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Motorsport has existed almost as long as the automobile itself. It originated in France in 1894 with a "reliability test" between Paris and Rouen that was organised by Le Petit Journal. The following year saw the first stage race take place between Paris and Bordeaux and automotive competition was born.

Motorsport can take place on- and off-road on purpose-built closed road circuits, temporary street circuits, ovals, and special stages on asphalt, gravel or snow. The variety of machinery is even wider and ranges from vehicles that are derived from production road cars – such as touring cars and GT cars – to high-tech purpose-built formula cars and GP motorcycles. See the section on Racing disciplines below. Competition is not confined to conventional first-past-the-flag races, but can include speed contests (such as drag racing), time trials (such as rallying) and skill tests (such as motorcycle trials).

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The 1994 San Marino Grand Prix was a Formula One motor race held on May 1, 1994 at the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari in Imola, Italy. It was the third race of the 1994 Formula One season, and the first race of the season to be held in Europe. The race weekend was marred by the deaths of Austrian Roland Ratzenberger and three-time world champion Ayrton Senna as well as numerous other accidents and injuries, and was described by BBC Television commentator Murray Walker as "the blackest day for Grand Prix racing that I can remember".

The race was eventually won by Michael Schumacher. In the press conference following the race, Schumacher said that he "couldn't feel satisfied, couldn't feel happy" with his win following the events that had occurred during the race weekend. Nicola Larini scored the first points of his career when he obtained a podium finish in second position. Mika Häkkinen finished third.

The race led to an increased emphasis on safety in the sport. It led to the reforming of the Grand Prix Drivers' Association, and the changing of many track layouts and car designs. Since the race, numerous regulation changes have been made to slow Formula One cars down and new circuits, such as Bahrain International Circuit, incorporate large run-off areas to slow cars before they collide with a wall. The HANS device, a piece of equipment that provides head and neck support in the event of an accident, has since became mandatory.

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Henri Toivonen (August 25, 1956 – May 2, 1986) was a Finnish rally driver born in Jyväskylä, the home of Rally Finland. His father, Pauli Toivonen, was the 1968 European Rally Champion for Porsche and his brother, Harri Toivonen, became a professional circuit racer.

Toivonen's first World Rally Championship victory came with a Talbot Sunbeam Lotus at the 1980 Lombard RAC Rally in Great Britain, just after his 24th birthday. He is still the youngest driver ever to win a world rally. Toivonen switched to driving for Lancia before finally signing up for a full WRC programme in 1985. Despite nearly ending up paralysed at a rally in Costa Smeralda early in 1985, he returned to rallying later that year. He won the last event of the season, the RAC Rally, as well as the 1986 season opener, the Monte Carlo Rally, which his father had won exactly 20 years earlier.

Toivonen, driving a Lancia Delta S4, died in a mysterious accident on May 2, 1986 at the Tour de Corse rally in Corsica, while leading both the event and the championship. His American co-driver, Sergio Cresto, also died when the Lancia plunged down a ravine and exploded. The fatal accident had no close witnesses and the remains of the car were merely blackened spaceframe, making it impossible to determine the cause of the accident. Within hours of the accident, Jean-Marie Balestre, the President of the FISA, had banned the powerful Group B rally cars from competing the following season, ending rallying's popular supercar era.

Although Toivonen is remembered for his exuberant driving style on gravel, he started his career in circuit racing and was also very competitive on tarmac. During the 1986 Rally of Portugal, he drove his Delta S4 at the Estoril track, and recorded a lap time which reportedly would have qualified him in sixth position at that year's Formula One Portuguese Grand Prix. Eddie Jordan, with whose Formula Three team Toivonen made a few guest appearances, claimed that he was certain that Toivonen would have become a winner in Formula One and compared his performances to Ayrton Senna. The annual Race of Champions, originally organised in Toivonen's memory, awards the winning individual driver the Henri Toivonen Memorial Trophy.

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A Volkswagen Race Touareg driven by Jutta Kleinschimdt in the 2006 Dakar Rally, being filmed from a helicopter

Quotes

  • "The first time I fired up a car, felt the engine shudder and the wheel come to life in my hands, I was hooked. It was a feeling I can't describe. I still get it every time I get into a race car." – Mario Andretti.
  • "You do things, you f**k people, it's racing." – Niki Lauda.
  • "It doesn't matter if you're in a wheelchair or have healthy legs. If you have the will to do something, you can get it done. I race the same as anyone else does; I just don't use my feet. And, I never give up." - Evan Evans, the first paraplegic competitor to win a professional off-road racing title.

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Racing disciplines

  • Formula racing refers to various forms of racing that use open wheeled single seaters, from Formula One to Formula Ford. Wherever there is motor racing, there will often be some form of formula racing. Some formulae use a single design of chassis and engine, while others allow a lot of technical freedom.
  • Stock cars race primarily on oval circuits and are very popular in the United States, where the major championships are run by NASCAR. The cars are built to very strict regulations with "silhouette" body shells that resemble production road car models. Major events include the Daytona 500.
  • Touring cars fall into two main categories of machinery based on production road cars. Some classes – such as the World Touring Car Championship – are heavily production-based with limited modifications, while others – like the DTM – use racing chassis and components with bodywork that mimics the equivalent road cars.
  • Sports car racing is synonymous with endurance racing, in which two or more drivers share each car during the course of a long race. Races in a series typically last around three to four hours, but there are many one-off events that can last for 12 or even 24 hours or cover a set distance such as 1000km. There are two distinct types of sports cars that often share events (each type being divided into classes). Sports prototypes have mid-engined chassis that are fully enclosed in aerodynamically efficient bodywork. Their cockpits can be open or enclosed in a canopy. Sports prototypes are most closely associated with the 24 Hours of Le Mans and notable examples include the Audi R10 and Porsche 962. GT cars (grand tourers) are production-based sports cars that may be mid-, rear- or front-engined. Notable examples include the Viper GTS-R, the 911 GT2 and the Maserati MC12.
  • Kart racing is the first step on the career ladder for most young aspiring drivers. They are constructed with a small, flat chassis, small wheels, a single seat and almost no bodywork. They are powered by small two-stroke engines. Most karting formulae permit entrants as young as seven or eight years old, who will hope to graduate into entry-level single-seater formula racing in their late teens.
  • Rallying takes place on closed roads of asphalt, gravel, mud, or snow. The vehicles are usually modified road cars or production-derived, often with 4WD. Events comprise a series of point-to-point time trials in which competitors begin each timed "stage" at intervals. The highest level is the World Rally Championship; notable events include the Dakar Rally.
  • Drifting is a relatively recent form of motorsport that originated in Japan. Competitors have to induce a controlled rear-wheel slide during their competition runs and are judged according to a number of criteria. Depending on the nature of the competition, the drivers may perform on track individually or compete together in a form of "race".
  • Drag racing is a performance contest between two competitors in similar or identical machinery on a straight dragstrip measuring from 660-1320 ft (201-402 m) in length, on which they accelerate from a standing start. The leading category is Top Fuel, whose engines run on an alcohol-based mixture to produce over 8,000 bhp (6,000 kW). They can cover 1000 ft (305 m) in under 4 seconds with a peak speed exceeding 320 mph (515 kph).

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