The '09 La Carrera Panamericana was sell out for the second year in a row with 107 entries. Given the world's economy, that was something of a surprise.
The race was a little more newsworthy because the brother of the president of Mexico participated in a vintage Alfa, and the owners of the big Mexican TV company, Televisa, were also competitors. Another entry of note was the "Leningrad Cowboys," a rock band from Finland, that was apparently retracing the steps of Pink Floyd, who competed back in 1991. The Cowboy's '58 Corvette was a hit and, unlike Pink Floyd, they did finish, despite breaking the car's frame about half way through the event. (My contribution to their cause was a set of motor mounts in Guadalajara.)
The race was won by Swedish and WRC champion Stig Blomqvist, who drove a '53 Studebaker. It was Stig's second attempt. His car was built and prepared by another Swede, Mats Hammarlund, who fabricates Carrera cars in Mexico (MHRacing.com.mx). In fact, Hammarlund Racing took four of the top six places, including overall and two class wins.
This was the first year that the race organization used electonic timing. Frankly, there were some problems, but the system will improve next year with this experience.
Like last year, there were several crashes--common to top-speed stage rallies, I suppose. The good news: there were no serious injuries, just a lot of bent sheet metal. The increased safety precautions, like full roll cages and HANS devices, really helped.
For me personally, the event was a huge success. This was the first time, since we won the Historic C championship in 2002 (American and European V8s, 1955-1965), that I finished the entire race in my own car! Because of the problems with electronic timing, our official standing has not be determined but it will be in the 41-21 range and sixth-eighth in class. That's not bad given my primary goal of finishing and my secondary goal, of being in the top twenty.
Over my eleven years in the race, I have seen La Carrera become far more professional and competitive. What used to be a race mostly for true amateurs and rookies, who just wanted a little adventure, is now an event dominated by experienced racers with deep pockets, who are willing to spend almost any amount of money to win. (There are no cash prizes, only bragging rights.) The machines are exceptional and the driving is frequently outstanding, but sadly, it's not much of a place for a budget racer, or a real vintage racer. Regardless, it is a true test of drivers, their navigators, and cars, and it remains an event without parallel in the world. Where else can one race for a week, at top speed, on public highways? Just to finish this endurance race is a victory.
Next year the event will probably start Oct. 21-22 in Tuxtla Gutierrez and end in Nuevo Laredo on Oct. 28.
For more information go to www.panamrace.com