The starting city this year for the Pan-Am 2017 will again be Queretaro, a large city north of Mexico City in the center of the country. The race will stop for the night in Puebla, Mexico City, Morelia, Guanajuato, San Luis Potosi, and Zacatecas before ending in Durango. Queretaro is a 580 miles, 10-11 hour drive from Laredo, Texas.
The Chihuahua Express always starts in the city of Chihuahua, which is 240 miles from El Paso and 145 miles from Presido, Texas. If you sign up for CARRERAS DRIVER with Gerie Bledsoe (email@example.com), you will receive information about the two convoys that leave these two towns, normally two days before the event begins. If you are interested in Chi-X, you may also sign up for EXPRESS DRIVER.
CROSSING THE BORDER - THE JOY OF BUREAUCRACY
All vehicles with foreign plates entering the interior of Mexico must have a Temporary Import Permit (TIP) on them, sometimes called a Tourist Permit. The basic rule is: a foreign visitor may bring only one vehicle into Mexico for a period of six months. Thus, one of your two vehicles (race car or tow truck) must be titled in the name of another member of your travel party. The trailer goes with the truck, as one unit, so both of those titles should be in one person's name. If your vehicle is leased or financed, you must have written permission to bring it into Mexico. If it belongs to a company, you must have a official letter giving the driver permission to take the vehicle into Mexico, even if the driver owns the company. Proof of insurance is not required at the border, but you need it. A husband and wife, with tourist visas, may import two vehicles.
It takes an average of one hour to get your personal tourist card and vehicle permits at the border. Think DMV. These are the three big steps in the process at the border:
1. Obtain your tourist card (FMM visa) at the Immigration Office at the Mexican border station. Show your passport, fill out the visa (tourist card) form, and have it stamped. At some border stations it is now necessary to pay for your visa ($22) before obtaining your TIP, if you are planning to stay in Mexico for longer than a week, like for the Pan-Am.
2. Step over to the photocopy booth to have copies of all your documents made—passport, driver’s license, car title or registration, and your new tourist card. (Make sure you have the tag numbers of the vehicles with you if the numbers are not on the title or registration.)
3. Stroll down the hall to the “Banjercito” window (looks like a bank window, because it is) to get the Tourist Import Permits (TIP) and windshield stickers for your vehicles. There is usually a line.
Hand over all the originals and copies of your documents to the Banjercito clerk. You do not need to say anything, as the clerks know what to do. Give her your passport, driver’s license, tourist visa/card, vehicle title or registration, and credit card, and one copy of each, except your credit card. After punching your info into her computer, she will print an official-looking form and ask you to sign it on the back in two places. This form has a hologram sticker stuck on it. The clerk will show how to remove it. This sticker goes on the inside of your windshield behind the rear view mirror. Make sure the VIN number on the permit is correct before you leave the Banjercito window. Your credit card will be charged for the permit, plus a $200-$400 deposit (based on the age of your vehicle) that is refundable when you leave Mexico and cancel the permit.
Save all the documents they give you and keep them in the tow truck. Do not lose the official document, as you will need it to exit the country and cancel your permit. The permits may also be checked by Federal Police or the Army along the way.
You may also obtain the TIP via the Internet. To use the Internet, learn how to disable your pop-up blocker in your browser, clear your cookies and temp files. Then go to www.banjercito.com.mx and click on "tramites." Click the English version. You will need your passport and credit card at hand. You can also obtain a TIP at some Mexican Consulates, like L.A., Sacramento, Chicago, Phoenix, Houston, and others in Southwestern states. If you go this route, you will be asked to visit another web site to get permission to enter Mexico and get a TIP. Normally that step takes only 5 minutes and costs nothing.
Remember where you got your car stickers when you crossed the border, because you will return to this place before you leave Mexico to have the stickers removed. Do not go across the bridge into the USA without having the stickers removed and getting a receipt. At most border crossing there are roadside booths near the Mexican border station where the TIP can be canceled and the window sticker removed. Do not remove the sticker until the attendant asks you to do it.
The cash deposit on your vehicles is now collected in cash or on your credit card. To get a refund and be able to bring a car into Mexico next year, you must cancel the permit properly at the border before leaving Mexico and surrender the sticker or you will lose your deposit.
For the Pan-Am going across the border in Nuevo Laredo is highly recommended because the people there know the event, and they will bend over backwards to get our cars and trucks across. For the Express the recommended border crossings are Santa Teresa, N.M (near El Paso, TX) and Ojingaga, across from Presidio, TX. For the Pan-Am. the Columbia Bridge, which is 17 miles northwest of Laredo recommended for long, car-hauling trailers.
IMPORTING VEHICLES WITH A F.M.A.D PERMIT
If you do not have a title to your race car, and have a huge tow truck, plus lots of tires and spare parts, or have all the vehicles in one name or the company’s name, you may want to import your vehicles by going through the Mexican Federation of Auto Sports (known as FEMADAC) and/or hiring a licensed Mexican customs broker. Do not confuse this process with the TIP process described above. These two processes are very different. You should use one or the other, not both.
Here’s the FEMADAC process:
1. Register for the race on the official Pan-Am web site, and then download and fill out the application for the FEMADAC vehicle permits and your racing license from www.femadac.org.mx. Express mail these applications to the FMAD office in Mexico City with the required payment. You need only apply, but not pay for the racing license, at this point. Their address is on the application.
2. Secure the services of a Mexican customs broker in Laredo or another port-of-entry. (The North American Coordinator has some recommendations, or you may use the broker recommended by the Organizers.)
3. FEMADAC will verify that you have entered the race, and will send the approved permits to the Mexican customs broker who you have selected. They will also send you a copy.
4. You make an appointment to enter Mexico with the broker, and go to the his office on the U.S. side of the border at the appointed time, usually Tuesday-Thursday.
5. The broker’s staff member jumps in your truck, takes you across the border (over the commercial bridge in Laredo), and handles the transaction.
6. After you are in Mexico, the broker’s staff person hands you the paper work, jumps out of your truck, and you are on your way. The truck driver does not need a tourist visa, the truck's document ("pedimento") is all he/she needs. (This process may differ from broker to broker and port-of-entry.)
The FEMADAC permit costs around $150. You must also apply for the FMAD rally/racing license issued by the same organization around $300). See the Entry page for information on contacting FMAD, or go to www.femadac.org.mx.
The services of a licensed Mexican customs broker will cost between $500 and $2000, because it is a negotiable fee for service and the government's fee. You must also provide the broker a list (manifest) of all the spare parts, extra tires and equipment (like welders), and their (yard sale) value that you are taking into Mexico—and that you will return to the USA when the race is over.
If you use a Mexican customs broker, you must stop at his/her office on the Mexican side on the way back to the USA to reverse the process above, or he will forfeit his bond that guarantees the return of your vehicles and spare parts. He will not be happy if you fail to stop and cancel your pedimento.
Note: It is now possible now to avoid the FEMADAC permit process and the expense of a Mexican customs agent by using a ATA Carnet. You can obtain more information about the ATA Carnet at www.uscib.com.
For the Chi-X, you may make hotel reservations at the Sheraton Soberano, the HQ hotel, though the race organizer, or you may do it at another hotel nearby on line. Rooms at the Sheraton hotel (single or double) are $165 per night. Most racers stay five nights (Wednesday-Monday). Racers pay the hotel directly for their rooms when the check-in or check-out. The paddock is in the hotel's large parking lot.
When you register for the Pan-Am, a hotel reservation for a "double room" (two beds) is automatically made in the name of the listed driver of the race car for the eight nights of the race. This room is paid by the entry fee. If you plan to arrive the starting city a few days early, as most do, it will cost you more. The Carrera office charges around $160 for each extra night in or along the way, taxes included, or $1280 for a extra room during the eight-day event. Rooms in luxury hotels cost extra.
GASOLINE AND FOOD WHILE TRAVELING
PEMEX gas stations are plentiful on most major highways in Mexico. Most stations carry non-leaded 87 octane regular (green pump handle) and non-leaded MTB 92 octane premium (red pump handle). Quality is OK. Diesel fuel is also generally available (black pump handle), usually at an island away from the gasoline pumps.
There are small restaurants along the roads and at the larger PEMEX stations throughout most of Mexico. If the place looks clean, then it's probably OK. Just eat hot food and drink from a can or bottle. A case of bottled water and a roll of TP in your truck will come in handy.
Never ever brings guns, ammo, or drugs into Mexico. If any of these are detected, you will go to jail, and Mexican jails are not nice places.
The Mexican people that you meet along the way, especially the children, will be friendly and curious about you and your vehicles. Everyone will try to be helpful if you are having a problem. However, if you spend the night at a motel, it's best to park your rig inside a locked or guarded compound. Most of the better motels have one. And remember the most important rule: never drive in Mexico at night.
And yes, getting there is half the fun! It is always an adventure!
Viva Rally Mexico!
Chi-X North American Coordinator