12 May 2023
France was the epicentre of motorsport in the early 1900s. Almost every city had a circuit.
In 1906, a cluster of French car enthusiasts established the Automobile Club de la Sarthe, which transformed into the Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO).
In 1903, the Paris-Madrid race, held on open roads, was lethal; Marcel Renault and several other ‘racers’ lost their lives.
With the results, Louis Verney, a consulting engineer, proposed ‘closed circuit racing’ to the ACO.
The first race was a huge success, with 33 entrants, a 54 km circuit, one broken leg and no fatalities.
Closed Circuit racing was born.
The race was won by Renault’s head of testing, Ferenc Szisz, collecting their prize money of 45,000 francs.
World War 1 got in the way of racing, but when the fighting had finished three members of the ACO proposed an 8-hour race in 1923.
Emile Coquille said that was far too short and advocated a 24-hour race that would be the ultimate test of speed and endurance.
WO Bentley exclaimed a 24-hour race was Madness.
Interestingly, the first entry application was from Bentley.
Incidentally, in 1924 a Bentley 3.0 litre won the 24-hour race.
And that, dear readers, is how the beloved 24 Heures du Mans came to exist.