The first races in history

In 1900 an event occurred which played a pivotal role in the world of motor racing. James Gordon Bennett Jr., owner of the New York Herald and Herald Tribune, established a car race in Europe for the Gordon Bennett Cup of his name. Each country was allowed to field up to three cars. The Gordon Bennett Cup race became an annual event, attracting competitors from all over the world. Following Gordon Bennett's example, the American millionaire William Kissam Vanderbilt II started the Vanderbilt Cup races in the USA. The first of these races was held in 1904 on Long Island, New York. These races so captivated Louis Chevrolet of Switzerland that he decided to quit his job at a French construction firm and move to the States. From 1901 he became the most famous competitor in American motor racing and designed a number of General Motors cars, later named after him.

First Grand Prix

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In 1906 the Automobile Club of France (CAF) organised a race called the Grand Prix. It took place in June on the 105 km circuit of Le Mans. The 32 entrants in the event represented 12 different car makers. The Hungarian racing driver Ferenc Cees won here, with his Renault covering a distance of 1,260 km.

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Soon similar competitions were held in almost every country. It had no official championship status and went by different rules everywhere. What was common was that all drivers were accompanied by a mechanic. Only these mechanics and the drivers themselves were allowed to repair or tune the car. Interestingly, a key factor in Renault's success in such races was the use of detachable wheels, developed by Michelin. These could be changed without dismantling the car.

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The first race tracks

Most of the first motor-races were held on sections of ordinary roads that were closed for the duration of the event. In 1906, when the first Le Mans Grand Prix took place, there were no purpose-built racetracks. The Targa Fiorio was held in Sicily on a 150 km stretch of road. In Germany, a 120 km section of track was chosen for the Kaiserprice races and the 1907 French Grand Prix covered 77 km of roads around Dieppe.

The first dedicated Brooklands track was built in 1907 in Weybridge, UK. The American Indianapolis Motor Speedway was first used for its intended purpose in 1909 and the Monza circuit in Italy opened in 1922. The Grand Prix name quickly spread to other European countries. For example, the 1924 Grand Prix were held in Belgium and Spain. However, these races were not official championships with uniform rules. They only began to be worked on shortly before the First World War. The rules primarily determined the size and weight of the engines.

In 1924, the International Association of Recognised Automobile Clubs (AIACR) was set up as the unofficial governing body for Grand Prix racing. As early as 1928, its rules were abolished and the era of the so-called 'Free Formula' began, when competitions were virtually unrestricted. From 1927 to 1934, the number of races entered as Grand Prix has steadily increased. In 1927 there were 5, in 1929 9 and by 1934 there were 18.

Motorsport before our era

The first World Motorcycling Championship took place in 1949. As early as 1950, the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) responded by organising a world championship for road racers known as Formula 1. But what about before that?

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The first car racing competitions started in France around 1884. At first, such races were limited to a distance from one village to another, but very quickly the competitions became more complex and well organised. Let's explore what car racing was like in prehistoric times.