what is the first race car and first car races guide

Finding The Origins: What’s The World’s First Race Car?

Almost every car enthusiast has a secret passion for racing sport. The desire for adrenaline and the wish to be first pour through their blood. Therefore, car racing started as soon as the world witnessed the first automobile. Motor racing has come a long way in the century. You reflexively look to glance back and wonder, “What was the world’s first racing car?” It’s a good question as technology has progressed breathtakingly since the last day horse was the dominant transport. It was barely two centuries ago.

History Of The First Race Car: How It Started?

It started with the invention of the car. Carl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler were the forefathers of the automobile craze; because of them, the world saw the first ever car, the gasoline car.

Thus, on New Year’s Eve in 1879, Carl Benz tested his first stationary gasoline engine. With the commercial success, Benz focused on constructing a lightweight car with a gasoline engine.

On the other hand, Gottlieb Daimler, with the help of Wilhelm Maybach, developed the forerunner of the modern automobile engine in 1885. He was the first to use a gasoline engine in a two-wheeled vehicle. In 1886, Daimler tried to repeat the success, working with the four-wheeled car. Adapting it to a stagecoach, Daimler designed the world’s first four-wheeled automobile.

So, working at different companies, Carl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler simultaneously developed the world’s first cars in the same 1886 year. Remarkably, they had never met personally and worked at different places: in Mannheim (Benz) and Stuttgart (Daimler). But who was first: Benz or Daimler?

Carl Benz was faster, as he received the patent first. His three-wheeled Benz Motor Car, model no. 1 became first car in the world in 1886.

After the invention of cars, the question arose: “Which car is better?” There was no better way to figure out it than to let the competition start. Car racing was the best option for this purpose. That is how the first-ever race car was invented.

First Car Race: The Beginning Of The Car Racing

Did you know that the stereotype that Motor racing is an elite sport came from the past for a reason? Here it is. 

As we think, each manufacturer wished to label their car as the best, but there was a requirement for a car race as clear evidence of that. How to hold the race, if most people had used horses, while cars were expensive? So, these were car enthusiasts who organized races, while the owners of cars were rich persons, start-up entrepreneurs, and talented engineers. Moreover, the press immediately took their legitimate place as the main PR agent of the event. Therefore, the origins of car racing sport are about the elite. Just like it is today, but with a difference of that time. 

It was less than a year after the invention of the first car, the the chief editor of the Paris publication Le Vélocipède, Monsieur Fossier made the first car race on April 28, 1887, but it was far from the competition, as there was the only driver to race. George Bouton passed 2 kilometers long route and won the event. Therefore, the first car race competition was held only after seven years. 

The Paris–Rouen race 22  July 1894

In 1894 French Le Petit Journal published the announcement on the main pages – ‘Competition for Horseless Carriages.’

The enthusiasts, who have kept the passion for racing, advanced motor racing.  The chief editor of Le Petit Journal, Pierre Giffard, was that one. We think he wanted to share his passion, to attract interest in motoring, and to develop French motor manufacturing.

Giffard organized the world’s first car race competition from Paris to Rouen and made people talk about it loudly. As a result, the circulation of Petit Journal also increased.

The first-ever race requirements for cars included only three points: easy to drive, simple design, and aesthetics.

Le Petit Journal promoted the event as not dangerous, with the major prize of 5,000 francs being for “the competitor whose car comes closest to the ideal” as there were scores for cars.

The Birth Of The Car Racing

Of the sixty-nine cars from serious manufacturers like Peugeot, Panhard, or De Dion to amateur owners, there are only 25 participants started the race after the selection.

The 126-kilometer race Paris–Rouen started at 8:00 am on Sunday 22 July 1894 at Porte Maillot and finished after 6 hours and 48 minutes in the Bois de Boulogne.

In some terms, the first-ever car race was like the rally. With racing held on the road, one by one the racers started with an order, separated by 30 seconds. Besides, each driver had a judge on the board, which was responsible for the crew maintaining the rules, and evaluating the driving style with a score of 0 to 20.

Count Jules-Albert de Dion arrived first in Rouen. With a steam engine, designed by Gottlieb Daimler, Jules-Albert the wheel of his De Dion-Bouton traveling at an average speed of 19 km/h. He finished 3’30″ ahead of Albert Lemaître (Peugeot), Auguste Doriot (Peugeot) at 16’30″, René Panhard (Panhard) at 33’30″, and Émile Levassor (Panhard) at 55’30″. Although, he didn’t win, as the rules were the other.

Pierre Giffard achieved his goal, as he attached car racing to people’s hearts. The next day after the race, the newspaper “Le Petit Journal” summed up the results of the competition with “How can you travel other than in a motor car?”  

Peugeot Panhard Levassor or Peugeot Daimler engine?

Peugeot with Panhard Levassor’s engine had won, but due to the Paris-Rouen race having no clear regulations, the victory of Panhard Levassor became in doubt. It was a two-seat car, rather than a 4-seat car, as was required.

Therefore, Peugeot, with a Daimler engine, became the world’s first car race winner. The era of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport has begun since then. After a while, they associated with Karl Benz to start the Daimler-Benz which has been known today as the Mercedes-Benz Group.

The Godfathers of a Race Car

Alongside Emile Levassor, René Panhard created the company Panhard & Levassor in 1886. They offered Daimler vehicles but with their own manufactured gas engines. 

However, in 1891, Emile Levassor invented a significantly superior automobile to Daimler and anything the German car manufacturers could produce. Levassor was among the first to discover that the car’s engine needed to be in front of the vehicle. The automotive was no longer a ‘horseless carriage,’ but rather something like our modern car.

Rene Panhard and Emile Levassor also created a new transmission system that bears their names. Since then, it was no longer just a vehicle, but it was a race car.

Moreover, they were the first who come up with the concept of press coverage of a car racing event. Panhard and Levassor sought to raise public interest in their cars via the press. Besides, their cars participated in racing also for promotional goals, to increase the sales. Panhard and Levassor were more than just at the origins of the car sports business; they were one of its leading figures.

The Birth of Motor Racing Sport

First Motor Race

The Paris-Rouan race was a not competition between cars, as these were awarded by points, instead of position finished. And if it was more like the experiment, then the following year’s event launched a motor racing era. On June 13, 1895, it started the Paris–Bordeaux–Paris race. Two French engineers and business executives managed the event.

This time, it was the competition and the winner was the car that finished first. Therefore, Paris–Bordeaux–Paris is the world’s first motor race. Among the participants, there were just a few race cars that could reach speeds of up to 20 km/h. 

The Race Car First Birthday

This time, Émile Levassor won the race at the wheel of his and Rene Panhard’s designed car. It was the Panhard-Levassor 1205cc model – the first-ever race car in the world. Despite it having a twin-cylinder, 750 rpm engine, Emile Levassor finished the Paris–Bordeaux–Paris eleven hours ahead of the following Peugeot! However, he got disqualified on a technicality. Peugeot was claimed as the winner.   

But it didn’t stop Émile Levassor and Rene Panhard. The Paris-Bordeaux-Paris race spurred the formation of the Car Club de France. Panhard and Levassor were formed as prominent players in the automobile industry. They set France as the place where motor racing originated and established the country as the premier nation in the car industry.

With the invention of the car, holding the motor race became a new entertaining event. Thus, American business and the publisher of the Chicago Times-Herald, Herman Henry Kohlsaat organized America’s first motor race in Chicago on Thanksgiving Day November 28, 1895.

The 87 km distance long from Chicago to Evanston and back, Chicago Times-Herald race prizes totaling $5,000 (approximately $175,900 in 2022). While its main goal was the same – to promote the young auto industry in the United States and to boost newspaper sales.

Three years later, it was born Enzo Ferrari, and after a while motor racing entered a new revolutionary era.

first race car

The Cars for Racing

Although the origin of the sports car never be truly decided, its invention dates back to 1900- 1910, depending on the country. But race-purpose car manufacturers started to release very fast. 

Thus, in 1901, designed by Wilhelm Maybach and Paul Daimler (Gottlieb Daimler’s son), Mercedes presented 35 hp. Thanks to its reliability and powerful engine, 35 hp became a dominant racing car. 

But at that time it was already Henry Ford who started interest in racing cars. After his first auto company failed, Ford built “Sweepstakes,” a 26-horsepower vehicle that won a race against Alexander Winton on October 10, 1901. From the proceeds of this race, Ford created the Henry Ford Company.

What Car Racing Championship Was The First?

24 Hours Of Le Mans first car

Instead of conclusion

The world of auto racing is the world of cutting-edge technologies and new challenges. As for inclusivity, female racing drivers have raced in races too. And the first one was Bertha Benz, the wife of Carl Benz. 

Maria Teresa de Filippis was the first female Formula 1 racing driver in the sport’s history. She became a driver for Maserati. 

Janet Guthrie became the first woman race car driver to compete in Indy 500. Even such mature rallying sport also has its own female rally drivers, because, with four rally victories in 1982, Michèle Mouton became the most successful female in the WRC. 

As Motor racing had developed fast at that time, some disciplines became iconic like Formula 1, NASCAR, IndyСar, or FIA WRC. The other ones didn’t take root. Thus, the FIA WTCR closed to open the space for the all-electric championship ETCR in 2023. The FIA W Series folded in 2022 after 3 years of racing as a support race for Formula 1. 

So today’s car racing sport is another step up in the technologies but not the last. Time has changed and the rules, and cars changing in the sport. So, the following years will be another advance progress. However, we are glad you shared our dive into the roots of the origins of the motor racing sport.

Also, you can take a racing quiz to test your knowledge of race cars!