The Brazilian Grand Prix has had a history which has swung back and forward between the cities of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, depending on who is the top Brazilian driver of the day. The rise of Emerson Fittipaldi in the late 1960s created the interest for a race in Sao Paulo and in the 1970s Nelson Piquet's success switched the attention to Rio de Janeiro. The city authorities decided to build a race track on reclaimed marshland near the airport, close to the village of Jacarepagua. The track was flat with a long back straight, lined by huge grandstands. Grand Prix racing paid its first visit to the track in 1978 when Piquet was driving for Brabham. Although the race was won by Argentina's Carlos Reutemann, Emerson Fittipaldi finished second in his own Fittipaldi-Cosworth.
In 1981 Fittipaldi retired and with Nelson Piquet a front-runner with the Brabham team, the race left Interlagos and went back to Rio de Janeiro. In March 1981 Piquet took pole position but he chose to run with slick tires on a damp track and so dropped to the midfield, leaving Reutemann to win again, the Williams driver ignoring signs from the pits to move over and let World Champion Alan Jones go ahead. A year later in 1982 the weather was scorchingly hot and the race was a battle between Piquet and Keke Rosberg's Williams. Piquet won but was so tired at the end that he could barely stand on the podium. His Brabham team mate Riccardo Patrese even blacked out from exhaustion and spun wildly out of the race. Months later both Piquet and runner-up Rosberg would be deprived of their results in that race by the governing body of the sport for having raced on cars of less than 580kg.
Piquet won again in 1983 and for the next five seasons he and Alain Prost shared the Brazilian Grand Prix between them, the Frenchman winning in 1984-85-87-88 and Piquet in 1986, on a day when Brazil's new rising star Ayrton Senna followed Piquet home.
When Nelson won his third World Championship title in 1987 the locals celebrated by naming the Jacarepagua race track after him but money was short in Rio and the circuit was put up for sale. In the Spring of 1989 Philippe Streiff had a huge accident while testing at Rio and the circuit safety was called into question. The 1989 race was remarkable as Nigel Mansell won for Ferrari and Grand Prix debutant Johnny Herbert finished fourth in a Benetton, despite being barely able to walk because of leg injuries from a Formula 3000 crash the previous summer.
In 1990, however, the mayor of Sao Paulo decided to fund the rebuilding of the Interlagos circuit and with Senna the big star and Piquet fading the race moved away from Rio de Janeiro. The track was reconfigured as an oval in 1996 and began to host a round of the CART Indycar series. The first race was won by local hero Andre Ribeiro with Paul Tracy, Greg Moore, Juan-Pablo Montoya and Adrian Fernandez all taking turns to win the event. Plans to return Formula 1 to Rio have not been successful. In recent years the track has been named after Nelson Piquet.