Singapore Grand Prix

By Lim, Irene Lay Peng written on 2008-03-20
National Library Board Singapore

Singapore held its inaugural Grand Prix in mid-September 1961 and it was called the Orient Year Grand Prix. It was renamed the Malaysian Grand Prix in 1962. After Singapore gained independence in 1965, it held its own annual Grand Prix from 1966 during the Easter holidays and called it the Singapore Grand Prix. 

In 1963, two years after its introduction, the Grand Prix became listed on the World Motor Racing calendar and was part of the Asian circuit of racing events. Winter in Europe brought racers to Asia, with Macao being the first Asian racing destination in November. The next stop on the Asian racing calendar was the Tasman Series in Australia and New Zealand, followed by the Grand Prix events in Singapore and Malaysia around March and April. The final pit stop for Asian racing was the Japan Grand Prix in May. 

By 1972, there was a record entry of 430 for 15 events - 284 entries for motorcars and 146 for motorcycles, with participants from 10 countries including United Kingdom, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong. At the event, a closed circuit television was set up to provide better viewing and excitement for spectators and better value for sponsors. A half-hour film in colour was also made and televised in Asia, Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom and Germany. 

Organsing the Grand Prix
The event was jointly organised by the Singapore Motor Club and the Ministry of Social Affairs. As Singapore did not have a permanent race track, a temporary one was set up annually for the Grand Prix. The scale of the event was beyond the capacity of a small club as it involved a massive exercise in logistics and manpower deployment.  The event required the closure of roads and the re-direction of public bus services, implementation of road and fire safety measures, as well as several hundred individuals to act as event officials, road marshals and timekeepers. A Grand Prix committee was formed each year with representatives from many government departments to ensure the smooth-running of the event. 

Corporate sponsorship was also necessary to sustain the annual Grand Prix event. Rothmans of Pall Mall was a major sponsor of the event till 1968. Other sponsors include Omega, Mobile Oil, Fraser & Neave, Horlicks, Merrymay Industries, Bridgestone Malaysia, Cold Storage, Diesel Malaysia. For the year of 1968, Rothmans donated $25,000 and other companies contributed a total of $63,000. The sponsorship amount received in 1971 was $211,350 and in 1972, $349,365. 
The Grand Prix was a day of excitement for the island and took the top spot in the local sporting calendar by 1966. By 1968, the event saw over 100,000 spectators. Thousands flocked to the Thomson circuit for some raw drama, electrifying excitement and probable death as the men and their machines tease and torment death, at every twist and turn in their bid to slash seconds in the blaze of ripping speed. Enthusiasts could also be spotted with lap charts, keeping track of racers and racing speeds. In 1964, a public enclosure ticket was priced at $1 per head per day and that for grandstands at $5 per head per day. Public enclosure ticket price was kept at $1 till 1973, but the ticket price of grandstands was raised to $7 given the extra cost of installing a closed circuit television service. 

The Grand Prix Circuit

The circuit was 3.023 miles (4.865 kilometres) long and ran from what was then Nee Soon Road ( present-day Upper Thomson Road) to Sembawang Hills Circus (present-day junction of Upper Thomson Road and Yio Chu Kang Road) and round the Old Upper Thomson Road. The circuit began with a one-mile stretch of fast, straight track called the Thomson Mile. It had a bend halfway through which was called The Hump, which propelled speeding vehicles into the air. On landing, racers had to immediately navigate a bend called The Hairpin at Sembawang Circus. This was a maneuver requiring great skill from racers. This sharp-angled turn was chicaned up to 1969 to ensure the safety of spectators at the VIP stands. Next up were esses that led uphill towards Pierce Reservoir. The first section was a series of four bends called Snakes. The second section of esses that followed was a rounded V-bend called Devils. The third section was called the Long Loop, a right-hander turn that stressed out vehicle engines. Racers then meet with a left-turn known as Peak Bend. Here was where media equipment were positioned to capture the action. Thereafter, the circuit takes a downhill path to Range Hairpin where spectators take in the full view of the race. Passing this, racers tackle a hard right that places them back on the Thomson Mile passing the pits called Signal Pits, to cross the finishing line. 

The Singapore Grand Prix programme

The Singapore Grand Prix was a four-day event that ended over a weekend. The programme consisted of two days of racing, with scrutineering scheduled to precede the races at least one day before. Races were held for a range of vehicles including motorcycles (from 50 to 350 cubic centimetres), production saloon cars, vintage cars and sports cars. However, the highlight was of course the Grand Prix for motorcycles and the Grand Prix for racing cars. Up to 1968, the event was a 60-lap format where racers had to complete a 180-mile (289.62 kilometres) journey round the circuit. This was changed to a 20-lap preliminary race and a 40-lap Grand Prix from 1969 to 1971. And in 1972, the event was changed to a single 50-lap event. Some popular local racing champions in Singapore's racing scene are Yong Kee Nam, Lee Han Seng, Rodney Seow, Chan Lye Choon, Lee Wing Sang and Soh Guan Bee. 

Ban of the Singapore Grand Prix
Experienced racers, such as Graeme Lawrence, the 1969 Singapore Grand Prix champion from New Zealand, regarded the Thomson circuit as one of the most dangerous in the world; for it was a narrow 24 feet (7.3152 metres) wide track that was cordoned off from sections of public road. Besides offering little run-off area for high speed racing, the track had oil trails left by diesel-run buses, monsoon drains, bus stops and lamp posts, all of which racers had to circumvent in a race. The sections of Snakes and Devil's Bend for example, were legendary accident-prone sites. Accidents were frequent, and fatal ones took the lives of road marshals and racers (such as Lionel Chan in 1972 and Joe Huber in 1973) alike. 

Racing was banned in Singapore after the 1973 Singapore Grand Prix with concerns that it promoted reckless driving. The government noted that seven deaths occurred over the 11 years of the event, and the difficulty of implementing adequate safety measures for the undulating terrain that characterised Thomson Road circuit. 

Racing Gets A New Lease Of Life

In 2005, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew expressed regret over the ban on racing, acknowledging that Formula One racing was an event with high revenue potential for its host country. Consequently, Singapore is slated to host Singapore Grand Prix once again on 28 September, 2008. A 5.067km stretch of public road around Marina Bay will become the circuit for the night race, a first in Formula One racing. 

Irene Lim 

Koh, L. (2005, April 13). MM Lee voices two regrets [Microfilm: NL26161]. The Straits Times, In The News. 

Malaysia Grand Prix.
(1964). Singapore: Singapore Motor Club. 
(Call number: RCLOS English 796.7 MGP; NL 9938). 

Ministry of Culture. (1964, March 24).  Traffic arrangements for 1964 Malaysia Grand Prix (MC.MA.50/64 CUL).  Retrieved March 20, 3008,

Ministry of Culture. (1966, April 11).  Text of speech by the Minister for Social Affairs, Inche Othman Wok, at the reception given in honour of the Grand Prix participants at Sri Temasek on Monday April 11, at 7.30pm.  Retrieved March 20, 3008,

Ministry of Culture. (1972, March 15).  Notes for the Press on the occasion of the visit to the Grand Prix site by Minister for Social Affairs and Chairman, National Sports Promotion Board, Enche Othman Wok on Wednesday 15/3/72 at 10am. Retrieved March 20, 3008,
Ministry of Culture. (1972, March 25)  Speech by Mr. Chan Chee Seng, Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Social Affairs, and Chairman, Organising Committee, 1972 Singapore Grand Prix at the Cheque Presentation Ceremony in connection with the 1972 Singapore Grand Prix on Saturday 25 March 1972 at 11am at Sports House, Rutland Road. Retrieved March 20, 3008,

Ministry of Culture. (1972, March 25).  Speech by Mr. Chan Chee Seng, Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Social Affairs, and Chairman, Organising Committee, 1972 Singapore Grand Prix at the Cheque Presentation Ceremony in connection with the 1972 Singapore Grand Prix on Saturday 25 March 1972 at 11am at Sports House, Rutland Road. Retrieved March 20, 3008,

Spare Parts.  (1968, March-April).  Focus on the Singapore G.P.  Singapore Motor Sport Club, 17, 19, 21.
(Call Number: RCLOS English 796.705 SMS)

Solomon, E. (2006, February 2) Snakes & Devils: a history of the Singapore Grand Prix 1961-1973. Biblioasia, 1(2), 18-23. 

Watkins, J. (1968, May-June). The racing scene. Singapore Motor Club Gazette, 15.
(Call Number: RCLOS English 796.705 SMS) 

List of Images
[Dato Dr. Aw Cheng Chye, Director of Rothmans of Pall Mall, presenting Rothman's cheque for $25,000 to Mr. Jek Yuen Thong, Minister for Labour, for the 1968 Singapore Grand Prix]. (1968, March-April). Singapore Motor Club Gazette, 21. 
(Call Number: RCLOS English 796.705 SMS) 

[Image of Thomson circuit]. (1968, March-April). Singapore Motor Club Gazette, 21. 
(Call Number: RCLOS English 796.705 SMS) 

Lap charting. (1967, October). Singapore Motor Club Gazette, 17. .
(Call Number: RCLOS English 796.705 SMS)

The information in this article is valid as at 2008 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources.  It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject.  Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

Automobile racing--Singapore
Grand Prix racing
Sports, recreation and travel>>Motoring

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