The legendary adventure of the Carrera Panamericana

The legendary adventure of the Carrera Panamericana

Few stage car races can claim to be as fascinating and adventurous as the Carrera Panamericana. The spectacular and dangerous race was held for just five years, from 1950 to 1954 and its name was etched in motorsports legend maybe also for this reason. 

Like the first Formula 1 Grand Prix and all the races that have gone down in history, Pirelli was present in Mexico in 1950 with several crews and in particular with Pietro Taruffi and Isidoro Ceroli, who crossed the final finish line in El Ocotal fourth in an Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 Sport. Of course, the stretched P could not pass the opportunity to be present in a pioneering race capable of putting the physical, technical and strategic limits of the contending drivers to the test.

The first edition started on 5th May 1950. Of the 123 crews on the starting line, only 47 survived to the end. The route was a gruelling one with 3500 kilometres, mostly on dirt roads, to be covered in six days and two stages per day, except for the first one and last two.

The route went from Ciudad Juarez just across the border with Texas to Guatemala with altitudes of over three thousand metres above sea level in between. There was very interesting prize money at stake, of almost 35 thousand dollars, half of which for the first crew in the ranking.

The race was run on the Mexican stretch of the Carrera Panamericana, the ambitious project of a road that would span all of America, from the North to South of the continent, from Alaska to Patagonia.

It was promoted by the Mexican government to publicise the newly inaugurated road and attract major automotive brands and manufacturers to the country. Antonio Cornejo, the ambitious dealer of US automaker Pontiac in Mexico City, played a key role in the organisation of the event. A group of experts was called to design the race, led by the Italian Antonio Camisa, a reporter for the sports daily “Gazzetta dello Sport” and collaborator of Giovanni Canestrini, who was one of the founders of the Mille Miglia (the race that had inspired the Carrera Panamericana).

A classic from its first edition

The race was an immediate success with thousands of spectators who flocked to the start of the stages cheering on the cars as they sped through the Mexican villages and countryside. The popular engagement was huge worldwide and the Carrera Panamericana was an immediate classic, in which everyone wanted to take part and in which the best car and engine manufacturers on the planet, together with the strongest and most famous racing drivers, tested their mettle (Taruffi himself won in 1951 and five-times F1 World Champion Manuel Fangio won in 1953).

The Carrera Panamericana was about to be included in the FIA official calendar in 1955 but after a dramatic accident at the 24 Hours of Le Mans on 12th June, in which more than eighty people died, the International Automobile Federation decided to cancel the Mexican race, considered too dangerous, once and for all. Twenty-seven drivers and spectators had been killed during the five years and there had been innumerable accidents and breakdowns. Now they are all part of the legend, remembered as all that remains of the incredible Carrera Panamericana.

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