Most competitors, especially in their first year or two, will usually opt to run in the Historic classes or Original Pan Am. When selecting a car, there are two choices to consider:
1. You can purchase a car that has run the Pan Am recently. It probably has the proper roll cage, safety equipment,, etc., and may just need tuning. (See the Classified Ads on this web site.)
2. Prepare one yourself. You’ll need nine months, at least. Do not wait to get started.
The car must be manufactured and titled for the 1955-1965 model years and be capable of being driven at 70-80 MPH for about 250 miles daily for seven days. The roads are paved but there are rough sections occasionally. Massive quantities of Loc Tight are recommended!
Safety. The car must have a rally-type six-point roll cage, five-point seat belts, window nets, plus a 10 lb. fire system. It's that simple. Eight or ten point cages, depending how you count "points," are more common now than before. Cages in new cars should be approved before the race. Send photos to the race organizers or the North American coordinator.
The “continuation” rule. In a limited number of cases, models of cars made after 1965 are allowed to enter, if they are essentially the same in appearance and performance as a 1965 model. (A 1966 Mustang with a 289 engine, a 1967 Corvette with a 327, or 1969 Porsche 911 are three good examples of this “continuation” rule.) However, by rule 1968 Mustangs and Dodge Darts and Barracudas are allowed to enter the race. Also, Datsun Z cars from the ‘70s are allowed in Historic B.
Pick a car that you want to drive on the street after the race or in vintage racing. You might want to take it to car shows or other rallies in the off-season. Hemmings, Auto Trader.com, eBay, BAT.com and your local newspaper are sources of eligible cars.
Four-door cars from this era are a lot cheaper and actually better for the Pan Am than coupes. The rear doors of a sedan allow easy access to the back-seat area for a properly mounted spare tire, battery, fire system, and gear. The top is stronger and often they weigh less than the coupe.
Body condition. Cars should be "50 X 50." That is: look good while going 50 MPH at 50 feet away. This is not a vintage event concerned with originality. Minor rust and dents can be removed with a hammer, filler, or a decal. Look for a car with good glass as windshields for old car glass can be expensive. Missing chrome pieces, trim etc., can be added later. This is not a concourse, but all cars should be presentable (no primer). An Earl Scheib $399.00 paint job will cover multiple flaws. Just add a few vinyl graphics and you’ll have a Panam racer! The names, hometowns, and blood types of the driver and co-driver can be applied with vinyl letters, or painted on the car in Mexico for a few bucks.
The interior. The cockpit has become more of a priority because of increased safety requirements. You must have one-piece FIA racing seats, no more than 5 years old, or a SCCA approved one-piece aluminum racing seat, like a Kirkey, properly mounted. Headliner, door panels etc., are up to you. Completely gutted cars may enter. You may even replace the dash. Pull out the back seat to install the roll cage and provide more storage room. Install a couple of hooks behind your seat on the cage to hang your helmets during the transit stages. A small cooler for food and water is useful. Beverage cup holders are good, along with a cup for change (coins) for the toll booths. An interior light of some sort will be useful.
Engine. You need a motor that will make it 1800-2000 miles running at 70-80 MPH the entire way and 300 miles of that at top RPM. Do not buy a full race motor for this class. Reliability is better rather than max horsepower or torque. Excessive “hot rodding” will stress the other components and risk mechanical problems. Because of the mountain roads, good cooling, low-end torque, and higher compression are essential. Gas quality becomes less an issue at high altitude. Torque is more important that horsepower. Make sure the correct cam is selected. Street or RV cams do better than cams designed for a racetrack.
In Historic C, Cars that weigh less than 2800 pounds at technical inspection must use a 500 CFM two-barrel carb. Over 2800 pounds, they may use a 600 CFM four-barrel.
Suspension and Steering. Must be a major priority. Shocks, springs, wheel bearings, bushings, tie-rods, ball joints, steering gear, and related components must be checked thoroughly and replaced or strengthened. You do NOT want any of these parts to fail while going around a corner in the mountains of Mexico! Do not lower your car, because Mexican speed bumps will knock off your pan, mufflers, or suspension components. At least five inches or more of ground clearance is essential. Seven inches is recommended by the Organizers. The race is won by your times in the twisty sections of road. Handling is everything. Stiffer springs up front and good shocks are the key. Get some serious miles on the car before shipping it to Mexico . Practice getting around corners fast! Don't worry much about top speed. Keep up the momentum. Remember, finishing the race is most important. Next in importance is good, consistent, and smooth driving. Third is speed. Too much of the latter causes mechanical failure and wrecks.
Brakes. Replace everything if there is the slightest possibility of failure. A car is only as good as its brakes. Install a dual master cylinder, maybe with a brake bias knob so you can dial in more back brake, if necessary. If it is a drum-brake car and you plan on driving it hard, bring along a couple of extra sets of brake shoes. Have them installed properly. You can have these changed anywhere at a very reasonable cost if you have the parts. Under the rules, front and rear disc brakes can be added to all Carrera cars. Disc brakes are a much better coming down mountain roads because they do not fade as fast as drum brakes. Bring an extra set of pads. Consider a harder, more durable pad to provide longer service. Porterfield, Wilwood, Hawk, and other companies sell pads that are between a street pad and a full competition pad. Competition pads often do not work well until they get hot, so sometimes they are not effective in the cool mornings driving around town!
Other components to address:
Cooling. It is harder to cool an engine at high altitude because of the thin air. Boil or re-core that old radiator, or get a new, larger aluminum one. Replace the hoses and thermostat. Use a fan shroud. If the car is prone to overheating, add a “puller” electric fan to the back of the radiator operated by a switch or thermostat. High flow water pumps or electric pumps are good.
Electrics. Replace the old system if possible. Install a new battery and cables, at least. Make sure the alternator is charging properly. A new voltage regulator might be a good idea. If it is a 6-volt system, a spare 12-volt battery and a set of jumper cables are a good idea to fire it up.
Heater and defroster. Not necessary, but sometimes a defroster is useful. Otherwise, use RainX anti-fog.
Windshield wipers and washers. Are required by the rules. Make sure they work although we usually experience little rain during the event. Bring RainX just in case.
Lights. Headlights, taillights, blinkers, and brake lights must work. There is no night driving scheduled, but you may do some if you have suffered a breakdown and are running late. Directional signals and flashers required. Some people install wig-wag systems or strobe lights.
Horn. Important. The louder the better! Occasionally, you will need it to scare the horses, cattle, sheep, chickens, and urchins off the road. Sit on your horn before trying to pass someone in a speed stage.
Fuel system. A fuel cell should be installed in all cars but is not required in Historic cars or Original Pan Am. A fuel cell (any material) can be bolted into the trunk of most cars. If so, you will need some sheet metal between the truck and the passenger compartment. Install new racing fuel filter. A new fuel pump is cheap, so carry a spare. A recirculating fuel system will prevent vapor lock.
Exhaust. Mufflers are suggested because you must listen to the exhaust all day or seven days, but not required. You can run headers and straight pipes if you want, but they are loud and the car body acts as an echo chamber. A good dual exhaust system with turbo mufflers works well. Exit them out the back of the car, not under the sides. Side exhausts lower your ground clearance and will get flattened on the speed bumps if mounted too low. Remember -- you must endure the noise for 2000 miles and communicate with the navigator.
Transmission. Historic cars (1956-1965) are limited to four, forward gears, unless they came from the factory with five. Some Competition cars may have five. A shifter on the floor is great, while “three on the tree” is OK. Automatics are OK, but not as much fun and have a very high failure rate. Automatics can be modified to shift like sticks. Make sure the transmission will help slow the car down as you come down the mountain! A transmission cooler is highly recommended. You may replace an automatic with a manual transmission in all classes, including Original Pan Am.
Tuning. Most of the Pan Am is run at high altitude (over 6000 feet). Carbs tuned at lower altitude pump out too much gasoline for the thin air. If you want to have fun, learn how to adjust your carb for high altitude. Most serious racers change jets or metering rods at least twice. Check out a Willy’s adjustable Holly carb, too. It can be adjusted with a little wrench.
Tires. Must be at least DOT approved, with a tread wear of at least 60. No “competition only” tires or shaved tires are allowed. You are also limited to 6”-7”-8” rims depending on your class. Rim width will be measured in tech. This rule is enforced to slow the cars down. The rim must be the stock diameter for your model 13-14-15-16" depending on your car and class. Aluminum wheels are allowed, but they tend to break. New steel wheels are best, with beefy lugs and lug nuts.
Limits on the tire’s aspect ratio vary by class. Check the official rules. 50 series tires (and higher) will be allowed in Historic C and most classes. But 60 series tires may be the best for this type of racing.
If you are considering preparing a car for Historic C, ask the North American Coordinator for his special handout on preparing one of these cars.
Frequently asked questions
When is the 2016 Pan Am?
What is the official status of the Pan Am Race?
How much is the entry fee and what do you get for it?
What’s involved in a typical Pan Am day?
What kind of road race or rally is the Pan Am?
What are the transit sections like?
Do I need a real race car?
What are the classes of cars?
What’s required to run a car in the Historic (1955-1965) class?
What are the Competition (1940-1954) classes?
How should I select and prepare a car to run in the Historic classes?
What about the gasoline in Mexico?
How should I run the race?
Do I need racing experience?
Do I need a rally computer?
What licenses are needed?
How many drivers are allowed in each car?
How many cars are allowed in the Pan Am?
Is a support crew necessary?
What is my car breaks down during the race?
What if my spouse or friends want to come along?
What about extra hotel rooms?
How do I get my race car there?
What about the border crossing?
What about car insurance in Mexico?
How much will traveling in Mexico cost?
What are some tips for traveling south of the border?
What about our hotels in Mexico?
Can I drink the water and eat the food?
What should I do when I arrive in starting city?
How thorough is the technical inspection?
When will we receive official instructions or orientation?
How fast do Pan Am cars run the special stages?
Welcome! La Carrera Panamericana, seven days long, is usually schedule during the last two weeks of October each year. The Organizing Committee in Mexico promises another exciting event this year. They invite you to “Live the Legend” of the Pan Am!
Tentatively, the race will probably start at 7:00 AM, Friday, Oct. 14 from the city of Veracruz. The race will end seven days later, on Thursday, Oct. 20 in Durango. It will cover nearly 1800 miles of paved roads mostly through the mountains in the central part of the country. A “pre-qualification” or time trial is scheduled for Oct. 13 in the morning to determine the starting order. Changes in the dates or places are always possible. Registration and technical inspection of the cars will be held October 11-13 at the Convention Center.
The Pan Am is sponsored by the Mexican government’s Department of Tourism and supported by the Mexican Federal Highway Patrol. Several Federal Highway Patrol members, including senior officers, travel with the race. They coordinate with local police to close the roads for the speed stages and to provide security for the race participants and support crews.
The Mexican Federation of Auto Sports (FEMADAC) sanctions the event. The Federation issues mandatory Mexican racing licenses to all competitors for an additional $300 USD or so. Local car clubs provide volunteer workers in their areas.
The fee covers the race car, plus the driver and co-driver. It also includes a hotel room for eight nights for the driver and co-driver, October 13-20.
WARNING. The Pan-Am is a high-speed auto race, as such it dangerous for all competitors. The event requires close attention to safety features in the car, and safe driving at high speed on mountainous roads. It is highly recommended that all competitors, especially those who have never held a racing license, enroll in one of the several racing schools in the US for a multi-day course leading to a SCCA or vintage racing license, or spend several days at the track in a high-performance driving event. Even with this experience, racing on a (closed) public road in Mexico is a unique situation and dangerous to life and limb. If you build a race car, make sure you drive at speed on a track at least two days before leaving for Mexico.
The race starts most days at 7-8:00 AM and ends around 5:00 PM at the day’s destination city. A mid-day break for lunch and servicing the cars is included in the daily schedule. There is a Drivers’ Meeting each night around 9-10:00 PM. Most crews find it necessary to work on their cars in the evening. Overnight stops are in major cities (most with airport access) and the hotels are usually first class.
The Pan Am is technically a “stage rally.” Each car is given a detailed Route Book detailing the route over the seven days. The route is divided into “transit” and “special" or "speed” stages.” The transit stages lead the cars from one special stage to another through regular traffic. All sections are run on paved roads closed to the public for about an hour or so. There is no racing through towns and cities, but our cars must move along at 70-80 MPH on the open roads in regular traffic and through villages to make it to the next speed stage on time.
Just before the special stages, the cars check-in on time at a control station. They line up in proper order, and are started in 30 second intervals. The cars are timed electronically over the course of the speed stage. The faster cars start first each day. Occasionally, one car will pass another car during a speed section, but all cars are running against the clock.
At the end of the day and week, the cars with the lowest elapsed time in the special stages, plus any penalty (time) points, will be awarded trophies by class and overall. There are no cash prizes, only bragging rights. Over the seven days, the race cars will run from three to four hours at racing speed (300 miles or so). The rest of the driving time will be spent in transit sections averaging 70-80 MPH.
Time penalties are imposed for arriving too early or too late for the speed sections and other infractions. The penalty is much less for being a little late than being early (1 second a minute). You may be up to one minute (59 seconds) late to a speed section before incurring a time penalty. If you are a second early, however, there will be a bigger time penalty.
Each speed section has a maximum amount of time allocated for it. If a race car fails to start a speed section, the crew is given the maximum time allotted plus a two-minute penalty. If a car misses one speed stage or is more than 10-15 minutes late, it is out for the day. The car may run the next speed stages, but it will be given the maximum time for its class for each stage for the remainder of the day. The maximum time is based on the slowest times recorded by cars in your class for that particular stage. (Check the rules on this.)
No race can be won without crossing the finish line. Completing the Pan Am is a significant accomplishment. When you reach the finish line regardless of your rank in the standings, you will know that you have succeeded where many others have failed. Almost all cars will have mechanical problems along the way and miss a stage or a day. They may rejoin the race the next day, if they are cleared by the race inspectors. The timing method used by the event does not allow a car to fall too far behind the cars in its class.
During these seven days you will enjoy racing your car at high speeds over a closed road with thousands of spectators (and cops) along the way urging you to go faster. There are no “County Mounties” with radar guns lying in wait. It’s the driver, co-driver, the car, and the road. The only limit is your good sense and understanding that you must finish the race before you can claim success or victory! Speeds are now limited in some classes to 144 MPH in some classes.
The transits can be short or very long stretches of highway between the speed stages. You will be driving in traffic with large trucks, buses, and “civilian” cars. You are expected to obey all traffic laws. However, the pace is brisk—70-80 MPH most of the day.
In towns along the way, the local police normally facilitate getting the Pan Am cars through quickly. Watch out for spectators. You do not want to hit a spectator, a local’s car, or donkey! You buy what you hit.
Try to stay with other Pan Am cars in the transit stages, but do your own navigating. The Mexican Carrera crews usually know where they’re going. Keep bottled water and some snacks in your car. Also carry at least 2500 pesos ($200 USD) in small bills and coins for gas, toll roads, food, tips, and repairs. Many gasoline stations do not take credit cards or it slows down the transaction. Carry your passport, driver’s license, credit card, etc. in a safe place. If you have special medical needs, wear a medical ID bracelet. If you are allergic to any medication, mark it on your helmet and driving suit.
Watch out for the “topes!” Topes (tow-pays) are speed bumps. Every Mexican town has them, and some are immense! This is why you do not want to lower your car. Normally, you can slow down and go across them at an angle without scraping. Some cars have skid bars on the front end to slide the car over. The local children will stand by the topes, because they know you will slow down. So watch for them crossing the road. Most of the topes are listed in the Route Book. However, sometimes they will add and remove them without warning.
Yes. There was a time that just about any mechanically sound car made from 1940 through 1965 could compete and finish the Pan Am, if prepared properly and driven prudently. Those days are pretty much over. Safety rules have increased significantly over the past decade, and the race has grown more professional and faster. Read the rules, such as they are, carefully before buying or building a car for this event. All cars and modification must comply with the rules and are subject to the approval of the Organizers and the inspectors at the beginning of the race. No one can give you a guarantee before the race that your car will pass tech. Cars that run in the event should be “street legal” (lights, horns, etc.) in most states.
There was a time when just about any car would be accepted by the Organizers, but those days have long passed because the race has moved from being seriously under-subcribed to over-subscribed. For example, the Organizers say do not want to enroll any more Mustangs, Flacons, or Porsche 911/912. They already have too many!
Read the rules carefully and consult with the North American Coordinator or the office in Mexico City before you buy or build a car for this event.
There are nine regular classes of cars, which are divided into two big groups: "Pan-Am Competition" and "Historic." There is also an Exhibition class and a Historic Rally class for FIA certified car with full roll cages. Hot Rods may be entered in the Competition Class
PAN-AM COMPETITION CLASS. Cars made from 1940 through 1954 are eligible for the "PAN-AM" or “Competition” group. They are allowed significant modifications. The fastest class, Turismo Mayor (coupes and sedans), runs NASCAR level engines (up to 366 c.i. for V8s), semi-tubed bodies, coil-over suspensions, long trailing-arm or multi-link rear suspensions, etc. They are purpose-built racing cars that just look like old cars. It will cost $85,000 to $175,000 to build a competitive car in this class. Sports Mayor and Menor are two classes for two-seater sports cars made from 1940-1954, you can also install modern engines and modify the cars significantly.
THE HISTORIC CLASS. Sport cars and sedans made from 1955 through 1965 and four-cylinders up to 1972 are in the “Historic” classes--a much more stock group. The Historics are subdivided into four groups based on their number of cylinders (4-6-8). Recently, a new class, Historic A+ has been added for four cylinder cars made from 1966-1972. This class is limited to 2000 cc period engines or 1600 cc modern engines. If a car made from 1965-1972 is virtually identical to the same model car made in 1965, it may enter. If the car is a four-cylinder, the rule applies up to 1976 models.
ORIGINAL PAN AM. There is a separate class for Original Pan Am cars--essentially stock cars made from 1940 through 1954. Some later, original cars may also qualify. Replicas are allowed and should have the same body material and the basic configuration as the original car. This class requires period engines, original steering and suspension, and period appearance, but also allows disc brakes, electronic ignition, plus other upgrades that make the cars safer and more dependable.
In more detail, the Pan Am classes are:
(1) Original Pan Am: cars like those that ran the original race in 1950-1954 – with modifications for safety (like four-wheel disc brakes), and dependability (12 volt systems, dual brakes systems, improved ignitions, and better cooling). Because the Organizers want these cars to keep up with the pace, they have been accorded a lot of slack. In fact, some of them blur the line between OPA and Competition.
(2) Turismo Production – coupes and sedans, 1940-1954, 305 c.i. limit for V8s, specified performance modifications.
(3) Turismo Major – coupes and sedans, 1930-1954 (the “top” class), 366 c.i. limit for V8s, specified performance modifications.
(4) Sports Minor – sports cars, 1930-1954, up to 2000 c.c. specified modifications allowed.
(5) Sports Major – sports cars, 1930-1954, over 2000 c.c. specified modifications allowed.
Cars made from 1955 through 1965, original-era engines.
(6) Historic A – four cylinders and (7) Historic A+(1965-1972)
(8) Historic B – six cylinders
(9) Historic C – eight and twelve cylinders
(10) Exhibition – cars that do not comply with any class rules but the Organizers allow to run. They are not in competition for any prizes.
Beginning in 2011 the top speed in the three fastest classes was limited to 144 MPH.
See below for the “continuation” rule. In 2015 a new class, Historic Rally cars was announced for FIA-certified rally cars made from 1957-1977. These cars must, however, have a modern roll cage and safety equipment.
The “Historic” class includes American and European cars made from 1955 through 1965, plus four-cylinder cars made from 1966-1972. This is primarily a mostly stock class, but some cars have become purpose-built race cars, and some of them Historic C carsare capable of challenging the fastest class, Turismo Mayor, when driven by a gifted "piloto."
All cars must install basic safety equipment, including a full six-point roll cage with a “halo” bar over the drivers’ heads, a bar across the top of the windshield, AN “X” BRACE ACROSS THE ROOF, and at least two bars across the doors. There is no clear set of rules for cages. Send your plan or diagram to the North American Coordinator or Mexico City for review before you start welding pipe.
Five-point seat belts and two-layer racing suits are required. Helmets must be Snell SA2005 or SA2010, equipped with HANS devices or another FIA approved restraint system. Non-Halon, 10 lb. fire suppression systems are also required along with boots, gloves, etc.
Certain modifications and upgrades in mechanical components are permissible such as disc brakes, modern master cylinders, improved ignition and cooling systems, and "period" speed enhancing options, "export packages," etc. But these cars must maintain the original style engine, and displacement (bored up to .040 over). Alloy heads are not allowed unless factory equipment. Aluminum intake manifolds are allowed. Independent rear suspension cannot be added. Shocks may be modern and adjustable, but they must be in the original location. Suspension and steering arms should be stock pieces. Rack and pinion steering should not be installed. Suspension items may be reinforced. Fuel injections is not allowed, unless it is mechanical and installed by the factory.
The rules will be applied honestly and fairly. They are designed and administered to level the playing field (race track?). The basic rule for all classes is – one car will not be allowed a significant technical advantage over the other cars in that class. Many of the restrictions on the cars are designed to slow them down, like rim width, and make the Pan Am a safer event. Numerous accidents and serious injuries may threaten the continuation of the race. Good brakes, fresh seat belts, and a strong roll cage are imperative!
If you have any doubt about your car or any modification, please contact the North American Coordinator or the Organizers in Mexico City, since they have the final word.
Panamericana or Competition cars must be manufactured before 1955 and are permitted modifications such as four-wheel disc brakes, larger or later model motors, and 5 speed transmissions. They are divided into four classes: (1) Turismo Production -- coupes and sedans: straight 4,6, and 8 cylinder motors, flat-head V8's, and certain OHV V8's up to 305 cu. in.; (2) Turismo Mayor -- production coupes and sedans: up to 366 cu. in.; weighing at least 3,300 lbs; (3) Sports Minor -- sports cars: up to 2000cc, highly modified; and (4) Sports Mayor --sports cars over 2000cc., highly modified. Carburetor sizes are limited for all V8 cars to 600 CFM four barrels. Read the rules for each class carefully. Special or unique cars (limited production) must be specifically approved, some replicas are allowed.
The organizers may re-classify cars to promote competition. Some one-off “special” cars and hot rods from the 1940-1955 era may be allowed to compete in these and other classes. Hot rods with a V8 engine are limited to 305 c.i.
Certain replicas are also allowed to run in the sport car classes. Normally, they must be made of the same body material as the original and have the same engine displacement. It is also possible to use modern engines in the sports class, as long as the number of cylinders is the same. Over the past decade the cars have become more purpose-built and much faster.
Pan Am cars must use PEMEX gasoline sold only atPEMEX stations. Premio, from the red hanle pump, is 92 octane. No racing fuel should be used. You are not allowed to carry gas in the racecar or in a service vehicle. A few small bottles of octane booster are allowed, but 55 gallon drums are not. Premium PEMEX gas is around around $4.00 USD a gallon.
There are PEMEX gas stations with premium all along the route – supposedly no more than 100 miles apart. All stations sell “regular” or “Magna” unleaded 87 octane gas (the green pump handle) and most sell the higher octane 92 version from the red pump (Premio). At high altitude, however, octane does not make much difference in performance, because you lose about 1/3 of your compression due to the thin air. Most of the race is run above 6000 feet in altitude and in one transit stage we will get up to 10,000 feet!
Mexican gasoline has a reputation it does not deserve. But to be safe, install a good filtration system, and throw in a can of additive occasionally to burn out any water. Gas costs much more than in the US is sold by the liter. 3.78 liters equals one gallon. It‘s customary to tip the state attendants a couple of pesos, especially if they wash your windshield. Most stations have OK bathrooms, which may charge a few pesos to use, so carry some change, and they sell food, cokes, bottled water, etc.
More PEMEX stations are accepting credit cards but it may slow down your stop. Cash is much faster! Always make sure the attendant re-sets the pump to zero before filling your tank.
Start cautiously the first day or two. Your adrenal glands will be pumping, so be extra careful. Do not scare the sh*t out of your co-driver. It's hard to get that stench out of his driving suit and car! As you build confidence, your times will improve. Focus on being smooth and keeping your momentum up. But a sense of over-confidence will push some drivers to go too fast. Again, the first rule of the Pan-Am, a true endurance race, is – FINISH THE RACE! Too many cars break down or wreck because the driver exceeds the car’s and driver’s capabilities. In racing terms, you should never exceed 8/10s of the car’s and your combined capacity while racing down a Mexican canyon, unless you have a ton of experience and a spare engine in your service vehicle. Of course, if you are only 20 seconds behind the car just ahead of you on the third day, well………? Please remember, you must finish the race for anything to count. Above all, be safe, and celebrate at the finish of the race!
Use your common sense. Do not come to the Pan-Am and try to be competitive unless you have a valid road racing or vintage racing license and/or sufficient experience. Also note that racing in the mountains is much different than driving around the local track at home.
This race can be great fun for amateur drivers with good driving skills who enjoy a “spirited” drive down a canyon road. It is highly recommended, however, that those without recent racing or rally experience take a three- or four-day session at a racing school to learn basic car control. You also need to be in good shape physically.
Practice driving your car “at speed” and around sharp turns for few hundred miles before coming down to the race. Learn how the car handles and how the new parts are holding together. Take it into the mountains if you can. Find out how fast you can stop the car before you lock up the brakes. Practice “panic” stops several times with the brakes hot.
Most racing accidents in Mexico are caused by excessive speed, followed by locking up the brakes before a curve and going straight into the ditch, rather than around the curve. It is impossible to steer a car with the brakes locked up and the tires sliding.
Another frequent mistake is going into the curve too fast and then lifting off the gas or braking -- at the wrong time. This reduces the traction in the rear wheels, often sending the car in a spin. Usually the car stays in the middle of the road, headed the wrong way. The next car is due around that curve in 30 seconds! What are you going to do? Be prepared for this situation. Make sure that the co-driver is prepared to act appropriately. It may be necessary for the co-driver to get out and push the car off the road. If the car is in a dangerous place, the co-driver should get out immediately to signal on-coming cars to slow down!
Some accidents are caused by drivers, even experienced ones, who fall under the influence of the infamous “red mist.” This happens when the driver’s desire for speed overwhelms his sense of caution. Navigators must be aware of this potential, and have a plan to bring the driver back to his senses before it’s too late. One navigator suggested tying a string around the driver’s private parts, and yanking on it when caution was necessary.
Check to see if the local SCCA or NASA club offers high performance driving instruction. Car clubs – BMW, Porsche, etc. -- offer competitive driving instruction, but usually not for your ’64 Dodge Slant Six Dart! Take a course at one of the national racing schools.
No, not really. An electronic digital wristwatch is about the only instrument you must have. A stopwatch might be also useful if you want to time your speed runs. This rally is not about hundreds of a second. It’s scored in 10ths.
Most of the cars, however, will have Terra Trip or other rally computer. The primary advantage of a rally computer is being able to indicate where you where you are in a speed section, so if the navigator gets lost, she can find and read the correct instruction in the Route Book. The more advanced computers—with a clock—will count down to the time when you need to check-in at the next speed stage. GPS rally computers are now available, but sometime they "lose" the signal.
Practice adding and subtracting hours and minutes, too. It is a “base 60” system, and it can be tricky under pressure.
A valid U.S. or European driver's license and FMAD (Mexican Racing Federation) license are required. You are actually not required to have a racing license from your country, as the rules stipulate. The cost of the FMAD license is approximately $320 for each member of the crew (driver and co-drivers). Normally, the license provides you with a certain amount of medical insurance, plus death and dismemberment. While racing you are covered by the event’s third-party liability insurance. But you can be held responsible for being reckless or under the influence. All crews should be able to post a $10,000 USD appearance bond while in Mexico,
You may start the process of obtaining your license by downloading the FMAD application from www.femadac.org.mx. You are not required to pay until you go through the final registration and inspection at the starting city. You must fill out the application and send it in if you intend to import your car into Mexico using the services of a Mexican customs broker.
The FMAD is also known as FEMADAC (FE’-MA-DAC).
Each car must have a FMAD licensed driver and licensed co-driver/navigator while in competition. One additional driver or navigator may be signed up at extra cost. Anyone who rides in the car during the race must have the FMAD license – no exceptions. Only two licensed competitors may be in the car at one time during competition. Cars may be disqualified or heavily penalized for violating these rules. The additional driver costs $600 USD. (All prices are subject to being changed.)
The limit is around 100 cars--counting all classes. Occasionally, a car or two will be allowed to run in “exhibition.” There are no longer any limit on cars from North America (the US and Canada), Europe, or Mexico.
No, but almost all cars these days arrange to have some mechanical support available. A declining number of hardy entrants actually drive their racecar down to the start of the Pan Am, race 2000 miles, and then drive the cars back home. More have their car transported by truck to the start, and after the race, have it shipped home from the border. Most competitors have a service truck, trailer, and crew to follow them. Mechanical support in Mexican may be arranged though several shops.
You get it fixed and rejoin the race. After each speed section, a sweeper car and the police try to check on all missing cars. Tow trucks are generally available, or another service vehicle with a trailer will get you to the next town. Mexican mechanics will fix it. That is part of their culture. Repair – not replace – is a way of life south of the border.
Please note, however, that if your car breaks down, it is your sole responsibility to have it fixed or transported to the nearest town for repair. You should have a way to rescue your car. Do not expect the race organization to send anyone to help you. A list of Carrera-friendly auto repair shops in each town is usually included in the Route Book If the car cannot be repaired (rare), then the local officials will help transport the car and make alternate travel arrangements for you. A few cars have never returned from Mexico.
A rescue squad, doctors, and ambulances also follow the race. Local emergency services are also present to render assistance. Mexican medical facilities are decent.
Arrangements can be made for spouses, significant others, and friends. Be aware, however, that the Pan Am is a difficult race to watch because the roads are closed before and immediately after the special speed sections. In other words, your friends can usually watch only one speed section each morning and each afternoon, because they will get trapped in front of, or behind, the race. The race really snarls up traffic during the first two days or so, so it’s difficult to get ahead of it.
Guides and cars may be hired at reasonable cost to get your friends close to the action. There is also a Tour organizer that provides a van and hotels along the route for a reasonable cost. Do not try to follow the race in a rental car. It is too rfustrating.
An additional hotel room for your crew members costs around $1280 USD for the eight nights of the event. These are usually nice rooms with two double beds. The hotels sometimes charge more for more than two people. To arrange rooms for your crew (so they will be at the same hotel as you), try to decide your needs as soon as possible and place your order with the event director. Additional rooms are $150-160 each. Reserve extra rooms in Carrera hotels by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 1-310-860-6959 in the U.S., which rings in Mexico City.
You may drive, tow, trailer, or ship your car to the start of the race. It takes about two or three days to drive from Laredo, Texas to the start of the race, assuming you get an early start the first day.
The car must be “imported” into Mexico when you cross the border. Most competitors get a tourist permit and sticker for around $48 USD. You must also make a cash deposit of $200 up to $400, which will be refunded when you cancel your permit and take the vehicle out of Mexico.
If you drive or tow down, avoid Mexico City. There is a bypass around the city called Arco del Norte. In Mexico City, they only allow you to drive only four days during the workweek. On Monday, if your license plate ends with 5/6 you can't drive it, 7/8 Tues., 3/4 Wed., 1/2 Thurs., 9/0 Friday. It is a $400.00 USD “fine” and the local police see it as a "big pay off" if they catch you. You also need a permit to drive into Mexico City on a weekday morning before 11:00 AM. There are also restrictions on Saturdaya. Early Sunday morning is a good time to navigate Mexico City (a.k.a. “México” or the “Federal District”). Note: road signs say only “México” for Mexico City or “México D.F.”
For years we have organized the Coyote Convoy from Laredo to the start of the race. Never lost a straggler yet. Yes, there is strength in numbers! The convoy is not endorsed or supported by the Organizers.
You also must avoid towing a car on expressways through town anywhere in Mexico. Trailers are supposed to be used on the service roads. Again, it’s a big “fine” if caught! One driver paid a $400 “fine” but got a police escort to the outskirts of town! (See “mordida” below.) Some drivers circumnavigate the whole city. Study a map carefully, and you can see a new route that runs around the northern part of this huge city.
You may also have your car shipped by commercial truck to the start of the race. The Pan Am organizers and North American coordinator will make announcements about these plans during the summer. Your car should be ready to load on the truck anywhere in the States by September 24 to ensure a timely arrival in Mexico. The cost will range from $6000-7000 USD, down to the start and back from Laredo. The cost of shipping a car to Laredo, Texas from points in the USA will vary enormously. You may also ship a service truck, like a Tahoe, down with your racecar for about the same price as the race car.
Mechanical support can also be arranged in Mexico.
It is highly recommended that you cross into Mexico at Nuevo Laredo, across from Laredo, Texas. The race is well known in Nuevo Laredo and the Pan Am has friends among the Mexican Custom officials there. The road from Nuevo Laredo to Mexico City is also excellent--the best available.
For most Pan Am crews, there are two separate procedures to endure at the border: entering the country as tourists and importing the racecar, tow truck, and trailer.
Entering as tourists. This is the fun part. Entering and exiting Mexico as a tourist now requires a passport or approved ID. (You will also need a passport or approved ID to re-enter the U.S.)
Obtain your tourist visa (called the FMM) after you cross the border. Look for the “Migración” office. After you fill out the form, sign the back in two places, and have it stamped by the official, you should pay $22 for it at any local bank.
Get your tourist visa first, before trying to import your vehicles. A visa is necessary to travel more than 18 miles into Mexico, except in Baja.
After you get your visa and make a copy of it, you wander down the hall to the office marked “Banjercito” to get your automobile permits.
Importing the race car, truck, and trailer. This can be tricky, so be patient. Because you will be driving your racecar and truck more than 18 miles south of the border, the vehicles must be officially imported. Be well prepared. This process is necessary to prevent the smuggling of stolen cars and to protect the Mexican auto industry. Currently you have two options:
(1) import the race car, tow truck, and trailer yourself and a trusted friend, or
(2) use the services of the Mexican Federation of Auto Sports (FMAD) and a customs broker.
DOING IT YOURSELF--THE MOST COMMON METHOD
¨ Make absolutely sure you have the original title and original registration document for each vehicle, including your trailer. Do not show up at the border with only a copy of these documents.
¨ Get your personal tourist visa first. Make a copy of it (there’s a booth nearby), and go to the Banjercito window. Be calm. Plan on one hour to stand in line and complete the process. Much depends on the time of day.
¨ Make two photocopies of everything: title, registration, driver’s license, passport, visa, etc. A credit card in the car owner’s name is needed to post a $200-400 bond to ensure that you that you will bring the vehicles out of the country. This amount is now charged against your credit card, and will be refunded when you take the vehicle out of Mexico.
¨ One person may import only one motor vehicle a year into Mexico. So, if the racecar and tow vehicle are titled in one person’s name, you need to have one of them re-titled and registered in another person’s name who will be at the border crossing—with the proper documents, too. (You cannot use an affidavit for this purpose.)
¨ The cost for this will be around $48 USD for each motor vehicle.
¨ Trailers are imported as part of the truck. No separate bond is required or fee is required. You will need its title and registration. The trailer information will be written on your truck’s import permit.
¨ Don't fight the process. Stand in line, be patient, and you will eventually get your papers. Think DMV. Screaming at them does absolutely no good. The offer of a racing cap, t-shirt, or other non-monetary token of your appreciation will be far more effective. Eventually, you will be given a sticker for your racecar and truck. Put them on your front windshield behind the rearview mirror. They will be checked along the way. Your permit is uyou vehicle registration while in Mexico. Keep it in a safe place.
¨ You may pre-register for importing your car and truck via the internet at www.banjercito.com.
You may no longer obtain a tourist visa and vehicle permits at several Mexican consulates in the USA, primarily in California, Arizona, and Texas.
Please note: getting your car across the border is your responsibility. Officials of the race will help, but they cannot guarantee that your car and truck and documents will be accepted.
THE OTHER OPTION--THE FMAD-BROKER PROCESS
The use of the FMAD (Mexican auto racing federation)-broker process is recommended when the vehicles are owned by a company or arriving in Vera Cruz. First, you must obtain and complete the FMAD import forms, and send them back to FMAD in Mexico City. FMAD will process these forms that authorize your car and truck to be imported for racing purposes. This service costs approximately $260. FMAD will send the forms to a customs broker in Laredo or other port of entry and will send a copy to you. The form may be downloaded via internet at www.fedemac.org.mx. Their fax number is 011 52 55 5254-0157.
Second, you will pay the designated customs broker between $300-2000 (negotiable) for importing your racecar and tow rig. This service is available only during the regular workweek. A list of brokers will be made available.
It is highly recommended that entries arriving in large trucks (more than 10,000 lbs), many spare parts, and/or a lack of key documents use the services of a customs broker. Please note that most customs brokers do not work on Saturday and Sunday..
North American and European car insurance is not valid in Mexico. You must buy Mexican insurance to cover your racecar and tow truck. Go to www.Bajabound.com, an American broker in San Diego, to buy your Mexican insurance. Buy liability, collision, and comprehensive based on the combined value of your tow truck and trailer. Buying insurance on the race car is not required, but is highly recommended by the Organizers when your race car is not racing, like driving at night or testing before the race. When racing liability on your race car is covered by the FMAD policy issued to the Pan-Am organizers, but it may have a deductible. Coverage may be voided for driving under the influence or reckless driving.
Most regular insurance companies will never insure a race car, even for the trip down on a trailer. Never tell them why you are driving your ‘65 Shelby GT350 Mustang to Mexico for any reason other than to see Mayan ruins! As you know, no regular car insurance covers it while it is being used in competition. Insurance for two weeks on a Suburban and trailer for max liability and valued at $20,000 for comprehensive cost around $210. Many insurance companies will not even cover old cars (before 1984).
The best and easiest broker for Mexican insurance is Bajabound at www.Bajabound.com. They work with the racers in Baja and understand our situation.
When you are racing, you and your race car are covered by a limited amount of third-party liability insurance. You may be required to pay a large deductible or post a bond, upwards to $10,000 USD, if you have an accident and cause damage or injure someone while racing. Remember: in Mexico, you hit it, you buy it, except maybe for dogs.
An estimate of overall expenses is:
• Budget for gas for towing from Texas to Veracruz. Veracruz to the end of the race, and there to the US. $400-600 for tolls. The latter amount really depends on which route that you take. If you are towing a car or trailer, the tolls double. You can buy pesos at the border or ATMs in Mexico. Keep the toll receipts, since they entitle you to emergency services.
• Hotels on way down for crew: one or two night's @ $100-125. Nice hotels in Mexico are as expensive as US hotels. All good clean places with inside security parking. Use a good tourist guide, AAA, or book them on the Internet. Most American hotel/motel chains have properties in Mexico. Try Best Western. If you arrive early in the starting city before Thursday night, you will also have to pay for the extra nights. The Carrera hotel “package” of eight nights starts Thursday night before the race starts and ends the next Thursday night at the end of the race. Rooms for extra nights arranged by the race usually cost around $160 per night tax included.
• Budget $60.00 per day per person pocket/food money during the race. Sometimes there’s a Mexican meal provided at the driver’s meeting each night. Not always, but sometimes. You’ll pay for breakfast and lunch most days, plus snacks, bottled water, etc. Professional “companionship” is not included in these estimates!
Money. Exchange your dollars after you arrive in Mexico at a bank or exchange shop since the rate of exchange is generally better. Most of the hotels will also change money, but often the limit the amount. If you are carrying $100 bills, make sure they have not been defaced or marked on in any way. Even the slightest mark may cause them to be rejected. Most cities have ATMs but sometimes they severely limit the amount of pesos that can be withdrawn. Use the ATMS inside the lobby of the bank for safety. Remember, the sign for a peso is also a $, so when the ATM asks if you want to withdraw $1000 – that is actually only $55 USD at 18:1. The exchange rate will the posted in the hotel lobby and at the banks. Usually it is around 16-16 pesos to the dollar and it has been as high as 18. Sometimes the locals will accept American dollars for gas or an item. Carry a small calculator with you to calculate the cost in dollars. Hand it to the person selling the item and let them figure it out for you. Don't hurry. (Divide the amount of pesos by the exchange rate.) You won't have any problems if you take your time. US dollar bills can be used widely in northern Mexico, especially at the gas stations and toll booths, but the exchange rate is not good. But when you get down south, they will usually accept only pesos.
Please note: now you can buy gas on a credit card at most stations, but often the process will slow you down or you card will be rejected. Make sure you notify your credit card company that you are headed to Mexico for a couple of weeks. Also, watch the attendant pump the gas. Make sure the pump reads 00.00 before he starts filling your tank. Credit cards (VISA/MC) are widely accepted, especially at better restaurants and stores.
Inspections. There are drugs and weapons (anti-terrorist) inspections and army roadblocks throughout Mexico. Most soldiers have machine guns, but don't be intimidated or worried. They are there for your protection. They may ask to see your passport and car importation documents. They tend to be officious but polite and curious about the racecars. Keep smiling. Agricultural inspections stations are normally waived.
Fines and fees (legal or illegal). Keep a fresh $100 bill on hand at all times. Keep it separate from the stack of bills. Eventually everyone that drives south of the border will commit a traffic infraction of some sort, real or supposed. Towing a colorful racecar behind a fancy SUV will often cause the police to look for a reason to pull you over, especially in and around Mexico City.
Normally, you will be pulled over by a local traffic cop. He will first ask to see your license. Once you hand it over, you are screwed. Try giving him your Carrera racing license, or carry a duplicate license. Pretend you understand no Spanish. Unlike the States, the Mexican police may try to keep your license until you pay the fine. Many officers will eventually suggest that you pay the fine to him on the spot. If he does, this is the practice of “mordida,” or literally a “bite” (bribe). The amount of the fine is highly negotiable. He will ask a gringo for $400-500 USD. Usually, you can negotiate the “fine” down, if you are persistent and patient. The crisp $100 bill will usually get you back on the road, if you are a good negotiator. If you are in a hurry, it will cost you $400. Pay in pesos if you can.
Granted, the Mexican Government is running a campaign to stop “mordida,” but it will take a few more years (decades?) to eradicate this unsettling custom. You may chose not to pay the bribe, but the only option is to go down to the police station and pay the fine. Then you will get your driver’s license back. (Recently, it was announced that the police in Mexico could not keep your driver's license, but that concept is yet to be tested.) The best thing to do it not to violate any traffic rules, even when driving your race car. In most of the cities we visit, however, the police are very supportive.
It's a great adventure just getting to the start of the race. Be cool, take your time, don't panic, kick back, and enjoy yourself. Apart from “mordida,” Mexico is a wonderful place, just about everyone in the country is happy to see you, and they love the Pan-Am race. If you need something, just ask for it. The locals will try their best to be helpful and to accommodate you. Most young people speak some English. As long as you can smile and say “gracias,” they will bend over backwards to help you, even us old gringos!
Usually there are three or four hotels for the Pan-Am people in each city. One will be a super -luxurytype. The hotels are usually first class or luxury – with purified water systems and 24 hour room service, plus laundry. Maps of the cities with the locations of the hotels are normally provided to each Pan Am and service vehicle. Check this web site under Travel Info. When you sign up for the race, you will not be given you hotel assignments. If all goes well, you will get them a week or two before you leave for Mexico.
Yes, mostly. The water in the hotels is filtered and purified for tourists. Generally, you do not have to worry about hotel food. Outside of the hotels and better restaurants, follow these simple rules:
(1) drink only water, cokes, juices, etc. out of sealed bottles or cans that you open yourself.
(2) eat only hot, prepared food, and never eat cold seafood dishes.
(3) outside of the nicer hotels, eat no salads (greens) and only fruit that you peel. Or wash it first with bottled water.
If you get sick, go to the drug store (farmacía) and point to your stomach and say “la turística.” They will give you an antibiotic to stop it. Even so, it usually lasts for three days. Keep drinking water and follow the directions on the medicine’s label. Most pharmacists speak a little English. Some people take two Pepto-Bismol tablets in the AM and PM, and drink lots of lime juice to ward off illness. Vast quantities of tequila also seem to contribute to the “revenge.” If you get the "turística,” it is critical that you get the right medication and drink lots of fluid. Just the change in altitude will make some people feel really bad for a few days.
Drinking to excess at night and attempting to race the next day is not a good idea, especially at high altitudes. Drinking while driving or especially racing can earn you jail time. For example, you are covered by the race’s liability insurance, unless you have been drinking or do something really stupid, like a burnout in a crowded area. If you have an accident that involves serious injury to a person, like a spectator, you may be required to stay in that town pending a criminal investigation and hearing before a magistrate.
Normally, you will not be sent a list of your hotel reservation until a week or two before the event. If you receive this list, then you can check into your hotel upon arrival. If you did not receive the list, then go to the race paddock where the cars are being prepped and inspected. Find the Carrera registration desk. You will receive your hotel info for the eight nights
If you check into the hotel first, find the place where the cars are being prepared. Registration and inspection should open at 10:00 AM on the Tuesday before the race. A taxi will be happy to guide you there. This where you will complete the final registration for the event. Go to the registration desk (Station #1) first and pick up your “carnet.” You will also be asked to sign a waiver. You will be given a jacket and other items, including your timing “chip,” for which you will pay a refundable deposit of $200 USD.
The carnet will list the other stations that you must visit: FMAD (racing license), medical, car inspection, etc. After your car is inspected, race officials will install the official decals and numbers on it. When everything is finished and signed off, you will return to the registration desk for your final OK decal, which allows you to race. It usually takes 4-5 hours to complete all of this (remember everything shuts down two hours for lunch). Be patient.
Numbers are assigned by class. Within your class, you may request a number. See the official rules. Veterans are usually allowed to keep their old numbers.
The official Pan-Am vinyl decal and numbers must remain on the doors of your car throughout the race. This allows Timing and Scoring to track you daily and to account for missing cars. If you fail to pass through a checkpoint, sweeper crews and the police will be alerted to look for you. You may be disqualified if you lose your numbers. Numbers will also be affixed to your back window.
Make sure that the sides of your car are clean and wet (use only water, not window cleaner) when you affix them. In recent years, the organizers have supplied young men who apply the decals. Use a credit card to squeeze out the air bubbles. The decals may be trimmed to fit smaller doors or spaces. If you have a chrome “spear” down the middle of the door, you may cut the number decal in half, and affix the halves above and below the spear. Bring along some racer’s tape, so you can stick them back on if necessary.
The names of the driver and co-driver, allergies, and blood types should also be on each side of the car. Your name, blood type, and allergies should also be on your helmet and uniform. Mexican sign painters, who hang out at the fair grounds during this week, will paint this information on your car and helmets for a modest fee, or you can get decals made. They will also add “La Carrera Panamericana” to the roof, and other symbols (flags) and slogans as you desire. They can also paint your name and info on your helmets. Normally, you can have all of this done for around $100 USD. You may place your sponsor’s decal on your car. The hood, top, and trunk are usually yours, while the sides mostly belong to the race sponsors. Anything written or displayed on your car should be in good taste. Please do not hang a pair of latex gonads under the back bumper. The service crew must register and supply the officials with proof of Mexican auto insurance. Once this is done, the service crew will be given decals for the truck and a Servicio route book.
Read the rules on the official web site www.lacarrerapanamericana.com.mx. The inspectors first check for safety and emergency equipment: full six-point roll cage, seats, belts, window nets, 10 lb. fire extinguisher system, spare tire, jack, first aid kit, foam neck braces, red warning flags, flashlight, etc. They will check the labels in your helmet and driving suit.
Then the next step will be inspecting the car for compliance with the rules of the class. Check the latest edition of the rules for an up to date list. If you have any doubt about your car or any modification that you have made to it, please contact the North American Coordinator. It would be most unfortunate if you were not allowed to compete after making such a long trip. But it has happened! (Normally, cars that pass the safety inspection but are not qualified to compete in a class are placed in Exhibition.)
Helmets must be at least a SNELL 2005 SA, or later 2010 Snell. No motorcycle helmets. Comparable rally helmets, English, or European helmets are OK. The driver and co-driver must wear fire resistant (SFI rated) two- or three-layer suits. In 2013, Nomex underwear must be worn with all suits. Crews in open cars should use full-face helmets and must use arm restraints, if not window nets. READ THE 2016 RULES.
Some cars and trucks have radio for use within the 144-148 MHz range, the Mexican emergency band. American CBs work, too. They are also checking seat belt dates. They should be no older than four years.
Window nets are required at inspection and are checked at the speed stages. They are not dated.
Your roll cage will be thoroughly checked, even the density of the metal tubing, which should be at least 0.089” thick.
The displacement of your car’s engines may be checked at inspection or at any time thereafter. If you finish in the top four in your class, it will be checked at the end of the race. Please conform to the rules for maximum displacement for your class or model car.
In Historic C, you may use the largest engine generally available in that model car in 1965. For Fords this is a 289-302, and for a Chevy a 327. (Boring 40 over is OK.) This does not include big block engines that were installed in a few compact drag cars in the 1960s, or the Boss 302 engine in Fords. Big block engines may be used only in full-sized cars. The weight of your car may be checked during the event without notice.
Before the race there will be a mandatory meeting for drivers and co-drivers. The co-drivers (“co-pilotos”) or navigators will be given special orientation about timing and scoring, and especially how to line up for the special stages. There will be a separate sessions conducted in English and Spanish. The Route Books will be distributed when you register, so bring it with you to the training. A copy of a timing card will also be useful. This meeting is mandatory and if you miss it you may be assessed a two-minute penalty. Sadly, the English session has not been terribly useful and too many rookies start the event not knowing exactly how to calculate the time when the car is supposed to show up at the speed stages. If you do not “get it” in the orientation, find a veteran to explain it to you.
The night before the race, there will be a “mandatory” Driver's Meeting. Co-drivers also attend, along with support crew members.
Make sure that you understand the timing and scoring process before you leave the meeting. You may also be given a set of supplementary rules and changes to the Route Book. Make sure than you review them before the start of the race. A separate but much shorter route book is given to each registered, service vehicle, as well, when they register and show proof of Mexican insurance on the service vehicle.
An optional time trial or “pre-qualification” is conducted the day before the start of the Pan Am to determine the starting order for the first day. After the first day, the starting order is normally determined each morning by each car's performance the day before.
Each car is given a starting time for each day of the race and a timing card. The latter is usually available at the starting arch in the morning. The start time for each car will also be available at the starting line (arch). For a start at 8:00 AM, try to get to the arch around 7:00-7:30 AM depending on your overall standing. The faster cars start leaving the arch normally at 8:00 AM. The other cars are dispatched at thirty-second intervals. Sometimes the starting process is slowed or speeded up. In order words do NOT expect the cars to pass through the arch in exact order or on time. There is a penalty for missing the starting and finishing arch, but no penalty for leaving the arch a little early.
Speeds vary significantly with the class of car and the drivers. To keep up with the pack, cars needs to average 60-70 MPH in the special stages—a challenge on mountain roads! Tops speeds may reach 90-120 MPH for short distances in some of these stages. Cars in the faster classes will average around 85 MPH and will reach speeds limited to 144 MPH on the few straights. Most cars carry “lower” differential gears for pulling the mountains, thus restricting top speed. Over 85% of the special stages are over mountain roads. The long, straight sections of yore have been reduced or eliminated to increase safety. Many dangerous downhill runs have been eliminated, too. Each curve is rated in order of difficulty in the Route Book, so you will know when a dangerous curve is approaching. You will have plenty of time to test your brakes, slow the car down, and avoid the chicken crossing the road!
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