Tuesday 26th June 1906
The inaugural French Grand Prix, staged in Le Mans by the Automobile Club of France (ACF), was won by Hungarian driver Ferenc Szisz in a 90hp 13 litre Renault Typ AK at an average speed of 63 mph. Although this wasn’t the first event to carry the title, history has cemented its place as the start of ‘grand prix’ racing proper. The idea for the grand prix arose from the annual Gordon Bennett Cup races after the French – then leading the world in car production and sales – had thrown a strop because Gordon Bennett rules limited competing cars to three per nation. L’Automobile Club de France stated that it would not stage the Gordon Bennett event in 1906, replacing it with a competition with no limit on the number of vehicles built in a specific country. Other nations were invited to host the Gordon Bennett race instead, but there were no takers. Hence, the new French race assumed a prominent position in international motor racing. The race had 34 starters, of which 25 were French, six were from Italy and three from Germany. Great Britain was officially absent as a protest against the abandonment of the Gordon Bennett rules, but probably a more important factor was the cost and the handicap of having to prepare for a contest on foreign soil. The Grand Prix was raced 768 miles (1200 km) of dirt roads over two days, and run under a new set of rules that would become a standard element of Grand Prix racing. The ACF stipulated that all cars were to weigh no more than 1,000 kg. Each manufacturer could enter three cars, with each car operated by a two-man crew. Entries included cars from Panhard, Lorraine-Dietrich, Fiat, Darracq, Hotchkiss, Itala and Renault. Individual starts were the rule in those days. Hungarian racer Ferenc Szisz moved his Renault into the lead after three of six laps on the opening day. Bradley wrote: “This car was fitted with detachable wheel rims all round and every two laps both rears were changed, whatever their condition. On one occasion two rears were changed, tanks filled and lubricators adjusted in four and a half minutes, a performance much appreciated by the public. Szisz maintained his lead to win the French GP at an average of 62mph. There was no prize money. Competitors had to pay an entry fee of about £200, and in many cases the total cost of building and running a racing car was as high as £10,000. But the prestige was immense.