Fast and furious: La Carerra Panamericana


I have long suffered from a fascination with Mexico.

In the days of the Mexican Grand Prix I was sadly not yet on the roster of those that might be asked to write about events at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, the circuit in Mexico City’s Magdalena Mixhuca park. Named after the country’s two most famous sons, this is the Racetrack of the Rodriguez Brothers, Ricardo and Pedro, who captured the hearts of racing fans worldwide with their skill and daring. Remember Pedro in the rain, in a Porsche 917? Oh, yeah! Nobody told him it was raining.

By some tragic twist of fate, Ricardo was killed at his home circuit in 1962 when he crashed at the spectacular ‘peraltada’ corner in practice for the Grand Prix which that year was a non-championship race. The ‘peraltada’ went on to become the scene of some of the most exciting moves of any race, anywhere in the world, and that includes the ‘curva grande’ at Monza. Were this circuit still in use for Formula One, then the breathtaking ‘peraltada’ curve would surely have been emasculated.

Mexico City, Mexico. 25th October 1964. Rd 10. Jim Clark, Lotus 33-Climax, 5th position

Rumours abounded that F1 was due to return to Mexico as long ago as 2003, and Mr Ecclestone stated, in 2006, that the Grand Prix would be back – on a new circuit in Cancun – in 2009. But nothing more has ever been heard about this plan. Shame.

Mexicans love their cars, the faster and noisier the better, and nowhere is this more passionately expressed than in La Carerra Panamericana – the last truly great road race on the planet. It is fast, it is dangerous and it demands the full attention of its competitors, whether they be in an ancient Chevy or a new Porsche.

1953 Carrera Panamericana, World Sports Car Championship, Eugenio Castellotti (Lancia D23), 3rd position

Imagine my excitement then, when the President of the organising club Eduardo Leon invited me to write about the great event this year – thanks to quite a lot of persuasion from Mexican hero Jo Ramirez who began his motor racing career with the Rodriguez brothers in Mexico City and went on to manage the McLaren Grand Prix team through the extraordinary years of Prost and Senna.

Thanks to some surgery on my right hand, I have been unable to accept this fantastic opportunity and I must wait, yet again, for my first taste of the place that has for so long held my attention. This the land, after all, that is home to the Tarahumara Indians who live in the canyons of the Sierra Madre Occidental and who believe that each star in the night sky is a Tarahumara soul that has finally been extinguished. Then there’s the deserts, the wondrous ancient art and the thin air of the high mountains. And more.

The race starts tomorrow in the southern city of Oaxaca when adventurers from ten nations will go into battle on some of the fastest, and most dramatic, roads in the world. Today Ramirez, and his navigator Alberto Cruz, are in Tuxtla, putting the finishing touches to Mr Cruz’s trusty, and very rapid, Volvo. Last year they convincingly won their class.

“Is very hot here,” Jo tells me, “and no time to use the nice swimming pool at the race hotel… but we are ready, we have scrutineered the car, and done some final practice runs. This year looks like being better than ever, fast and furious all the way!”

The spirit, and soul, of the Rodriguez brothers is still very much alive in Mexico. Once a real star, always a star, and the memory of Ricardo and Pedro is revered by the thousands of fans who line the route of this great race across the country. More news from the 2008 Carrera over the next week or so.

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