It is little known that motor-racing is an off-shoot of bicycle-racing, indeed that the modern automobile is part-derived from bicycle technology.
The horseless carriage dates back to the Cugnot Steam Trolley in 1769, a carriage with a steam-engine. In 1806, Swiss engineer François Isaac de Rivaz, devised a vehicle with an internal combustion engine fuelled with hydrogen and oxygen. Early such vehicles relied on hydrogen or coal gas until 1870 when Siegfried Marcus of Vienna attached a gasoline/petroleum spirit engine to a handcart.
It was Karl Benz that is credited with inventing the modern automobile. Following lack of success in an earlier business, 1883 saw Benz joining with two owners of a bicycle-repair shop to start Benz & Cie producing industrial machines and in 1885 creating the Benz Patent Motorwagen. Unlike it’s predecessors, it had not wooden wheels but wire-spoked wheels and was essentially a tricycle chain-driven by a four-stroke ~0.8 hp engine. By 1888, after modifications (including wooden spoked wheels), it became the first commercially available car leading to the development of the motor-car industry.
The first city-to-city bicycle race was Paris-to-Rouen in 1869, sponsored by Le Vélocipède Illustré (The Bicycle Illustrated; French fortnightly newspaper). This event was curtailed by the Franco-Prussian War before returning as an amateur race still held annually. (Other examples include the Bordeux-to-Paris race that ran from 1891 to 1988 and the Paris-to-Robaix that started in 1986 and is still held as a round of the road-racing World Cup.)
Motor-racing got off to a false start with an 1887 event, also supported by Le Vélocipède Illustré, which saw a 2 km ‘race’ except it attracted only one entrant, Georges Bouton driving a de Dion-Bouton (with de Dion as passenger).
Most consider the first motor-race was the, “Concours des Voitures sans Chevaux” (Competition of Carriages without Horses) held from Paris-to-Rouen on 22nd July, 1894. Some of the competitors were cyclists and some event officials were from cycling. It was sponsored by the Paris magazine, Le Petit Journal. The organisers ordained that the cars were, “not dangerous, easy to drive, and cheap during the journey”, and held a 50 km heat which selected the twenty-five to enter the 128 km main race from 102 entrants. A jury judged on the cars’ handling and safety attributes but the main prize was for the best time. The fastest finisher was Comte Jules-Albert de Dion with a de Dion. It says much about motor-racing that he was disqualified from this first race on a technicality – because de Dion’s steam-car required a stoker which the judges considered outside their objectives. This gave the win to Georges Lemaître in a Peugeot.
|1||Jules-Albert de Dion||de Dion||6h48m00s, 18.66 kph|
|8||Le Brun||Le Brun||8h12m00|
|13||De Bourmont||de Bourmont||8h51m00|
|15||M. Le Blant||Serpollet||10h43m00|
Some historians discount the Paris-to-Rouen race because it was part reliability trial, part time-trial and part-judged for other prizes. The first event that saw a simultaneous start was the Paris-Bordeaux-Paris Trial. This was a distance of 1178 km starting on 25th February, 1895. The first to finish was Émile Levassor. He overtook early leader, de Dion (who was refilling the water tank of his steam car) and his Panhard reached Bordeaux much earlier than expected so the relief driver was still asleep in an unknown hotel. Thus Levassor (after pausing for sandwiches and champagne) drove back finishing in 48 hours 47 minutes, six hours ahead of the next competitor. The result information seems to be incomplete and states that the first two finishers were ineligible for prizes for being in two-seater not four-seater cars. That would give first prize to A. Koechlin.
|1||Emile Levassor||Panhard||48h48ms, 24.54kph|
City-to-city races led to The Gordon Bennett Cup for nations that ran from 1900 to 1905. As speeds grew, racing moved to closed public or private road circuits and subsequently purpose built circuits.
(Comte Jules-Albert de Dion lead a group of wealthy individuals that set up L’Auto newspaper in France. In 1903, L’Auto instigated Le Tour de France to reverse flagging sales.)