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 Carrera Panamericana

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Posts : 1108
Join date : 2011-02-20
Location : Morelia
Humor : Ironic

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PostCarrera Panamericana

The Carrera Panamericana was a border-to-border sports car racing event on open roads in Mexico similar to the Mille Miglia and Targa Florio in Italy. Running for five consecutive years from 1950 to 1954, it was widely held by contemporaries to be the most dangerous race of any type in the world. It has since been resurrected by Pedro Dávila and Eduardo de Leon as a classic road rally, this year from Huatulco to Zacatecas. The following photos are at their stop-over in Morelia 24/25 October 2011. Catch them early Tuesday morning as they restart and head out down Av. Madero.

Photos courtesy of J. Boyer
Carrera Panamericana Panam_Collages_1

Carrera Panamericana Panam_collages_2
History of the Panamericana

After the Mexican section of the Pan-American Highway was completed in 1950, a nine-stage, six-day race across the country was organized by the Mexican government to celebrate its achievement and to attract international business. The 1950 race ran almost entirely along the new highway which crossed the country from north to south for a total distance of over 2,096 miles (3,373 kilometers).

The first of five annual races began in May 1950 and was entered by racers from all over the world representing virtually every motor sport: Formula One, sports cars, rallying, stock cars, endurance racing, hill climbing, and drag racing. Because it started at the border with Texas, it was especially attractive to all types of American race drivers from Indy cars to NASCAR. Bill France, the founder of NASCAR, was there for the first race as well as later races. The Mexican government's representatives worked closely with the American Automobile Association and other motorsports groups in the United States to organize and promote the event which was limited to stock sedans with five seats. Piero Taruffi and Felice Bonetto, both Italian F1 drivers, entered a pair of Alfa Romeo coupes especially constructed for the event. However, many of the 132 competitors were ordinary unsponsored citizens from the United States, Mexico, and elsewhere.

The first race ran from north to south beginning in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, across the international border from El Paso, Texas, and finishing in Ciudad Cuauhtémoc, Chiapas (formerly known as El Ocotal) on the Guatemala-Mexico border opposite from La Mesilla, Guatemala. At least one stage was run each day for six consecutive days. The elevation changes were significant: from 328 feet (100 m) to 10,482 feet (3,195 m) above sea level, requiring among other modifications the rejetting of carburetors to cope with thinner air. Most the race was run between 5,000 feet (1,500 m) and 8,000 feet (2,400 m).

The first four places were won by American cars and American drivers. The winner, Hershel McGriff, drove an Oldsmobile 88 at an average speed of 142 km/h (88 mph). Though less powerful, the car was substantially lighter than its big Lincoln and Cadillac competitors, meaning that it would eventually pull away from them on the steep, winding course. The car (which had cost McGriff only $1,900, when the winner's purse was $17,000), had another advantage in its weight - it was much easier to stop, meaning that McGriff finished the race on his original brake shoes when the big cars were re-shoeing every night. The reason that this was so important was that neither McGriff nor his co-driver were capable of even the most basic maintenance to the car. McGriff also noted that the control afforded by his manual gearbox gave him a significant advantage the last day on the gravel roads in Chiapas, when he finally passed the Cadillac leading the race. The best placed European car was an Alfa Romeo sedan driven by Italian driver, Felice Bonetto.

Due to safety concerns, the race was cancelled after the 1955 Le Mans disaster, although the President Adolfo Ruiz Cortines announced only that the race's original task of publicizing the highway was 'complete'. The cancellation was unavoidable given that cars of the period were of a high-speed, low-safety design, and drivers of a win-at-all-costs mentality. Only a third of entrants typically finished the race, and unlike more compact circuits, the long stage sections were impossible to secure entirely, making it possible for crashes to linger for several hours before being noticed. 27 people had died during the five years of the Panamericana, giving it one of the highest mortality rates per race in the history of motorsport, primarily because during the years the race was held, automobile racing had undergone an amazing technical transformation to emerge as an advanced science. The speeds had almost doubled as a result, but safety controls remained static and competitors, spectators and safety control personnel alike became casualties.

Despite being abandoned, the race would not be immediately forgotten. Despite their models being small and often quite underpowered (especially with regard to American and other German opponents) Porsche enjoyed some success in the race, mainly class wins, which was a testament to the reliability engendered by the Volkswagen Beetle ancestry of their cars. Famously, a 550 Spyder won the Small Sports Car category in 1953. Later, some Porsche road cars were named Carrera after this race (in the same theme as the Targas named after the Targa Florio), and in 2009 the company shipped the Panamera, a 4 door touring car with a name inspired by Panamerica.

Revival of the Panamericana

The race was resurrected in 1988 by Pedro Dávila and Eduardo de León Camargo, and runs a 7-day, 2,000-mile (3,200 km) route aping some of the original course. It is run, unusually, with official backing on special closed stages of the public road network and fast transit sections through central Mexico at speeds approaching 160 mph (260 km/h). 80 cars compete in 10 classes, sorted regarding age and authenticity; virtually any car with a classic bodyshell is eligible. The bulk of entries are provided by 1950s and '60s American stock cars; the most popular shape is the 1953 Studebaker Champion Regal Starliner, designed by Raymond Loewy, because of its exceptional aerodynamics (this is best proven by the fact that as of 2007, of 20 post-1988 races, 16 have been won by Studebakers). Other common European entries include Alfa Romeo Giuliettas, Jaguar E-types, Porsche 356s & 911s. Rarer cars included Saab 96s, Volvo PV544s, and Jaguar MkII saloons.

However, despite the generally aged appearance of the cars, often they conceal underpinnings more closely related to modern NASCAR entries. Tuned V8 engines of more than 500 PS (370 kW; 490 hp) are common, especially in the American cars, and the cars are often created especially for the race and ineligible anywhere else. Even less modified cars often have nonstandard brake and coolant upgrades to help them survive the punishing course. Roll cages are standard fit, and drivers and navigators are required to label their helmets and respective sides of the roof with their blood types.

The above is a clue as to what separates the Panamericana from other modern road races; it remains extremely dangerous. Mechanical attrition for the more classic cars often leads to burst brake lines and overheated engines, but crashes are also common on the winding roads. In 1999, Bernardo Obregón and his co-driver Arnaud Alda were killed after their Mustang left the road during the Mil Cumbres mountain stage. In 2006, a 19-year-old co-driver was left in a coma after his Jaguar E-Type Roadster crashed more than 100 ft (30 m) into a pine forest; Rusty Ward, another competitor, rolled a Studebaker from a bridge into a river, having finished the event in a similar fashion the previous year. It is obvious, therefore, that the race should not be classed with road-rallies in the style of the recreated Mille Miglia; the race is competitive with no speed restrictions on the closed-road sections.

The 2006 event started in Veracruz on the Gulf of Mexico coast, pulling in at Mexico City's CP circuit as a curtain raiser for the Champ Car race, and stayed nights at the old colonial cities of Puebla, Querétaro, Morelia, Aguascalientes and Zacatecas, with the finish at Monterrey. It was won by Gabriel Perez and Angelica Fuentes in a yellow 1959 Ford Coupe, the first win for a woman and a first for the 'Turismo Production' class. Though competed mostly by amateurs, Jo Ramirez of the McLaren F1 team competed a Volvo P1800 amongst other star drivers.

In a retro step, Cadillac entered a replica of the 1954 Series 62 coupe that a Colorado Springs dealer loaned to "five ordinary guys from Chicago", in order to revive a half-century old duel with Lincoln. The original rag-tag team won the last two stages, and finished third in class (a Lincoln Capri won the Large Stock Class). The newer car, built in-house by GM's Performance Division Garage, preproduction trim shop and show-car paint department, was built from an identical coupe hauled from somewhere within Cadillac's own inventory. The 331-cubic-inch 270 hp (200 kW) V8 was enlarged to 398-cubic-inches, with higher 10.5:1 compression bringing output to 375 hp (280 kW) and 400 lb·ft (540 N·m) of torque, and certain safety improvements included. The car was reunited with Blu Plemons, the co-driver of the original (the driver, Keith Anderson, was killed in practice for the 1957 Indy 500) at the starting line. Among the nine other entries in the "Original Pan-Am" class were four Lincolns, including a 1949 model that contested the original Pan-Am.

Also importantly, 2006 saw the debut of a 'modern' category, with the sole entry of a Lotus Elise ('Chica Loca') run by Rachel Larratt. This class, called Unlimited, allows machines manufactured after 1990 to compete in the race. Controversially, in recognition of the high value of some of the supercars thus allowed to run, organisers of the race foresee the need to allow case-by-case exceptions from the race's normal safety equipment rules. The class is intended to raise the race's profile beyond a market elderly enough to recall the original four races, to ensure the survival of the event. Also, it is a reflection of the increasing scarcity of eligible vehicles, and of the effect of modern rallies like the Gumball 3000.

The 2007 event, according to Eduardo de León Camargo (President emeritus of La Carrera Panamericana), was the largest recreation to date. More than 100 teams (20 more than the usual limit) participated in seven days of racing from October 26 to November 1 inclusive, with an additional pre-qualifying stage held outside Oaxaca on Thursday October 25. Cars competed in the usual ten classes along a 3,100-kilometre (1,900 mi) course starting in Oaxaca. From there, the route led the convoy in day-long sections consecutively between Tehuacán, Puebla, Querétaro, Morelia, Aguascalientes, Zacatecas and Nuevo Laredo.

As the 20th anniversary of the race's recreation, 2007 saw Mr. de León gave thanks to the committee which has for 19 years organised the race, and the presence of President of the Mexican Motorsports Federation, José Sánchez Jassen, and President of the Mexican Rally Commission, Rafael Machado. During the conference announcing the route, special mention was reserved for the efforts of Mexican law enforcement in general and of the Highway Patrol in particular, under the command of Comandante Julio Cesar Tovar, and to thank Mexican Federal, State and Municipal authorities for collaborating to ensure smooth running of a challenging project.

Read full article with lists of winners at:

"There is no route out of the maze. The maze shifts as you move through it because it is alive. "
— Philip K. Dick (VALIS)
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