By Chris Hieatt, Contributing Editor of The Umbrella Magazine

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The last of this season’s Formula One races is the Brazilian Grand Prix, taking place at Interlagos in São Paulo on November 27th. With this build up to the season finale in Brazil, we take a look at the past, and Rio’s rich history with motor sports at the “Circuito da Gávea”. This is part one of a three article series.

Bugatti AVA, raced in the 1936 Circuito da Gavea, photo public domain.
Bugatti AVA, raced in the 1936 Circuito da Gavea, photo in public domain.

A Brazilian Grand Prix was first held at Interlagos in 1972, although it was not part of the Formula One World Championship, only being included in the official calendar the following year.

In 1978 the Brazilian Grand Prix moved to Jacarepaguá in Rio de Janeiro, briefly returning to Interlagos for the next two seasons before returning to Rio in 1981, due to safety concerns with the five-mile Interlagos circuit. In 1990 the Grand Prix returned to a shortened Interlagos, where it has stayed ever since.

Motor racing started in France, and the first race, organized by Le Petit Journal, a Parisian newspaper, took place on July 22, 1894. It was run over an eighty mile (128 km) course between Paris and Rouen.

Count Jules-Albert de Dion was first into Rouen after six hours and 48 minutes at an average speed of 19 km/h (12 mph). Compare that to today’s Formula One cars which are considered to be the fastest circuit-racing cars in the world, owing to very high cornering speeds achieved through the generation of large amounts of aerodynamic downforce. Formula One cars race at speeds of up to 360 km/h (220 mph).

In South America, apart from a few privately held races at the end of the nineteenth century, official racing started in 1906, with a race organized by the Automobile Club of Argentina, from Buenos Aires to El Tigre and back. In Brazil, the first official race, organized by the Automóvel Club de São Paulo – took place on July 26, 1908, in Itapecerica da Serra, São Paulo, the winner being Sylvio Álvares Penteado, driving a 40hp Fiat.

Starting grid on the Rua Marquês de São Vicente, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Starting grid on the Rua Marquês de São Vicente, photo in public domain.

The borough of Gávea in Rio is today best known as the home of the PUC University campus, Parque da Cidade, the first Shopping Mall in Rio, ‘Baixo Gávea’ where the chope flows and the streets are jammed certain nights of the week.

The neighborhood is also known for being near the Jockey Club, Jardim Botanico and the Flamengo Football Club, which although nearer to Leblon is cited as the ‘Gávea headquarters’ of the club.

Things were different back in the 30s, when the streets of Gávea were more likely to be jammed with motor racing fans. From 1933 to 1954, race cars (nicknamed in those days as ‘baratinhas’) from famous ‘scuderias’ such as Maserati, Ford, Alfa Romeo, Bugatti, Allard and even Ferrari raced around the ‘Circuito da Gavea’.

Here the Grand Prix was held sixteen times, revealing drivers such as Chico Landi, Manuel de Teffé and Pinheiro Pires, and also attracting foreign drivers – in particular Juan Manuel Fangio – who raced in 1952, soon after his first Formula One title, but was beaten by Landi.

In the next installment we explore the Circuito da Gavea of the late ’20s and early ’30s, the first races held on the Gávea circuit.

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.


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