Just as British race fans inevitably leap to the defence of Silverstone as an iconic cornerstone of the country’s motorsporting bedrock, so Brazilian fans revere the Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace at Interlagos, on the rundown fringes of Brazil’s bustling second city of São Paulo.
The Tarmac at Interlagos is where the Brazilian motor racing legend has been writ large over the decades. Thirty-four years ago a capacity crowd roared its hysterical approval as Emerson Fittipaldi (above, with Pace), then the youngest world champion ever at 25, came storming into view to take the chequered flag and win his country’s first F1 World Championship Grand Prix at the wheel of a black and gold-liveried Lotus 72.
It was certainly the start of something big, with the man whose name the circuit now carries winning the race two years later at the wheel of one of Bernie Ecclestone’s Brabhams and beating Fittipaldi, now at the wheel of a McLaren. Subsequently the Formula 1 flame has been carried by the likes of Nelson Piquet, Ayrton Senna, Rubens Barrichello and Felipe Massa, the Ferrari driver winning here 12 months ago and determined to deliver another great performance for his hometown fans.
Pace has been gone now 30 years, killed in a light aircraft accident near São Paulo only weeks after finishing second in the 1977 Argentinian GP at Buenos Aires, but his memory is kept fresh by a bust alongside the main access road into the circuit paddock. Poignantly, it received a long-overdue polish from one of the track workers on Thursday afternoon. AH