By Chris Hieatt, Contributing Editor of The Umbrella Magazine
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – With the Brazilian Grand Prix being the last of this season’s Formula One races, fans around the world will be at Interlagos in São Paulo on November 27th. The event gives us a chance to look back at the first motor races in Rio, and the second in a series of articles about the Gávea circuit – this time in the late twenties and early thirties.
Things really got going in the thirties, and some years later, after manufacturers such as Ford and General Motors started up in Brazil, competitions became more common. Some of them, such as the Petropólis Mountain Climb, attracted foreign competitors.
Manuel de Teffé, a Brazilian driver who had had some success in Europe, returned to Brazil with the idea of starting motor races in Rio. His idea was taken to then President Getúlio Vargas, who promised to support the sport.
In 1933, the Automóvel Club do Brasil organized the “1st Rio de Janeiro Grand Prix” on Sunday, October 1st, over the “Circuito da Gávea.”
The Automóvel Club do Brasil (ACB) then applied to the International Automobile Federation for the right to host a race as part of the Federation’s official calendar. The application was accepted, and the Rio Grand Prix, raced over the Circuito da Gávea, became official.
The Gávea circuit consisted of over eleven kilometers of various types of road surfaces – asphalt, concrete, cobbles and sand – with inclines and declines and over 100 curves in its route around the Pedra da Gávea. The start and finish were in the Rua Marquês de São Vicente, almost in front of the old headquarters of the ACB, and one of the early challenges in the race were the tram tracks, a major means of transport in those days.
The circuit then followed Avenidas Bartolomeu Mitre, Visconde de Albuquerque, Niemeyer and Estrada da Gávea, which today runs through Rocinha. The cars climbed to the top, and then descended back down the Rua Marquês de São Vicente to the finish.
The route was fraught with danger, with none of the safety features so common today, and it soon earned the nickname “Trampolim do Diabo” (Devil’s Springboard). Even so, the cars managed to attain speeds as high as 250km/h.
As the circuit became better known, it attracted more international teams and drivers. The winner of the 1935 Circuito da Gávea was Italian/Argentine mechanic and driver Ricardo Carú, with an adapted Fiat 519.
Carú was born in Italy and immigrated to Argentina, where he never won, but often came in second, earning him the nickname “El Eterno Segundo.” His victory in Brazil was the first of his career.
The 1936 race attracted some of the European heavyweights. The Ferrari “Scuderia,” which at the time was the competition’s division of Alfa Romeo, sent two of its B-team drivers to Rio – Carlo Pintacuda and Attilio Marinoni.
Also driving in the race was French female driver Hellé-Nice, who caused an uproar by posing for photos in a two-piece bikini – and smoking – on Copacabana beach. She didn’t finish the race and in the following month suffered a serious accident racing in São Paulo, prematurely ending her driving career.
The Italians with their Ferrari were also unlucky, and had to abandon the race with a broken differential, giving first place to Argentine Vittorio Coppoli. Carlo Pintacuda didn’t give up on the Gavea race, and came back to win the following two years.
In the next installment we explore the early racing days along Avenida Niemeyer, discuss the racing roots of Rio and celebrate the sport’s Brazilian heroes of yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
Chris Hieatt has been in Brazil for 57 years, works as a translator/narrator (since retiring) and is a long-time member of The British & Commonwealth Society of Rio de Janeiro and Contributing Editor of The Umbrella Magazine.