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HOME Gordon Bennett 1902 RETRO 2002

 

PARIS - VIENNA 1902  

 

 

2002 marks the centenary of the famous Paris-Vienna race which was so ably won by Marcel Renault in what many people consider to be Renaultís greatest race victory of all time.

 

The little 16 hp Renaultís were Davids amongst the Goliaths of the big 70 hp Panhards, 60 hp Mors, 40 hp Mercedes, etc. but they were to prove right the decision of Louis to go for lightness and manoeuvrability rather than brute-force.

 

Another satisfying side to this great victory was that it was the baptism of the new 4 cylinder Renault engine which signified the breakaway from De Dion who had previously supplied Renault with single and two cylinder engines.

 

What of the race itself. Louis and Marcel Renault were entered in the light car class and, as was to be expected, over the first stage from Champigny to Belfort which was fast and relatively smooth the big 13.7 litre Panhards, the fastest racing cars of the day, were well in the leaed. Nevertheless the two Renaultís were running well and at Belfort Louis was 9th overall with Marcel 18th out of a field of 137 starters.

 

Stage 2 from Belfort to Bregenz was a neutral non-racing section because the Swiss did not approve of motor racing.

 

Now came the real test with the cars having to face the appallingly rough roads of Austria plus the Arlberg pass, 5800 feet above sea level. It was under these conditions that the Renault came into its own being nimbler, having better handling, better braking and being less affected by the continuous, ruts, potholes and switch-backs of the roads and tracks.

 

At Salzburg, Marcel realising that because of  troubles he no longer had the support of his brother Louis, decided that it was now all up to him and set off like one inspired. At that time four Panhards, one Darracq and one Mercedes were still in front of the Renault.

 

The big cats with their vast engines were taking a cruel pounding from the abominable roads, but Marcel continued unrelentingly, catching and pulling away from his opponents until he finally caught Maurice Farmanís Panhard, charged through the cloud of dust and passed. Next to be caught was Zborowskiís Mercedes and finally it was Henri Farman in his Panhard and Marcelís little Renault now led the entire race.

 

As the story goes, when the Renault arrived at the Prater in Vienna it was completely unexpected because they had been warned to expect the first car around 3 p.m. where as Marcel was two hours early. At first he was considered a gate-crasher but finally the truth dawned and the band had to be hurriedly dragged from their lunch to play the Marseillaise.

 

What impressed the Austrian people about this victory was that the Renault had beaten the Arlberg Express by more than 7 hours and at that time this was considered the fastest train in Europe.

 

With all due praise to Marcel one should not lose sight of the very fine effort put up by Louis Renault who was at one time leading his brother. Unfortunately, at the Innsbruck check point Baron de Caterís Mercedes passed too close to the Renault catching a rear wheel, bending the axle and breaking a road spring. Fuming, Louis Renault and his mechanic Szisz toiled and sweated to repair the damage. After four hours they set off again as night was falling. Louis, impatient to get on, would not stop to light his lamps and consequently they did not see a closed level crossing both gates of which they burst through, ending up with a bent front axle, damaged radiator and worst of all a broken wheel.

 

Louis and Szisz removed the axle and wheel and carried it off to a nearby village where they got the blacksmith out of bed to assist Szisz to straighten the axle whilst Louis Renault carved new spokes from chair legs, using a clasp knife, and rebuilt the wheel.

 

They decided not to attempt to repair the radiator and so with Louis at the wheel and Szisz lying along the bonnet pouring pints of water into the boiling radiator they drove on. So well did Louis drive that he had climbed right back up to 28th overall at the finish but these two incidents had cost him too much time to enable him to do better, although in this last stage he did manage to achieve second best overall time.

 

Marcel Renaultís victory was achieved with what was then a frightening 39 mph overall, all stops included and it pushed home the lesson of power to weight which many people had told Louis was too much of a gambler. However they had not taken into account the mechanical genius of Louis Renault who believed that ĄPower was not all, true progress means building light, yet strong.ď

 

Gordon Bennett

 

 

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copyright © 2002 michael gepperth