THE tiny Queensland town that once hosted an Australian Grand Prix will come alive again with motoring action this week-end when almost 400 historic, classic and performance vehicles turn out for the historic Leyburn Sprints.
The 21st annual Sprints have attracted more than 210 thoroughbred machines representing 90 years of motoring for the round-the-houses time trials, while close to 200 show-and-shine cars and vintage caravans are expected for off-track displays.
The Sprints commemorate the running of the 1949 grand prix on a disused wartime airfield just outside the Darling Downs town, which is equidistant from Warwick and Toowoomba.
Leyburn’s population of approximately 400 is expected to swell to up to 10,000 across the weekend, attracted by non-stop entertainment on- and off-track and grassroots country atmosphere.
The Sprints entry list features an extraordinary variety of cars, dating in vintage from a 1925 Austin Brooklands to a 2016 motorbike-powered single-seater called a Fly.
The fastest will be 10 cars in the Formula Libre class competing for the outright fastest time around the one-kilometre street course and the prestigious Col Furness Memorial Trophy.
The 2014 and 2015 champion Dean Amos returns in his English-built Gould GR37-Judd special. But four Italian Dallara Formula 3-based open-wheelers and a Formula Renault will be among the equally potent and exotic weapons used to challenge Amos’s hat-trick hopes.
Entrants will compete in 55 classes for racing, sports and touring cars of varying ages and engine sizes.
While thundering V8s like Paul Ritchie’s 6.4 litre Ford Galaxie will be numerous, a 1959 Goggomobile of just 300cc is likely to be the slowest car — but no less representative of Leyburn’s amazing diversity.
Special-interest entries include two vintage American oval-track racers, an exact replica of the infamously-fast Audi Quattro S1 Group B rally car and a possible cameo appearance by driving legend Dick Johnson in a 1971 Ford Falcon GT.
Competitors are expected to complete up to seven runs across the weekend. Between runs, the six high-powered cars in the Hogs Breath Cafe-Maxtrek Tyres Drift Demo Team will entertain spectators with a series of spectacular tyre-smoking demonstrations.
Off-track, up to 40 vintage caravans are expected for their annual two-day display and around 140 cars will line up for Sunday’s Shannons Show-n-Shine competiton.
Other attractions include market stalls, food and drink outlets and a lively scene at the 1863-licensed Royal Hotel, situated near the start line in Leyburn’s main street. People of all ages will take part in a fun-run around the track from 7am on Sunday.
The range of cars and entertainment, complemented by a great country atmosphere, add up to one of the Darling Downs’ most popular family events, says Sprints President Tricia Chant.
“There’s nothing else like the Historic Leyburn Sprints, whether you’re a spectator or a competitor. It offers something for everyone and gets better every year without losing its unique appeal.
“Adding to that, it’s a community-owned and run event, where proceeds are given back to various local organisations and projects.”
The Sprints are also supported through Tourism and Events Queensland’s Regional Development Program as part of a growing calendar of events across the State, plus the Southern Downs Regional Council.
Competition starts at 8am on both days. Adult tickets at the gate cost $20 per day or $30 for the weekend, with accompanied children under 14 years admitted free.
History of the Leyburn Legend: In 1949, Leyburn, like every small country town in Australia, was rebuilding after World War II. The opportunity to host the Australian Grand Prix on a nearby ex-wartime aerodrome provided a highlight for people throughout the Darling Downs region. Race day on September 18, 1949, still stands as the most populated time in Leyburn’s history and those who attend this year’s 21st annual historic sprints will appreciate what an amazing occasion it was when 30,000 people descended on a community so small but so welcoming.
A TINY car that claimed one of Australia’s biggest motor racing victories 50 years ago will be among almost 400 automotive delights for spectators at the 21st annual Historic Leyburn Sprints, which start today.
In 1966, a Morris Cooper S driven by Rauno Aaltonen of Finland and Bob Holden of Australia won the Gallagher 500 race at Bathurst’s Mount Panorama circuit, heading home eight more identical Minis in a giant-killing finish that has never been matched.
The winning Mini – in fact, an exact replica – will be on display at Leyburn before it returns to Bathurst to lead a golden anniversary parade before the Bathurst 1000 in October.
While the Bathurst Mini is expected to draw hundreds of admirers, car owner Ian Gillam of Toowoomba will race his second Mini, a near-identical Austin Cooper S version, in the Leyburn time trials on the township’s one-kilometre street course.
Competition began yesterday (Saturday) at 8am and finishes this afternoon.
PHOTOS on this page by Trapnell Creations.