The History of French Motorsport

We are all mourning the tragedy of the Paris shootings and bombings. It is a good time to remember the contributions France has made to Motorsport over the years.

One cannot begin to write about French motorsport without thinking about the significance of the city of Le Mans on The Sarthe River. Le Mans has had a rich motorsport history ever since it hosted the first French Grand Prix in 1906 which was hosted by the Automobile Club of France to promote the growing French car industry. A great feat, the French Grand Prix ran for 769 miles and lasted for 12 hours. That gives us an average speed of 64 miles per hour. It doesn’t sound much by today’s standard but on the skinny tyres and basic brakes that were fitted to the cars of the time it is an impressive display of bravery. The race was won by Hungarian Ferenc Szisz in a Renault AK 90CV, a car and driver combination that had already achieved racing success at the Vanderbilt Cup on Long Island in New York.

1906 French Grand Prix Szisz
(Szisz in the Renault at the 1906 French Grand Prix)

The town is of course most notable for the 24 Hours of LeMans Sports Car Endurance Race. Since 1923 winning the race has been seen as the pinnacle of the career of sports car race drivers and has attracted the attention of many manufacturers over the years including Ferrari, Ford, Mercedes Benz and Audi. The French themselves have of course had many successful entries in the race. Bugatti won the race twice in 1937 and 1939 with Jean-Pierre Wimille in a T57G chassis in 1937 and a T57C chassis in 39.

Bugatti tank

(Bugatti’s T57G “Tank”)

Other notable French winners of The 24 Hours of LeMans include Matra, who won the race in 1972, 73 and 74 and Peugeot who won the race in 1992,1993 and in 2009 with the Peugeot 908.

This is of course a very small snippet of the history of French motorsport. The French have contributed greatly in many areas of motorsport and have produced some fantastic drivers and cars. If I were to cover it all I would be writing a book haha!

Thank you for reading 🙂


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