With the invention of the automobile in the late 19th century, the first races were not long in coming. One of the best ways for the manufacturers at the time to put their designs through their paces was to hold competitions on the open road. During this time, a large number of races arose, which were held between major cities across Europe. All of them were more like today’s rally than a circuit race and were usually organized by French daily newspapers. The Paris-Bordeaux, Paris-Vienna, Paris-Berlin and Paris-Beijing races were among the most famous of these events.
How car races are first organized
These unique races took place along set routes. Since at this point live reporting was not even remotely possible, the organizers placed a journalist next to each driver who accompanied the participant to his destination. In those early days, automakers such as Renault, Peugeot and Fiat made a name for themselves and shone with their performance. But as appealing as these city-to-city races were, the more dangerous it was to take part in such an event. The streets were partly without asphalt and there were no safety devices. Every race was a game with death.
Then in 1903, the great tragedy broke out. Believe it or not, 224 vehicles took part in the Paris-Madrid race. It was the largest car race in this format to date. When the starting gun was fired on the Champs-Elysées, nobody suspected that in the end only half would reach the finish. Twelve people lost their lives in this race, including the Renault brother and founder Marcel. This tragedy put an early damper on motorsport endeavors and at the same time marked the end of city-to-city car racing.
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A new kind of car racing is emerging
The first important step towards returning to motorsport was made in 1923. The French Automobile Club (ACO) wanted to bring people together and, after the long break, hold a car race in the city of Le Mans. The result of this endeavor was the birth of what is arguably the most legendary race in the world. On May 26th, the starting signal was given for the first edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, a race that went back to the origins of motorsport and at the same time dared something new. It was to form the basis for a large number of long-distance races around the world and, despite the consequences of the Second World War, it should have existed to this day.