the first “race of motors” in Russia took place

On October 23rd

…the first “race of motors” was held in Russia, a competition, which can de facto be called the first automobile race of the country, and currently called “The I Cup of society for cycling”. The organizers of the race were the “Society for cycling” of Saint Petersburg and the “Samokat” (“Kick scooter”) magazine (published weekly from 1894, became known as the “Automobile trade” from 1907), but the main initiator was a French merchant Louis Mazy, who in 1898 has opened first in Russia specialized shop on Mykhailovskaya street – “The shop for bicycles and motors of “Clement”, “Gladiator” and “Phoebus” firms”, where during that year about ten “Clement” tricycles with “De Dion-Bouton” petrol engines of 1.75 hp were sold, the majority of its clients were the members of the “Society”.

The talks about the race started right after the opening of the Mazy shop, according to the memories of V.A. Mikhailov (in the future – a racer and one of the founders of the Saint-Petersburg automobile club), it was more and more talked about by the Petersburg motorists, until it was decided not to postpone the affair, in spite of the late season. In the no. 245/1898 the “Samokat” magazine has published an announcement that “on Sunday, October 4th, 1898 [on old style Russian calendar, October 16th on current calendar], the “Society for cycling” organizes the first in Russia road race on the automobiles and motored vehicles between the Aleksandrovo station of Warsaw railroad (Aleksandrovskaya now) and Strelna [on Volhonskoe highway – note of author] and back”. The rules consisted of thirteen paragraphs, which indicated that:

—          all interested persons could participate, both Russians and foreigners;

—          the entry fee was 3 rubles (a little more than a daily salary of that time worker, about 100 modern US dollars according to gold value rate);

—          automobiles and motored vehicles could not be heavier than 6 poods (98.28 kilos, weight of a “Clement” was about 75 kilograms);

—          the entries had to be submitted to the office of the “Society” from September 25th to October 1st from 12:00 to 14:00, the entry blanks could be received there from 10:00 to 15:00;

—          the decisions of chosen judges were considered peremptory.

The distance of the first Russian race was 39 versts, or 41.605 km. However, already in the next issue of “Samokat” it was said that due to the repair of the freeway between the Aleksandrovskaya and Strelna stations, the race of motors without changes in the rules is transferred to the next Sunday, October 11th (on old style Russian calendar, October 23rd on current calendar). The transfer has nearly caused a disruption of the competition due to a bad weather – only by the night before the race has the Friday snowfall subsided, and it grew warmer and the snow began to thaw. V.A. Mikhailov, who had a relation to the race organization, was writing later: “I was running either to the office of “Society for cycling” or to the most likeable Mazy with the requests regarding the race cancellation and the possibility of motors running in such a weather.” The day before the race Louis Mazy has tried to conquer the snowy virgin land of Champ de Mars, but his “Clement” dropped a clanger (“Za Rulyom” (“At the wheel”) magazine wrote in 1998 that there were several participants who conducted the “training”).

From 14 submitted entries (for the moment in Saint Petersburg there were only about thirty “motors”), 7 drivers appeared at the start of the race. Four were from Russia – lieutenant V.I. von Lode, S.A. Stepanov (mechanic, i.e. driver, of the prince P.A. Oldenburgskiy), Petr Belyaev and Schneiderov; two were from France, participial in the organization of competitions Mazy and Alfonce Merle, invited by him from Paris. All six of them had at their disposal the previously mentioned “Clements”, some of the participants had additional batteries. The seventh participant was the representative of “Carl Schpan” trading house Lavrentiev on a cumbersome four-wheeled “Benz” car with a phaeton car body. In power it surpassed its competitors fourfold – the whole six and a half horse powers and two transmissions, but in weight it exceeded the maximum allowed weight according to the rules in more than 8.5 times, that is why it was allowed to compete hors concours.

Whether the event did not seem worthy of attention to the Saint Petersburg citizens, or due to bad weather, but there gathered not much of a public, but the departure of participants (and their cars!), who took train to Aleksandrovo, as noted by the press, “has gathered a hefty crowd, looking with wonder and interest at the unseen scooters and their more or less originally dressed riders”. The unloading of the six “motors” from the train which brought the participants, has also represented a lively picture, where an active part was taken not only by the gentlemen motorists, but the completely extraneous public, both local and the one arrived from Petersburg. Everybody was stricken by the determination of Mazy, who drove his motor right on the railroad platform to the great consternation of a railroad gendarme, who was not expecting this.

The members of the racing committee were standing at the start: the head of the “Society for cycling” major-general N.I. Gelmerson, secretary of the society V.V. Klimenko and committee member D.S. Malyavko. Also there were present the enthusiasts of the motor sport A.P. Nagel and V.A. Mikhailov, who made a lot for the development of a domestic auto sports afterwards.

The start was expected at 10 in the morning, the racers had to arrive in Strelna, to the beginning of Volokolamskoe freeway, where a flag was put, and turn around without stopping and arrive by the same road to Aleksandrovo. Turn control at Strelna was performed by P.A. Orlovskiy, D.K. Rennenkampf [exceptionally pointing last name, translated as “racing battle” from German — note of author] and doctor of medicine Verekundov.

The start was given separately, after two minutes for every participant. The starting order was:

Number Racer Starting time
1 V.I. von Lode 10:08
2 Schneiderov 10:13
3 S.A. Stepanov 10:15
4 P.N. Belyaev 10:17
5 L. Mazy 10:19
6 A. Merle 10:21
7 Lavrentiev 10:25

The number of racer placed on the engine and left sleeve corresponded to his starting sequence number.

With a small delay, caused by an undisciplined public, the first participant took start – “tightened in a leather suit, in goggles and fur gloves” lieutenant Lode. “He took the start not so bad, — this is how the editor Andrey Platonovich Nagel – the publisher of Russian magazine “Automobile”, described this historical event afterwards. – But, after driving off for about a hundred fathoms, he hit the chukhna sleigh with a left wheel. We have seen two legs, three wheels and the whole cloud of snow dust in the air. This “first pancake” has passed safely for the driver, but the car had to abandon the race”.  The very first race in Russia has ended with an accident caused by a cartage transport – nobody closed the road especially for the race, the oncoming horse got scared, threw itself to the side, placing the sleigh over the narrow roadbed. The car with a bent axis and wheel accompanied by the unharmed racer was dragged to the starting line, and Schneiderov was let out onto the track not in two but in five minutes – the delay caused by the incident was only three minutes! Afterwards the racers left for the distance with the planned intervals, the last participant, Lavrentiev, with three passengers, has slowly went out of competition in four minutes after everybody.

After the cars disappeared in the distance, the fans in the mood of waiting went to the station buffet, according to press reports. But Mazy has returned to the start in 40-45 minutes already, using the pedal thrust instead of an engine. As it turned out, within ten versts from the start the engine of his car went haywire (“some trifle fell out”, i.e. a small screw), and being alone in the open field not far from the Kairova village, the racer got scared and decided to return using the familiar way. While waiting for other participants at the finish, Mazy along with Nagel have decided to entertain themselves and made a giant figure out of snow, in which they thrusted the engine plates left by the racers, naming it “Cossack”.

Closer to midday the first participant who had covered the whole distance, has returned to start/finish, before arrival of whom the finish route was cleared a little. It was Belyaev, who had passed the whole distance in 1 hour, 33 minutes and 36 seconds. After finishing he told that the road was pretty hard, but he did not pay attention to that and often rolled on snow virgin lands, working with pedals at the ascensions. Almost in 14 minutes Stepanov, who outrun Schneiderov even before Strelna, has finished, and in two minutes after him, Merle has arrived to the finish line. But since the Frenchman was leaving for track six minutes later, he was the one to receive the second place. The last of participants to finish at 12:17 was Schneiderov. The car of Lavrentiev was the last to arrive to the starting position, when the public has already begun to disperse, covering the distance in 2 hours and 11 minutes (average speed – 19.5 km/h). As it was noted in the press, “with a weight of more than 50 poods and with thin solid tires this result is respectable”.

As a reward Piotr Nikolaevich Belyaev, who took his “Clement” to the race from Tsarskoe Selo, has received a golden token with a sign “First prize for the first race of motors”. In addition, the name of the winner was carved on a silver vase-cup, but it remained in the “Society” – it was planned to give it only to the three-time winner of the competitions. As can be seen, the organizers did not initially doubt in the success of the first race, and had a firm intention to hold it again next year (which is what happened, but in 1900). Merle and Stepanov also received the tokens for the second and third places, but the silver ones.

Hardly anybody expected that the motors would pass the snow so friskily. “Hardly a troika can be found that can gallop with a speed of 24.5 versts per hour from Aleksandrovskaya station to Strelna and back”, — P. Orlovskiy, a reporter of the “Samokat” magazine was writing after the race, — “even the driver who has finished last in the distance had worked his way with a speed exceeding the full speed of a two-horse mail carriage by 3.3 versts per hour”. And if to add that the “motors” were far from perfection, and also that then-time roads were not in the best condition (in particular, the Volhonskoe freeway was not outstanding by its width, and the snow which had fallen the day before was practically not rolled, the depth of snow cover was 8-13 centimeters in some places), then the shown result exceeds all expectations. “The results were astounding not only for the public, but also for the racers themselves, — Mikhailov was marveling, — who were least expecting the motors to go so well on the snow”. The average speed of the winner was a little more than 26.5 km per hour – maybe one and a half times lower than in Paris-Amsterdam-Paris race of 1898, but quite comparable with the speed of the winner of Bordeaux-Biarritz August race, even if the French race was almost five times longer, but it took place in summer. The race has also coincided in time with another event – the registration of the first public organization of Russian motorists – the Russian moto-club, in Saint-Petersburg in autumn of 1898. A year later, it was renamed into the All-Russian club of motorists, although soon this organization was dismissed.

Due to participation of tricycles in the race, which can be treated both as motorcycles and automobiles (but the presence of pedals in “Clements” provided a more close relation to the former ones), the race is sometimes not classified as an automobile competition, but the word “automobile” was present in the rules, and yet one automobile took the start, though out of competition. In any case, Russia has become only the fourth country in the world that held an automotive competition, after France, the USA and Italy, ahead of Great Britain to some extent (in 1896 there was an automobile race from London to Brighton, but it did not pursue competitive goals), and Germany, the motherland of an automobile. In addition, the race Aleksandrovo-Strelna-Aleksandrovo was the first snow race in Europe (the first one in the world was the race in 1895 in the USA); it can also be called the first competition in motocross in some way due to the reasons described above.

Click here to see full race results

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