Lancia In His Fiat For The 1906 Cuban Road Race – Photo (c) Veloce
In a series of weekly articles covering Grand Prix and Endurance racing I will be looking at all the races in order from 1906.
1906 was the first Grand Prix racing season where specific races and designated Grandes Epreuves were held.
In this first instalment I will look at the first race of that season, the Cuban Road Race which took place on 11th February, 1906.
This was a “road race” to every letter of the word. Tens of thousands of spectators gathered along the roads and highways to watch four drivers race for the crown. Mahogany trees lined the roads from Havana through Artemisa and onto San Cristobal, a 54 mile route which the drivers would need to negotiate over four laps.
It had cost $30,000 to make and upgrade the circuit with four sharp turns and an array of curves peering down steep cliffs. There was no room for error on this treacherous course. Havana had stumped up $7,000 with The Automobile Association of America putting up $14,000 in prize money.
Four cars would start the race, only one would finish one mile from the Camp Columbia where huge stands had been erected.
The drivers were sent off in three minute intervals. Bernin was first to go in his 90hp Renault, followed by the defending champion and favourite to winner Lancia in his 110hp Fiat. Third to be started was Cedrino driving a Gustav Roek 110hp Fiat and finally it was Demogeot in his 80hp Darracq.
Demogeot lost five minutes straight from the start due to a clutch problem with his competitors speeding off into the distance.
Cedrino was out of the race at the double curve near Artemisa, 40 miles from the start line. He struck a tree and both he and his machinist were taken to the Guanajay Hospital with serious injuries.
Lancia passed the town of Artemisa, he was absolutely flying and living up to the tag as favourite when disaster struck at the railroad crossing. His machinist, Battesta, was thrown from the car, suffering a fractured arm and that effectively put him out of the race.
Only two remained, Bernin in the Renault who was leading and Demogeot who was trying so hard to make up the lost time from his clutch problem.
Bernin reached San Cristobal first in just over 51 minutes, Demogeot reached the same stage in 54 minutes.
On the return journey Bernin suffered a puncture and it was so bad that the car could not be fixed. This left Demogeot as the only entrant still running but the course had taken victims and he could not count his blessings too soon.
Demogeot and his machinist, American Charlie Harragh, finished the race in 3 hours 38 minutes and 26 seconds.
Demogeot’s great speed was fairly maintained throughout, confirming the reputation of the Cuban road as being among the worlds fastest. Despite the drawbacks of three controls, sharp corners in the town of Marianao and with crowds spilling onto the road at the curving points, he made in the first half of the race an average of 61 miles an hour.
The next race in the series would be the Targa Florio at Madonie, one in which Vincenzo Lancia would feature again.