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OCTOBER 21, 2002

Major work in Mexico

The Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City is just finishing major renovation work in preparation for the return of international motor racing in the middle of November when the CART series arrives for the Telmex Gigante Gran Premio Mexico.

The circuit has not been used for racing since the departure of Formula 1 after the 1992 Mexican GP and its only claim to fame in recent years was when Pope John Paul II held a mass on the race track in 1999.

The success of the CART Grand Prix of Monterrey, however, led promoter Gerry Forsythe to look at expanding operations in Mexico and, in partnership with Mexican entertainment company CIE, his focus turned to revamping the old Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez.

The project, which has been overseen by Australian former racer Ron Dickson, has seen a major rebuild of the circuit the main aim of which has been to create proper drainage and thus stop the development of the bumps which always caused problems in the past. Once this was taken care of, the circuit was completely resurfaced with a couple of corners being reprofiled to improve safety. The notable change is the creation of a lefthanded flick just before the Peraltada Corner, to slow the cars as they go into the famous 180-degree turn. The safety fences around the track have been completely replaced and the pit buildings have been renovated while the crowd capacity has been increased to create 172,000 grandstand seats.

CART expects that race day attendance in November will be somewhere in the region of 300,000 people.

The rebuilding of the track is the latest in a series of upgrades for the facility which was constructed in 1959 thanks to the support of the then Mexican President Adolfo Lopez Mateos (the man who was later in charge of organising the 1968 Olympic Games). The original circuit was named the Autodromo Magdalena Mixhuca and was part of a "Sport City" which included a variety of facilities for other sports.

The track, which is situated 7200ft above sea level, was designed by the city's director of public works Gilberto Valenzuela and was similar in layout to Monza. The first race, a 500 mile touring car event, took place in December 1959 and was won by Pedro Rodriguez in a Volvo with a crowd estimated to be around 100,000. Formula 1 began visiting the track in 1962 and the Mexican GP was part of the World Championship between 1963 and 1970 after which crowd control was deemed impossible. CART was a brief visitor in the early 1980s but it was not until a major rebuild in 1986 that F1 returned. The Grand Prix circus continued to visit Mexico until 1992.

For the moment the plan is just for CART races at the facility but the work which has been completed in recent months could result in the track once again bidding for F1 as the sport continues to look for good venues in the Americas.