The checkered flag has welcomed the winner, the Finnish Harri Rovanpera, and behind him a contingent of about 90 cars that made it to Zacatecas after racing the challenging stage of La Bufa.
In his first participation in the Mexican Road Race, Rovanpera won aboard his Studebaker in a close duel with Mexico's Michel Jourdain Jr. who finished less than a minute behind the Finnish driver. Rovanpera's navigator was another talented Finnish, Jouni Narhi. The Carrera Panamericana is not just a race, but also a tough test even for skilled drivers, navigators and the engineers behind the machines. The automotive odyssey began Friday, October 22 in Tuxtla Gutierrez, Chiapas, where 120 teams started the race with the hope of making it to Zacatecas in six days. Some stayed on the road, some stayed behind. In the 23rd edition of its modern era, the famous Mexican automotive event crowned Rovanpera, former top driver of the World Rally Championship. Nordic pilots are now establishing a trend, just last year the great Swede Stig Blomqvist took the checkered flag.
During the week-long race, Rovanpera only lost the lead once, when on the fifth day in a highly competitive stage, the equally experienced Michel Jourdain Jr. was the winner after taking advantage of his experience on ovals, at the Aguascalientes Superoval in a special stage.
It is hard to imagine how extreme La Carrera Panamericana can be until you live, or at least survive part of it, whether as a driver, an expectator and even as a sport journalist. The professionalism of all the drivers and their teams is superb and noteworthy, each year they make their best effort, from prepping their cars to transporting them from abroad, in many cases from neighboring United States, to Canada and even several European countries. Great expense is invested by all teams, including time and resources to get their machines in tip top shape for the grueling journey.
Mexican roads may not always be in top condition, and some sections of the race are truly challenging, even dangerous, since the race is also a Rally with speed stages. The event is made possible with the support of the Mexican federal authorities (Policia Federal de Caminos) and their help closing the Mexican highways to regular traffic during each stage. As with many auto racing events, there is no shortage of adrenaline-pumping moments, from accidents to mechanical failures and even the celebrations that take place every night for a week. La Carrera Panamericana also provides with the opportunity to enjoy breath-taking scenery and the opportunity to visit picturesque Mexican cities, all full of folklore and native fans who greet participants as they enter every city. The Panam race will put to the test anyone's driving skills, and drivers must be is great physical and mental condition.
Participation in the race is exhilarating, Jo Ramirez puts it best "Carrera Panamericana is the best week of the year." Ramirez, former sport coordinator of the McLaren Formula One, has the experienced Beto Cruz as his navigator and adventure companion. Humble and shy as usual, "Jo" took it easy but it is fascinating to see his concentration, will and focus to do things right, keeping his Volvo 147 in the leading pace and finishing within the top five in his class. "We were going very well, but we had problems with the box, the third gear is gone, and so it is difficult to handle. But it's a long race and at night our mechanics can work on the car," he calmly said just after the second day of competition. Few participants have Jo's experience who has worked alongside Ayrton Senna, among other great champions of Formula One.
After 7 days of competition and nearly 3 thousand 200 kilometers, La Carrera Panamericana 2010 has come to an end. We can hardly wait till next year, hope to see you all there!
© Pictures: Miguel Elizondo