The 1906 Grand Prix de l’Automobile Club de France, commonly known as the1906 French Grand Prix, was a motor race which is regarded as the first ever Grand Prix. It was held on 26 and 27 June 1906, on closed public roads outside the city of Le Mans. The Grand Prix was organised by the Automobile Club de France (ACF) at the prompting of the Frenchautomobile industry as an alternative to the Gordon Bennett races, which limited each competing country’s number of entries regardless of the size of its industry. France had the largest automobile industry in Europe at the time, and in an attempt to better reflect this the Grand Prix had no limit to the number of entries by any particular country. The ACF chose a 103.18-kilometre (64.11 mi) circuit, composed primarily of dust roads sealed with tar, which would be lapped six times on both days by each competitor, a combined race distance of 1,238.16 kilometres (769.36 mi). Lasting for more than 12 hours overall, the race was won by Ferenc Szisz driving for the Renault team. FIAT driver Felice Nazzaro finished second, and Albert Clément was third in a Clément-Bayard.Paul Baras of Brasier set the fastest lap of the race on his first lap. He held on to the lead until the third lap, when Szisz took over first position, defending it to the finish. Hot conditions melted the road tar, which the cars kicked up into the faces of the drivers, blinding them and making the racing treacherous. Punctures were common; tyre manufacturer Michelin introduced a detachablerim with a tyre already affixed, which could be quickly swapped onto a car after a puncture, saving a significant amount of time over manually replacing the tyre. This helped Nazzaro pass Clément on the second day, as the FIAT—unlike the Clément-Bayard—made use of the rims.Renault’s victory contributed to an increase in sales for the French manufacturer in the years following the race. Despite being the second to carry the title, the race has become known as the first Grand Prix. The success of the 1906 French Grand Prix prompted the ACF to run the Grand Prix again thefollowing year, and the German automobile industry to organise the Kaiserpreis, the forerunner to the German Grand Prix, in 1907.
The first French Grand Prix originated from the Gordon Bennett races, established by American millionaire James Gordon Bennett, Jr. in 1900. Intended to encourage automobile industries through sport, by 1903 the Gordon Bennett races had become some of the most prestigious in Europe; their formula of closed-road racing among similar cars replaced the previous model of unregulated vehicles racing between distant towns, over open roads. Entries into the Gordon Bennett races were by country, and the winning country earned the right to organise the next race. Entries were limited to three per country, which meant that although the nascent motor industry in Europe was dominated by French manufacturers, they were denied the opportunity to fully demonstrate their superiority. Instead, the rule put them on a numerical level footing with countries such as Switzerland, with only one manufacturer, and allowed Mercedes, which had factories in Germany and Austria, to field six entries: three from each country. The French governing body, the Automobile Club de France (ACF), held trials between its manufacturers before each race; in 1904 twenty-nine entries competed for the three positions on offer.when Léon Théry won the 1904 race for the French manufacturer Richard-Brasier, the French automobile industry proposed to the ACF that they modify the format of the 1905 Gordon Bennett race and run it simultaneously with an event which did not limit entries by nation. The ACF accepted the proposal, but decided that instead of removing limits to entries by nation, the limits would remain but would be determined by the size of each country’s industry. Under the ACF’s proposal, France was allowed fifteen entries, Germany and Britain six, and the remaining countries—Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, Austria and the United States—three cars each.The French proposal was met with strong opposition from governing bodies representing the other Gordon Bennett nations, and at the instigation of Germany a meeting of the bodies was organised to settle the dispute. Although the delegates rejected the French model for the 1905 race, to avoid deadlock they agreed to use the new system of limits for the 1906 race. But when Théry and Richard-Brasier won again in 1905, and the responsibility for organising the 1906 race fell once more to the ACF, the French ended the Gordon Bennett races and organised their own event as a replacement, the Grand Prix de l’Automobile Club de France
The top three finishers were escorted to the grandstand to collect their trophies. In an interview after the race, Szisz reflected on the “anxiety” he had felt as he drove the final laps: “I feared something small which would take away victory at the moment when it had seemed to be won.” The prestige Renault gained from Szisz’s victory led to an increase in sales for the company, from around 1,600 cars in 1906 to more than 3,000 a year later, and increasing to more than 4,600 in 1908. But the race had not proven the superiority of the French motorcar; an Italian car had finished second and only seven of the twenty-three French cars that had started the race finished it.Reflections on the race by the organisers and the media generally concluded that the Grand Prix had been a poor replacement for the Gordon Bennett races. In part, this had been because the race was too long, and the system of starting the race—with each car leaving at 90-second intervals—had meant that there had been very little interaction between the competitors, simply cars driving their own races to time. The ACF decided that too much pressure had been put on drivers and riding mechanics by forbidding others to work on the cars during the race. It was also felt that the outcome of the race had been too dependent on the use of Michelin’s detachable rims. Clément had driven the only Clément-Bayard to not have the rims, and it was thought that this contributed to Nazzaro passing him on the second day as he stopped to change tyres. Despite this, the ACF decided to run the Grand Prix again the following year. The publicity generated by the race prompted the German governing body to organise a similar event that favoured their own industry. The forerunner to the German Grand Prix, the Kaiserpreis (Kaiser’s Prize) was raced in 1907.The conference held in 1904 to consider the French proposal for a change in formula to the Gordon Bennett races led to the formation of the Association Internationale des Automobile Clubs Reconnus (AIACR; the predecessor of the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile), the body responsible for regulating international motorsport. Although a smaller race held in 1901 had awarded the “Grand Prix de Pau”, the 1906 race outside Le Mans was the first genuinely international race to carry the label “Grand Prix”. Until the First World War it was the only annual race to be called a Grand Prix (often, the Grand Prix), and is commonly known as “the first Grand Prix”
- French race car driver Patrick Tambay was born 25 June 1949
- English Formula One driver Johnny Herbert was born 25 June 1964
- Swedish World Rally driver, and European Rallycross Champion (1999 Per Eklund, was born 26th June 1946
- Tommi Mäkinen, Finnish race car driver was born 26th June 1964