The FIA World Endurance Championship is perhaps one of the most exciting world championships in the world right now. In its current incarnation, it began in 2012. To any new fans, the FIA WEC may seem like a fledgling series. But in reality, organised, world sportscar racing has a rich history and can trace its roots back more than a century.
Motorsport History Begins
The invention and early development of the motor car in the late 19th century soon brought with it a desire for competition. One of the best ways for automotive inventors to prove the worth of their constructions was to put them under scrutiny on the open road. The early 1900s saw a series of long-distance, rally-like races between major cities in Europe, usually sponsored by national newspapers in France. Paris to Bordeaux, Paris to Vienna, Paris to Berlin, even Beijing to Paris – all were part of the early days of motorsport. Strictly speaking, they were trials or rallies, not races, but the competitive edge was certainly present.
These epic races were held along set routes, with journalists riding along with competitors to report on events back to the news desk. Even in those early days, some of most well-established names in the modern-day automotive industry were already making a name for themselves: Renault, Peugeot and Fiat were all permanent fixtures in the early city-to-city races. However, the primitive roads, lack of any basic in-car safety equipment and difficulties in policing spectators along the route meant that this type of racing was extremely dangerous.
The 1903 Paris – Madrid race proved to be a watershed moment in the development of motorsport. A total of 224 cars lined up on the Champs-Elysées, but only half would finish. Twelve people were killed, including one of the Renault brothers, Marcel. It would be the last of the epic point-to-point races.