A Brief History Of Motorsport Part 1: The Story Begins
Ever since the wheel was first invented in 3,500 B.C, we have had a natural competitive instinct inside us - to go faster, to race and beat our fellow man...but other than running down an tarmacked running track, we couldn't practice this instinct....
Until 1886, when a young German man who went by the name of Karl Benz invented the Benz Patent-Motorwagen, a literal seat sitting on some wheels, and a 0.9hp engine...little did he know that was about to start a massive revolution - Competitive Racing. Winning. Motorsport.
Despite only having 0.9 horsepower and one cylinder, The 25 Benz Patent-Motorwagens that were built were the first vehicles ever to be powered by an I.C.E. (Internal Combustion Engine). This was humanity's first steps to a faster and more efficient world. Karl made more and more models of the Patent-Motorwagen, each faster and more powerful than the last. By the third model had managed to create a 2 horsepower engine....managing to get up to an astonishing (for that time) 10mph....considerably faster than horse and cart.
Gentlemen, Start Your Engines!
Less than ten years later, a Frenchman called Pierre Giffard (editor of Le Petit Journal) organised the world's first motoring competition. Although only done to advertise his newspaper, and to gain interest, encourage and develop French motor manufacturing, it would soon become the founding father of many races to come....
The 126km (or 78 mile) race would run between Paris and Rouen. The winner would be the first eligible vehicle to cross the finish line in Rouen. The winner would receive 5,000 Gold Francs, Second Place would receive 2,000 Gold Francs, Third place would receive 1,500 Gold Francs, fourth would receive 1,000 Gold Francs, and Fifth would receive 500...Yet there was a slight snag....
The owners of 102 Vehicles, either powered by steam or petrol paid the 10 Franc entry fee - Peugeot already jumping on-board the metaphorical "band-wagon"
Even though it wasn't as complicated as it is nowadays, even this event had a qualifying event - A 50km (31 mile) course. Any vehicle which finished this course under three hours would be able to compete in the main event...
Fortunately (Or unfortunately, depending on how you viewed it) 71 of the 102 vehicles didn't make it to the qualifying session due to technical difficulties or not managing to make the 3-hour mark.
21 of those who did make it were then selected to race in the main event...It was a pretty ordinary point to point race, however the drivers stopped for lunch between 12:00 and 1:30pm, before continuing the race.
Although Count Jules-Albert De Dion in his steam-powered car was first into Rouen with a race time of 6 hours and 48 minutes averaging at roughly 12mph, he got disqualified because his self-built car (The De Dion-Bouton) required a Stoker (Someone who tends the fire on a steam vehicle) - which was prohibited - which handed the race win over to the driver who finished the race in second; Peugeot driver Albert Lemaitre. (above)
This also meant, that Auguste Doriot, who finished the race in 3rd, was promoted up to 2nd. Doriot was also racing a Peugeot. In third place was the one and only Hippolyte Panhard!
The last of the finishers was Ernest Archdeacon who finished the race in 13 hours exactly.
Seeing how popular the Paris to Rouen event had been, less than a year later, other countries such as Italy and America began to hold their own point to point races....and from every year onwards point to point racing took off, branching into the UK for the first London to Brighton veteran car run and by 1898 the point-to-point racing fever had swept through Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Austria-Hungary and even Russia.
1899 was the year that point-to-point racing exploded, having a whopping 30 events happening in different countries in Europe throughout the year, however after that, the interest died down a bit.
Early 20th Century Racing
With the turn of the 20th Century, other countries started organising their own street-circuit racing series, as point to point racing was considerably popular, they were trying something new.
It was also around this time that Belgium started holding a race called "Circuit Des Ardennes (Ardennes is the forest which surrounds Spa Francorchamps). The race was held on closed roads was held between 1902 and 1907...
With all these events happening, in 1903 France decided to introduce Spain to the Motor-Racing scene as it allowed one of its mighty popular point-to-point race destinations to be in Madrid.
As well as this, in 1903 Britain introduced the "Motor Car Act" - which introduced a few new rules to the road, including:
1. Making "Reckless Driving" a crime which you could be penalised for.
2. All vehicles to be registered - which the council issued a number to each vehicle, and the driver had to display this number - (this was the first known form of any "license/number/registration plates") - It was an offence to not drive with this number.
3. Ensuring all drivers had a drivers licence from January 1st, 1904. No test was needed, but the Government gave them out for 5 shillings (Roughly £19.50 today) and you had to be 17 years old to drive/ride a car and 14 to ride a Motorbike.
4. The speed limit had also been increased from 14mph (set in 1896)
5. Stricter regulations on the braking ability of vehicles (probably because vehicles were getting faster and faster)
1906 first saw the use of the words "Grand Prix". Unknown by all attendees, this would be known as The first"Formula One" race ever. (back then "Grand Prix race")
Held on closed city roads just outside of Le Mans. Ten French car manufacturers entered the race - all but Renault defunct today, with FIAT and Italia, from Italy and Mercedes from Germany, also joining the fray. Except for two teams, (who either entered one or two cars) every single team bought three cars along to the inaugural French Grand Prix - altogether adding up to 34 entries. All manufacturers had a choice whether to run with Michelin Tyres (founded in 1899), Dunlop Tyres (also founded in 1899) or Continental Tyres (founded in 1871).
Unlike today, a random draw decided the starting grid.
Each of a team's three cars was given a letter, one of "A", "B", or "C". They lined the cars up in two lines behind the start line. Cars marked "A" were queued up in one line and cars marked "B" in the other. Cars assigned the letter "C" were the last away; they formed a single line at the side of the track so that any cars which had completed their first lap of the track would be able to pass. Cars were released with 90-second intervals in between each car. The "race" began at 6 am
During the race, something incredibly bizarre happened... because it was scorching hot on that day (roughly 49 degrees Celsius) the tar began to melt and hit into the drivers and mechanics' (who were sitting in the passenger seat) faces - and somehow got behind the goggles, and made their eyes incredibly swollen.
After 5 hours of running, the cars were parked in Parc Ferme ("Closed Park" in English) - which was floodlit and guarded so that neither the drivers nor mechanics could tinker away on their car...being floodlit meant that anyone who was caught doing so would be under the spotlight.
Interestingly, the time the driver set on the first day, would determine what time they'd start the second day - Ferenc Szisz finished the first day in 5 hours 45 minutes, which meant he'd start the day at 5.45am - and the slower you went, the later you'd start - So, this means, even though you were quicker, you would've had less sleep and therefore probably less concentration...yet if you were at the back and completed it at 10 am, and you only saw a couple of cars left in Parc Ferme, this wouldn't make you feel too confident....However, if you finished with a broken car, then you'd have to repair the car and the pressure would be on to get it fixed.
After 12 hours of racing (5 on the first day, 7 on the second) Hungarian Ferenec Szisz won the original French Grand Prix, with Felice Nazzaro from Italy in second and Frenchman Albert Clement claiming third place.
Of 34 entries, only 11 finished. Mariaux was the slowest of all, finishing 4 hours behind Ferenec and half an hour behind 10th place.
1907 French Grand Prix
The following year, the event had 38 entrants and compared with 90-second intervals, the organisers decreased it to 60-second intervals between the cars. FIAT, Renault AK and Mercedes all took part.
Unlike 1906, the race was reduced to 6 hours due to a fuel consumption limit of 30 litres per 100km. The fastest average speed this race was 75mph.
The Frenchman who claimed third place in the previous race, Albert Clement was killed in a practice crash and had to be replaced with Alezy, driving in the car that killed your team-mate isn't the best feeling to have heading into a 6 hour endurance race.
Felice Nazzaro bettered his last result at this event by winning, followed by the previous winner Ferenec Szisz and third place went to Paul Baras from France.
17 of the 38 competitors finished, the driver in last place this time finishing 2 hours behind the winner, and 1 hour and 9 minutes behind the driver in
1907 was also the year that other countries started to do motor racing events as well, Targia Florio (ITA), Kaiser Preis (GER), Ardennes (BEL), all held Grand Prix Events.
The First Of Many Purpose Built Circuits
Seeing this mass development in the past couple of years, the world's first purpose-built race track was built....This was the birth of Brooklands.
Built a little county in England, Brooklands Motor Circuit was a feat of engineering. The track was made out of uncoated concrete, 30 meters wide, 2.75 miles long with 9-meter high banking at a 30-degree angle. Although it was a mostly full oval with one proper corner, the circuit had a Start/Finish straight which forked off from halfway around the circuit and rejoined at the middle of the first turn. Holding 287,000 spectators, Brooklands was a track which couldn't be ignored.
Just 11 days after being opened, the circuit held its first race. A 24-hour "race". Three cars took part, all made by "Napier" - Selwyn Edge lead the other two Napiers around. Whilst Edge somehow drove for the full 24 hours, averaging at a speed of 60mph, the other two drivers (Henry Tyron and Frank Newton, ran in the more traditional shift pattern, swapping over with their second driver. Tyron swapping with A. F. Browning and Newton swapping with F. Draper)
During the night, the track was lit by over 800 red railway lamps, and flares were used to mark the upper boundary of the circuit.
It was not even 50 years ago that Karl Benz had created the first motor vehicle, 2hp at that, and already we are racing these machines at 70 odd mph!
Returning to France, The final French Grand Prix before a three-year-break was held in 1908, they removed the fuel consumption limit, but added a minimum weight of 1100 - the average speed again increasing to 78mph. Henri Cissac and his mechanic, Jules Schauber, were killed in this event as his tyre fell off causing the car to roll,
the podium was:
1. Christian Lautenschlager (GER)
2. Victor Hémery (FRA)
3.René Hanriot (FRA)
Mercedes, Benz and Daimler were separate at this point.
Indianapolis & The AAA Championship Car Season Controversy
Inspired by how well the Brooklands Circuit had worked, the "Motor-racing fever" reached America, as two years after the Brooklands Circuit was built, Indianapolis, was built. To this day Indianapolis remains to be one of the most famous circuits, not only in America but across the globe too.
Unlike Brooklands however, Indianapolis was made out of Asphalt and Brick, offering a much smoother surface for the drivers to race on. In addition to this, Indianapolis had a much less steep angle of Banking, it was only 9 degrees. (And hence, being the first circuit to be called a "Speedway")
In August of 1909, five months after the track had been opened, Indianapolis held it's first car motor race - the "1909 AAA Championship Car Season"
"1909 AAA Championship Car season" at the Indianapolis Circuit was only the second year that "The AAA Championship" had run, the first being held in 1905, the 11 race calendar only running on dirt circuits.
The second year that the AAA Championship Car Season ran, all but two of the events were held on road courses. One was held and Indy, and the other at a dirt track.
The strange thing about the AAA Championship Car Season was that it would sometimes hold a couple of different races per day, however not with the same cars - some would be grouped by price (e.g: costing $1600 or less) whilst others (other races) would have cars grouped by power (e.g: limited to chassis over 300 ci ) and if this wasn't enough, they would even base the cars on weight and engine type (such as allowing only "light cars" to race one another or "cars with an open engine" to race one another) - So what you would find is within one big championship, there would be many different separate "mini-races"
However, despite the hype, things were about to go horribly wrong. Dirt, Oil, and Tar had covered the drivers and with ruts and potholes forming in the turns, drivers safety was paramount. So track workers oiled and rolled the circuit before the public entered. On the day 15,000 to 20,000 spectators turned up to this exciting event, most only paying up to $1 for a ticket.
All thought it was going well until Indy's First Fatality.
Canadian Wilfred Bourque was racing in the #3 Knox when he was notified by his mechanic, Harry Holcomb (who was riding in the car's passenger seat) that there was a car approaching, as soon as he glanced behind him, the car swerved, hit a rut and flipped. Despite surviving the crash itself, Bourque died later in hospital. Holcomb was also killed in the accident. After this the AAA were in some hot water, and were considering cancelling the remaining races, but Carl G. Fischer, (The man who first thought up the idea of making the Indy 500) promised that the track would be repaired.
Although the second day saw no incidents, the third and final was one to forget.
35,000 spectators showed up on the Grand Finale of the AAA Championship Car Season race at Indianapolis.
Charlie Merz's front wheel blew, he lost control and ploughed through 5 fence posts, and ran over a dozen spectators...
surprisingly only two of these spectators, and his Mechanic were killed in this accident. Barely ten laps later Bruce Keen hit a pothole and crashed into a bridge support, and although he survived, the disastrous weekend caused the AAA Championship to boycott any future events at Indy until future safety improvements were made.
With the one and only Grand Prix (French) not taking place until 1912, there was not a lot of motor racing going on.
The Years Leading Up To The War
1911 was a very good year for Motorsport. The first Indy 500 (500 Miles around Indianapolis Speedway) took place attracting 60,000 fans and was won by Ray Harroun/Cyrus Patschke (because in 1911, driver-swaps were allowed)...The Indy 500 would run consistently until 1916, two years into The Great War..
In addition to this, Juan Manuel Fangio one of the most famous early Formula One Drivers to this date was born nobody knew what great things he'd achieve...
In 1912, the French Grand Prix returned, and stayed until 1914, due to the war.
Each year the French Grand Prix was consistently improving, although they did return to running over two days, in 1912 they ran for 10 laps on each day, and had a minimum with of 1,750 millimeters - probably due to a safety concern, however despite this, Jean Bassignano was killed in an accident after putting a wheel off the circuit and flipping his car.
Sunbeam and Vauxhall were the newest manufacturer to Grand Prix Racing.
From 1907's 60 second interval down to 1912's 30-second interval the French organisers were constantly improving the spectacle of the French Grand Prix. Of the 47 who entered, 14 finished, though 6 hours behind the leader, Cyril De Vere only finished 1hr and 39 minutes behind the driver in front.
It was a French 1,2,3 as George Boillot won, followed by Louis Wagner and Victor Rigal picking up the last podium.
The 1913 French Grand Prix was one to forget. With only 20 drivers starting the race, Three drivers were killed in the space of 24 hours. Bigio was killed whilst testing his car before the race, Paul Zuccarelli was killed when he crashed into a cart and a spectator was killed when a driver crashed into a river.
George Boillot won for the second time in a row.
1913 was also the first year a Grand Prix was ever held outside of France. The Russian Grand Prix and The Spanish Grand Prix both made Grand Prix cameos, however the Spanish Grand Prix disappeared off the calendar until 1923, and the Russian Grand Prix only held two races in 1913 and 1914, before it dissapeared off the calendar until 2013.
Unlike the French Grand Prix, which was swaying between decent and downright dangerous, The AAA Championship Car Season was also doing incredibly well for itself, as it was exploring new ways to race, trying out a beach course in Texas and kept racing consistently all the way until World War 2, and then ran consistently until 1956, when it had a name change changing to "USAC Championship Car Season" which then ran to 1980, before having a season over 2 years, before finally having a name change in 1995 to Indy Racing League.
The 1914 French Grand Prix, returned to its former glory despite being the last race before WW1, it kept the 30 second interval between the cars, and though only Opel was the only new enterant, it was pretty similar to the previous years. 37 cars took part, though only 11 finished. Boillot was about to win his French Grand Prix in a row, however he dropped out on the final lap giving the win to the German Christian Lautenschlager who won for the second time followed by Louis Wagner and Otto Salzer
One Year before World War One would break out, a very important record was broken. Percy E. Lambert was the first driver to ever hit 100mph in his Talbot....however his victory was short-lived as his rear tire disintegrated, he lost control and went up an embankment, rolled and he was thrown out...he was immediately killed.
During World-War-One everything ground to a halt, as not only was it too dangerous to race whilst bombs were being dropped, the racing drivers had to fight in the war.
Thank you for reading, I will post the next part, next week on Friday.