Now some ancient history for a change. This is a scene from the 1914 Grand Prix de l’A.C.F. (the French Grand Prix) which was run on July 4, 1914 for 20 laps over a 23.4 mile triangular circuit on public roads lying north of the city of Lyon. This was the last major race before the First World War. Seen here is the eventual winner, Christian Lautenschlager, who drove one of the five Mercedes which had been entered. Briggs Cunningham owned a wonderful Peter Helck painting of this scene which is now with an important Mercedes-Benz collection on the American West Coast.
The main competition for the new Mercedes were the three technically advanced Peugeots which had been dominant the year before and their lead driver Georges Boillot. This notwithstanding, the total entry was 37 cars with all the well-known drivers of the time and cars from Sunbeam, Delage, Opel and several other manufacturers. It would indeed be a long test, lasting over seven hours. With the cars starting in pairs every 30 seconds, this gave plenty of continuous action for the huge crowd of spectators.
As in other early races, the difference between winners and losers would once again be tires. The Mercedes which took the first three places used Continental tires and Lautenschlager made only one tire change during the race. Peugeot ran on Dunlops which were far more fragile, Boillot having to stop at his pit to change one or more tires no less than eight times. This important race was the first in what would be a series of Mercedes dominations of Grand Prix racing.
The Great War as it became known was now not far distant from reality and S. C. H. Davis, the well regarded British journalist and racing driver who was at this race wrote as follows later. “Though we knew nothing of it, there had come faintly on the winds the echoing thud of guns.”
Photo by W. F. Bradley, an early racing photo-journalist – http://www.klemcoll.com
To see more photos from our archive go to: http://www.klemcoll.com/TheGallery.aspx