As early motor racing seasons go, 1897 was not the best. January’s race had generally been a success, as I detailed in my last post. However, the Automobile Club de France (ACF) did not exactly go big in their planning for 1897. Gerald Rose blames the lack of mechanical progress in the 1897 cars on the absence of a major city to city race. One must remember, it is nearly another ten years until the usefulness of major circuit based races is really discovered (i.e. the Grand Prix).
The run from Paris to Dieppe is relatively short. The course measured only 106.2 miles. It was to be a simple one-day affair. The lack of a major race did not translate to a lack of amateur enthusiasm in the 1897 races. Nearly 70 entries were received for the 1897 run from Paris to Dieppe. 59 of those entries managed to show up for the race. It is clear that more amateurs were rolling around in increasingly reliable machines, at this point in history.
It was a hot day. The roads were dusty. The officials had a grand idea; they would officiate the start and then take a chartered railcar to beat the cars to the finish. That way, they could manage both ends of this relatively short city to city race.
At Beavuais, one Mr. Vicomte de Soulier had been leading, until a tire burst. Pneumatic tires were still in their infancy and prone to failure. However, speeds had exceeded the useful range for solid rubber tires. Metal wheels, were just terrible, and had since been abandoned.
After de Soulier’s tire failed, Jamin, in a Bollée “tricar” took the lead. However, in the hot wind, his ignition failed. By Gourney, Amédé de Bollée rolled through leading in a car of his own make.
Fernand Charron, introduced in my last post, rolled through in his Panhard et Levassor, just a couple minutes behind a Mr. Hourgieres. Shockingly, as the cars started to cross the finish line, the officials were nowhere to be seen. Their plan of chartering a railcar had failed. As such, the competitors were left to their own devices when it came to certifying finish times. Thus, Rose’s finish tables (in my estimation) should be viewed with caution.
What is certain, however, is that average speeds had again increased. The two-seated car leaders averaged upwards of 22 to 24 miles per hour. The four seated cars, which included the De Dion steam car, were even faster.
Gerald Rose, one of the only sources for these early races, notes that this race hosted a couple of technical advancements with the new cars that ran. For example, aluminum components began to replace their (often brass) counterparts. Moreover, the gilled radiator also made it’s first appearance at this race.
Travis Turner of GPevolved.com
A Record of Motor Racing 1894 – 1908, Gerald Rose (1949).