The Infamous Handicapper's Edition
**LA CARRERA BOOKED FOR 2010?
Eduardo "Lalo" Leon, President Emeritus of La Carrera Panamericana, continues to report that the grid is full for 2010. Only 31 entries from North America were accepted and two have withdrawn, dropping US and Canadian entries to new low.
At one time, Mr. Leon was boasting of 118 entries or more, but today only 109 entries are posted on the web site www.lacarrerapanamericana.com.mx and a few of these are bound to be no shows.
The unofficial tally by country is:
Mexico – 50 (muy bueno!)
USA -- 25
Canada -- 4
Central and South America – 0
Europe – 30 -- The countries represented, in no particular order:
France – 3
Belgium – 5
Netherlands – 1
Finland -- 2
Sweden -- 2
Germany -- 10
Swiss – 3
Austria – 1
Italy – 1
Spain – 1
Please note that the entries on the web site may not be complete or totally accurate. The assignment of countries in some instances is somewhat arbitrary, too.
According to one car builder, who has a LCP championship trophy in his garage, any one of eleven drivers could win this year's event. Several former champions are returning in Turismo Mayor, the top class, including Carlos Anaya (MX), Bill Beilharz (USA), Doug Mockett (USA), and Pierre de Thoisy (FR). The sentimental favorites must also include Paco Marquez and Araceli Ramirez Islas in their Hudson. Clearly, these two have the heart if not the machinery to claim victory!
Bill Beilharz will be driving his rebuilt “Batmobile” Studebaker that won the event two years ago. Carlos Anaya, our favorite doughboy (he is a baker by trade), is returning after five years but with two or three years of Mexican NASCAR racing under his belt. He will be driving an LT2, a fiberglass Mexican roadster, looks sorta like a Ferrari, designed for the 1955 Pan Am, which was canceled. Of course, it will be a modern racing machine underneath, with an excellent weight to power ratio.
Pierre de Thoisy, who driven in 400 endurance races and has seven LCP championship trophies, will pilot one of two Mercedes 300 Gullwings in the event, loaded with BMW racing engines, which are—strangely—allowed by rule. Pierre makes driving the Carrera looks easy because he is so smooth and consistent -- a lesson others could learn, even former champs.
Other strong contenders include Harri Rovannpera, a Finnish driver with mucho experience in the World Rally Championship, driving a Studebaker. And there is Jochen Mass, a Formula 1 and endurance driver, who will be somewhat handicapped by driving a ’65 Mustang in Historic C. Mass drove in 114 Formula 1 races in his career. After leaving F-1, he had a successful career in sports cars and endurance racing.
We should not forget other contenders, such as Gabriel Perez (Mex.), Marc Devis (Belg.), and Jorge Zardain, another highly experience Mexican NASCAR driver, who was awesome running in Exhibition last year. Missing this year will be Stig Blomqvist, the old WRC champ, who won the Pan Am last year, but Ralf Christensson will carry the Swedish flag this year in a Volvo, not a Falcon. Of course, the glamour boy, Stars Stugemo, will not be running his Studebaker this year, much to the disappointment of some co-drivers and hundreds of Mexican “mamacitas.” Relax, ladies, Lars said he is planning a return.
Again, with so many excellent drivers, the race will be won by the car and crew who has the most luck when it comes to “mechanicals” or a misplaced flock of sheep or other impediment on the road.
Sports Menor (sports cars under two liters) – my favorites are Bob Gett and Bob Paltrow in their beautiful little Alfa, but you must be impressed by the trophies collected by the Mexican team of Garcia and Rodriquez.
Sports Major – Lucky Pierre should dominate.
Historic A (four cylinder, 1955-1965) – Rob Curry (USA) should do well here in his 356 given his experience in the Carrera and the Chihuahua Express.
Historic A+ (four cylinder 1966-1972) -- Nine cars will start in Historic A+ this year, making it a popular class. Taz Harvey (CA) in his little Datsun 510 will probably surprise a lot of people, but Martin Lauber (CA) will be on the podium again this year, too, along with the Mexican hero, Jo Ramirez, the former coordinator (crew chief?) of the McLaren team in F1 (1984-2001).
Historic B (six cylinders, 1955-1965) -- 911s dominate this class, and there are nine of them registered, but look for the team of Gunter Sundag (GER) and Barbara Hernandez Moreno (MX) to do well in their Mercedes 230SL. Barbara, originally from Queretaro, now living in Texas, is well on her way to becoming another outstanding navigator, in the mold of Angelica Fuentes, and Gunter, with a couple of Pan Am races under this belt, is confident and determined.
Historic C (eight cylinders, 1955-1965) – the “Ford class.” Thierry de Bosque, who posted some awesome times in the Chihuahua Express in March, driving a Mustang prepared by Todd Landon, must be considered a favorite. Of course, Bill Shanahan in his Rally Falcon, will be in the mix as well, but everyone will be watching the aforementioned Jochen Mass in his Mustang. There are 15-16 Mustangs in this class, six Ford Falcons, followed by a couple of Chevy’s, 1 Dodge Dart, and an eight cylinder Opel. How about a separate class for ‘Stangs and Falcons, and another one (C-) for everyone else? J
Original Pan Am -- last but not least is the class for "original" Pan Am cars (1940-1954). While the line between this group and Historic C has been eroded over the years, it's always fun watching the big two-ton Lincolns and Oldsmobiles run. Expect Carson Scheller, a grizzled LCP vet and bull spunk vendor, and John and Chrislana Gregory to dominate this class again. Brad Kaplan will also be pressing hard. We will miss Carson’s lovely co-piloto and daughter, Lauren, this year.
Yes, maybe I skipped a couple of classes, but I did not forget them.
We cannot close this section without mentioning what some say is the “better half” of each cockpit team – the co-pilotos, such as Angelia Fuentes, Barbara Hernandez Moreno, Linda Robertson, Chrislana Gregory, Christine Haas, Veronica Z, Ute Otten, Lois, and one of the most beautiful, elegant women to slip into or out of racing suit, Elke Middledorp. With beautiful and talented co-pilotos like these, who needs a Maserati or two for distraction?
Finally, we will miss many old and dear friends who for whatever reason will not be with us in Mexico this year. Let’s hope they find a way to share our passion vicariously in 2010 via the Internet and return to Mexico in 2011. (Also see In Memorium below.)
** IN MEMORIUM
One of the three original founders of the modern La Carrera Panamericana, Loyal George Truesdale III of Los Angeles, died in Los Angeles early this week.
Truesdale will be remembered as one of the great raconteurs of all times, self-styled ladies’ man, and otherwise, one of the funniest guys you would ever meet. He loved to race motorcycles, BMWs in particular, and earned the well-deserved nickname, “Crash.”
In Mexico he had many friends, and was called “Tio Loyal" (Uncle Loyal). Tio loved Mexico!
He served as the North American Coordinator of the Pan Am from 1988 until 2002, when he had a falling out with the organizers of the Pan Am. In the last several years, he was trying to promote a similar race in Cuba, or China, Tibet….or……
According to one of his best friends, “his heart just gave out.” Smoking two or three packs of unfiltered Chesterfields, plus drinking prodigious quantities of alcohol might have contributed to his premature demise. One article on the Pan Am in GQ (1999?) made him an international celebrity, well almost.
But Tio Loyal would be displeased with any sadness on our part about his passing. He celebrated life and lived it to its fullest. A memorial celebration of his life in Los Angeles is being planned by his family and friends in early November.
If you have a Loyal story that you would like to share with this gathering, please send it to me.
The route this year starts in Tuxtula Gutierrez, way down in Chiapas, and finishes in Zacatecas. Tuxtla is the traditional starting city, but that could be changed if another tropical storm hits Chiapas. Some parts of Chiapas have already been hit by several storms, but so far, the roads have been repaired. Stay tuned for late-breaking news.
Zacatecas was selected to be the "meta" or finish line primarily because of troubles along the border in and around Nuevo Laredo, where the race usually ends. Zacatecas is a long 426 miles from Nuevo Laredo.
From Tuxtla Gutierrez the cars race to the beautiful colonial city of Oaxaca, the center of Indian crafts in Mexico, and from there on to Puebla, pausing for a big party in Tehuacan along the way.
This year the Pan Am will bypass Mexico City, then detour for some speed stages near Pachuca, before heading to Queretaro for the night, where it will end the day with hot laps on the local race track. This and the next day will likely determine the winners of the event.
This year's event includes a return to Morelia and the famous mountain road nearby known as Mil Cumbres (1000 peaks). This is one of the great rally roads in all of Mexico, with more than 300 curves from top to bottom, mostly hairpins. In 1999, it claimed the only two fatalities suffered by the race in a speed stage. Upon leaving Morelia the next morning, the cars will run some hot laps on the race track nearby before heading toward Guadalajara.
The route also features Guadalajara for the second straight year, after an absence of eight years, beginning in 2000. Guadalajara is the second largest city in Mexico and a huge potential market for the event. Sadly, the residents of the city are not very familiar with the Pan Am. The event will not visit the village of Tequila, outside of Guadalajara, as it did last year.
After Guadalajara the race stops for the night in Aguascalientes, a good Pan Am city, and the crews will eat dust running laps at the local autodromo. From Aguascalientes, it is a short drive up to Zacatecas.
After the race ends in Zacatecas, there will be the traditional parade through the steep, winding streets of the city following the south end of a north bound burro, and then one heck of a party. After all, who needs to stay sober to race the next morning?
The elements in the race involve speed stages in the Pachuca area, northeast of Mexico City, and a few other new stages and others rehabilitated by route master Eng. Gael Rodriquez.
**TROUBLE IN MEXICO
The war between the government and the drug cartels, and among the drug cartels themselves over control of the drug routes into the U.S. continues unabated. In the past couple of months, the government has captured three or four of the top cartel leaders, including an American citizen known as "Barbie", who is originally from Laredo, Texas. However, when one leader is removed, others rush to fill the void, it seems. The result is more killings, as the underling vie for power.
The violence has been visited mostly on the young pistoleros recruited from poor neighborhoods. Other victims have been state and municipal politicians and newspaper reporters. Most local police along the border are unreliable.
Are foreigners in danger? One reporter noted that foreigners in Mexico--not counting those who frequent the "boys towns" along the border--are safer in Mexico than many cities in the USA. On the other hand, the fighting among the cartels have provided lesser criminals some opportunity. One of their favorite tricks to dress up like cops and shake down motorists around some of the troubled cities, like Nuevo Laredo and Monterrey.
The answer? Travel in groups, travel only in daylight, stay out of sketchy 'hoods, and be aware of is lurking up the road. No one in Mexico expects the Pan Am to be bothered by such troubles. After all, it is a traveling circus of 120 racecars, 90 support trucks, 20 official cars and ambulances, plus 20-30 federal police cars strung out along the road, plus lots of local police.
**COYOTE CONVOY IS THE ONLY WAY TO GO!
This year, 24-26 trucks, trailers, and racecars will gather in Laredo Texas on October 15 for the 540 miles drive down to San Miguel de Allende and then on to Tuxtla Gutierrez. For the fifth year, the convoy will stop in San Miguel to raise a little dinero for local children’s charities and display their cars in the town’s main square, El Jardin on October 17.
**CHANGES OVER TEN YEARS
Those who have participated in LCP in Mexico over the past decade have seen many changes in the event and Mexico.
First, the race is somewhat better organized than in earlier years. The final registration process, in particular, is more efficient. Second, there are more serious racers and fewer "tourists" involved in the event. As a consequence, the cars are more race-worthy, powerful, and the speeds greater, especially among the Historic classes, cars made from 1955-1965. The addition of the "A+" class for cars 1966-1972 with four cylinder 2000 cc engines has added speed in this area as well. Some of these small bore cars do very well in the twisty roads of Mexico.
In addition to the more sophisticated racecars, the support services for these cars have increased as well. The paddock of the race looks much more like a major motoring event than it did a decade ago, when most gringos hauled their cars to Mexico on open trailers behind pickups.
The adoption of electronic timing has generally helped the overall timing and scoring process. However, so far, the computer program used has not been successfully modified to suit the uniqueness of this event. Further refinements are necessary.
The biggest change over the years has been in the highway system and related infrastructure. Most places in Mexico can now be reached by four-lane highways and toll roads. Gas stations and restaurants along the roads are far more common. It is even possible to pay for gasoline with a credit card in many of them. It now costs 2-3 pesos to use the bathrooms, but the new level of cleanliness is well worth the price of admission.
**WHAT ABOUT NEXT YEAR?
Expect an early and heavy enrollment in LCP next year, too. Officially, the early registration period did not open until February this year, but it seems that the office was processing European and some "special" registrations in late January. In fact, some of the premium hotels were already filled by February. If you are not early or on the VIP list, forget it!
Want a spot next year? Have your registration ready to go by January 15. We also may know by then the amount of the early registration fee. If you want to be guaranteed one of the 30 spots from Canada and the USA, plan to send in your application on December 1, with a $500 deposit.
**SIGN UP FOR THE CHIHUAHUA EXPRESS
Entries are now being accepted for the Chihuahua Express, April 8-9-10, in and around the city of Chihuahua, Mexico, which is 145 miles west of Texas. In three days, the race covers about 1000 miles of total distance, of which nearly 350 miles are unlimited speed stages. It is probably the best racing experience in North America.
If your application and payment is in the mail by November 1, you will save $200. Please contact me for an application.
The Express, like the Carrera, is a stage rally on paved roads. However, the Express is open to cars of any age. Cars with full roll cages may run in one of eight or more unlimited classes; cars with no roll cage may compete in a T/S/D regularity rally, bracket class, or tour for about half the price of the competition class.
For more information ask for the Q and A sheet, or go to www.chihuahuaexpress.com.
La Carrera Panamericana is a serious stage rally and endurance event that involves fast driving over mostly mountainous roads for nearly 2000 miles. As such, it is not only fun but extremely dangerous to life and property, like other forms of motorsports.
This is the 9th edition of CARRERA NEWS for the year and the last, at least until the race is over. There have also been 10-12 editions of CARRERA DRIVER and COYOTE CONVOY NEWS, as well. As one of my readers, said, “Gerie, this event is being well documented!”
At this point, I do not know whether I will be asked to return as North American Coordinator by Eduardo “Lalo” Leon and his family, who constitute the event’s Organizing Committee. But, regardless, I will continue to promote the Pan Am and provide as much good, unvarnished information about Mexico and the event as possible. As I am fond of saying, this race is so unique and exciting, it does not need varnish, B.S., or other forms of embellishment.
Viva La Carrera Panamericana and Protect the Competitors this Year!