Happy birthday motor racing! Happy birthday Motorsport.com! Yes, motor racing and Motorsport.com share the same birthday.
At Motorsport.com, July 22nd is an important date: it marks not only the 120th anniversary of the first motor racing event, but also the official date Motorsport.com went online with its website.
1994-07-22: the birth of a new media
Launched on 1994-07-22, www.motorsport.com was back then operating under the name "Motorsport News International". It was providing news, results, race reports and other information about motorsports of all types and was doing it over the emerging world wide web. That new exclusively online media outlet was considered innovative back in those days, as print media was still dominating the way racing fans were getting information about their favorite sport. Along with a few other outlets, Motorsport.com changed this and, over the years, helped define a new era in publishing.
Over the past 20 years, Motorsport.com has published over 450,000 news articles, 1.7M photos (the largest of its kind), thousands of videos and has gone over four major cycles of platform updates. Today, with its brand new Generation 5 platform, it is now stronger than ever, and in position to become the definite number one online media on motor racing.
1894-07-22: the birth of a new sport
On that same glorious day, we are also celebrating the 120th anniversary of the sport we all love and cherish: motor racing, with the Paris–Rouen race event. That was announced as "not a race" but ended up being one, technical protests included.
120 years ago, the Paris–Rouen, Le Petit Journal Competition for Horseless Carriages (Concours du 'Petit Journal' Les Voitures sans Chevaux), was a pioneering city-to-city motoring competition in 1894. Some anglophone sources call it a race, a rally or a trial, and it is sometimes described as the world's first competitive motor race although the initial announcement stated that "it will not be a race".
The competition was organised by the newspaper Le Petit Journal and run from Paris to Rouen in France on 22 July 1894. It was preceded by four days of vehicle exhibition and qualifying events that created great crowds and excitement. The eight 50 km (31 mi) qualifying events started near the Bois de Boulogne and comprised interwoven routes around Paris to select the entrants for the 127 km (79 mi) main event.
The first driver across the finishing line at Rouen was Jules-Albert, Comte de Dion but he did not win the main prize because his steam vehicle needed a 'stoker' and was thus ineligible. The fastest petrol powered car was a 3 hp (2.2 kW; 3.0 PS) Peugeot driven by Albert Lemaître. The premier prize, the 5,000 franc Prix du Petit Journal, for 'the competitor whose car comes closest to the ideal' was shared equally by manufacturers Panhard et Levassor and The sons of Peugeot brothers, with vehicles that were 'easy to use'.
In 1894, Pierre Giffard organised the world's first motoring competition from Paris to Rouen to publicise his newspaper, Le Petit Journal, stimulate interest in motoring and develop French motor manufacturers. Sporting events were a tried and tested form of publicity stunt and circulation booster. The paper promoted it as 'Le Petit Journal' Competition for Horseless Carriages ('Le Petit Journal' Concours des Voitures sans Chevaux) that were not dangerous, easy to drive, and cheap during the journey, the main prize being for the competitor whose car comes closest to the ideal. The announcement in Le Petit Journal on 19 December 1893 expressly denied that it would be a race - ce ne sera pas une course. The easy to drive clause effectively precluded from the prizes any vehicles needing a travelling mechanic or technical assistant such as a stoker.
Le Petit Journal announced prize money totalling 10,000 gold francs – 5,000 for first place, 2,000 for second, 1,500 for third; 1,000 for fourth, and 500 for fifth. The main prize was for the first eligible vehicle across the finish line in Rouen.
102 people paid the 10 franc entrance fee. They ranged from practical manufacturers like Peugeot, Panhard, de Dion-Bouton and Serpollet to amateur owners and 'over-ambitious concepts'. 78 entrants did not show up for qualifying on 18 July, these included circa 25 powered by unfamiliar and improbable technologies such as 'gravity – nine; 'compressed air' – five; 'automatic' – three; electricity – three; gas – three; hydraulics – two; liquid, pedals, propellers and levers. Additionally 19 petrol powered designs and 26 steam powered cars, quadricycles and tricycles did not show up at the qualifying event.
Qualifying was held on 19–21 July 1894, and was preceded by a public exhibition of 26 cars in the Bois de Boulogne on 18 July. Journalists reported great crowds and excitement throughout the routes, and at Précy-sur-Oise they finished through a triumphal arch. On 19 July 26 cars lined the side of the Boulevard Maillot, stretching to the Bois de Boulogne, each parked 10 m (33 ft) apart until, at 8am, the first car led off, followed at 15 second intervals by the others. The 50 km (31 mi) qualifying event had to be completed in under three hours to be eligible to start the main event, the 127 km (79 mi) race from Paris to Rouen; 21 were selected for the main event.
Qualifying was used as a major publicity tool for both the event and the newspaper for our readers who want to see the cars on the roads around Paris. The 22 vehicles were split into five groups who completed complex interwoven tours of Paris and its environs, including Mantes-la-Jolie, Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye, Flins-sur-Seine, Poissy, Triel-sur-Seine, Rambouillet, Versailles, Dampierre-en-Yvelines, Corbeil-Essonnes, Palaiseau, Précy-sur-Oise, Gennevilliers and L'Isle-Adam, Val-d'Oise. The groups were carefully balanced to ensure each included petrol and steam, a Peugeot, a Panhard & Levassor, and different seating. It is noteworthy Le Petit Journal, on the morning of the event, still officially expected Monsieur Lemoigne and his gravity powered vehicle to participate, although he was included as an additional member of group 5.
At 8am on 22 July the 21 qualifiers started from Porte Maillot and went via the Bois de Boulogne, Neuilly-sur-Seine, Courbevoie, Nanterre, Chatou, Le Pecq, Poissy, Triel-sur-Seine, Vaux-sur-Seine, and Meulan, to Mantes where they stopped for lunch from 12:00 until 13:30, whence they set off to Vernon, Eure, Gaillon, Pont-de-l'Arche, and 'Champ de Mars' at Rouen.
Comte de Dion was first into Rouen after 6 hours 48 minutes at an average speed of 19 km/h (12 mph). He finished 3 min 30 sec ahead of Albert Lemaître (Peugeot), Auguste Doriot (Peugeot) (16 min 30 sec back), René Panhard (Panhard) (33 min 30 sec) and Émile Levassor (Panhard) (55 min 30 sec).
On Tuesday 24 July Le Petit Journal announced the prizes:
First prize, the Prix du Petit Journal for the competitor whose car comes closest to the ideal. 5,000 francs was shared equally between MM. Panhard et Levassor and 'Les fils de Peugeot Frères'.
Second prize, the Prix Marinoni. 2,000 francs was awarded to MM. de Dion, Bouton et Cie for their interesting steam tractor that works like a horse and gives both absolute speed and pulling power up hills.
Third prize, the Prix Marinoni. 1,500 francs was awarded to M. Maurice Le Blant for his nine seater vehicle poweered by the 'systeme Serpollet'.
Fourth prize, the Prix Marinoni. 1,000 francs was shared between two manufacturers, MM. Alfred Vacheron (No. 24) and Le Brun (No. 42).
Fifth prize, the Prix Marinoni. 500 francs was awarded to M. Roger (No. 85).