge - 1994
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