By Chris Hieatt, Contributing Editor of The Umbrella Magazine

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Now less then two weeks away from the Brazilian Grand Prix, the last of this season’s Formula One races, fans in Brazil will be focusing on São Paulo November 27th. In our third and final article about the Gávea circuit, we give racing fans a look into the past of motor sports in Rio de Janeiro.

A driver tests out the same model of Alfa Romeo used by Pintacuda, Gávea circuit, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil News
A driver tests out the same model of Alfa Romeo used by Pintacuda, photo by Simon Davison/Wikimedia Creative Commons License.

In 1933, the Automóvel Club do Brasil organized the “1st Rio de Janeiro Grand Prix” on Sunday, October 1st, over the “Circuito da Gávea.”

In 1936 the 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.

In 1937, Pintacuda’s car was an Alfa 8C 35 with a blown 3800cc engine, the same as raced in Tripoli the year before. His rival was Hans von Stuck, whose Auto Union was 100hp more powerful than the Alfa, and Pintacuda could only hope that the wet track would be to his advantage.

The race started under heavy rain and von Stuck took the lead, but on the second lap Pintacuda passed him and at halfway he was still leading by eighteen seconds, even with the rain stopping. Pintacuda then lost the lead to the German but stuck to his tail, planning to pass him on the last lap on a stretch where the Italian car had better acceleration due its lower weight.

However, four laps from the end, von Stuck had to go to the pits for refueling and Pintacuda was leading again by twenty seconds, having set a new single-lap record of seven minutes ten seconds. He couldn’t afford to make a pitstop though, and when he was two km from the checkered flag, at 200 km/h, the Alfa ran out of petrol!

Already over the top, Pintacuda managed to coast down the Marquês de São Vicente to finish in first place, with von Stuck only four seconds behind.

Driving along the Avenida Niemeyer today, it is hard to imagine it as a racetrack, especially for Grand Prix racing. There were serious accidents in those early races, with cars crashing into the Av. Visconde de Albuquerque canal, but there is no record of anyone flying off the cliffs along the Niemeyer.

Avenida Niemeyer is a popular road often congested with traffic, but once held legendary races at breakneck speeds, photo by Rodrigo Soldon/Flickr Creative Commons License.

One of the relics of those times is the Gruta da Imprensa, where the press would gather on race days. It is towards the Leblon end of the road, a platform built over the Viaduto Rei Alberto, named for the King of Belgium’s visit to Brazil in 1920.

Avenida Niemeyer – named after Comendador Conrado Jacob de Niemeyer (not the Niemeyer you imagine), who donated land, and built by engineer Paulo de Frontin, was inaugurated in October 1916, with major improvements to the curves and surface for the royal visit in 1920.

Interestingly enough, the original plan, dating from 1891, was to build a railway along this route, linking Botafogo to Angra dos Reis. Initially 800 meters were built but the project was abandoned in 1913.

Since then, a series of crack Brazilian drivers has kept Brazil in the highlights of Formula One racing.

The Interlagos track in São Paulo is named after one of them, José Carlos Pace, who won the Brazilian GP in 1975, but was sadly killed in a plane crash in 1977. The Rio track was named after Nelson Piquet, but this area is now being converted into the Olympic Park, and the racetrack will be rebuilt in Deodoro.

There are thirty names on the list of Brazilian drivers who have participated in Formula One or FIA World Championship races, including Chico Landi, Emerson Fittipaldi, Carlos Pace, Nelson Piquet, Ayrton Senna, Felipe Massa, and Rubens Barrichello, just to mention the more famous of them.


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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