Monday, January 12, 2009

THE WINNING PRINCE

Author by Wiwat Chang


Thailand was to have had its first top level race – the Bangkok Grand Prix – way back on December 10, 1939, when Prince Chula Chakrabonsge successfully pitched the idea to the prime minister of the time.

Having won the BRDC Road Racing Gold Star for three consecutive years from 1936 and 1938, Prince Chula’s cousin – Prince Birabongse Bhanutej Bhanubandh, better known as Prince Bira – was set to be the star local attraction.

But things were disrupted with the outbreak early in the year of World War Two, and the plans had to be scrapped.

It was not until 1988 that the Bangkok Grand Prix was actually held as a memorial exhibition drive in Bangkok, and as an historic race at Bira Circuit with MR Narisa Chakrabongse – Prince Chula’s daughter – driving Prince Bira’s most successful car, Romulus, among dozens of participants.


Prince Bira won 16 Grand Prix events between 1935 and 1938 including the 1936 Coupe du Prince Rainier, which later became known as the Monaco Grand Prix.

After the war he continued grand prix racing between 1950 and 1955 but managed to win only the non-championship New Zealand Grand Prix in 1955.


Prince Bira was the son of Rama V, King Chulalongkorn. He was born on July 15, 1914, in Bangkok and was sent to boarding school in England under the care of Prince Chula, who spotted his driving talent and first entered him in a race in 1935.

During the war years, Prince Bira was a glider instructor with the Royal Air Force. After his motor racing days, he represented Thailand at the summer Olympics in yachting in 1956, 1960, 1964 and 1972, and was instrumental in having the Varuna Club in Pattaya host a World Championship yacht race in 1978.

He passed away of a heart attack on December 23, 1985, in a London tube station.
His achievements in motor racing and sailing are honoured by the Bira International Circuit and the annual Prince Bira Memorial Regatta.

When the inaugural Bang Saen Thailand Festival of Speed was held last year, a temporary shrine was erected in his honour and will be reopened this year within the street circuit. Thailand no longer has a grand prix driver, so let this image of Prince Bira remind us that without perseverance, success can be elusive.
Article from Bangkok Post Newspaper November 2-8, 2008

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