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Carrera Panamericana

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The Carrera Panamericana was (and is again) a sports car racing event on open roads in Mexico, similar to the Mille Miglia and Targa Florio in Italy. It ran from a southern Mexican west-coast city towards Texas. It counted towards the World Sportscar Championships. Running from 1950 to 1955, it was widely held by contemporaries to be the most dangerous race of any type in the world.


1950 - 1955

After the Mexican section of the Panamerican Highway was completed in 1950, a multi-stage race across the country was established to celebrate this feat. It was contested by a handful of amateurs and several American factory teams.

In 1952, the Mercedes-Benz 300SL of Karl Kling/Hans Klenk was hit by a vulture in the windscreen, injuring the codriver. The screen was fitted with additional vertical protection bars, and the team continued to win.

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. Later on, they named some of their cars Carrera, after this race. (In the same theme as the Targa, after the Targa Florio).

Due to safety concerns, the high speed race was cancelled after the 1955 Le Mans disaster. This 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 course was impossible to secure entirely, making it possible for crashes to linger for several hours before being noticed.


1988 Onwards

The race was resurrected in 1988 by Eduardo León (2006 is the 18th retrospective year), and runs a 7-day, 2,000 mile 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 160mph. 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. 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 500PS 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.

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 2006, a 19-year-old co-driver was left in a coma after his Jaguar E-Type Roadster crashed more than 100ft 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.

2006 Race

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 Puebla, Queretaro, Morelia, Aguascalientes and Zacatecas, with the finish at modern 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 1964 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 270hp V8 was enlarged to 398-cubic-inches, with higher 10.5:1 compression bringing output to 375hp and 400lb/ft 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 entry of a 'modern' category, with the sole entry of a Lotus Elise run by Rachel Larrat. It is thought that this category will herald a new 'Supercar' class which will allow modern machines to compete in the event, in the same theme as other road-rallies.

Winners

Winning Drivers/Co-Drivers Car Used
1988 Eduardo Morales/Gael Rodriguez Ford
1989 Guillermo Rojas/Alberto Rojas Jr. Mercury
1990 Alan de Cadenet/Gordon Currie Jaguar
1991 Jon Ward/Shirley Ward Kurtis
1992 Peter Frank/Mark Williams Mercury
1993 Carlos Anaya/Eduardo Rodriguez Studebaker
1994 Carlos Anaya/Eduardo Rodriguez Studebaker
1995 Kevin Ward/Kimberlee Augustine Studebaker
1996 Carlos Anaya/Eduardo Rodriguez Studebaker
1997 Phillipe Lemoine/Pierre de Thoisy Studebaker
1998 Phillipe Lemoine/Pierre de Thoisy Studebaker
1999 Pierre de Thoisy/Jean Pierre Gontier Studebaker
2000 Pierre de Thoisy/Jaques Tropenat Studebaker
2001 Pierre de Thoisy/Carlos Macaya Studebaker
2002 Doug Mockett/Alan Baillie Oldsmobile
2003 Pierre de Thoisy/Pierre Schockaert Studebaker
2004 Juan Carlos Sarmiento/Raúl Villareal Studebaker
2005 Juan Carlos Sarmiento/Raúl Villareal Studebaker
2006 Gabriel Perez/Angelica Fuentes Ford

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