May 1, 2010
May Day! May Day!
**CARRERA 2010 REGISTRATION CLOSED
Eduardo “Lalo” Leon, President of La Carrera Panamericana, announced yesterday from Mexico City that the event is full, and that no more than 35 North American entrants may be registered. Mr. Leon indicated that he has already signed up 41 Europeans, including a recent WRC champion, and 27 Mexican entries, including 11 cars sponsored by Televisa, the largest media conglomerate in the Spanish-speaking world.
Last year, the Organizing Committee signed up 107 entrants. Of those, 100 actually started the event. Sadly, one crashed out the day before the race began, only one block from the parc fermé.
Because the permits issued by the Mexican government to close the highways for a rally are only for a finite period of time, the event is (theoretically) limited to a total of 100 racecars and rescue vehicles.
As announced last month, the start of the event will be Tuxtla Gutíerrez, the capital of the state of Chíapas. Tuxtla has been the traditional starting point of the original race (1951-1954) race and this, the revival event. Popular with the veteran racers, it’s a modern city of over 600,000 friendly folks, mostly of Mayan descent. It is also close to the old colonial capital of San Cristóbol de las Casas, a real gem, and some nice jungle rivers to explore.
Day 1: After the ceremonial start in Tuxtla, at 8:00 AM on Friday, October 22, the cars will race three hundred and twenty-five miles up the last lengthy, original stretch of the original Pan-American Highway to the first overnight stop. Oaxaca is a beautiful colonial city known for its Indian arts and crafts, plus the pre-Columbian ruins of Monte Albán. Hernán Córtez de Monroy y Pizarro founded Oaxaca in 1517. The main square, the Zócalo, and cathedral, is the usual ending and starting point for the event Day 1 and 2. Do not expect, however, to find a statue of Córtez here or elsewhere in Mexico.
Day 2: After Oaxaca, the race will stop for the night in Puebla, one of the largest and most impressive cities in Mexico. The colonial “centro,” Zocálo, and cathedral are monumental. On the way to Puebla, however, the race will pay a brief visit to Tehuacán, where thousands of locals will crowd the main square to welcome the racers. If you have never had your fifteen minutes of fame, this is it!
Day 3: From Puebla, it is expected that the Carrera will circumvent Mexíco City on the new bypass around the capital. After running speed stages outside of San Juan del Rio, it will stop for the night in nearby Querétaro, about 130 miles north of Mexico. Querétaro is another impressive colonial city with a thriving manufacturing base. The Carrera cars will run laps on the sports car track just outside of town, before stopping to “meet and greet” in the handsome main square.
Day 4: The beautiful capital of the Mexican state of Michoacán, Morelia, is the next overnight stop for the event. This the first time in several years the event has visited Morelia. To enter this city, the competitors will likely race down the 330 curves from the top of the mountains on the famous road called Mil Cumbres (one thousand mountain peaks). This must be one of the great tarmac rally roads in the world.
The president of Mexico hails from this neck of the woods, and his brother may be running the event again this year. Everyone, regardless of religious inclination, should check out the interior of the cathedral in Morelia. It’s a true masterpiece.
Day 5: The famous village of Tequila and the second city of Mexico, Guadalajara, will are this day’s destinations. Apparently, the race organizers have a multi-year deal with the distillers and purveyors of the agave version of white lightning.
Day 6: From Guadalajara it’s on to Aguascalientes, the railroad capital of Mexico, for the night. Maybe the racers will be treated to another visit to the railroad museum and the impressive locomotive factory and some regional folk dancing.
Day 7: The seventh and last night will be spent only a few more miles up the road in Zacatecas, one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Zacatecas, which boasted the largest silver mine in the Americans for many decades, is a fitting place to end the event.
Did you know that there are more people from the state of Zacatecas living in the United States than live in the city of Zacatecas, population around 120,000? Thanks for that factoid, Wiki.
Missing from this year’s route is Mexico City and the traditional finish line (“meta”) in Nuevo Laredo. Running a speed stage on the main freeway in the capital city of twenty-two million was pretty cool, but it’s just about impossible to find suitable hotels, plus parking and paddock space for 100 racecars and an equal number of service trucks, car haulers, and official vehicles in the nation’s capital.
Nuevo Laredo, across the Rio Bravo river from Texas, may have been dropped from the route for concerns about public safety. It’s a border town in an area suffering a serious surge in conflict among the drug cartels. Veteran racers will miss, however, the warm welcome and hospitality they always receive in Nuevo Laredo. From Zacatecas, the band of norteamericanos must drive another 426 miles across the arid plateaus to return to the border and Uncle Sugar.
Returning racers may also miss the spectacular route to Jalpan and the warm welcome in San Luís de Potosí. Maybe next year?
**CARS OF LA CARRERA
The list of competitors, with photos of their cars, is available on the official web site www.lacarrerapanamericana.com.mx.
The most popular class is Historic “C” – American V8s manufactured from 1955 through 1965. Even our European cousins recognize there is no substitute for the low-end torque of a V8 engine in the mountains of Mexico.
Within the Historic C class, the hot car is a ’63/’64 Falcon. “A lowly Falcon,” you ask incredulously? Yes, but a special Falcon. Ford Motor Company made a few “Rally” or “Monte Carlo” Falcons back in the mid-‘60s to compete in Europe. The ‘64 version featured the new 289 c.i. high performance V8 generating 305 HP, aided by two small four-barrel carburetors. In rally trim this Falcon Sprint weighed only 2156 pounds because it was clad mostly in fiberglass body panels. The car was homolgated by the FIA, so it may compete in the modern Pan Am.
However, the version of the Falcon seen in the Pan Am these days sports not only fiberglass body panels, but a modern 302+ engine, a large four-barrel carb, and updated suspension and drive train parts that would never pass FIA inspection. But, hey, that’s the Pan Am, where we can have our cake and eat it, too! At the same time the Rally Falcons appeared, the race Organizers inexplicably lowered the minimum weight for Historic C cars to carry a four-barrel from 3100 to 2800 pounds. Humm, was this just a coincidence? In 2006, one of these cars, driven by a Swedish team, finished in second place, narrowly missing an overall win. And the rush to Dearborn was on!
Where is Chevrolet in all of this? Except maybe for the Corvette, GM did not make a good candidate for road racing in the ‘60s until the Camaro came along. It is always possible that a ’65 Chevelle (or Corvette) with a 396 engine or a 2820 pound Trans-Am Camaro will pull up the starting line to race against the plethora of Mustangs and Falcons. Heck, this year it seems we have a (faux?) Cobra racing in Historic C. (Wonder how long it will last?)
Another class growing in popularity is Historic A+. (Apparently, these cars did very well in school, and were awarded the “+”!) This class was created three or four years ago for four-cylinder cars, with 2000 cc engines or less, made from 1966 through 1972. Owners may also run modern replacement engines of up to 1600 cc’s. Volvos seemed to be a popular choice, along with BMW 2002s, Datsun 510s, and Alfas. A Porsche 914 even showed up last year.
Readers should also note that the same model car made after 1965, or in the case of A+ after 1972, that is basically the same as the 1965, or 1972, model may participate in this event. Examples are: ‘66 Mustang, ‘66-67 Corvette, and ‘66-68 Porsche 911/912, or ’73 BMW 2002.
Under-enrolled classes are Sports Mayor and Sports Menor, large and small sports cars made before 1955 or a rough “replicant” of one. Just about any reliable car in these two classes, assuming a mildly competent driver, that finishes the event, will be on or near the podium. Any resemblance between these highly modified classes and the cars that ran in the original Pan Am is purely coincidental. In fact, a Mercedes from this era may use a modern BMW racing engine, as long as it is an inline six. Since few people are willing to risk a original car from this period, so LCP has cars may look old but run more modern components.
The Original Pan Am class enjoyed a welcome rebirth a few years ago. It’s great to see the big ’54 Lincolns and Oldsmobiles run the Pan Am Highway looking much like they did in 1954. However, much to the chagrin of the purists, they too are evolving into highly modified racecars. But the Organizers want all cars to be safe, dependable, and fast enough to keep up with the pace. As a result, these cars get a wink and a nod in tech. After all, this is not a vintage race, and who can keep a Hyrdramatic transmission in those old Lincolns and Olds running for 2000 tough miles through the mountains?
Historic B – six cylinders cars, 1955-1965 – is dominated by Porsche 911s, of course even if E-type Jags and their co-pilotos are sexier. In Historic A, several Porsche 365s normally join the fray, and surprisingly, 912s are not to be seen.
The fastest classes, Turismo Mayor and Turismo Production, especially the latter, are being pressed to stay ahead of some Historic C and B cars, especially the Rally Falcons, and occasionally a 911. The Mayor cars, like the popular ’53-’54 Studebaker Commanders use 355 c.i. 500 HP Chevy engines, while the Production cars are limited to 305 c.i.. engines. To keep this class competitive with Historic C, these cars were allowed additional modifications a few years ago.
Why are ’63-‘64 Studebakers so popular? Low wind resistance, compared to the flying bricks of this era, is the primary reason, plus now, it’s the aura of winning. But because the Organizers have reduced the wide-open straight stages to a few miles on the freeway, a low drag coefficient is less important now than it was in the early years.
Actually, the original Studebaker V8 232 engine (1952-54) was a heavy, low compression unit, and the car’s frame had a reputation for being weak. Thus the car was vastly underpowered compared to the Lincolns, Olds, and Cadillacs of that era. Now, however, with Chevy power and modern race suspensions, steering, and chassis, the Lowery-designed Studes are the marque to beat.
The Studes and the other cars in Turismo Mayor are 100% racecars, not unlike NASCAR, with modern front clips and truck trailing arms or better in the back. Some have trouble making the 3300 pound minimum weight limit and end up carrying ballast.
Should future competitors anticipate changes in the classification system? Probably not. With the advent of the A+ class for cars made between 1966-1972, we may see the other historic classes expanded to include cars like the “first gen” Camaro, but steps will be taken, one presumes, to limit engine size.
Some observers have suggested creating classes for real, authentic vintage racecars, which are so popular in the States and Europe. But for the time being, hot-rod Lincolns, Fiberglass Falcons, faux Shelbys, dependable Porsches, and Lowery Studes and the like will continue to be the most popular choices and the rolling stock of the event.
Ed. Note: this review, which surely left some classes out, causing the proud owners to be agitated and perhaps even despondent, was written by a frustrated Chevy guy, who is not willing to concede the field to the “Fal’coons” and “Mules.” The Bow-Ties will return! Never make the mistake, however, of assuming that the author has any privileged insight into the rationale and machinations, past and future, of the Organizing Committee.
**THE DRIVERS -- PIERRE DE THOISY RETURNS
Rumors about the retirement of Pierre de Thoisy, like Mark Twain’s demise, were greatly exaggerated. Pierre will return to the Carrera this year in a Mercedes 300SL, aiming to win yet another Pan Am championship. The last time he tried this particular car was 2005, when he suffered an off-road excursion in his BMW (!) powered 300SL Gullwing the very first day and narrowly failed to make up all the lost time before the race ended. With over 400 endurance races under his belt, Pierre is probably the most experienced racer to tackle the Carrera – winning the championship six or seven times since 1996 in a Studebaker Commander.
Pierre will be challenged by everyone’s favorites, Doug Mockett and the queen of the prom, Angélica Fuentes, in their ’54 Olds. Mr. Leon has indicated that the WRC champion from three years or four years ago may be driving one of Mats Hammarlund’s cars. Apparently, “the Stig” may not be returning to defend his championship this year. Mexican challengers may include a Mexican NASCAR driver or two. Rumor also has it that Bill Beilhaz, who won the championship in 2008, is planning a return.
Racers and spectators who need rooms for La Carrera should contact Monica Grossmann at firstname.lastname@example.org or her daughter Karen at email@example.com. Rooms are $150 per night. Each entry receives one double room for the eight nights of the race: 22-28 October. If a competitor arrives earlier in Tuxtla Gutierrez, like with the Coyote Convoy; needs an extra room for the service crew, or even decides to stay longer in Zacatecas, the extra rooms should be booked with Ms. Grossmann. The office in Mexico City also has a U.S. phone number: +1-310-360-6959.
**THE COYOTE CONVOY
Each year many of the competitors driving and towing down to the race from the U.S. and Canada gather in Laredo, Texas, to cross the border together as the Coyote Convoy. For the past four years, the convoy has stopped for two nights in the pristine colonial city of San Miguel de Allende to relax and raise money for local children’s charities, before heading down to Tuxtla Gutierrez.
San Miguel 2009, featuring a Nova, Mini, and a beautiful Rally Falcon, and an old gringo.
This year the convoy will gather in Laredo, Texas on the evening of Friday, October 15. However, if a rig must be brokered across the border using the services of a Mexican Customs Agent, then the crew should arrive early on October 14 to complete the necessary paperwork. The importation process starts by the filing of a form with the Mexican Federation of Auto Sports (F.M.A.D. or a.k.a. FEMADAC). Go to www.femadac.org.mx and click on “tramites,” temporary import rally permits. Or try: http://www.femadac.org.mx/pdf/FORMA_IMPORTACION_RALLIES_ingles.pdf
Participation in the convoy is also open to Europeans, Pan Am spectators, and even tourists who want to drive down to San Miguel, Tuxtla Gutierrez, or other locations along the route. There is no charge to tag along, but participants are expected to stay in the same hotels in Laredo and along the route to keep the caravan organized. Hotel reservations from Laredo to Tuxtla will be made during the summer.
Interested? Please let me know: firstname.lastname@example.org.
THE PAN AM TOUR
Because of the nature of the event—racing on public highways all day for hundreds of miles—the event is difficult for spectators. The best option is to rent a car and experienced driver, or take the Pan Am Tour, with Rosa Mondragón. Rosa, the former PR director for the race, takes 4-6 spectators with her for an exclusive insider view of the event. Hang on, because she is also an experienced rally car driver and Pan Am navigator. She will get you close to the action and to important people. Contact her at email@example.com.
CO-DRIVERS AND NAVIGATORS
Got some dough and want an experience of a lifetime? Rent the co-pilotos seat in a Carrera car. The normal arrangement is for the co-driver to pay the entry fee, and the driver/owner to supply the car and support it, but everyone is free to negotiate their own deal. Much depends on the aspirations of the driver and co-driver, plus the category of the car.
Interested? Please write: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Want someone to tow your racecar to Mexico? Let me know and I will hook you up with a hauler, like Mike Mefford from Auburn, California, or Duane Wilcoxon from Washington State. It is far more challenging to arrange this service from the East Coast, however.
Gerie Bledsoe, Chevy II Nova, Car #395
North American Coordinator
La Carrera Panamericana and Chihuahua Express
677 Highland Ave., Half Moon Bay, CA 94019
650-726-9890 (home office)