CIRCUITS: LATIN AMERICAN MOTOR RACING
Name: Latin American motor racing
Motor racing is big in South America. And it is the same whether you are dealing with the Spanish influence in Argentina or Mexico or the Portuguese mentality in Brazil. The culture of machismo idealizes a strong man, a man who is willing to take risks. A racing driver is a bullfighter, a man who will not compromise. Too often in the history of the sport in Latin America this attitude has led to tragedy. Spectators always wanted to be nearer the cars than everyone else and many of the road races in the old days ended in tragedy. These date back to the 1930s when cars began arriving for the wealthy landowners and merchants. The road races began as disorganized affairs but by 1940 there was sufficient organization for there to be the greatest road race in history: a 5920 mile dash from Buenos Aires, across the pampas and through the Andes to Lima in Peru - and then back again. The International Grand Prix of the North took 13 days and was won by a 29-year-old Argentine called Juan-Manuel Fangio.
In the 1930s there were occasional races in the cities for imported cars and imported drivers. The first was at Gavea, in the hills behind Ipanema in 1934 and was called the Rio de Janeiro Grand Prix. In later years this was won by such well known racers as Hans Stuck Sr and Carlo Pintacuda. In 1936 there was a similar event in Sao Paolo. But in those early years it was road racing which was dominant and that tradition revived after World War II. In Mexico the Carrera Panamericana began in 1950, attracting many of the top names in international motor racing. It was briefly a road of the World Sportscar Championship and its winners included Fangio, Piero Taruffi and Karl Kling. Later the Baja 1000 - a 920-mile dash down the Baja Peninsular from the border town of Tijuana to the town of La Paz - developed but after a number of accidents involving spectators this eventually became an off-road event. A similar race - known as the Bolivian Grand Prix - was a 1200-mile races through the Andes.
In the early 1960s Carlos Reutemann cut his teeth in the wildly dangerous turismo de carretera road races in Argentina and as recently as 1988 these races were still taking place. That year 12 people were killed when a Dodge driven by Edgar Caparros somersaulted into a crowd at Necochea, on the Atlantic coast, 250 miles south of Buenos Aires.
More controlled events did develop in the 1940s but once again these featured mainly imported machinery and international drivers. Buenos Aires hosted international races on the roads in Palermo Park in the city. There was a second event held in the town of Rosario, 200 miles inland, and this formed the framework for a winter championship which became known as the Temporada Series. It enjoyed particular prominence in the 1940s with regular events in Buenos Aires, Rosario, Mar del Plata and the lesser-known Rafaela and Costanero. Later there would be races at the Calaban airfield in Cordoba and on the Autodromo General San Martin in Mendoza. In 1960 the Cordoba track hosted a Formula Libre "Grand Prix" in 1960, won by Maurice Trintignant in a Cooper-Climax. There was a similar event on a 3.4-mile circuit in Brasilia. Opened in 1974, this hosted a non-championship event called the Presidente Medici GP, named after the then Brazilian dictator General Emilio Medici (who was overthrown six weeks later). The race involved 12 Grand Prix cars - which had been shipped up after the Brazilian GP - and was won by Emerson Fittipaldi in his McLaren with Jody Scheckter second in a Tyrrell. The race was watched by 85,000 spectators but was never repeated and the track has held only local events since then. It was bought in 1996 by Nelson Piquet and for a while there was talk of major upgrading work.
Political instability and intermittent financial crises disrupted development and by the 1960s the Temporada had been surpassed as the premier winter series by the Tasman Cup in Australia and New Zealand. The Temporada survived with a variety of different regulations over the years but finally died out in the mid-1970s.
By then promising South Americans had begun to go to Europe in large numbers, following the success of Emerson Fittipaldi and Carlos Reutemann. The really big stars did not stay in South America. Fittipaldi was followed by Carlos Pace, Nelson Piquet, Ayrton Senna and a host of others and the annual migration continues today.
Those who did not depart stayed behind and the Codasur Formula 2 Championship developed in the early 1980s. This used street circuits in Punta del Este and Colonia in Uruguay, at Florianapolis, on the Brazilian coast south of Sao Paolo, and at Puerto Iguazu, the very north of the Brazil, close to the Iguazu Falls. There were permanent facilities as well such as the Taruma circuit, near Porto Allegre in Brazil, a sweeping anti-clockwise 1.87 miles, built in 1971. This was joined by others such as the Autodromo Martin Miguel de Guermes at Salta, in the shadow of the Andes in Argentina. Other tracks which were used included Goiania International, the El Zonda track at San Jose in Argentina, and Cascavel and Guapore in Brazil. There were occasional forays further afield notably to the Tocamcipa track in Bogota, Colombia.
The Codasur series featured locally-built machinery and there was no serious expansion until 1987 when it was decided to adopt international Formula 3 regulations. As the series developed so did a series of new circuits including the Argentine tracks at the Parque de la Velocidad in San Jorge, the Aldea Romana track at Bahia Blanca and the Autodromo in Parana. There was the Autodromo Victor Borrat Fabini in Montevideo, Uruguay and a variety of Brazilian facilities including the Autodromo Raul Boesel in Curitiba and tracks in Rio Cuarto, Londrina, Concordia, Posadas and Resistancia.
Chile too developed a couple of its own circuits at Las Vizcachas in Santiago and at Temuco. There were also new street tracks such as Piriapolis in Uruguay. The result of this expansion was that young drivers tended to stay in Brazil longer before heading abroad to compete in Formula 3 in Europe. This group included the likes of Christian Fittipaldi, Ricardo Zonta, Helio Castro Neves and Bruno Junqueira. The expansion also resulted in drivers from new countries emerging in the 1990s with the appearance on the international scene of Colombia's Juan-Pablo Montoya and Uruguay's Gonzalo Rodriguez.
Before Montoya, Colombia enjoyed a brief moment of glory in 1971 when there were a pair of international Formula 2 races in Bogota - won by Jo Siffert and Alan Rollinson - but then the drug wars plunged the country into relative obscurity.
Peru has very little racing but for a long time there was the annual Peru Six Hours on a daunting road circuit at Santa Rosa to the north of Lima. The road was built alongside the Pacific Ocean in preparation for the construction of a major holiday resort but the ocean currents were judged to be too dangerous and so the development was canceled - leaving the road behind.
Venezuela hosted a couple of major sportscar races on a street track in Caracas in the 1950s with the winners including Fangio, Stirling Moss, Peter Collins and Phil Hill. Although Venezuelan Johnny Cecotto reached F1 in the mid-1980s he spent most of his time in Italy and so enthusiasm for the sport did not develop as much as might have been expected. There were suggestions in 1991 that a street race in Caracas might be revived but this never happened.
Guyana hosted a couple of big races in the 1960s at the Atkinson Field airport at Timehri, 25 miles from Georgetown.