1901 Gordon Bennett Cup

Following the problems surrounding the authorization of the 1900 race the A.C.F. decided to set up two races at the same time: the Gordon-Bennett Cup was to be complemented with an “open” Paris-Bordeaux race. This guaranteed enough turnout for the public to enjoy. It also resulted in a much better organized race. In deference to the Cup’s international status, their entrants would be dispatched before the open entrants.

The date, 29 May was not ideal for the Brits and Germans, both of whom would have favoured a date in July. They wanted to use the Paris-Berlin Race in June as an eliminating contest.

The route via Chateaudun and Tours was a bit shorter compared to the 1900 race. It has covered a total distance of 555 km with 527 km (328 miles) competitive and the remainder covering neutralised towns. Further, the A.C.F. had revised its categories somewhat, the minimum weight limit for heavy cars being now set at 650 kg. ‘Light cars’ had to weigh between 400 kg and 650 kg, and a voiturette’s weight was defined as lying between 250 and 400 kg.

As for entrants:
– Automobile Club de France designated two Panhards, driven by Charron and Girardot  (de Knyff has temporarily withdrawn from competition), plus a Mors, driven by Levegh.

– in the United Kingdom, Napier was taking the 1901 race very seriously. S.F. Edge, the firm’s sole selling agent were to race a brutal racer, powered by a vast four-cylinder, 17,157 (!) cc engine with a potential power of around 70 hp. The car was completed at the last minute in mid-May. Edge drove it himself from the Napier factory to Paris and it became apparent that the British tires will not be able to cope with the car’s 1.8-ton weight. Ultimately it was necessary to fit French tires and transfer the entry to the open race.
– The Germans had high hopes for the new Mercedes racing cars, but Daimler decided not to take part as their potential racing cars have already been sold!

Therefore the Cup only had the three French cars as starters. Charron, last year’s winner was the first car sent off but had to stop almost immediately with valve trouble allowing Levegh to pass his rival. Eventually Charron was forced to retire due to “tyre troubles” and the Cup match was left to Levegh and Girardot.

At various sections of the course spare parts, fuel and lubricating oil were guarded by the various teams. Edge however was “serviced” by his cousin Cecil who could only provide champagne and gâteau d’éponge (sponge cake). Any replacements for his car would need to be purchased. Levegh was eliminated at Sainte Maure when he damaged his car on one of the notorious caniveaux (drainage ditch) that crossed the road and the Cup was won by Girardot at an average speed of 37 mph. By contrast the winner of the open race, Henri Fournier had averaged 53mph, and Girardot’s time saw him placed tenth overall.