Birabongse Bhanudej, or Prince Bira as he was commonly known, was a legendary Thai racing driver who left an indelible mark on the motorsport world. He competed in various events throughout the 1930s and 1940s, including Formula One, and became the first driver from Southeast Asia to have raced in the sport. His racing career spanned over a decade, and during that time, he achieved numerous wins and podium finishes, often against some of the best drivers of his generation. Yet, despite his incredible achievements, very few people today know about his life and legacy. In this post, we will uncover the story of Birabongse Bhanudej and explore what made him a racing icon.
Section 1: Early Life and Family:
Birabongse Bhanudej was born on 15 July 1914 in Bangkok, Thailand. He was the son of Prince Bhanurangsi Savangwongse, a member of the Thai royal family, and his wife, Mom Chao (Princess) Soamsavali Kitiyakara. Birabongse grew up in a privileged environment, attending elite schools both in Thailand and England. His family was very supportive of his passion for racing, and they even bought him his first car, a modest Austin 7.
Section 2: Early Racing Career:
Birabongse’s love for racing began in England, where he studied at the University of Cambridge. He joined the Cambridge University Automobile Club and began racing in local events. After he graduated in 1935, he returned to Thailand and continued racing there. His first major win was at the Prince Rangsit Trophy Race, held in Bangkok, where he drove a Riley Nine.
Section 3: Racing in Europe:
In 1936, Birabongse returned to Europe to continue his racing career. He joined the Scuderia Siam team, which was formed by the Thai government to promote motorsport. He competed in various events, including the famous 24 Hours of Le Mans, where he drove a Riley Sprite. He continued racing throughout the 1930s and early 1940s, often achieving remarkable results.
Section 4: Formula One Career:
Birabongse made his Formula One debut in 1950, driving for the Maserati team. He competed in seven races that season, finishing in the points in three of them. He continued racing in Formula One until 1954, driving for various teams. His best result came in the 1954 British Grand Prix, where he finished in fourth place.
Section 5: Legacy:
Birabongse’s legacy extends beyond his impressive racing career. He was a true ambassador of Thailand and Southeast Asia, paving the way for future generations of racers. He was also a hero to the Thai people, who admired his determination, skill, and courage. His story is a testament to the power of following your dreams and chasing your passions.
Section 6: Birabongse’s Impact on Thai Motorsports:
Birabongse’s success in motorsports helped promote the sport in Thailand and Southeast Asia. In 1965, the Thai government established the Grand Prix of Thailand, which was held annually until the late 1970s. The event was an important part of the Thai sporting calendar and brought together some of the world’s best drivers.
Section 7: Birabongse’s Personal Life:
Birabongse’s racing career often overshadowed his personal life. He was married twice, first to a Frenchwoman named Princess Nadine Galitzine, and later to a British woman named Rosemary Ramsay-Drummond. He had one son, Chula, who followed in his father’s footsteps and became a racing driver.
Section 8: Conclusion:
Birabongse Bhanudej was a true racing icon, whose legacy lives on today. His impressive racing career and his impact on Thai and Southeast Asian motorsports are a testament to his skill and determination. His story should inspire us all to follow our passions and chase our dreams, no matter the obstacles we may face.
1. Who were Birabongse Bhanudej’s racing heroes?
Answer: Birabongse’s racing heroes included Tazio Nuvolari, Rudolf Caracciola, and Achille Varzi.
2. Did Birabongse Bhanudej ever win the Formula One World Championship?
Answer: No, Birabongse never won the Formula One World Championship, but he did achieve a number of impressive results throughout his career.
3. Was Birabongse Bhanudej the only racing driver in his family?
Answer: No, Birabongse’s son, Chula, also became a racing driver.
4. Did Birabongse Bhanudej ever retire from racing?
Answer: Yes, Birabongse retired from racing in the mid-1950s.
5. What was Birabongse Bhanudej’s favorite racecar?
Answer: Birabongse’s favorite racecar was the Maserati 250F.
6. Where is Birabongse Bhanudej buried?
Answer: Birabongse is buried at the Wat Bowonniwet Vihara Temple in Bangkok.
7. What was Birabongse Bhanudej’s most memorable racing moment?
Answer: Birabongse’s most memorable racing moment was finishing in fourth place at the 1954 British Grand Prix, his best-ever result in Formula One.
Birabongse Bhanudej was one of the greatest racing drivers of his generation, whose legacy continues to inspire racers around the world. His passion, skill, and courage helped promote motorsports in Thailand and Southeast Asia and pave the way for future generations. We should all take inspiration from his story and strive to follow our passions, chase our dreams, and leave our own mark on the world.