The inaugural French Grand Prix of 26 June 1906 wasn’t the first event to carry the title, but history has cemented its place as the start of ‘grand prix’ racing proper.
WF Bradley, Autocar’s much-travelled Continental correspondent, attended the race, which was held on a triangular course about 60 miles around on the north-eastern side of Le Mans.
“The town offered an excellent triangle of roads, with very fast stretches, a sufficient number of bends and practically no hills,” he wrote.
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,” wrote Bradley.
“This first grand prix was to be more strenuous than any previous event. It was limited to cars having a total weight of 1000kg, with 7kg extra if a magneto was fitted. All work had to be done by the driver and ride-on mechanic, and the race was a two-day affair of 769 miles.”