1905 Gordon Bennett Cup

Given that Théry had won the 1904 Gordon Bennett Cup on the Taunus circuit, it fell to France to organise the sixth edition of the great international competition.

The Automobile Club de France appointed tyre supplier Michelin as co-organiser. The Michelin brothers took up the task of designing a track near their headquarters in Clemont-Ferrand. The challenge proposed by them was very different from the preceding editions.

The 137km circuit essentially visited a mountainous part of France and included over 3000 corners, the tightest of them even demanding the drivers to use their reverse gear.. The aim wasn’t so much to demonstrate the power of the cars that already ran at speeds in excess of 150kph, but rather to promote the driver’s skills, and above all, the handling performance of the tyres. The winner would be the team that completed four laps of the circuit in the fastest time.

Following the elimination trials, six nations were to be represented in the 1905 Cup. The French team consisted of two Richard-Brasiers driven by last year’s winner Théry and Gustave Caillois in addition to a De Dietrich driven by Arthur Duray. Italy’s team consisted of three F.I.A.T.s driven by Felice Nazzaro, Alessandro Cagno and Vincenzo Lancia. Germany was represented by Mercedes, driven by Wilhelm Werner, Pierre de Caters and Camille Jenatzy. The Austrian team of Hermann Braun, Alexander Burton and Otto Hieronimus also drove Daimler cars, put together locally. The Americans were represented by Joe Tracy driving a Locomobile and two Pope-Toledos driven by Herbert Lytle and Albert Dingley. And last but not least there was a British team with two Wolseley “Beetles” driven by C.S. Rolls and Cecil Bianchi. In a last minute switch Clifford Earp‘s Napier could not be repaired and he drove the 1904 Napier L48 instead.

On 5 July 1905, more than 80,000 spectators lined up along the course. The Automobile featured the following report:

“France again holds the Gordon Bennett Cup. Such is the outcome of the sixth. the most exciting, the most keenly contested. and the most surprising of all the races yet held for this much valued trophy. Not only does France hold the Cup, but the previous year’s winner is again the victor. This is a record for never before has the race been won twice by the same man. Théry must be, indeed, “a proud man the day”. But the most important feature of the day is not the victory of France, but the remarkable performance of Italy and the collapse of the Mercedes competitors. When the race began it was thought by all – and feared by France – that the victor would be from amongst one of the six Mercedes car present. And amongst this formidable set of men Jenatzy was generally regarded as the most likely winner. Less than an hour had to elapse to show the French that their fears were ill founded and at the end of the first round they discovered that the struggle was to lay between them and Italy – one of the latest arrivals to automobilism.

Lancia’s F.I.A.T. car made the most remarkable performance of the day. When the second round was finished he was leading on Théry by thirteen minutes, and during the third round this lead was still further increased. Whilst going very fast, and at a moment when victory seemed almost certain, a stone from the road struck the lower part of the radiator, and started a leak that allowed the cooling water to quickly escape. As a consequence the motor became overheated and the car was brought to a standstill. Thus by the merest chance the race was made secure for France.

Lancia’s misfortune did not, however, destroy Italy’s position, for the two other cars were doing remarkably well and came in respectively second and third, with a lead of 7:57 1/5 and 5:43 4/5 on CailloisRichard-Brasier. Although Italy has not won the Cup, Fiat cars have obtained for it a victory no less important than that secured by Théry. Twelve of the eighteen cars were officially classified. Of these France has three, occupying first, fourth and sixth positions, and securing for it the Montagu prize for team classification; Italy, too, taking second and third place; England three, placed respectively eighth, ninth and eleventh; Germany two, in the fifth and seventh position; Austria one, placed tenth on the list, and America one, taking twelfth position.

Lytle performed the pluckiest feat of the day. Disheartened on the first round by an accident to his lubricator which would have caused most men to abandon immediately, with dogged determination he stuck to his task, and finally brought his car in to the finish. Afterward when they weighed in both Lytle and his mechanician Knipper were covered with a thick coating of grease, which rendered them unrecognizable, while the machine was aflood with oil. For the last three rounds they had been blinded by gallons of oil splashing into their faces. Knipper’s drab suit had changed to a shiny black under its coating of oil and dust.

America’s failure is due to the sending over of machines of too low horsepower, the Pope-Toledo engines only developing half the power of the French and German machines, and not sufficiently studying the special nature of the course over which the race had to be run. Nothing but praise is due to the French club for the admirable way in which the race was organized and carried out. The course was a most dangerous one, yet, thanks to the foresight of the officials and the careful way in which the road was guarded by troops, not a single accident or mishap of any kind marred the day”.

An announcement prior to the race by the Automobile Clube de France signalled the end of the Gordon Bennett Cup: whatever the results of the 1905 Gordon Bennett event would be they wouldn’t support any 1906 “Coupe Internationale”. Thus the Gordon Bennett Cup for cars came to an end and a year later the Grand Prix era was ushered in. A page was turned.