- Frenchman Boillot ecstatic at Top Speed....

A Brief History Of Motorsport Part 1: The Story Begins

(Updated Aug. 2020) Whizz back in time and find out how Motorsport grew from just one man's small idea into such a worldwide phenomenon

3y ago

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.

The Patent Motorwagen may have looked simple, but it did the job....

The Patent Motorwagen may have looked simple, but it did the job....

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, in 1894, 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"

The #65 Peugeot of Albert Lemaitre

The #65 Peugeot of Albert Lemaitre

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 in 1896 and no less than two years later 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.

The Birth Of Modern Names...

The last race of 1899 was a point-to-point race from Paris to Rambouillet and back to Paris, and was won by Renault - only a year after they were founded. Driven by the founding brothers of the French manufacturer, (Louis finishing first, Marcel second) Renault is one of only a handful of car makers that has such a long history - 122 Years to be exact - only Daimler and Benz (who'd later merge to form "Mercedes Benz") have a longer history.

Early 20th Century Racing

With the turn of the 20th Century, event organisers had the problem of what to do once the competitors had crossed the line - so they decided to experiment with routes (or "circuits") where the start-line and finish line met

The first "Circuit" in written history was the "Circuit Du Sud Ouest" or "South West Circuit" which was a 300KM circuit (Nordschliefe + Full GP Circuit being only 26KM) made up of public roads.

On the other side of the Atlantic, the "Long Island Road Race" was the first automobile race to be held on Long Island which went from the Springfield Boulevard intersection in Queens to Bablyon in Suffolk County and back - and the photos captured were remarkable - especially as "Motorsport" was such a new concept - and rarely before had motorsport been captured on camera.

Despite the lack of safety, the thrill of speed of the Vanderbilt Cup was a spectacle for all to see.

Despite the lack of safety, the thrill of speed of the Vanderbilt Cup was a spectacle for all to see.

The Gordon Bennett Cup

Started in 1900, the annual point-to-point series called the "Gordon Bennett Cup" saw the popularity of circuit racing and, from the 1903 edition onwards, would hold their races on circuits as opposed to point - to - point routes - The 1903 version of the event would also be the first in Ireland.

This drastic change (of going from point-to-point to circuit racing) came down to safety after eight people lost their lives and several others were injured after the tragic events of the 1901 Paris To Bordeaux race, the race itself having to be stopped due to the amount of fatalities that there had been .

The 528km circuit dwarfed the Circuit Du Sud Ouest, which had been made two years prior. Six of the race's seven laps ran on the short circuit (going directly from Fontstown, to Kilcullen to Kildare whilst the 7th utelised the longer loop

The 528km circuit dwarfed the Circuit Du Sud Ouest, which had been made two years prior. Six of the race's seven laps ran on the short circuit (going directly from Fontstown, to Kilcullen to Kildare whilst the 7th utelised the longer loop

After each starter was separated by a seven-minute interval, Belgan Camille Jenatzy would eventually win the race in a Mercedes in a time of 6 hours and 39 minutes.

He'd be followed by three Frenchmen - second and third driving Panhard's and 4th - and the last - of the original 12 runners in a Mors

The race would continue to follow circuit racing for the next two years in 1904 and 1905, and with the fast improvement and development of cars, speeds were now reaching close to 50mph!

As the Gordon Bennett races was a competition of nations (rather than individual drivers), and the winning driver of the 1904 race was a German, Germany was allowed to hold/organise that year's race - so the race took place in the Taunus mountains, in Central Germany- this circuit being larger than the one used the year prior - reaching an astonishing 550km!

The sixth and final race in 1905 would be held in France and won by Frenchman Léon Théry in his Braiser with second and third being FIATs.

The End Of The Gordon Bennett Cup

The Gordon Bennett Cup would end in a disagreement. Originally, entries were limited to three per country. This would allow fairer competition between the small manufacturers in Switzerland, and the dominant force in France - so much so that when the ACF (Automobile Club De France) held its trials to see which manufacturer would race - 29 entries would compete for three slots.

Due to this, the French automotive industry (French Manufacturers) proposed to the organisers of the event that they run a race alongside (simultaneously) the Gordon Bennett Cup that did not restrict entries by country.

The organisers compromised - keeping the limits of entries in place, however these limits would be dependent on the size of the country's automotive industry.

It was proposed that France would be allowed 15, Germany and Britain would be allowed 6 and the remainder of the entries three - this obviously caused an uproar from all but the French.

The 1905 race would run as prior years (with no change), but since a French driver won, the French were in charge of organising the race - and so, they would end the Gordon Bennett races/cup and replace it with the "Grand Prix De l'Automobile Club De France - which would turn out to be the 1906 French Grand Prix....

The First Grand Prix

Held as an alternative to the Gordon Bennett Cup races, 1906 first saw the use of the words "Grand Prix" in history.

Safety was of very little concern at the French Grand Prix in 1906 - both in terms of track-side safety, and the vehicles themselves

Safety was of very little concern at the French Grand Prix in 1906 - both in terms of track-side safety, and the vehicles themselves

Held on closed city roads just outside of Le Mans, thirteen car manufacturers entered the race (twelve started)

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

This Grand Prix was the first time that safety measures were put into place at a Grand Prix - due to fans/spectators crowding too close to the track, unfortunately resulting in injury and death, the organisers erected fencing near towns/villages and where lanes, footpaths and roads intersected the track.

Nothing but a small rickety wooden fence separated the speeding race cars and the French countryside

Nothing but a small rickety wooden fence separated the speeding race cars and the French countryside

Furthermore, footbridges above the track, grandstands beside the track and even a tunnel connecting the grandstands to the pit-lane were also installed for this fast-paced spectacle.


During the race, something incredibly bizarre happened... because it was scorching hot on that day (roughly 49 degrees Celsius), and the surface of the track was little more than compacted dust and sharp stones, 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, for Renault, with FIAT driver Felice Nazzaro from Italy in second and Frenchman Albert Clement claiming third place in his own machine, the Clement Bayard.

Of 34 entries, only 11 finished. Mariaux was the slowest of all, finishing 4 hours behind Ferenec and half an hour behind 10th place.

But the chequered flag didn't mark the end of the race - the top 3 drivers were then escorted to the grandstand to collect their trophies.

The drivers weren't the only ones who won either, Renault too gained - from selling 1,600 cars in 1906 to more than 3,000 a year later before increasing to 4,600 in 1908 - minimal numbers now, but with the first motor-powered engine only being built 20 years prior.

Race Reflections...

Despite this, the reflections on the race were negative - and that it had been "a poor replacement of the Gordon Bennett races".

It'd been agreed that compared the race was too long, and the starting system (leaving intervals of 90 seconds between each car) had meant that there was very little competition/racing, making the race rather dull.

This race then helped form the AIACR - The predecessor to the FIA, a governing body that would help regulate international motorsport

With this in mind, the organisers agreed to run the race the following year to see if they could improve the structure for the following races.

International Attention

Progress was also being made in other continents too - in Australia, the first purpose-built motor-racing circuit had just been built inside a previously-existing horse-racing circuit.

Located in Victoria, Aspendale Racecourse would become an unsung key part of Motorsport.

This monumental year for motorsport would further continue as one of the longest motor-races still to this day would take place- a point to point race from Peking in China to Paris, before future Formula One World Champion Giuseppe Farina would be born in October of this year.

Attention In Europe

Seeing this mass development in the past couple of years, the Europe'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.

The Original Brooklands Circuit

The Original Brooklands Circuit

Houses built over the old Brooklands circuit ruined a part of what was once a piece of History.

Houses built over the old Brooklands circuit ruined a part of what was once a piece of History.

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!

1907 Isle Of Man TT

1907 also marked the first year that the fearsome Isle Of Man TT Ran - although ran on a much shorter circuit at much lower speeds than today the danger that came with the race was just as high - if not higher due to the lack of Safety

St John's Short Course used between 1907 - 1910

St John's Short Course used between 1907 - 1910

The inaugrial Isle of Man TT had 25 starters whom started the race in pairs in a time-trial format (as opposed to a race format) on their road-legal "touring" motorcycles with exhaust silencers, saddles, pedals and mudguards and little else.

The first Isle Of Man TT was won by Charles R. Collier - finishing the 226km, 15 lap race is four hours at an average speed of 38mph Only 8 riders in total would finish.

The first machines to tackle The Isle Of Man TT were incredibly simple. Here Rem Fowler sits atop his Peugeout Powered Norton.

The first machines to tackle The Isle Of Man TT were incredibly simple. Here Rem Fowler sits atop his Peugeout Powered Norton.

The Isle Of Man TT would be held annually until 1914, when the first world war broke out.

From 1910, the Isle of Man TT would progress onto a much larger circuit - that the TT still uses to this day. During the last race on St John's Short Course, speeds were up to an average of 50mph.

1907 French & German Grand Prix

Following it's partial success The second French Grand Prix had 38 entrants and compared with 90-second intervals, the organisers decreased it to 60-second intervals between the cars. FIAT, Renault and Mercedes all took part on a significantly shorter circuit - this time only 10 laps of a 77km long circuit - one of the major pit-falls of the last Grand Prix.

Speeds were also significantly higher - 20mph higher than the 1906 event, now reaching 70mph.

The German Grand Prix - or "Kaiserpreis" ("Emperor Price/Prize)" would also be held this year with more than 30 entries! This would also be Opel's first Grand Prix.

1908 French Grand Prix

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, marking the first fatal accident in a Grand Prix in history.

the podium was:

1. Christian Lautenschlager (GER)

2. Victor Hémery (FRA)

3. René Hanriot (FRA)

Indianapolis & The AAA Championship Car Season Controversy

Inspired by how well the Brooklands Circuit had worked and how popular it was, the "Motor-racing fever" reached America, as two years after the Brooklands Circuit was built, Indianapolis Motor Speedway was built in the state of the same name.

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 (Hence the nickname "The Brickyard") 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 compared to Brooklands' 30.

In August of 1909, two months after the track had been opened, Indianapolis held it's first motor-race - a two day, 15 race, motorcycle program, however this was cancelled after just the first day due to concerns about the suitability of the track surface for motorcycles.

Less than a week later, fifteen car manufacturers attended the track for practice, and still the track was a massive reason for concern.

Drivers were being covered in Dirt, Oil, and Tar and potholes began to form in the turns.

Despite track workers oiling and rolling the surface - problems with the surface continued to occur - Louis Chevrolet, (founder of a Chevrolet) was even temporarily blinded when a stone smashed his goggles...before the inevitable happened.

Canadian Wilfred Bourque, who won the third race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, was racing in his #3 Knox car 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 a tricky situation and were considering cancelling the remaining races, unless significant improvements were made, but Carl G. Fischer, (The man who first thought up the idea of making the Indy 500) promised that the track would be repaired.

Carl G Fischer delivered on his promise, and the new surface was made out of Bricks, Mortar and Sand, with a concrete wall to protect the spectactors erected surrounding the track.

Speed tests were a huge hit - and with the new surface laid, the cars were going faster than ever before - some managing to break the seemingly impossible 100mph barrier - achieving speeds of 112mph - Percy E Lambert being the first to do so, however moments later, his tyre would blow, throwing his car up the embankment - and tragically killing him immediately

In spite of Percey's fatality, The AAA were impressed by the and sanctioned all 66 races which took place during the weekends of Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labour Day.

A picture from the 1911 Indy 50

A picture from the 1911 Indy 50

Cutting Down To Increase Crowds

The 1910 AAA Championship Car Season would start off well, drawing in an estimated crowd of 60,000 on Memorial Day for the "Wheeler-Schebler Trophy, however, following this, attendence throught the season trailed off, dwindling as the season went on - due to this, the organisers re-organised the season to encourage bigger numbers. Potential reasons being due to the heat, and the women making the family holiday plans at the time, only those truly invested in the sport would attend.

1911 Indy 500

It was decided that the organisers would hold one single major event per year - held on none other than memorial day.

Rumours of this event spread like wildfire and the excitement within and outside the motorsport community grew and grew.

To further refine the entry-list to just the best racing drivers, a qualification system was put in place to demonstrate each cars/drivers capability to race at a sufficiently competitive pace. Those that failed to qualify, were given two chances to reach this pace (maintaining a minimum of 75mph for a quarter mile with a flying start) before being rejected. This began the tradition of having three qualification sessions per car.

This however, did not decide the starting order - instead the grid was decided by the entry date (when the drivers filled in their offical entry forms)

On 30 May, 1911 the time finally came for 46 lucky men to race on the edge of their seats on the outer edge of danger, grip and skill for $27,550 (About $748,000.00 Today). 40 of those who entered met the sustained 75mph target - of the 45 that successfully qualified, only three were not American - 10th placed Gil Andersen was Norwegian, Arthur Chevrolet starting in 16th was Swiss, and the car behind him was Frenchman Charles Basle, leading row four. Australian Rupert Jeffkins and Louis Edmunds failed to qualify.

Driving the Stoddard-Dayton pace car was quite rightly the founder of the Indy 500, Carl G. Fischer. This was not only the first time a rolling start took place, but the first use of a "pace" car as well.

Unfortunately, motorsport was and still is to this day, incredibly dangerous, and tragically, on lap 12, after a front wheel came loose on Arthur Greiner and his mechanic Sam Dickinson's car, causing Greiner to lose control and throwing both from the car. Whilst Greiner only broke his arm, Dickinson unfortunately lost his life, reports state he was killed instantly.

The race resumed however, and half way into the race, Ray Harroun (who didn't have a mechanic onboard) took the lead. Throughout the duration of the event, 14 cars fell out of the race due to accidents or mechanical issues.

Harroun eventually pitted for a rest, Cyrus Patschke taking his spot - leading 88 of the 200 laps completed - averaging at about 74.6mph. 6 hours and 42 minutes later the checkered flag fell for Harroun to take the win after an intense fight with second placed Ralph Mulford, (after Harroun needed to pit due to a tyre failure) it was a well earnt win - finishing ahead of Mulfound by 1 minute and 48 seconds.

Ray Harroun would not only win the inaugrial Indy 500 - and revolutionise not only motorsport, but road safety forever.

Whilst all other drivers had a mechanic onboard, Harroun wanted to save weight, so decided to drive solo - and installed a rear-view mirror, to see what was happening behind him.

Despite the vibrations of the brick surface making the contraption "largely useless" - Harround also claimed that he got the idea from it being used for a similar purpose in a horse-drawn vehicle prior to the race - this being used in motorsport and on the road still to this day.

Coming out of retirement just for the Indy 500, Harroun would collect his money, and never raced again.

Third place would go to David L. Bruce Brown, and only 26 would make it to the finish - retirements being partially mechanical and partically accident damage

Gil Andersen would finish 11th and neither Charles Basle nor Arthur Chevrolet would classify as finished due to mechanical problems.

The Marmon Wasp in it's natural habitat - Harround's rear-view mirror clearly Visible...

The Marmon Wasp in it's natural habitat - Harround's rear-view mirror clearly Visible...

Continuing The Legacy...

The 1911 Indy 500 was a monumental success despite the tragic death and fans eagerly awaited the Indy 500 the following year.

To combat another dominant performance that Ray showed in 1911, the organisers made having an "onboard mechanic" mandatory - the winner's price also doubled - now at $50,000 ($1.3 million today). Of the 29 whom entered, 24 managed to maintain 75mph or higher for a full lap, compared with the 1/4 mile used previously.

Gil Andersen would take pole position, with the rest of the field being Americans.

DePalma, who was born in Italy, but moved to the United States in the 1890's dominated the majority of the race - with a five lap and a half lap lead DaPalma was untouchable...or so it seemed...

Just three laps from the end, Ralph DePalma's Mercedes started miss-firing and started to slow - he'd make it all the way up to lap 199 before it would grind to a halt and DePalma and his mechanic would have to push his car across the line.

Joe Dawson, who had been in second for the majority of the race, took the lead with two laps to go.

Dawson and his mechanic Martin (and Don Herr, who relieved Joe) would win by a 10 minute margin with a total time of 6 hours and 21 minutes - 21 minutes faster than the 1911 record with an average speed of 78.7mph

Second would go to Teddy Tetzlaff with Hughie Hughs in third.

DePalma would be the highest of the non finishers, being classified 11th meaning that only 10 of the original 24 would make it to the finish - the same amount of finishers for the following year.

1913 Race

1913 Indy 500

1913 Indy 500

The following year saw the most international drivers in the history of the event - a grand total of 6.

The qualification system was also changed, instead of being the first entry-forms to be filled, instead it was a random draw.

Gil Andersen would return for another year, whilst Belgian Theodore Pilette would be the first Belgian driver to attempt the Indy 500. Also present was French pair Albert Guyot and Jules Goux and Italian pair Vincenzo Trucco and Paul Zuccarelli who were also in the mix.

Jules Goux would eventually win for Peugeot - the brands' first win since 1894.

Spencer Wishart would finish second, with Charlie Merz in third.

Guyot, In a Sunbeam, a brand that would last until 1981, would finish 4th and Belgian Pilette would round out the top 5.

It was estimated that 90,000 people attended the race.

1914 - 1916

The following year, other than Gil Andersen, only (6) French and (2) Belgian drivers would race in a rather uneventful race

In the Penultimate Indy 500, Ralph DePalma would finally get to win after many years of trying, Louis Chevrolet would also return and Dario Resta and Noel Van Raatle made the debut for British Drivers at the Indy 500. Germans and Italians would also be present.

1916 would be the last Indy 500 before America would get involved in the war, and stop motor-racing. The organisers would make this race 300 miles (as opposed to 500) to see if it would be more interesting for fans. This change also moved the race into the afternoon. This event had the smallest entry-list in Indy's history

Following this the Speedway would be used for planes during the war.

A Plane at Indinapolis

A Plane at Indinapolis

The Years Leading Up To The War

Unbeknown to all, in 1914, The Great War would break out, tens of millions would be killed and many more lives would be destroyed

Since the war started in Europe, only events prior to the outbreak of war happened, and no European motor-racing events were between 1915 - 1919

The Indy 500 would run consistently until 1916, two years into The Great War, when America joined to fight.

Pre-War (1912-1914) Grand Prix Racing

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.

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. Following this, the circuit was never used for Motor-racing again.

George Boillot won for the second time in a row.

New Manufacturers were also taking an interest in this Grand Prix racing too - brands such as Fiat, Sunbeam, Peugeot, Vauxhall all making appearance.

The 1914 French Grand Prix, returned to its former glory despite being the last race before WW1 - and beiing held under political tensions.

It kept the 30 second interval between the cars, and though only Opel and Alfa were the only new entrants, 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


During this time, 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 (1911) and kept racing consistently all the way until World War 2, (Through WW1) 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.

In 1913, this was a feat of safety and engineering, how times have changed.

In 1913, this was a feat of safety and engineering, how times have changed.


Join In

Comments (5)

  • Great article had no 8dea about history of early motorsport

      3 years ago
  • Excellent article! The early days of motorsports were filled with truly brave drivers.

      3 years ago