A TYPICAL Day
In the Chihuahua Express:
The race cars leave from the Sheraton Hotel at 8 or 9 AM each day. They drive in regular traffic with a police escort outside of Chihuahua City to the mountains. There will be six or more speed stages in a row, before they stop for lunch and service. On day #2 they stop on the rim of the Copper Canyon, for lunch. Then the cars race back to Chihuahua on the same speed stages. Normally they get back to the hotel by 5 PM. A driver's meeting follows in the early evening. The crews have dinner before or after the meeting. Crews may work on the cars at lunch, except for the Copper Canyon, when service is before and after the run up the mountain. On Sunday afternoon, the race usually ends at a major shopping center, with an awards banquet at the hotel around 7 PM.
In the La Carrera Panamericana:
The the alarm clock goes off around 5:30 or 6:00 AM! It's time to grab some breakfast, check out of the hotel, check the car, get gas, and find the starting line ("arch") by 6:30 or 7:30 AM. Of course, everyone else is trying to do the same. Some hotels will be a block from the arch, others will be several miles away. Sometimes the directions to the arch are vague and you get lost. Allow extra time for everything. Make sure you know how to find the arch before you go to bed. Sync with the official Carrera time at the white van at the arch, too, and pick up your car's time card. Expect the weather to be clear, dry, and a little cool. Cool enough at night for a light jacket or sweatshirt. Great for racing! Sometimes rain from tropical storms does occur in October. Treaded tires are helpful.
How a stage rally works:
8:00 AM - Leaving town. At 7- 8:00 AM most mornings, the first car leaves the starting arch (Control T). The other cars follow at thirty-second intervals. The starting times for every car is usually distributed at the drivers' meeting the night before the race or handed out on the time cards. Because the exit from town each morning is largely ceremonial, it is not critical that a car leaves at exactly on its time, but do not block the exit of the faster cars. It is better to leave town a little early than a little late. The drive from the starting arch to the first speed section is the first section in the route book for the day. Directions for the entire day are in the Route Book. Review them the night before.
The actual times below depend on the day and the route, so they may be earlier or later.
8:30 AM - The First Speed Stage. The fastest car arrives at the first CH control point. The slower cars begin lining up in order. Determining the car's proper place in line is the navigator's job all day. The navigator must write down the numbers of the five cars ahead of you and the five cars behind her. Some cars will arrive late, so leave some space for them to park in the line. Park on the right side of the road, not on the left, or you will b lock the official vehicles, like the doctors. Make sure than you are in a position to move up and check in at the control point at (or just after) the proper time. Never check in early at the control point, as the penalty is more severe than being late. You can be 59 second late without a penalty. If a line of cars is blocking the entrance to the CH checkpoint, the co-driver must walk up to the control officials and check in. If you arrive very early to the CH, park away from the CH, so not to block it. As your target time approaches, you can move your car up closer.
8:31 AM - the first car moves up to the control point "CH" with helmets and belts on. The control official marks the arrival time on the car's time card and electronic timing "chip." The car then moves up a few yards to the starting line, control "A," for the first speed run of the day. The start time for the speed run is then recorded on the time sheet and "chip." (Timing will be explained elsewhere.) The starter will give each car a 10 second count-down before the start -- in Spanish, of course! Normally, the driver can see the seconds counting down on the electronic timing display.
8:33 AM - the first car starts the speed run. You will hear the sound of burning rubber and the engines roar. The rest of the cars follow in thirty-second intervals. Sometimes there will be a three minute delay, as the medical teams move up into position. Occasionally, faster cars will pass slower cars during the speed run. Most speed runs are in the three- to nine-mile range. After passing the finish line (a checkered flag - Control B), the driver must slow down quickly. He will stop at the next control point (Control C) to have the car's time for that speed run recorded on the time card and "chip." (A total of three times are written on your time sheet for each speed stage at controls CH, A, and C, and recorded on the "chip.") The navigator must calculate the car's elapsed time in the speed stage.
8:30-12:00 - there will be three or four more speed stages during the course of the morning. The procedure is the same. After long or short transits, line up the cars properly, wait 5-10 minutes, put helmets and belts on, pass through the first check point (CH) on time, and then move up to the starting line for the speed run. Easy, right?
12:00-1:30 - Service and Lunch. At some point during the middle of the day, the cars are directed to stop at a large PEMEX gas station that has been designated for lunch and service. Many of the tow trucks and service crews will meet their race cars at this time, if they left town early. It's time for food, bottled water, and auto maintenance. Unleaded high-test gasoline is available about every 100 miles or less each day. Cars must arrive and leave the service stops on their correct time, calculated by the navigator. It is usually necessary to check in with a timing official when entering or leaving the service area. You may not leave, however, before your designated time. (This keeps the next CH check point from being blocked by slower cars.)
1:40 PM - Afternoon Speed Sections. After lunch, the first car arrives at the next speed section around 1:40. The other cars line up in proper order. Some cars will be MIA - broken down or lost. But the rest of the cars must pass through the controls at their correct or target time, as calculated by the navigator. During the morning and afternoon, as the cars wait their turn for the next speed section, there should be time for water, snacks, and relaxation. Many crews socialize during this period, and in most cases, some find a big cactus to water. (Some women find this to be the most difficult and/or interesting aspect of the day's activities!) The Pan Am is not a place for modest people or weak bladders!
Speed runs continue during the afternoon - in the same pattern as the morning.
Some speed stages are separated by only 30 yards, while others are separated by a long, tough drive at high speeds. All of this information is in the official route book that will be given to each crew before the race begins. Last year, the route was posted on the official web site www.lacarrerapanamericana.com.mx a few weeks before the event.
Spectators welcome the Carreraistas to the next city.
4:00-500 PM - Welcoming Celebration. The fastest cars arrived in the main square of the next destination city around this time. There will be bands and droves of spectators, especially families and young children. The cars are lined up for exhibition, and most drivers stay by their cars to answer questions, take photos, kiss babies, and sign autographs. It's your fifteen minutes of fame, gringo! In some cities the celebration is huge, while in others, it tends to be low-keyed.
6:00 PM - Evening Activities. After the celebration downtown, the race cars find their hotel or the appropriate parking lot for service. Sometimes it takes a while to find your way. Traffic congestion in these old colonial towns can be serious, and good directions are hard to come by. Occasionally there is not enough space at the hotel to park the cars and tow rigs, so you park where you can, even on the street (just don't block all lanes). The cars are often scattered among several hotels and even along the streets near the hotels. Most hotels have guards that watch over the parking lot at night. Normally, there will be local auto repair shops, including dealers, open at night to work on the cars. It's time to check the car and find a shop if needed. The next order of business is to find your room, clean up, and sample the local cuisine. Hotels are first class, and most have parking ramps or garages.
9:00 PM - The Drivers' Meeting. Each night a Drivers' Meeting is scheduled. At least one member of the crew must attend. After greetings from the local mayor and auto club president, the race organizers will review the day's events. The crews of service vehicles are often reminded that they are not to race their trucks. Trophies are given to the top three finishers in each class and overall. The results of the day and the overall results should be handed out. However, sometimes the entire results and starting order are not available until the next morning. Any changes in the schedule or advisories about the next day's route will be made. A traditional Mexican meal or snack is usually served.
In some cities the Driver's Meeting is accompanied by a Mexican fiesta or banquet with traditional singing, dancing, and other forms of entertainment. After the race is over, a formal awards banquet is held, usually starting around 10 PM.
The Pan Am's organizers schedule the speed runs over good, two-lane mountain highways. No dirt, no gravel roads. Most of the road surfaces are good to excellent, but road surface will vary because of water damage, rock slides, and other natural changes. If the road becomes unsafe, the speed section may be canceled. Heavy rain usually results in the cancellation of a speed stage. Safety is more important than racing in these conditions. Track cars, slick tires, and tight suspensions are not recommended for racing in the rain.
Please note that the above is not an official announcement by the organizers of he Chi-X or La Carrera Panamericana. It is intended as a rough guide to those interested in participating.
(Mr.) Gerie Bledsoe
Chi-X, North American Coordinator