In the beginning…
There have been a number of significant years in Brazilian motorsport – most of them to do with Ayrton Senna da Silva – but one of the most important was 1979. That year, the Brazilian Grand Prix returned to the old Interlagos after a year in Jacarepagua and, as was often the case, opened the season (very early as it happened, on February 4). The winner was Jacques Laffite in the ground effect Ligier, which enjoyed such a margin of technical superiority that he and team mate Patrick Depailler finished around 50 seconds ahead of the third-placed man. But this is not a story about Formula 1.
Brazil’s answer to NASCAR
There was a need for a more grass roots level of motorsport in Brazil to support the burgeoning domestic car market, so in 1979 the Brazilian stock car championship was also created, with its first race two months after the Brazilian Grand Prix. It was called stock car in order to link it with NASCAR in the United States, which was seen as a template for what saloon car racing should be all about: power, noise, spectacle, and huge numbers of fans. A simple, inexpensive set of regulations ensured that the competition was close with 19 six-cylinder Chevrolet Opalas forming the grid for the first race, at the Taruma circuit.
The series was an instant success, and as the years went on it even expanded to Europe: in 1982 two races were held at Estoril. Part of the appeal of the championship was that it was fan-friendly: so fan-friendly in fact that in 1994, the promoters decided to make all the tickets free. That’s certainly not on the current agenda for Formula 1…despite the many far-reaching changes that new owners Liberty Media have introduced.