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1954 Senior MGP

Course name: Mountain (post 1914)

Course length: 226.38 miles (6 laps)

Description: 1954 Senior MGP

Race report from the IOM Weekly Times 11 Sept 1954 (pp 1, 10) below which is a full list of competitors:

George Costain wins Senior MGP

Sensational end to race

John Hartle runs out of petrol on last lap

Derek Ennett built up a big lead on first two laps

Retired when lying second

In a sensational finish George Costain, 25-year-old Castletown butcher, on Thursday won the Senior Manx Grand Prix after 20-year-old John Hartle had to pack up through running out of petrol when in the winning position on the last lap. Thus Castletown has done the ‘double’, a great achievement for the former capital of the Island, and their two young representatives. George Costain is one of the most popular of our racing men, and one of the most unassuming, like his friend and rival Derek Ennett, Tuesday’s winner.

For the greater part of the race conditions were bad, but Derek Ennett had built up a lead of over a minute from Hartle in only two laps of a race which started at a fast speed and then deteriorated with the conditions to a speed well under that of Tuesday’s Junior Race. Derek Ennett took the lead on the first lap when he was almost half a minute in front of the next man, John Hartle, whose Norton was followed by three others, Tait, Chadwick and George Costain, all trying to catch the Matchless, away out in front. Chadwick retired in the second lap after two spills, the first at Quarter Bridge, the second at Ballacraine.

By this time rain was falling and at the end of the second lap Ennett had more than doubled his lead over Hartle, George Costain was fourth, Powell had come into fifth place and Dennis Christian was sixth- three Manxmen on the leader board.

A sensation came on the third lap. With half the race over Hartle jumped into the lead 25 secs in front of Ennett, and in the next lap George Costain was third behind his fellow Castletown rival.

Then came the shattering news that Derek Ennett, who had led the race brilliantly for two laps was touring in to retire on the fifth lap, leaving Hartle well in the lead.

The Start, Thursday

Conditions were vastly different from those of Tuesday. Strong winds made it almost impossible for the six small Boy Scouts holding flags on the starting grid to keep the flags upright, while the gay oriental looking awnings over the leader board flapped wildly, and threatened to tear themselves loose. Occasionally the mountains appeared through the swirling mists, soon to be hidden again. Clerk of the Course, Mr Wilfred Halsall, warned riders that although visibility on the Mountain stretches was good, it was likely to vary. Wind on the Mountain would be troublesome also. It was drying the roads rapidly, but there was a possibility of showers.

Of the 75 entries, 63 riders came to the starting line. Two surprise non-starters were Manxmen Colin Broughton and Billy Moore. Broughton was injured in a car accident on Wednesday evening, while Moore failed to weigh in with his 348 cc BSA. Colin spent last night in Ramsey Cottage Hospital. Peveril ‘B’ team was now scratched.

Twelve club teams were entered. Favourites once more were Tuesday’s winners, the Ringwood trio of Geoff Tanner, Derek Powell and Percy Tait, all Norton mounted. Representing the Southern Club were Eddie Crooks (Matchless), George Costain and Syd Mizen (Nortons). Other strong contenders for team honours were the BMCRC ‘C’ trio, Alistair King (Matchless), Gavin Dunlop (Matchless) and V. T. Williams (Norton), and the Menstrie team Bowie (348 BSA), Davie (BSA) and McG Haldane (Norton).

First lap

Local rider Ken Taubman (No 1) could not get his motor to fire and lost several precious minutes. He pushed his machine out of sight of the stands and was still pushing at the top of Bray Hill. As the next two riders were non-starters, it was Tuesday’s winner, Derek Ennett, who rode off first on his Matchless, followed by another fancied man, Geoff Tanner (Norton). The machines waiting on the starting grid were swathed in an assortment of old coats and blankets, while one or two boasted quilt covers. Last away was RH Carman (AJS), who ran into trouble during the warming up period. He damaged the drain plug of his oil tank. A new plug was rushed from a Douglas garage, but it was found to have the wrong thread. Carman then asked a number of people to soften some chewing gum, and with the softened gum filled in the damaged part, taped it and proceeded. He was given permission to start last. Fastest get away was undoubtedly that of young John Hartle. Quickly dropping into a racing position over his machine he had almost caught the preceding rider by the top of Bray Hill. Jackie Wood stopped for one minute at Quarter Bridge, but restarted and continued.

By the end of the opening lap Ennett had built up a commanding lead on Tanner. Third past the grandstand was the other Castletown rider, George Costain, who started No 10.

Alistair King was already in trouble with his Matchless and had been passed by several riders before reaching Ramsey. He later retired.

A skid into the sandbags following a missed gear change, brought R. Bennett (Norton) off his mount at Laurel Bank. He quickly remounted and proceeded.

Clutch trouble at the Gooseneck put W. Roberton (BSA) out of the picture. Another rider to strike trouble was W. R. Oldfield (AJS), who spilled at Signpost, but the only injuries reported were slight abrasions.

Ennett’s opening lap of 25 mins, 49 secs gave him the lead at 87.72 mph; second was John Hartle, in 26 mins, 18 secs, with Percy Tait on another Norton one second away in third place at 86.06 mph.

Second lap

Hardly had the leaders started on their second circuit than rain began to fall heavily at the Start. Quarter Bridge quickly claimed a victim. Dave Chadwick (Norton), second in Tuesday’s Junior race, came off his machine, but re-started. At Ballacraine he crashed a second time and was forced to retire. Also off at Quarter Bridge was V. T. Williams (Norton), who retired.

‘Oh my word’, shouted commentator Bertie Rowell as George Costain (Norton) wobbled dangerously at Sulby Bridge. George heeled his machine over at 45 degrees round the corner, but rain had made the surface slippery, and he very nearly parted company with his machine. He quickly straightened up, however, and roared off again. By this point Costain, who was number 10, had passed number 5, Geoff Tanner.

Engine trouble forced Bob Mawson to retire at the Guthrie Memorial.

Ennett led Hartle comfortably by one minute eight seconds after two laps. Derek took only 28 secs to refuel at the end of the second circuit. Tanner came slowly into the pit and retired after two laps. No reason was given. Another retirement was Philip Palmer, winner of the Junior Clubman’s race in June. With Chadwick now out of the running, Costain moved up into fourth place. Derek Powell came on to the leader board in fifth place, while Dennis Christian lay sixth.

Marshals and spectators at Governor’s Bridge were more than a little surprised when T. Morris shot straight along Glencrutchery Road, doing away with the formality of taking the hairpin and the dip. He later retired.

Third lap

Conditions at the start were still bad. Rain was falling heavily and machines raised a spume of spray as they flashed past the stands. Keppel Gate reported that visibility there was still ‘satisfactory’.

Hopes of the Peveril ‘A’ team winning the team award were bright. With Ennett in first place, Christian lying sixth and Jackie Wood still going strong in 10th place despite early trouble. Their chief rival, the Ringwood club- Tuesday’s winners- were out of the running as Tanner had retired.

Derek Ennett was on the long mountain climb when his young rival, Hartle, pulled into his pit to refuel at the end of the second lap.

Sensation! When Hartle, the 20-years-old Norton rider from Chapel-en-le-Frith, rode through to start his fourth lap, the timekeepers announced that he was in the lead by 25 seconds from Ennett. His growing time was 1 hr, 21 mins, 25 secs, an average speed of 83.43 mph. At the end of Lap 2 Ennett had led Hartle by over one minute, but now it seemed that the coveted ‘double’ which Ennett had appeared to have in his pocket might slip from his grasp. His fellow townsman, George Costain, moved into third place, following P. H. Tait’s retirement at the foot of Ballahutchin Hill with engine trouble soon after starting Lap 4.

Fourth lap

Ennett speeded up on lap four- his signal station on the mountain must have given him the latest flash on Hartle – and he lapped in 27 mins, 37 secs, 82.01 mph, as against 29 mins, 6 secs, 77.81 mph for his third circuit. It was not nearly fast enough however. Hartle took his Norton round in 26 mins, 52 secs, 84.28 mph, increasing his lead to one minute 10 secs, an average of 83.70 mph.

From Ballacraine came the report that R. D. Wroe had crashed on his Velocette and retired. Earlier he had ‘dropped’ the machine at the pits while refuelling.

Union Mills reported that engine trouble had forced J. W. Davie to retire at that point. A later report stated he had restarted.

Newcomer to the leader board was New Zealander Gavin Dunlop, who took his Matchless into fifth place at 79.78 mph, 27 seconds ahead of Dennis Christian.

Fifth lap

At 1.32 pm Derek Ennett’s bid to complete the ‘double’ with a Senior win came to an abrupt end. He was reported to be stopped at Windy Corner with plug trouble. Soon afterwards he spluttered past Keppel Gate, his machine firing on one cylinder only. The commentator reported that Derek was slumped dejectedly over the tank of his Matchless machine. About ten minutes later he rode slowly into the pits and retired to the sympathetic applause of the spectators.

Young John Hartle now seemed certain of victory. At the end of lap 4 he held a lead of three and a half minutes on Castletown’s George Costain. Derek Powell was in third place, a further 45 seconds behind Costain.

Jackie Wood telephoned from Laurel Bank to report that he had slid off his Norton there and had retired unhurt. He was in seventh position at the time. Only member of the Peveril ‘A’ team left now was Dennis Christian.

Hartle was increasing his speed. His fifth lap was completed in 26 mins, 47 secs, an average speed of 84.55 mph, against 28 mins, 4 secs (80.67 mph) for the second man, George Costain.

Last lap

George Costain had passed safely through Kirk Michael on his final lap before Hartle was signalled at Ballacraine. Powell, lying in third place, was also going well and was ‘clocked’ regularly.

Bertie Rowell, the commentator at Sulby, reported that ‘the prize for the longest slide on Sulby Bridge must undoubtedly go to Bob Dowty’. Earlier Costain and Ennett had both been in trouble at that point, but Dowty’s slide was even more spectacular.

Costain treated the Bridge with great caution on his final circuit.

Hartle roared through Ramsey as Costain and Powell swooped down from Creg-ny-Baa. It was going to be a very close finish for second place between Powell and the young Castletown rider, but it was Costain who ran home seconds ahead of Powell.

From the Mountain Box came the sensational news that Hartle, who had been leading the race comfortably by over four minutes had run out of petrol. Hard luck, John! He had come so near to pulling off a great win in only his second MGP. In the 1953 race John gained the Newcomer’s Award. In the early laps he had had a tremendous battle with Castletown’s Derek Ennett, before Derek was forced out with engine trouble. John was not disheartened by his cruel luck however, for he was grimly pushing in, determined to gain a finishers’ plaque as some consolation after his magnificent effort.

Outside the leader board men, only two other Manxmen finished. They were Syd Mizen (Norton) and Eddie Crooks (Matchless).

15 got replicas

Only 15 replicas, including one for the winner, were won. There were 31 finishers. Fastest lap of the race was Derek Ennett’s first, in 25 mins, 49 secs, at 87.72 mph.

Southern club win team prize

Crowning Costains’ victory came the announcement that the Southern team had won the team award. Members were Costain, Mizen and Crooks.

As the announcement was made the light flashed on over Hartle’s number. For over half an hour he had struggled with his machine over the mountain in an attempt to gain a finisher’s plaque. It was announced later that Hartle had been disqualified for filling up with petrol on the mountain road.

The winner

George Costain, through the loudspeaker at the Start, said: ‘Conditions could not have been worse at all. There was rain, pools of water and leaves on the road. The worst time was going through Union Mills, which I tried to take in top gear, but found it would not work’.

No one was more surprised than George to hear that he had won. He was standing quietly in the pit enclosure talking to his wife Isabel who had watched the race from the stands when Doug Crennell, an old friend, told him of Hartle’s misfortune. ‘I didn’t know my luck’, the winner said at the finish. ‘The third lap was the worst. I was sliding all over the place.’

George made his Grand Prix debut last year, when he was 12th in the Junior and got a replica. His wife is a nurse at Noble’s Hospital.


1Costain, George2:47:49.0080.95Norton
2Powell, Derek2:48:02.0080.83Norton
3Dunlop, Gavin2:49:18.0080.23Matchless
4Christian, Dennis2:50:22.0079.73Norton
5Phillips, A.M.2:50:36.0079.63Norton
6Dowty, Robert2:55:49.0077.26Norton
7Thompson, B.2:59:00.0075.89Matchless
8Morris, T.3:00:19.0075.33BSA
9Rutherford, Frank3:00:44.0075.15AJS
10Greenwood, Owen3:01:00.0075.05AJS
11Watson, Charles3:01:46.0074.73Norton
12Crooks, Eddie3:02:31.0074.43Matchless
13Voice, Harry3:03:32.0074.42BSA
14Antill, David3:02:57.0074.24AJS
15Bowie, A.S.3:04:18.0073.7BSA
16Hall, P.M.3:05:25.0073.26AJS
17Cheers, Eric3:06:14.0072.94BSA
18Haldane, Ewen3:07:22.0072.5Norton
19Mizen, Syd3:08:13.0072.17Norton
20Watson, T.F.3:09:32.0071.67Norton
21Sutherland, A.R.3:10:16.0071.39BSA
22Kemp, H.J.3:10:16.0071.39Norton
23Andrews, David3:15:35.0069.45BSA
24Walsh, Pat3:17:05.0068.93Norton
25Catlin, George3:19:34.0068.07Norton
26Ratcliffe, Ken3:19:35.0068.06Norton
27Laporte, R.H.3:20:59.0067.59BSA
28Bennett, R.3:23:09.0066.87Norton
29Bent, Herbert3:23:32.0066.74Triumph
30Thurston, John3:23:56.0066.01BSA
31Butcher, A.J.3:28:44.0065.08AJS
RArnold, M.D.0AJS
RBoyce, Ellis0Norton
RCarman, Richard0AJS
RCarr, Peter0AJS
RChadwick, Dave0Norton
RDenton, Ben0BSA
REnnett, Derek0Matchless
RHartle, John0Norton
RJackson, J.F.0AJS
RJervis, R.0Norton
RKershaw, B.0Norton
RLongman, George0Velocette
RMawson, Bob0Norton
ROldfield, Russell0AJS
RPalmer, Phil0BSA
RPovey, Lawrence0BSA
RPrice, Norman0Norton
RRensen, Ralph0AJS
RRoberton, Bill0BSA
RStandivan, R.J.0BSA
RTanner, Geoff0Norton
RTaubman, Ken0Matchless
RWilliams, Victor0Norton
RWright, D.A.0BSA
RWroe, Ramon0Velocette
RSmith, JohnNorton
RTait, PercyNorton
RWood, JackNorton
RDavie, JamesBSA
RKing, AlastairMatchless


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