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The Complete History of Grand Prix Motor Racing by Adriano Cimarosti
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Great Auto Races  by Peter Helck
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Part II


With the unexpected victory by Edge in his Napier and the disaster at the 1903 Paris-Madrid city to city race the Gordon Bennett Cup races had finally captured the imagination of the public if not the manufacturers.

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1903
At the 1903 Gordon Bennett Cup race in Ireland, Camille Jenatzy would find himself driving for Mercedes.. Ironically he was not originally selected to drive for Mercedes but was a last minute replacement for the original driver who was not considered a proper gentleman by the Deutsche Automobil Club and only gentlemen could take part in the Gordon Bennett. The face that Jenatzy was not actually German was quietly forgotten. The Mercedes cars he and his teammates drove were not originally intended for the race having been requisitioned from customers after the original cars were destroyed in a fire back at the factory.

Ireland itself had organized a number of motoring contests throughout the length and breath of the country around the Cup. Many thousands of visitors came by boat to view the race while some 1,500 brought their cars with the intention of touring the countryside while here. As the total number of cars in Ireland was only around 300 at the time this was a huge influx and provided many Irish people with their first opportunity to see a motor car. The chosen route was a figure eight course centered on Athy in the Irish midlands. The cars would complete three laps of the eastern circuit and four of the longer western circuit giving a total distance of 524km (327.5 miles). Some 7,000 policemen were drafted to marshal the course.

The French team sailed to Ireland on the French ship the SS Ferdinand de Lesseps and docked at Dublin Bay. They would use this ship as a floating hotel. On several occasions some of the French team members ventured on shore to eat at one of the restaurants in Dublin, not overly impressed by Gallic culinary standards. It was said that they refused to drink any Irish whiskey un less its bottle was opened in front of their eyes.This caused a local scribe to comment: "Herein the French were unnecessarily fussy, because whatever is wrong with Irish cooking, you can always gamble on the whiskey being drinkable!" No sooner was it reported that excessive compensation for chickens being run over during reconnaissance was being exacted, that the team faced a plague of chicken's being martyred on the circuit.

1903 Winton Gordon Bennett TeamOn a cool and cloudy day, July 2, 1903, twelve cars were being prepared for the start which would come at 7:00 am with last year's winner Edge leading off with the rest of the field following at seven minute intervals. After the first lap the early leader was the Mercedes not of Jenatzy but James Foxall-Keene. Jenatzy complained of being held up by the Winton of Percy Owen, vowing that if the American did not get out of his way "there would be bloodshed". Jenatzy finally was able to pass the Winton with two wheels in the gutter. Jenatzy drove the race of his life on a track riddled with curves and bumps and was soon in the lead. At the wheel of a car that was inferior in terms of horse power he tailored his spectacular driving style by late braking and accelerating out of the curves. Réne de Knyff in the Panhard was now in second place but steadily losing ground. Both Wintons occupied the tail end of the field, Winton suffering from fuel starvation and Owen with overheating. By the end of the fourth lap of seven Jenatzy's lead was now ten minutes. Farman in another Panhard was now third, two minutes in arrears.

A fellow participant marveled: "Throughout the seemingly endless series of curves, Jenatzy kept his foot to the floor. He skidded at breakneck speed around the corners, often only narrowly missing the bordering walls in the process, as was shown by his skid marks that were everywhere to be seen. I could not imagine that he could keep up this daredevil driving style for very long." By the time the race was over the Gordon Bennett Cup was headed back to Germany.

Jenatzy describing the sensation of racing described in words that would be repeated by other drivers in other years more than a century later:

"The car in which you travel seems to leave the ground and hurl itself forward like a projectile ricocheting along the ground. As for the driver, the muscles of his body and neck become rigid resisting the pressure of the air; his stare is steadfastly fixed about two hundred yards ahead; his senses are on the alert to detect the slightest abnormal signs."

"When in the distance a cloud of dust proclaims that another car is being overtaken, a delightful feeling of triumph comes over you. This is the time when you need to recall all that you know of the features of the landscape, for then begins a real journey into darkness. The cloud of dust, at first light, thickens gradually till the only objects which can be distinguished are the treetops on the edge of the road. When you finally emerge, you see the rival car only a few yards ahead, and the dust cloud changes into a trail of flints and pebbles. If the other competitor sees you he will draw aside, but usually he does not heed your signals. There seems to be no room to pass, yet you pass all the same ..."

The Panhards of Knyff and Farman came in second and third, Knyff, eleven minutes behind the winner. Jenatzy for his efforts was awarded $25,000 from Mercedes, a new car worth $17,000 and a further $8,000 from the tire manufacturer for a princely total of $50,000 which would be approximately equivalent to $2.3 million in 2014!

Athy, Ireland Circuit
2 July 1903 - 527 km (64 km x 3 laps + 83.5 km x 4 laps)
1st Camille Jenatzy Mercedes 6h39m00s 49.2mph
2nd Réne de Knyff Panhard 6h50m40s
3rd Henri Farman Panhard 6h51m44s
4th Fernand Gabriel Mors 7h11m33s
Ret Baron Pierre de Caters Mercedes Rear Axle
Ret Percy Owen Winton Overheating
Ret Alexander Winton Winton Fuel Starvation
Ret James Foxhall-Keene Mercedes Rear Axle
Ret Louis Mooers Peerless Tires
Ret Charles Jarrott Napier Accident
Ret J. Stocks Napier Accident
DNF Selwyn Francis Edge Napier Disqualified


1904
Hotchkiss called motor racing "automotive's curse". If you wanted to promote our cars you had to be seen racing or at least talking about it. With city to city racing banned due to the disaster at the Paris-Madrid race the Gordon Bennett Cup took greater prominence. Both France and Great Britain found it necessary to conduct trials to handle the new manufactures who wanted to take part in that year's Cup. In Great Britain the trials were run on the isle of Man in May. The French elimination trials saw a battle amongst cars from Richard-Brasier, Mors, Turcat et Méry, de Dietrich, Renault, Serpollet, Panhard, Clement-Bayard, Darracq, Gobron-Brillié and the reluctant Hotchkiss. The steam driven Serpollet driven by Hubert le Blon finished as high as 5th in one of the trials which was won by Léon Théry driving a Richard-Brasier. The shock of the trials was that the Panhards would not qualify for for racing in the Cup.

Leon TheryThe 1904 Gordon Bennett's cup was held in Germany's Taunus Forest at the suggestion of Kaiser William II and drew entries from eight countries. At the time it was considered the single most important race in the world. The course stretched over 550 km in the pine forest, consisting of four laps that started from the ancient Roman bastion of Saalburg heading north to Usingen, where there was a control point (an inhabited or built up area where the cars had to travel slowly under the supervision of course officials). Other control points were established at Grävenwiesbach to Weilburg, then past Allendorf and Obertiefenbach to Limburg. The last section was reported to be the best part of the course for high speed and in practice some cars traveled at 150 km/h. After Limburg the course ran through Kirberg to Neuhof, Idstein then ran through Glashütten to Königstein,via Friedrichshof and Oberursel to Homburg and back to Saalburg where they arrayed spectacular grandstands fit for a Kaiser.

There were 18 entrants including teams from France, Belgium, Italy Great Britain, Austria and Germany. The last two team all drove five Mercedes and one Opel race cars. The Opel was driven by Friedrich Franz Opel who had studied engineering at the Technikum in Mittweida, Saxony was chief designer at Opel. France was represented by cars from Mors, Richard-Brasier and Turcat et Méry, a partnership of Alphonse Méry of Marseille, his younger brother Simon Méry and his brother in law Léon Turcat. The Richard-Brasier was driven by Leon Théry also known as "Mort aux Vaches" (the cow killer) after an accident in the Ardennes ace of 1903. The Belgians and the Italians were represented by Compagnie Belge de Construction Automobiles (Pipe) and Fiat respectivly. The British contingent consisted of two Wolseleys and Edge's Napier.

The first car started from Saalburg at 7 a.m. When the racing was over Jenatzy in his Mercedes was the first to reach the finish but where was Théry? Communications along the course had broken down and no one knew what was happening behind Jenatzy. After Jenatzy had taken the flag Théry had some twenty-eight minutes to reach the finish to win the race. These were nervous minutes for the French fans but Théry did not fail them. With some eleven minutes to spare the Richard-Brasier driver appeared at the finish to take the Gordon Bennett Cup back to "where it belonged". Henri Rougier driving the Turcat-Méry was third. The only British competitor placed was Sidney Girling driving the 96 hp Wolseley "Beetle". Australia's Selwyn Edge, the 1902 winner who again drove a Napier, was disqualified on lap three after receiving outside assistance due to tyre problems. Ironically he was charged and absolved from similar charges in 1902. With each of Théry's laps within 3 minutes of the other he had earned the new nickname of the "Chronometer". His car, featuring a 4-cylinder engine of 9896 cc it was the only car of the 1904 race with an engine volume less that ten litres.

Charles-Henri Brasier was personally congratulated by Kaiser Wilhelm II, while Prince Henry of Prussia greeted and tired and thirsty Théry who took a huge draught of champagne, his first drink since the morning, for his friends feared that he might be poisoned prior to the race. Henry, who was keenly interested in motor cars was claimed to have invented the windshield washer.

For Brasier, success on the track was not matched with harmony in the boardroom. Relations had deteriorated between Brasier and Georges Richard. During the year Brasier had himself appointed (sole or senior) executive director (dirigeant et administrateur), and gave notice to Richard terminating the agreement between them, while purporting to retain both the factory at Ivry-Port and the "four-leaf clover" trade mark which Richard had recently registered for the business. There followed a bitter litigation battle between the partners which ended in Richard's favor. Georges Richard went on to establish the Société anonyme des Automobiles "UNIC", based at Puteaux in 1905 that in 1938 switched its focus from passenger cars to commercial vehicles.

Homburg Circuit
17 June 1904 - 511.532 km (127.883 km x 4 laps)
1st Leon Théry Richard-Brasier 5h50m01.4s 87.69 kph
2nd Camille Jenatzy Mercedes 6h01m29.4s
3rd Henri Rougier Turcat-Mery 6h47m09.8s
4th Baron Pierre de Caters Mercedes 6h47m30.0s
5th Edgar Braun Mercedes 6h59m47.8s
6th Lucien Hautvast Pipe 7h02m35.0s
7th Jacques Salleron Mors 7h15m14.2s
8th Vincenzo Lancia FIAT 7h17m51.6s
9th Sidney Girling Wolseley 7h22m53.2s
10th Alessandro Cagno FIAT 7h23m34.6s
11th Christian Werner Mercedes 7h32m13.2s
12th Charles Jarrott Wolseley 7h36m50.6s
Ret Selwyn Francis Edge Napier Overheating
Ret Baron Pierre de Crawhez Pipe  
Ret Luigi Storero FIAT  
Ret John Warden Mercedes  
Ret Augières Pipe  
Ret Fritz Opel Opel-Darracq Universal Joint

 

1905
Since the winner is given the privilege of hosting the next race and thus France announced that whatever the results of the 1905 Gordon Bennett event would be they wouldn't support any 1906 "Coupe Internationale". That announcement meant the end of the Gordon Bennett races and the birth of Grand Prix racing.

While the Germans had selected the location of their event for its accessibility and good infrastructure, the French chose to ignore those things and instead tried to find the most demanding terrain available. They found what they were looking for in the ancient volcanic hills of Puy-de-Dome, west of Clermont Ferrand. The Auvergne course as it would be called was 137km of undulating terrain that included some 3000 corners, the tightest of them even demanding the drivers to use their reverse gear.

The French team consisted of two Richard-Brasiers driven by last year's winner Léon Théry and Gustave Caillois in addition to a De Dietrich driven by Arthur Duray. Italy's team consisted of three Fiats driven by Felice Nazzaro, Alessandro Cagno and Vincenzo Lancia. There were a total of seven Mercedes spread between the German and Austrian teams. The drivers were Christian Werner, Pierre de Caters and Camille Jenatzy for Germany and Edgar Braun, Burton and Otto Hieronymus for Austria. The Americans were represented by Joe Tracy driving a Locomobile and two Pope-Toledos driven by Herbert Lyttle and Bert Dingley. The Pope Manufacturing Company was founded by Albert Augustus Pope around 1876 in Boston, Massachusetts, and incorporated in Connecticut in 1877.


From The Automobile - July 20, 1905:

France again holds the Gordon Bennett Cup. Such is the outcome of the sixth. the most exciting, the most keenly contested. and the most surprising of all the races yet held for this much valued trophy. Not only does France hold the Cup, but the previous year's winner is again the victor. This is a record for never before has the race been won twice by the same man. Théry must be, indeed, "a proud man the day". But the most important feature of the day is not the victory of France, but the remarkable performance of Italy and the collapse of the Mercedes competitors. When the race began it was thought by all - and feared by France - that the victor would be from amongst one of the six Mercedes car present. And amongst this formidable set of men Jenatzy was generally regarded as the most likely winner. Less than an hour had to elapse to show the French that their fears were ill founded and at the end of the first round they discovered that the struggle was to lay between them and Italy - one of the latest arrivals to automobitism.

Lancia's Fiat car made the most remarkable performance of the day. When the second round was finished he was leading on Théry by thirteen minutes, and during the third round this lead was still further increased. Whilst going very fast, and at a moment when victory seemed almost certain, a stone from the road struck the lower part of the radiator, and started a leak that allowed the cooling water to quickly escape. As a consequence the motor became overheated and the car was brought to a standstill. Thus by the merest chance the race was made secure for France.

Lancia's misfortune did not, however, destroy Italy's position, for the two other cars were doing remarkably well and came in respectively second and third, with a lead of 7:57 1/5 and 5:43 4/5 on Caillois' Richard-Brasier. Although Italy has not won the Cup, Fiat cars have obtained for it a victory no less important than that secured by Théry. Twelve of the eighteen cars were officially classified. Of these France has three, occupying first, fourth and sixth positions, and securing for it the Montagu prize for team classification; Italy, too, taking second and third place; England three, placed respectively eighth, ninth and eleventh; Germany two, in the fifth and seventh position; Austria one, placed tenth on the list, and America one, taking twelfth position.

Lytle performed the pluckiest feat of the day. Disheartened on the first round by an accident to his lubricator which would have caused most men to abandon immediately, with dogged determination he stuck to his task, and finally brought his car in to the finish. Afterward when they weighed in both Lytle and his mechanician Knipper were covered with a thick coating of grease, which rendered them unrecognizable, while the machine was aflood with oil. For the last three rounds they had been blinded by gallons of oil splashing into their faces. Knipper's drab suit had changed to a shiny black under its coating of oil and dust.

America's failure is due to the sending over of machines of too low horsepower, the Pope-Toledo engines only developing half the power of the French and German machines, and not sufficiently studying the special nature of the course over which the race had to be run. Nothing but praise is due to the French club for the admirable way in which the race was organized and carried out. The course was a most dangerous one, yet, thanks to the foresight of the officials and the careful way in which the road was guarded by troops, not a single accident or mishap of any kind marred the day.

The only defective portion of the arrangements was the inadequate accommodations for the representatives of the press. The small space allotted to their use was shared by the spectators, to the inconvenience of all. The Cup is no sooner won than the question has to be faced as to what will be done with it. By its resolution of a few days ago France cannot take part in next year's race. It is probable that a meeting of delegates from all automobile clubs will meet in Paris very shortly, that the Cup will be given back to James Gordon Bennett and some decision reached as to future contests.


By 1906 Gordon Bennett's interest had shifted to above the ground and he established the Gordon Bennett Cup in ballooning (Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett) and three years later Bennett offered a trophy for the fastest speed on a closed circuit for airplanes.

A.C.F. in the mean time ran their own race at Le Mans, The French Grand Prix with a starting field of 32 automobiles. The Grand Prix name ("Great Prize") referred to the prize of 45,000 French francs to the race winner. The franc was pegged to the gold at 0.290 grams per franc, which meant that the prize was worth 13 kg of gold.

Circuit d'Auvergne
5 July 1905 - 549.415 km (137.354 km x 4 laps)
1st Leon Théry Richard-Brasier 7h02m42.6s 77.88 kph
2nd Felice Nazzaro
FIAT 7h10m09.2s
3rd Alessandro Cagno FIAT 7h21m22.6s
4th Gustave Caillois Richard-Brasier 7h27m06.4s
5th Christian Werner Mercedes 8h03m30.0s
6th Arthur Duray de Dietrich 8h05m00.0s
7th Baron Pierre de Caters Mercedes 8h07m11.6s
8th Charles Rolls Wolseley 8h26m42.2s
9th Clifford Earp Napier 8h27m29.8s
10th Edgar Braun Mercedes 8h33m05.6s
11th Cecil Bianchi Wolseley 8h38m32.4s
12th Herbert Lyttle Pope-Toledo 9h30m32.0s
Ret Vincenzo Lancia FIAT Seized Engine
Ret Camille Jenatzy Mercedes

Broken Front Spring

Ret "Alexander Burton" Mercedes Tires
Ret Joe Tracy Locomobile Engine/Clutch
Ret Otto Hieronymus Mercedes Tires
Ret Bert Dingley Pope-Toledo Oil Pipe