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[finished] Case #6: Gordon-Bennett Cup Races 1900-1905


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#1 Marcel Schot

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Posted 19 January 2001 - 06:45

Hans Etzrodt has brought to the Atlas F1 court the case of the Gordon-Bennett Cups 1900-1905.

The prosecution seeks answer to whether the six Gordon-Bennett Cup races, run between 1900 and 1905, were important enough to be considered equal in standing to the Grands Prix which followed from 1906 on, or should these six events remain alone as predecessor to the Grand Prix races.

This case has been accepted for hearing, and it is the duty of this court to decide whether the Gordon-Bennett Cup races are or are not equal in standing to the Grands Prix which were run from 1906 on.

Arguments can be posted by all parties interested as of April 14th, and for a length of one week (7 days).

The residing judge in this case is Marcel Schot.

Arguments and evidence on the subject can be posted in this thread as of the opening date and as long as the hearing is open. A decision on the case will be posted up to 7 days after hearing is closed.

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#2 Marcel Schot

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Posted 14 April 2001 - 18:09

The court is now in session. Good luck to both sides.

#3 Hans Etzrodt

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Posted 14 April 2001 - 21:35

I contend that the Gordon-Bennett races, held from 1900 to 1905, as a group of events, were of lesser importance than the Grand Prix events, which were run for the first time in 1906. The first three Gordon-Bennett races held from 1900 to 1902 were of rather minor importance to the manufacturers of the different nations.

The 1903 event became more interesting because the entire event had moved for the first time out of France to Great Britain and received therefore more coverage in the British press. In this event four cars finished out of twelve entries. The tragic Paris-Madrid race in the same year put an end to the very important city-to-city races, staged annually by the ACF –Automobil Club de France–.

The void now created was filled by the annual Gordon-Bennett race, which then became the most important event of the year. Therefore, for only two years, from 1904 to 1905, the Gordon-Bennett Cup was the most important event of the year. The race was so popular and received so many entries from interested manufacturers, that eliminating events had to be staged in England and France prior to the main event.

But the Gordon-Bennett rules limited each country to be represented by only three cars. France alone had seven manufacturers of whom any could have been a winner. The French auto industry wanted a race where each manufacturer could be represented by three cars. These unpopular Gordon-Bennett regulations were their downfall and the ACF introduced the "Grand Prix de l’Automobile Club de France" to replace the annual Gordon Bennett race.

#4 Roger Clark

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Posted 16 April 2001 - 06:24

If we have to consider all of the Gordon Bennett races, then te answer has to be that they weren't of sufficient importance to rank alongside Grands Prix. The races of 1900-02 weren't even the most important of their respective years. From 1903, this changed, due to (1) the 1903 race being the first major race to be held in britain; (2) the 1904 race being held in Germany and their decision to make it a major national affair with full imperialist trappings and (3) the tragedies of the 1903 Paris-Madrid causing the end of te great town-to-town races.

So the answer has to be no if we have to consider the full series, yes if we can restrict ourselves to the last three years. There were, of course, many other pre-1906 races which deserve equal status to the Grand Prix.

#5 Marcel Schot

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Posted 17 April 2001 - 16:03

Both witnesses have so far mentioned that the Gordon Bennett races between 1900 and 1902 have been of minor importance. Can either of you enlighted the court about why this is? Which particular events do you regard more important in these year and with what reason?

As to whether to restrict the case to the last three years or not, the court states that all Gordon Bennett races are to be reviewed, as stated in the case itself, yet they can be viewed on a per race basis.

Finally, the court likes to be informed of the general structure of the racing seasons during the era of the Gordon Bennett Cups. Did some sort of European or World championship exist, consisting of a number of important races or did particular high regarded drivers or manufacturers take part on only the most important events?

#6 Hans Etzrodt

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Posted 18 April 2001 - 13:16

The year 1900 saw the first Gordon-Bennett race, over 353.75 miles from Paris to Lyon. Only five cars entered after the German refused to start out of protest because of the short notice given for an uncertain start. From 3 French, 1 Belgian and 1 American only two French cars managed to finish. It had taken the winner, Parisian Fernand Charron on a Panhard, 9h09m. After this Gordon-Bennett race, which saw only five cars at the start, the ACF decided to combine this race with another major event in the future.

The ACF’s annual main event was the Paris-Toulouse-Paris race over 837.1 miles with a total entry of 26 cars, of which eight were voiturettes. The rest were heavy cars, the top of the echelon in automobile racing. The winner Levegh on a Mors took 20 hours and 50 minutes. Besides these two events, there were four other races each in France and four in Italy. The French and Italians organized their events independently. Because France manufactured the most automobiles, they were exported to the other countries, which had just begun automobile production. In Italy most cars used for the races were French.

For 1901, the ACF decided to run the second Gordon-Bennett race concurrently with the 327.6 miles Paris-Bordeaux event. There were 45 cars at the start of the Heavy, Light and Voiturette classes but only four cars of them entered for the Gordon-Bennett race. There were three French drivers, Charron, Levegh and Giradot and from England S.F. Edge on the Napier. The Gordon-Bennett race was a total flop. From the four cars started, only Giradot finished and then in a low ninth place of the 45-car field, although he could claim to have won the Gordon-Bennett race.

There were five other races for the Heavy car class that year, the major Paris-Berlin race organized by the ACF, a huge event with 99 cars at the start of which 41 alone were from the Heavy class. Besides those big events, two minor events took place in France and two in Italy.

For 1902, the ACF again decided to run the Gordon-Bennett Cup race concurrently with a major event, the huge Paris-Vienna race, for which the ACF received 219 entries. The Trophy event ended halfway, at Innsbruck. Again there were only four entrants for the cup. Three from France and S.F. Edge on a Napier entered again by the Automobile Club of Great Britain. From the group of four contestants, his car was first in Innsbruck and consequently the cup went to England.

Besides this race, the Belgians held for the first time the Ardennes Circuit Race, which booked over 47 entries. The French had held another event from Paris-Arras-Paris, attracting over 50 cars and the Italians organized three mountain climb races and three sprint. The other nations staged no events for racing cars.

Conclusion: During the first three years of the Gordon-Bennett race, no championships of any sort were held. They started not before the mid twenties. Of course, the French manufacturers took part in only the most important events but there was no general structure of the racing seasons during the era of the Gordon Bennett Cups.. The Gordon-Bennett Race was the first attempt to stage an international race between Nations. But very few manufacturers were interested in the Gordon Bennett race, which was of minor importance to them. All other events seemed more important to them because there was no limit of how many cars they could enter in a race. But the Gordon Bennett races were limited to three cars per Nation.

#7 Hans Etzrodt

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Posted 18 April 2001 - 20:11

For 1903, the fourth Gordon-Bennett Cup, things were different, because the race was to be staged outside France for the first time, going to England after S.F. Edge on Napier had won the Paris-Innsbruck race in 1902. Now a race had to be held especially for the Gordon- Bennett Cup, with teams of three cars from each national automobile club, the cars built entirely in the country they represented. It was the first truly international automobile race.

Because the law prohibited motor races on public roads in England, a large enough area was eventually decided on in Ireland. Two combined circuits were found around Athy, forming a figure eight, to be covered three times for one and four times for the other circuit, a total of seven laps. The entry consisted of 12 cars, three each from America, England, France and Germany. Four English cars and drivers wanted to take part in the race and therefore eliminating trials were held beforehand to determine the three cars to be entered for the main event. After six hours and 39 minutes, Belgian driver Camille Jenatzy won the Gordon- Bennett Cup on a Mercedes, which assured the race to be held in Germany the following year.

Only three races took place that year, due to the cancellation of several others planned. The ACF’s major event, the Paris-Madrid race in May 1903 had to be stopped halfway at Bordeaux because of several fatal crashes and spectators were killed as well, not talking about serious injuries. This put a temporary stop to auto racing, at least in France, but the Ardennes Circuit in Belgium and Gordon-Bennett Cup in Ireland took place. No other races, comparable to the two major events plus the Gordon-Bennett race, were staged in the other European countries or America.

#8 Leif Snellman

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Posted 18 April 2001 - 21:33

Lord Montagu writes in his book "The Gordon Bennett Races":
The Gordon Bennett Cup had died because the world into which it was born no longer existed. When the Cup was presented in 1899, the industry was still struggling to make its product work at all, and competition, such as it was, lay between rich amateurs at the wheels and thillers of their new toys. In 1905 , the amateur representatives of the nations had given way to a constructors championship, though this name was not to be applied for nearly a century."

It's not the fault of the "Coupe Internationale", as Gordon Bennet himself prefered to call the races, that they started in an era where one hardly could expect hard competition. But the change was fast. I think that the eleminating trials has to be included when talking about those races and the 1904 and 1905 French eleminating trials were VERY competitive, possibly more than the final.
Every thing must start somewhere. I don't hesitate to say that without the pioneer job done by the Gordon Bennett races there is no way the Grand Prix would have been as compitetive as it was from the very beginning. While the 1901 event wasn't much of a race, we must look as all the races together as a package, as the the logical precursor to the Grand Prix.
As a comparision we can look at the Olympic Games from the same era. The Olympic Games in Paris in 1900 and St Louis 1904 were REALLY miserable events by all accounts. Still there are part of the Olympic history and considered equal to later events by all the sports historicans.
It is therefore my view that the Gordon Bennett races as the natural ancestors to Grand Prix racing should be regarded as equal to them to the motor racing historicans.


#9 Hans Etzrodt

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Posted 18 April 2001 - 23:37

1904: The ending of the big annual town-to-town races with the tragic 1903 Paris-Madrid event, created a void, which was filled by the Gordon-Bennett race. Consequently, for the fifth Gordon-Bennett Cup in 1904, every manufacturer tried to get a place in their national team. Because so many entries came forward in England and especially in France, Eliminating Trials had to be held in both nations. The other countries with fewer manufacturers did not have this problem.

The English Eliminating Trials, on the Isle of Man, lasted three days and comprised contest of repairs, a hill-climb and a short speed run. The French manufacturers entered 29 cars of which 25 made it to the start of the 331.05 miles Eliminating Trial on the 55.175 Argonne Circuit in France, to be lapped six times.

From the 19 cars entered for the fifth Gordon-Bennett Race on 17 June, 18 made the start on the 127.25 km Taunus circuit in Germany, to be lapped four times, covering a total of 512 km. The Homburg circuit outside Frankfurt was thoroughly guarded and fenced off to prevent mishaps as had happened in the Paris-Madrid race. The Germans had the event well organized and even the Kaiser (emperor) was present to observe the proceedings. The following cars were entered:
Austria: ….…. 3 Mercedes
Belgium: …... 3 Pipe
France:….….. 1 Mors
……………....... 1 Richard-Brasier
……………....... 1 Turcat-Méry
Germany: …. 2 Mercedes
……………....... 1 Opel-Darracq
England:….… 1 Napier
……………....... 2 Wolseley
Italy:……….... 3 FIAT
Switzerland: 1 Dufaux……..DNS - car side-slipped on the way to the start

After 512 km and just over five hours and fifty minutes at an average speed of 87.245 km/h, the Frenchman Léon Théry on a Richard-Brasier became winner by about 11 minutes to the second car, a German Mercedes, driven by the Belgian Camille Jenatzy. This meant that the race was going to be staged in France the following year.

As already stated at the beginning of this 1904 review, the Gordon-Bennett Cup had now become the most important event of the year because the French Government did not allow the annual city-to-city races to take place any more. The Gordon-Bennett rules limited each country to be represented by only three cars. This rule caused great discontent within the French auto industry. France alone had seven manufacturers of whom any could have been a winner and wanted a race where each factory could be represented by three cars.

They voiced their concern during the 1904 Salon, the Paris Motor Show, saying that the limitation of three cars per nation was intolerable. They met with the Automobile Club de France and proposed to organize a race of their own, to be called the "Grand Prix de l’Automobile Club de France". Furthermore, this event should be run simultaneously with the 1905 Gordon Bennett Cup and would allow all competing firms to participate. Additionally they requested to hold this race thereafter every year and the ACF was not to take part in the Gordon Bennett Cup race unless the rules were revised.

The ACF replied that in 1905 an Eliminating race was to take place, as had been the case in 1904 and the first 15 cars would then qualify for the Grand Prix, organized by the ACF. Additionally, other countries were allowed to enter cars, three each for Austria, Belgium, Italy, Switzerland and USA; six each for Germany and Great Britain; a minimum of 15 cars for France.

This triggered outrage, criticism and protests from all the competing Nations. The ACF then agreed to stage the 1905 Gordon Bennett Cup race to the existing rules and said the Grand Prix would take place two weeks later. They also made it quite clear that from 1906 on the Grand Prix was to take place and the limitation of cars permitted from each Nation would be reviewed.

During 1904, only five races, each in a different country, had been staged for the heavy two-seater cars.
  • French Gordon-Bennett Eliminating Trials at Argonne Circuit in France
  • Gordon-Bennett Cup Race at Homburg, in Germany
  • Ardennes Race at the Bastogne Circuit in Belgium
  • Coppa Brescia at Brescia in Italy (not yet called Coppa Florio!)
  • Vanderbilt Cup Race at Long Island, N.Y in America


#10 Leif Snellman

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Posted 19 April 2001 - 07:39

I want to add another example to make the point:

Take a look at the 1960s space race. In May 1961 NASA launched Al Shepard in a Mercury capsule on a 15 min sub orbital flight. The distance he travelled was 297 miles. He was followed by Gus Grissom in July. The distance Grissom traveled was 303 miles. Compare that to Russian Titov's trip in August: 436.656 miles. But by May 1963 the Mercury project had reach a state where Gordon Cooper could do 583.469 miles. Now, no space historican would ever dismiss the Mercury project as less important than Gemini, Apollo, Soyuz, Space Shuttle, Mir just because those "uncompitetive" early flights.
Looking at the results tables only, the early Gordon Bennett races may be seen like jokes. But I don't hesitate to say that they did as well as they could at that time and that the drivers that took part certany was made of "The Right Stuff".

#11 Hans Etzrodt

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Posted 19 April 2001 - 08:17

1905: The last of the six Gordon-Bennett Cup Races took place in France on a 137 km mountainous circuit in the Auvergne. This race must have been the most important event up to that time, when looking at the strong entry of three cars from each of the seven participating nations. The following cars were entered:

America:… … 2 Pope-Toledos
…………..…… …1 Locomobile
Austria: ……. 3 Mercedes
Belgium: ….. 3 Pipe
France:…….. 1 de Dietrich
……….……...... 2 Brasiers
Germany: ... 3 Mercedes
England:…… 1 Napier
….…………...... 2 Wolseleys
Italy:….……... 3 FIAT

After 548 km and 7h02m42.6s at an average speed of 77.78 km/h, the Frenchman Léon Théry on a 96 hp Brasier won for the second year in a row. He was over ¼ hour ahead of the feared second placed Nazzaro on a 110 hp FIAT. The trophy stayed in France.

The ACF had made it quite clear in 1904 that from 1906 on the Grand Prix were to take place and would they capture the trophy they would not organize the race the following year. The ACF made an official statement before the 1905 race that the fight for the Gordon Bennett trophy was to be the last on French soil. No other nation wanted to continue the Gordon Bennett series and was not prepared to spend the vast amount of money to organize a major road race. The Gordon Bennett Trophy had the distinction of being the first racing series in the history of motor sport.

During 1905, seven races had been held for the heavy racing cars. Touring car events like the Tourist Trophy series in Britain were also of interest but did not capture the imagination of the masses, who preferred to watch the fastest machines instead. Here are the 1905 events for the heavy car class.
  • English Gordon-Bennett Eliminating Trials at Isle of Man Circuit.
  • French Gordon-Bennett Eliminating Trials at Auvergne Circuit in France.
  • Gordon-Bennett Cup Race at Auvergne Circuit in France.
  • Ardennes Race at the Bastogne Circuit in Belgium
  • Coppa Florio at Brescia in Italy
  • Vanderbilt Cup Eliminating Trials Race at Long Island, N.Y in America
  • Vanderbilt Cup Race at Long Island, N.Y in America


#12 John Cross

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Posted 19 April 2001 - 21:43

I agree entirely with Leif's argument and would add:

Maybe they were not as important but they were surely just as significant in the contribution they made to the early years of motor racing.

And if some of the Gordon Bennett races were better than others, let's not forget the 1926 French GP!! :rolleyes:

#13 Ray Bell

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Posted 20 April 2001 - 09:24

The makeup of the Gordon Bennett races was such that it was too restrictive and unable to keep pace with the growth of the motor industry or the sport.

While there may have been qualifying heats in other countries leading up to the main event, the final event had restrictions that would not have been able to remain. Hence it had built into it a self-destruct clause.

On the other hand, if the regulations were to change, but the concept remain, then the constant moving that might have been expected (with the final to be held in the previous year's winning country) would have led to problems that might have made the Irish solution pale into insignificance.

The establishment of a Grand Prix of France led, however, to a stabilisation that allowed that growth. Perhaps, it could be said, despite the Gallic mentality.

All the same, that growth was possible, and ultimately there was to be a string of these events around Europe, then the world, leading to what we have today. Much of this would have been impossible with the Gordon Bennett approach, though it could quite likely have done more than the original French GP did in those formative years.

#14 Hans Etzrodt

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Posted 21 April 2001 - 02:52

The Gordon-Bennett races should stand on their own. Just because these events promoted international competition does not justify them equal status or naming them equal to the Grand Prix. The predecessor to the Grand Prix could have only been the most important event of the year. This had been quite obviously the large Town-to-Town race from 1895 to 1903 and from 1904 to 1905 it was the Gordon-Bennett Cup.

The ACF had in the past attempted to include their Town-to-Town races as early editions of the French Grand Prix and they have failed to give these forerunners equal status. The ACF wanted to call those events the early Grand Prix de l'ACF, which was not acceptable because they attempted to change the title of those events subsequently many years later. In the same context, the last two Gordon-Bennett races will stand on their own as the most important events of 1904 and 1905, preceding the Grand Prix.

ACF City-to-City Races
1895….. Paris-Bordeaux-Paris
1896….. Paris-Marseille-Paris
1898….. Paris-Amsterdam-Paris
1899….. Tour de France
1900….. Paris-Toulouse-Paris
1901….. Paris-Berlin
1902….. Paris-Vienna
1903….. Paris-Madrid (ended at Bordeaux)

Gordon Bennett Cup Races
1900….. city-to-city…... Paris-Lyon
1901….. city-to-city…... Paris-Bordeaux
1902….. city-to-city…... Paris-Innsbruck
1903….. circuit……........ Athy, Ireland
1904….. circuit……........ Homburg
1905….. circuit……........ Auvergne

ACF Grand Prix Races
1906….. circuit……….. Le Mans
1907….. circuit……….. Dieppe
1908….. circuit……….. Dieppe
1912….. circuit……….. Dieppe
1913….. circuit……….. Amiens
1914….. circuit……….. Lyon


#15 Marcel Schot

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Posted 21 April 2001 - 22:06

The case is now closed. Thank you all for participating. A judgement will be posted within 7 days from now.

#16 Marcel Schot

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Posted 29 April 2001 - 10:50

There are several ways of measuring whether or not the Gordon Bennett Cup races should be regarded as equals to the later Grands Prix. First of all, we have to judge whether they were, like the Grands Prix, the most important event or series of events in the racing year. Hans Etzrodt has, through his detailed description of the years involved, made clear that the Gordon Bennett Cup races of 1900-1903 were in fact only small events and largely outshadowed by the city to city races of those years. With the demise of the city to city races after the accident ridden 1903 Paris-Madrid race, the Gordon Bennett Cup became the logical heir to the throne. In that respect, the Gordon Bennett Cups of 1904 and 1905 are equal to the Grands Prix: they were the most important event of the year.

However, the most important changes in the structure of racing during the first decade of the century all took place because of the rules of the races or the laws of the countries they were ran in. The city to city races stopped because they were forbidden after the 1903 disaster, allowing the Gordon Bennett Cup to take up the glove as most important race. What would have happened if there had been no Gordon Bennett Cup? Would we even have Formula One today? Quite possibly not. Another important aspect of the Grands Prix as they were run after 1905, were that they were held on circuits. This was so, because the Gordon Bennett Cups were run on circuits as of 1903, when British law prohibited racing on public roads, as Hans Etzrodt has explained. Had that not happened, it's quite possible that the Gordon Bennett Cups would have been forbidden along with the town to town races. Finally, the birth of the Grand Prix was directly caused by the restricted rules of the Gordon Bennett Cup. This series of changes, have led to the principle of Grand Prix racing as we know it today.

These facts and the oppinions voices by the various witnesses, lead the court to believe that the Gordon Bennett Cups were extremely significant in the structuring of Grand Prix racing as we know it today. The Gordon Bennett Cups have been as important to Grand Prix racing as a father is to his child. A father forms his child into what it will later become and that exactly has happened with the Gordon Bennett Cups in relation to Grand Prix racing. However, the ways of the father have been influences by his father, in this case the city to city races from 1895-1903. This grandfather of the Grands Prix, indirectly had as much impact on its grandchild as the Gordon Bennett Cup had.

Concluding, the court does not see a reason to put these three generations of racing as equals. Without one, the second would not have been as it has been. The Gordon Bennett Cups have been the most important race of the year in 1904 and 1905, but this would not have been possible without various things happening. As a whole, the Gordon Bennett Cups have in fact been very significant and as such, they deserve a special place in history, as predecessors of the Grands Prix.

The court would like to thank all the witnesses for their time and input. This has been an interesting case indeed, in which the essence of having a dossier about these early races is, in my opinion, more important than the final judgement.

kind regards,
Marcel Schot