The First Grand Prix – History of the 1906 French GP Page Three
Winner Szisz was born in Hungary, but moved to Paris in 1900 where he worked for Renault as head of testing. George Heath was the only American driver. He finished sixth in a Panhard, more than two hours behind the winner. The only injury due to a crash was sustained by J. Edmond in a Renault. There were five additional accidents while 15 retired due to mechanical troubles; most commonly due to wheel failures.
Virtually all of the contestants had tire problems. Much of Szisz’ victory was due to the fact that Michelin had supplied his Renault with detachable rims which allowed him to change in under three minutes. Changing took the others around 15 minutes.
It’s interesting to note that gambling at this event was similar to that at horse races. Bookmakers had stands near the start-finish line. The odds that Szisz would win were set at 200 to 1, longer than that placed on any other entrant. Few other than fellow Hungarians bet on Szisz. Odds on Lancia winning were 10 to 1. He ended up in fifth, more than two hours behind Szisz.
One of the intents of the French in staging the race was to prove the superiority of French motorcars. It did indeed result in increased sales for Renault. The company sold about twice as many cars in 1907 as it had in 1906. But the fact that only seven of the 23 made-in-France cars were able to finish didn’t speak that well for their reliability.
Another notable event in 1906 was the very first Targa Florio. It was organized by a wealthy Sicilian, Vincenzo Floria. The course was over almost 100 miles of public roads on the island of Sicily. The race consisted of three laps.
The following year, the second Grand Prix took place in Germany plus there was a second French Grand Prix as well. With time outs for the two world wars, the Grand Prix series, or Formula One as it came to be called, have continued to this day. But the first one took place nearly Le Mans in 1906.
That first Grand Prix started the tradition of racing near Le Mans that has continued to this day with the famed 24-Hours of Le Mans, held on a much shorter 8.5 mile course. Another tradition, that of automobile manufacturers competing against one another, also began in 1906.