Le Mans – not the first?


I am somewhat confused as to why the 1906 Grand Prix at Le Mans Connerré is considered to be the first grand prix, particularly following the advert for Renault on pages 74-81 of your July 2006 magazine.

As the advert says, the first race to carry the grand prix name was in Pau in 1901. Consider also that in 1904, the first WK Vanderbilt Cup race was held in Long Island, USA, with 21 entrants for 11 manufacturers, the manufacturers included Panhard, Clément-Bayard, Pope Toledo, Packard, Mercedes, FIAT, de Dietrich, Royal, White and Renault.

There were no limits of the number of cars per manufacturer as there were in the Gordon Bennett races – there were five Mercedes entered. The race was 458km long over 10 laps. Except for the fact that the designation of the race doesn’t carry the term Grand Prix, what really distinguishes this race for the 1906 French race? Why is it not considered to be a Grand Prix?

While we are on the subject of ‘firsts’, I would also like to take issue with the frequent citing of the 1908 Prinz-Heinrich Fahrt as being the first of what became rallies. This event featured measured distances between towns, with speed trials and hillclimbs. However, the 1st Annual Endurance Contest of the National Association of Automobile Manufacturers was held between New York and Pittsburgh in 1903, with the same measured distances between towns, and points awarded for hill-climbing ability. Or there is also the 1905 Glidden Tour, which went around a 1000-mile route from New York to Mount Washington and back, with a timed climb on Mount Washington. The Mount Washington climb was eight miles long, and was climbed by Charles Soules in a Pope-Toledo in 20m37.4

When it comes to early racing and ‘firsts’, too much of the coverage is Euro-centric and blinkered, as this is where most of the research has been done and about which most of the books have been written. There is a lot more out there…

Darren Galpin, Stoke Gifford, Bristol