Story by Vickie Miller. Photo by RGR Sport.
Nueva aventura is Spanish for new adventure which is exactly how my recent trip to AutÃ³dromo Hermanos RodrÃguez could be described.Â I have visited several resort-type destinations in Mexico, but this was my first trip to Mexico City.
When the FIA WEC (World Endurance Challenge) race was added to the 2016 schedule, my interest was immediately peaked and I was planning my trip.Â I had wanted to visit this track when the NASCAR Xfinity series raced there from 2005 to 2008, and this track is very popular for the F1 racing event.Â
The track length is 2.674 miles which is normal for a WEC racing event. What is not normal is the altitude associated with this track location.Â Just to give you a little perspective, I live in Jacksonville FL which is 16.08 feet above sea level.
The AutÃ³dromo Hermanos RodrÃguez track is 7,382 feet above sea level.Â Mexico City is the highest elevation track the WEC series will visit with the next highest being Nurburgring at 1,886 feet.
The track is very flat so elevation on the course was not an issue.Â Â The three story paddock building is new this year to the track, with the ground floor being the team garages.Â Even the most fit of WEC drivers mentioned having to catch their breath when just going up one flight of stairs to their hospitality room on the second floor.
During a press conference on Friday, Mark Webber, driver on the #1 LMP1 Porsche team, spoke extensively of the effects of the altitude on their car.Â The Porsche car was built exclusively for the Mexico City race only, requiring modifications to any part of the car dealing air flow such as the radiator, etc.
Lucas di Grassi, driver #8 LMP1 Audi car, mentioned there is 20% less air at Mexico City and therefore 20% less down force, where drivers had a noticeable reduction in tire grip.
Richard Bradley (Manor WEC Racing) talks about his experience at the Mexico City track here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oxlsQbnlaxQ
While the configuration for WEC had changed a bit from the NASCAR days, the track location reminded me a great deal of the SÃ£o Paulo Brazil track, Interlagos.Â Both tracks are in the city, not on any rolling countryside, and not the best part of the city.Â Â
Many drivers participated in the track walk on Wednesday, with the first time in the car on track was Thursday morning 9am for a session referred to as â€œCollective Testâ€.Â This session is used for teams and drivers to become familiar with the track, which few had ever seen or driven.Â The track times were not recorded, as speed was not the point of the session.
The first official free practice was later in the morning followed by the second practice session for evening, which was closer to the actual race time.Â Other than the Vintage Mexico Series on the track, WEC was the only race event for the weekend. Â
The weather was not much of a factor leading up to race day.Â Each day the forecast warned of 70% to 80% chance of rain in the afternoon, with nothing on Thursday and very light short sprinkles on Friday, and very comfortable temperatures all weekend.
The Mexico City WEC weekend was a star-studded event with race car drivers Memo Rojas (Telmex Ganassi Riley), Gus Yacaman (various), and Jorge De La Torre (Pirelli World Challenge driver) seen walking around the paddock taking in the fun as a fan.Â Â Since the accident at Lime Rock, Jorge has been working hard to be 110% ready to return to competitive racing.
International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) fans would recognize many of the drivers participated in the WEC race including:Â Ricky Taylor (WTRacing), Richard Bradley (Starworks), Ryan Dalziel (Spirit of Daytona), Chris Cumming (Starworks), Luis Diaz (8 Star Motorsports), Bruno Junqueira (Bar 1 PC), Patrick Long (Black Swan Racing/Porsche) and Filipe Albuquereque (Action Express Racing).
I invite you to watch this video message from Luis Diaz:Â http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OQgJvEwPi04
When shown on television, the AutÃ³dromo Hermanos RodrÃguez track for me is known for the â€œPeraltadaâ€ turn splitting the baseball stadium grandstands. I encourage you to read more about how the race course was changed at â€œPeraltadaâ€ here.Â https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aut%C3%B3dromo_Hermanos_Rodr%C3%ADguez
I heard 50,000 tickets were sold, with the bulk sold to corporations, and the majority of the fans were in the baseball grandstands or along the front stretch. Â I was encouraged to see a great crowd who started cheering when local team #43 RGR Sport, LMP2 Ligier, took the lead and probably did not stop until arriving home.Â
With RGR Sport winning the race, the podium turned into a hometown celebration with the Mexican National anthem being played several times. RGR Sport driver, Ricardo Gonzalez from Moneterry, Mexico, had done a great deal of promotion for this race. Â Â I spoke with Ricardo at Le Mans 24 race:Â http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q6VL7Qef35I
There is only one tunnel, near pit-in, to get from outside of the track to the inside with no cross-over bridges.Â It was very difficult for me to get my bearings at this track and maneuver around.Â There were many interior buildings, and along with a music stage, I could only find one or two places where I could view the race.
Security was very tight and few local workers or volunteers at the track spoke English.Â Â I was impressed with all the activities for the fans who had general admission only ticket with carnival rides and games for kids and a selection of food trucks, which I did not try. Â I have been to many â€œfirst time race eventsâ€, and WEC at AutÃ³dromo Hermanos RodrÃguez was the best executed weekend I have witnessed in a long time.
Now a little about the race!Â The first hour of the race found drivers and teams getting a feel for the track.Â As driver Ryan Dalziel mentioned, it felt like cars were ping-ponging off each other until all fell into a flow.Â Â The rain that had been threatening for the prior two days finally arrived on race day and found cars slipping and sliding as teams considered which tires (slicks, intermediates, rain) to try next.
When a race is 6 hours in length, on paper, one would surmise that by hour 5, the leader was determined and laps ahead.Â Â This never happens.Â While the crowd let out a huge uproar when the RGR Sport car took the lead, the outcome was never certain until the checkered flag.Â With the #50 Larbre Competition Chevrolet Corvette bringing out a closing race caution, I joined the 50,000 fans praying against a full course yellow.Â
With the 2nd place car #36 Signature Alpine closing in, the gap shrinking and #36 expertly maneuvering around the slower cars, RGR Sport held on for a story book ending to the race. Â I have to admit the majority of my attention was directed to the LMP2 class, but the total race was exciting.Â The racing by #31 ESM driver, Pipo Derani, to capture 3rd place was nothing short of amazing.
If you were unable to watch on television or online, please take time to catch the highlights on the WEC YouTube channel.Â I know I will watch again! https://www.youtube.com/user/FIAWEC
And you can find all the results here:Â http://www.fiawec.com/races/6-hours-of-mexico/results.html
While the local food and altitude had a very negative affect on the driver I was scheduled to interview, he was able to drive and I will meet up with him next year for a future article.
But all is not gloom and doom because as a result of no driver interview, I had the wonderful pleasure of meeting and chatting with a hard working track marshal named, Omar.
For this weekend, Omar was part of the safety crew which meant he was required to arrive to the track very early to go to each marshal stand and ensure the proper safety equipment (fire extinguishers, etc.) was there and ready to go.
When the last track activity was complete at the end of each day, Omar and the rest of the safety crew returned to each marshal stand collecting the equipment before he was released for the day.
Unfortunately by the time Omar was free for the day and allowed to walk down pit road, his wish to meet drivers was not met.Â I didnâ€™t have the heart to tell him the drivers left the paddock hours before.
Since Omar has been a marshal for F1, Champ Car and now WEC, his dream to meet drivers and especially, Mark Webber.Â Well, I couldnâ€™t help with them meeting but I was determined Omar would not go home empty handed.
At the autograph session, I collected all the signed hero cards from the teams, had an Audi baseball cap signed by all the Audi drivers, and asked Mark Webber to sign a special hero card â€œTo Omarâ€.Â During the day, I continued to collect posters, I LOVE WEC green sunglasses, and other swag which I knew Omar would not have the opportunity to get himself.
At the end of the race day, Omar was able to catch a glimpse of the end of the podium celebration.Â I met up with Omar to present him with the bag of goodies I had collected.Â Omar was very moved and I think he was holding back tears.
One more interesting fact about Omar.Â Fifteen years ago he took an interest in becoming a marshal from his mother, who had been a marshal for several years prior. Â His mother wanted to find a new hobby and after her first race was instantly hooked on being a marshal and introducing her son when he was old enough.Â What a good mother.
When you attend a race, remember there are many marshals who volunteer to stand in the heat, rain, any weather to watch just their corner of the race. Â Many of whom never meet a driver, who do not get paid, and without whom there would not be a race. Â These are the REAL race fans.
So when you are at the track and you want to complain about the high prices of vendor food, or the hot weather, or the admission gate being 5 minutes late to open, donâ€™t.Â Just shut up and thank a track marshal there is a race at all.
Thank you all for reading and I welcome your comments. I have no affiliation with IMSA, FIA WEC, etc. just a fan. Â If you are planning a trip to the 2017 WEC race at Mexico City and have questions, please feel free to contact me.Â There are many blogs and websites where you will find statistics, results, and scoring from the race; this is â€œjust the way I see itâ€. Got a response? Follow and tweet me @viclovesracing